The Sun News

Tourism legislation at crossroads

About five years ago, the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Act (Decree 82 of 91) was put on the table of Supreme Court judges for interpretation. The then issue at hand was who between the federal government (NTDC) and Lagos State government had the constitutional power to regulate and grade hotels. It was a raging issue, till date, despite the verdict of the Supreme Court that NTDC leave the matter for Lagos State government to handle and so concern itself with only making sure that visitors’ traffic into Nigeria is protected.

Underneath that concern, which was grilled in naira and kobo, since hotels and the hospitality sectors are considered visible revenue generators for many cash-strapped states, the dream of the writers of the “decree” was to create a uniform and central mechanism in NTDC to protect investors and at the same time create jobs with the good intention that both the states and federal government can “manage and share” whatever gains therefrom on 60/40 ratio.

Interestingly, the practical expression of Decree 82 of 1991, now an Act of the National Assembly, also robbed off on the local government as beneficiaries of largesse and tourism development input at the centre.

In sum, NTDC, subject to proper funding by the federal government, is to lead the way and initiate practical tourism developmental policies not only for revenue gains to the other “component and visible structures of governance,” the states and local governments, but also to help project tourism action plans that can be replicated not in a “hook, line and sinker” pattern but as a progressive tourism road map.

That was what Otunba Segun Runsewe went out to achieve during his seven years stay as NTDC boss. At every world travel and tourism exposition in London, Spain, Germany and Dubai, Runsewe practically dragged the component states and their tourism commissioners to join the Nigerian team.

Runsewe also built a Nigerian tourism village at NTDC Abuja office to showcase the diverse Nigerian gastronomy offerings and a mini museum to show forth representative historical relics of our people. His dream was in tandem with the progressive expectations of the Nigerian Constitution, which empowers the federal government through its agencies to recreate positive economic and social templates that could drive even tourism development across the land.

Not forgetting one of the historical timelines in dragging all the 36 states tourism commissioners to South Africa on a “meet and learn trip,” Runsewe broke the bar in same South Africa in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup through a very visible Nigerian tourism village with all relevant agencies of government on showcase. It was Nigeria’s biggest cultural export and the world took note.

The lessons here call for a new collaborative approach to developing tourism. Our tourism laws should be re-examined in this light and efforts put in place by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture to drive the initiative.

It is very sad that virtually all agencies are at the National Assembly with bills and proposals, without a clear view on how the might impact on the operations of others. Tourism business is hinged on collaboration and not competitiveness. So, the way to go is for a general review of all relevant tourism laws or proposals and where there are conflicts or similarity in mandates, such must be resolved amicably.

There is no doubt that doing business on Nigeria’s tourism frontier is very difficult and this is traceable to the near absence of effective regulation or laws to guide and protect investors. In recent times, about 75 per cent of foreign investors in our once-thriving hospitality sector have left for greener pastures in Togo and Ghana due to the difficultly encountered in doing tourism business in Nigeria.

Even our local operators are crying daily. From Lagos, Abia, Imo, Bornu and everywhere as the states’ revenue agents harass them endlessly. In Edo State, members of the House of Assembly, who should know better, went into the only zoo in the state and demolished the place to erect mansions, making it difficult for investors and denying our children close contact with nature.

In Lagos, hoteliers are special targets for all kinds of tax even the local council development areas are prime offenders. Indeed, it is a battle to survive as a tourism investor in Lagos as operators of all kinds of tourism services are targeted and some sent to their early graves by unacceptable polices that only benefit the states and their foreign friends, leaving Nigerians in despair.

Honestly, the National Assembly has not done anything in this area of legislation to help address the need and expression of diversification of our economy through tourism. Time, therefore, has come for a town hall meeting or public hearing to underscore this initiative.

Let the private sector players wake up and ask questions and demand that the right thing be done and, where possible, carry placards to the National Assembly to protest any tourism law that may not capture and influence a new dawn for tourism business in Nigeria. This is the way to go if Nigeria would rebound quickly through the tourism sector.

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