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DELTA STATE TOURISM: Our aim is to build infrastructure, says Ejiofor

Years gone Delta State was once the leading tourism state in Nigeria but over time the state government took its eyes off the ball with less attention paid to the sector. However, the state is once again poised to claim the podium as the bad fortune and trend is now be reversed with new zeal and focus on the sector.

The state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Lawrence Ejiofor, was one of the four tourism commissioners that penultimate week attended the Abuja Jabamah 2021 to showcase the tourism offering of the state and re-establish link with the rest of the tourism players in the country.

In an exclusive interview, Ejiofor spoke of the new found love for tourism by the state government, disclosing that the focus of the state government and his ministry is on building the needed infrastructure, creating enabling environment and partnering the private sector in order to effectively manage and promote the state’s tourism offerings.

Firstly, Ejiofor described the Abuja Jabamah 2021 as an eye opener for him and that he has benefitted tremendously from it with the hope of building on the gains and lessons learnt from it. ‘‘It is an eye opener and this is my first time of participating in such event. All I have gotten from this programme, from the different sessions, is like that we are all on the same page. We are all on the same page in the sense that we in Delta State before now have seen the potential in tourism business that it is the new gold mine. ‘‘Therefore, we have diversified irrespective of the fact that we are producer of oil.

We have moved on as in looking beyond oil and facing that goldmine. You will agree with me that oil is no longer fashionable in this present time because people are looking for alternative sources of energy.’’ Tourism, he said can only thrive when the right infrastructure are put in place hence the state government has committed to providing the needed infrastructure to grow the sector.

‘‘Even vehicles are now using electricity, so we decided to look elsewhere. First to promote tourism we decided to build certain infrastructure because before you sell what you have to the world you have to put certain infrastructure on ground like road networks to access all these places,’’ he said. Besides, the second layer, he said is working in collaboration with the private sector not only to manage the infrastructure but also invest in them.

It is in this regard that the state government has decided to concession the Asaba airport. ‘‘The airport, which is of international standard have been concession to private sector operator because to really grow in tourism sector you really need to partner with the private sector. Government does not actually have any business in tourism sector in running it,’’ said Ejiofor. Adding that: ‘‘You can put infrastructure on ground but if you want to sustain it over time you get the private sector involved. Not just building and handing over but they have to be major stakeholders in it.

‘‘Their money has to be involved so that when they are running it they are protecting their investments. Because nobody wants to invest any money to run at a lost but to make profit and since your money is involved and you are running it you won’t want to run aground. ‘‘That is why we have to work with the people that have the passion and resources. Like the Film Village that we are building in Asaba, which is about 70% completed, we partner with Nollywood and a Chinese a company, NJZC/ SINOMA International Construction Nigeria Limited, they are contributing 70% of the funding. ‘‘We are also building a massive leisure park in Asaba with the same Chinese company, NJZC/SINOMA International Construction Nigeria Limited. Another gain from the conference listed by Ejiofor is the fact that: ‘‘Tourism is not just building infrastructure alone, you have to take it beyond that level.

You need a lot of publicity too and management because if you don’t get it right you will miss it. So we have been able to cross fertilise ideas here. ‘‘My colleagues from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, we met privately for us to plan together to create a synergy for regional cooperation and together we can promote the South -south tourism and have each other’s back and not unnecessary rivalries. ‘‘We can come to each other’s aid when needed and we have been able to develop a synergy that when we leave here we are going to work on so that we can be able to take the region to an enviable height.’’

The underlining factor in focusing on infrastructure, according to Ejiofor, is to leave an enduring legacy of institutionalizing tourism and not building it around a single individual. ‘‘I want to leave behind a strong legacy, an institutional legacy. When you want something to live after you don’t build it around yourself or around an individual,’’ he said. ‘‘It has to been institutionalised and that is why we get the private sector involved in whatever we do. So that when even after this government has left it will be difficult for it to be discarded because the private sector is part of it. That is the legacy I want to leave behind, institutionalising tourism and not building it around a particular government or individual.’

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