THERE is no doubt that at the moment, we are in search of our lost glory (if we’d had any at all) in the area of culture and tourism.
And with the recent sack of Sally Mbanefo as Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Nigerian government must prove to us that it has turned a new leaf from playing politics with our national heritage. I dare say that the years of Sally Mbanefo as D.G of NTDC was a colossal waste, in the same way that the film industry has been thrown into total darkness in the hands of its current Managing Director, Danjuma Dadu.
There is no doubt that the bane of art, culture and tourism in Nigeria is having the wrong people in the right places. And unless the government of Muhammadu Buhari is paying lip service to its much touted diversification of the Nigerian economy, the time is now to guard entertainment and tourism jealously, as the hen with the potential to lay the golden egg.
My thoughts on how astern culture and tourism in Nigeria has was rekindled by the opening in NTDC, and just as I once posited that filmmaker Kunle Afolayan is a cultural man to the core, another man who is tourism personified, is Ikechi Uko. For Mr. Uko, Founder of the world famous Akwaaba Expo and 2015 Africa’s Tourism Ambassador by America-based African Sun Times, I stand in the gap for history, and do hope that the powers that be will consider merit and not sentiment in their choice of a new D.G for the NTDC.
Before I go briefly into the profile of Uko, let me open our minds to what culture and tourism can do to the economy of Nigeria, using the indices of a small country called The Gambia.
The first time I visited The Gambia, I was stunned by the number of immigrants trooping in and out of that country. It was not for the long bread and tea which appears to be the only thing produced in that country, but for holidaying. Indeed, the country is said to import such surpluses that we have in Nigeria like eggs, garri, yam and rice among other food stuff.
The Gambian economy is predominantly dependent on tourism. And what does the country sell other than beach resorts that thrive on a serene environment, clean waters, scorching sun and adequate security for revelers. Lagos, for example, has more, with potential even for more of these qualities, when you consider its entertainment centers, historical sites, cultural events, natural landscape and topography traversed by sea and lagoon waters, enormous beaches and waterfronts, sea foods and other numerous delicacies that define a true metropolitan city. The missing gap has been the inability of leaders to harness these beauties for the all-important social and economic benefits.
Apart from The Gambia, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania are also making a kill from culture and tourism. But how do we market our made in Nigerian goods when we have refused to brand them for marketing? How do we market the Erin Ijesha Water Falls, Gurara Water Falls, the Oguta Water Confluence when we have not thought of developing them? How do we market the Argungu Fishing Festival in the North; Calabar Carnival in the South-South and Osun Osogbo Festival in the South-West when we don’t see the national importance in them? While thinking of bailouts for the current recession, it is only wise to consider the fact that culture and tourism alone is capable of feeding Nigeria.
One State in Nigeria that is taking the lead in tourism is Cross River, and only this year, its Governor, Ben Ayade, was named Tourism Man of the Year for Nigeria and West Africa, beating contenders which include the Minister of Tourism for Ghana, the Minister of Tourism for the Gambia and Obinna Ekezie, MD of Wakanow.
It is pertinent to state here that one of the people instrumental to Ayade’s feat is Uko, who only last year was reappointed by the governor as consultant for the international aspect of the carnival in which 11 countries participated.
Uko, a Nigerian travel business consultant, travel promoter, tourism development expert, media consultant, journalist and author, comes across to me as the man with the right exposure and connection. He is the organiser of Abuja Bantaba and Akwaaba African Travel Market; the only international travel fair in West Africa; Project Director of Seven Wonders of Nigeria (Naija7Wonders), and CEO of Jedidah Promotions (an international media and tourism marketing firm for airlines, hotels and destinations across Africa) and publisher of Africa Travel Quarterly Magazine and atqnews.com.
Wikipedia describes Uko as a very well-traveled person, traveling close to 200 days in a year.
In 2008, he was appointed a member of the tourism committee for Nigeria Vision 2020 by the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Ikechi Uko is presently pushing his proposal to build an aviation museum for Nigeria, using abandoned aircraft as exhibits. He said that the project would promote Nigeria’s tourism; empower and educate a new generation of aviators; draw international investors in the aviation industry to Nigeria and serve as an “eye-opener” to look and work for a brighter future in the aviation industry.