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Nigeria at 57: Reporting tourism with heavy heart

On Saturday, 30th September, I woke up at midnight, that is the early hours of Sunday, October 1st and Nigeria 57th independence day celebration to pray and thank God for his mercies over my family and Nigerians at large, Initially, I struggled with sleep due to some unfinished business of the previous day but in seconds the Holy spirit took control and after two hours of very intense prayers and an additional one hour of praises to God, I invited sleep to come and sleep did not come. So my mind stayed put on God and the great things he had made me to witness and to which am alive today to recount.

At the church, on Sunday, I was summoned by my regional overseer to prepare and get ready to lead the congregation with other pastors and ministers to pray for the peace of our nation. Early hour’s prayer encounter with God that day came to mind. At house fellowship in the evening of October 1st, another marathon prayer of peace and thanksgiving took place.

Before we retired to bed, my family and I took to prayers again to thank God for the President and the vice president and prayed that God would use them to enthrone legacies that would make our nation better than they met it. Through the night, I kept awake and wondered where we got it wrong with tourism. It was difficult for me to question God why other nations even Africa will be doing well while our country only appoint bat eyed tourism administrators to always crush our hope.

It was with heavy heart that I recalled the very near misses we recorded in Nigeria tourism. I was a young tourism reporter in 1992 when Silas Ukpana visited us at Vanguard Newspaper. Ukpana was Nigeria Minister of Tourism and commerce and had dreamt big for tourism. He came to seek Vanguard support to enthrone a revolutionary movement for tourism in Nigeria to which he wants the world to take note.

The military boys were partners in progress and after a fearless frontal attack by the duo of Late Pa Matthew Ebaboje Da’silva and Mazi Kingsley Onuoha against the undefined status of tourism by the economic team at the heart of the military engagement, the military caved in and declared tourism as a “preferred sector” of the Nigerian economy. At Vanguard tourism team and the industry at large, we celebrated this open policy support for the sector and decided not to soft pedal until it is Uhuru with tourism in Nigeria.

Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN) under Chief Mike Amachree became a driving force with Samuel Oresajo as fulcrum of its intentions. Messers Jimi Alade, Segun Oyedeji, Gani Tarzan Balogun and Mrs. Bentu from Jos joined the team to force the military to totally embrace tourism as face of the Nigerian economy, warning that oil may not last us the distance.

ATPN was embraced as partner in progress and this led to a quest to restructure the association to make it stronger to confront challenges and bring about desired change to the private sector. Unfortunately ATPN began to disintegrate. By 1994, the industry was virtually on everybody’s’ lip and due to the absence of any enduring legal enforceable status, portfolio operators and ‘419’ consultants invaded the sector and began hobnobbing with the top military brass in authority.

Pa Da’silva took to tourism column writing to address the ugly development and called on the military to watch out for the flies which were attracted to aroma of the emerging tourism sector. My boss then at Vanguard, Ogbeni Tope Awe teamed up with Adebisi Tijani of then Daily Times to form the Association of Tourism Journalists (ANJET), not only to help sustain the tempo of tourism reporting but also support dedicated operators whose business needs promotion and awareness.

National Association of Nigeria Travel Agency (NANTA) pushed hard under the watch of Tereza Ezobi to propagate the message of tourism. The military saw to it that ATPN and NANTA represents the private sector on the board of NTDC, a process today that may no longer find bearing if the proposed NTDC act seals through the national assembly.

It is with heavy heart that I report this undemocratic step in a democratic environment where the majority was supposed to have their way while the minorities were to have their say but the reverse is sadly the case in this quest.

By 1994, the industry was bursting at seam and Nigerians taking to visit Kano for durbar festival, Argungun festival in then Sokoto, Enugu, Rivers, Jos, Plateau and Kaduna as prime domestic tourism hot spots. Vanguard tourism pages flourished with promotional adverts and as destination marketing choice outlet which led Champion newspapers and Daily Times to pay more attention to tourism reporting.

On NTA choice programmes then, there were segments on tourism and by 1995, Ogun State government owned radio station, OGBC encouraged this reporter to birth the first tourism talk show on radio. We celebrated the military and the industry. Through we were not there yet but things were looking up. Contrast that to the mess in tourism today.

When Obasanjo came in 1999, it was Donald Duke without any state powered legal framework that brought Cross – River tourism to national attention. President Obasanjo not to be outdone, created the first stand alone Ministry of Tourism, brought Runsewe in 2006/2007 to rework NTDC, got Da’silva, Mazi Kingsley Onuoha and Franklin Adejuwon to draft a Master Plan frame work for Nigerian tourism with a policy advisory team made of governors and top economic enablers to find ways to invest and promote tourism.

I report today with heavy heart that those parameters to influence tourism are all dead. NTDC after Segun Runsewe had taken it to local and international acceptability had become an institution where political failures are sent on political leave. I therefore report today with a heavy heart that we are back again at our tourism vomit and there are no signs we are ready to call a spade, a spade. Where then do we go from here after 57 years of tourism pretence?

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