The recent threat by the Lagos State Government to charge hotel operators in the state who fail to comply with its registration processes to court is strange, indeed. This is because the matter of who has statutory responsibility for registration of hotels and other hospitality industry organisations, between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the Lagos State Government, is already in court.
For some years now, the matter of the responsibility for the registration of hotels and similar institutions, has been a subject of contention in some states in the country. This controversy is most pronounced in Lagos State where the government, in its aggressive Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) drive, insists that it has responsibility for the task, contrary to the position of NTDC that it is its own constitutional responsibility. Since the controversy broke out, both the NTDC and the Lagos State authorities have issued several notices to operators of hotels and similar organisations in the hospitality industry to comply with their registration processes.
The NTDC had, in the first quarter of 2012, directed hotels all over the country to register with it in line with its constitutional mandate of regulating ‘tourist traffic’ in the country, as provided for in Item 60(d) on the Exclusive Legislative List of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (As Amended)). The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), also at that time, directed all operators of hospitality centres to register with the NTDC, and ensure that they only check in foreign guests on presentation of international passports with valid Nigerian visas. This was reportedly in response to the security challenges in the nation, and the need to build a database of hotel operators in the country in line with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) request for an update on the list and activities of all hotels in Nigeria, from the NTDC.
The Lagos State Government had then kicked against the directive, insisting that the constitutional provision relied on by NTDC relates only to immigration and border formalities, not regulation of hotels, which is a local affair. This unending argument over registration of hotels and similar organisations in the hospitality industry is already a subject of litigation. It is awaiting Supreme Court adjudication in Suit No SC/340/2010 entitled Attorney General of the Federation Vs Attorney General of Lagos State, filed by the Federal Government. The apex court is expected to come up with a final resolution of this dispute, which is clearly a constitutional affair.
The fact that this case is already before the Justices of the Supreme Court makes the threats of some officials of the Lagos Government to sue hotel operators who have not registered with the state, inappropriate. It is unfortunate that the matter of registration of hotels, which is critical to our tourism industry, is a subject of a tussle between a state government and the Federal authorities. Tourism, today, occupies a pride of place on the global economic template. It is an important contributor to the economy of many countries, with some having it as their major revenue earner. It is a great employer of labour that is handled with great care in most nations.
What is needed to move this industry forward in Nigeria is the cooperation of all arms of government to ensure that Nigeria gets its fair share of the global tourism market. We do not need the intrigues and distractions of this tussle between the Lagos State government and NTDC. Nigeria cannot afford to present a divided face to the tourism world that thrives on ethics and strict regulation of standards and classifications. Professionalism is of great essence in this industry, and it is important that all stakeholders cooperate to institute this in the sector. It is with regard to the foregoing that Nigeria cannot afford the ongoing wrangling on the registration of hotels and guest houses in the country. Since this matter is already in court, we advise that the Lagos authorities restrain from any strong hand tactics.
The Supreme Court, before which the matter has been placed, should be allowed to adjudicate and determine which of the two authorities – Lagos State or NTDC – has responsibility for registration of hotels in Nigeria. None of the parties in this dispute should try to force its position on the other, or threaten hotel operators in the state for any reason. This avoidable dispute does not paint a good image of Nigeria before the world, and it may discourage foreign tourism investments and tourism traffic to Nigeria.
We, therefore, urge Lagos State Government to sheathe its swords and await the declaration on the matter by the apex court in the land. Let the Supreme Court treat this case with all the urgency it demands, as its declaration will have far-reaching consequences for all states of the Federation.