As President-elect, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu takes the rein of office as President of Nigeria on May 29, history once again beck-ons Nigeria to turn the bend. There is palpable discontent and agitations as well as fears across the country, a situation made worse by the downturn in the nation’s economy and the insecurity ravaging the land.
The nation and the world look with great expectation to Tinubu to see how he can lead the country out of this quagmire by enthroning good governance and a noble society where human dignity is the pervading currency, rule of law and justice and equity rule supreme, where economic prosperity, hopes and aspirations of every Nigerians are realised with needless agonies and frustrations.
Nigeria’s present conundrum
For the culture and tourism stakeholders, the one most important charter of demand is to beat a new track away from that of the dismay failure and waste land that President Mohammadu Buhari-led government under Lai Mohammed as minister of Information and Culture turned Nigeria culture and tourism into a wasted land.
Tourism holds the key to the nation’s prosperity
Tourism and culture holds a lot of promises for the economic transformation and prosperity of Nigeria as a country and for the people. Many has over the years tagged it as a low hanging fruit and this is because of its multiplier effect and the huge potential that it has to generate employment and create shared prosperity for everyone as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has noted. It is for this reason that Tinubu must pay special attention to the sector and in doing so, he must as a matter of importance, have a clear understanding of what tourism is, it different interplay, dynamics and power to transform the people and community and ensure prosperity for all.
How to achieve tourism prosperity
Once this is established then the next point is how best to achieve this. One of the ways and if not the best way to achieve result as the example of the outgoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has shown is to separate tourism and culture from the ministry of information and culture as it is presently constituted and create a standalone ministry for tourism and culture. However, he must not stop at that but go a step further to encourage all the states of the federation to create a standalone ministry of culture and tourism.
This he can achieve through the National Economic Council (NEC) where the importance of tourism and culture and his administration’s policy on it is better articulated and sold to all the governors so that tourism can be seen as a national economic marker as it is done all over the world. Related to this, is the setting up of a Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT), which former President Olusegun Obasanjo once established and but was disbanded by Buhari.
The sole purpose of this council will be to coordinate tourism at the national level and work as an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the president himself, with the minister of tourism as the coordinator and the permanent secretary of the ministry of tourism as the secretary to the council. The need for the NEC and PCT is to overcome the constitutional bottleneck which the Supreme Court judgement of July 2013 has placed on the federal government by devolving responsibilities for tourism development and promotion to the state while making the federal government to oversee what it called ‘tourist traffic and immigration.’
What is needed for this to work in practical term is a political solution to the Supreme Court judgement so that tourism can successfully be put at the front burner by both the state and federal governments. Anything aside of this is sure to create problem and confusion, with the federal government and state governments at loggerheads at some point if the state governments insist on their rights as offered them on a platter of gold by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The kind of Tourism Minister Nigeria needs
With this understanding comes the most altruistic question of who then heads the ministry as a minister? This is where the stakeholders have clamoured for a true professional from among their ranks to head the ministry. This is where the President needs to show his deft acumen and understanding of the forces at play by going beyond politics and the need to reward one of his or the ruling party’s loyalist. A Nigerian with impeccable track records, experience and exposure, with integrity and ready to walk the talks and not given to political jingoism, whether from within the party ranks or professional ranks, is needed to head the ministry.
Such a minister must see himself as the number one number point man for the new administration, brand ambassador of Nigeria and the chief marketer and promoter of Nigeria. He must be ready to work with the state governors and the private sector especially through the umbrella body of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) and the different parastatals under the ministry; NTDA, NIHOTOUR, NCAC and NICO. The minister must as of importance forge a united front among all the parastatals and rein in the tendencies of the heads of these parastatals to work in solios rather as a team and see Nigeria as their constituency and not their little parastatals, which they always tend to make an empire at the detriment of the country and the people, particularly the operators who are sidelined.
Failure by Tinubu to go along with the flow and insist on the present arrangement of keeping tourism as an appendage of the ministry of information and culture, will be a recipe for disaster and the dream of ever reaping from the money spinning tourism and culture sector as the examples of other countries have showed will be a furlough dream. This is because the minister will see himself as the megaphone and defender of the government while turning himself into the attack dog of the government as was the case with Lai Mohammed, failing to understand that he occupies a very important position that requires him to be suave, technically aware of the delicate position he occupies and be able to separate the chaffs from the grains.
When this happens, it will be another four years of agnosing for the various stakeholders and the country will be the looser for it while the economy continues to bleed because what should had been a potent force to galvanise the nation’s economy is neglected and sacrifice on the altar of politics and bad governance.
Unbundling Ministry of Information and Culture
If for nothing else, pause for awhile and consider the enormous task for the information and culture ministry, which as it presently constituted has over 19 parastatals, which in turn have hundreds of departments and agencies. These parastatals are; Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria; Federal Radio Corporation; National Broadcasting Commission; National Film and Video Censors Board; News Agency Of Nigeria; Nigerian Film Corporation; Nigerian Press Council; Nigeria Television Authority; Voice Of Nigeria; and Centre for Blacks and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC).
Others are; National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM); National Council for Arts And Culture (NCAC); National Gallery of Art (NGA); and National Institute for Cultural Orientation(NICO); National Orientation Agency (NOA); Nigerian Institute for Hospitality and Tourism(NIHO- TOUR); National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria (NT/NTN); and Nigeria Tourism Development Authority (NTDA). Unbundling of the ministry of Information and Culture that is largely ineffective and underperforming and a drain on the nation’s lean resources as was the case with the then federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Powers by Buhari, will make room for effectiveness and efficiency, better coordination and performance.
Another reason why it is pertinent and urgent to unbundle the ministry is simply on the basis of performance and a glance at global tourism figures and projections for Nigeria recently will suffice.
Global/Nigeria tourism data at a glance
Since last year, UNWTO has been upbeat about the growth rate of global tourism as it is said to be gradually returning to pre- COVID-19 era. For instance the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) projection for Nigeria tourism in 2022 was to the effect that, “by the end of this year, 2022, the Nigerian Travel and Tourism sector’s contribution to GDP is expected to grow 10.4%, to reach more than ₦7.2 trillion (3.9% of the total economy), while employment in the sector is set to grow by 4.3% to reach more than 2.5 million jobs.”
Another project by Nigerian experts is also to the effect that Nigeria can earn over $20bn annually from tourism if the right environment is created and investment in the sector made. “With hundreds of beach- es, different aquatic beauties, game reserves, flora and fauna from the mangrove region to the Sahel region, Nigeria can earn at least $20 billion annually from tourism if these numerous attractions are developed,” projected the experts.
According to their projections, ‘‘West Africa, led by Nigeria, could generate over $50 billion annually from tourism as West Africa is the only sub-region in Africa that has not exploited its tourism potential.’’ Other data revealed that in 2019 South Africa earned R121. 5bn with 1.2 per cent increase from the previous year. Other countries with huge earning in 2019 include Egypt-ranked first in Africa with international tourism receipts of $13.03bn while South Africa and Morocco recorded $8.38 billion and $8.18 billion respectively.
To show that global tourism is witnessing a turnaround, international tourist figures for the first quarter of this year (January and March) was put at 235 million by UNWTO, with Africa recording an impressive growth rate of 88 per cent. The figure is said to double the figure of same period in 2022. It shows that overall, international arrivals reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of the year while 960 million tourists travelled internationally last year.
Global models for tourism management
There are a lot of successful models in the world particularly within the West Africa region and Africa as whole that Tinubu can learn from to change the narrative of tourism and Nigeria economy. The world has long shifted from a mono-economy to multi-economy and one of the areas of wealth creation and modern economy for those who have done so wisely is tourism.
Nigeria is hugely endowed with vast tourism potentials that make the country the envy of the world. The missing dot is the government’s angle. The private sector and Nigerians are primed to take advantage of it but government strategic intervention has been largely lacking and it is hoped that the new government will step up wisely and nicely to unleash these potentials on the world.
When a new ministry of culture and tourism is eventually created and a minister appointed, this reporter will be gracious enough to offer some suggestions by way of agenda for the minister in terms of the quick, medium and long term fixes that the minister need to focus on. But don’t ever think that Nigeria can be Dubai, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana or Ethiopia because these countries have their differences and areas of comparative advantages.
Nigeria has unique selling points and endowments that no country in the world has. What is needed is to identify them, evolve a strategic plan, a national tourism ethos and commitment to our shared values and heritages and the world won’t believe it when we arrive at the global tourism stage earlier than expected.