Africa: Lai Mohammed dreams big for Nigerian tourism

calabar tourism ftan Lai

Nigerian tourism may in the next four years witness a new move if the big dream of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is anything to judge by, writes ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA, as he examines the agenda recently unfolded by the minister

It is obvious that there is no love lost between the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is saddled with overlooking the tourism sector and the stakeholders and operators in tourism and culture. This development is on account of his handling of the sector during his first tenure as minister in the term of this present Muhammadu Buhari – led administration.

He is back on the seat again for another four years as he is among the few returnee ministers retained by President Buhari and handed the same portfolio on a platter of gold. If there is one good thing going for him, it is the fact that he knows the verdict on him from the different stakeholders in the tourism, art and culture sectors of the country, including the travel media, was not a positive one.

So, he is embarking on this second missionary journey not blindfolded from the reality on the ground and what the juror on him is. His countenance and body language during his brief meeting with the tourism and culture media last week in Lagos to brain storm on his new agenda also betrayed the fact Mohammed is somewhat uncomfortable with the media as he was not his usual ebullient himself but quite taciturn.

Although he started on a delightful note as he stated that: ‘‘I am delighted to be here, and to meet with you again. I have called this meeting to enable us rub minds on how to move the tourism and culture sector forward. You, as critical stakeholders, are critical to any progress we may hope to achieve in this sector. I therefore, look forward to working more closely with you in this second tenure.’’

Unfortunately, there was nothing like mind rubbing as it was purely one way communication, with him reading out his prepared statement briskly and heading out of the hall leaving the journalists dumbfounded and confused as this is not the style of Mohammed who enjoys bantering and taking on journalists headlong without shying away from any issue posed to him. Looking back In any case, he expressed appreciation to the media for the support given to him during his first tenure and then went ahead to enumerate some of the achievements of the four years before unfolding his big dream for the sector in the new tenure.

‘‘Before I go further, let me first thank you for your strong support for us during our first term,’’ he stated. ‘‘I remember, with pride, your impressive coverage of the 61st United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Commission for Africa (CAF) Meeting in June 2018; and your largely positive reporting on the sector. ‘‘The successful hosting of that meeting could not have been possible without you. Of course, you also gave good coverage to our activities on your various platforms all through our first term.

Thank you all. ‘‘Today, I want to review what we did in the sector in the past four years and also set an agenda for the next four years. Looking back these past four years, there is a misconception in certain circles that we paid more attention to the information sector than we did to culture and tourism. This may appear so because the issues we usually deal with in the information sector are those that receive the bigger play in the media.

But I can tell you, with evidence, that we achieved a lot in the tourism and culture sector, or in the creative industry generally.’’ With the above, the minister would appeared to have admitted the worries expressed over the years by the stakeholders on the need to actually separate tourism and culture from information ministry because the minister and the workers in the ministry don’t fully understand the interplay at work here and therefore, are not able to work in tandem of what is expected.

It is for this reason that bodies like UNWTO has continued to advocate for tourism and culture ministry to be handled by a full fledge minister who is able to play up the importance of the ministry above others. Succinctly put Mohammed’s statement is an admission of failure on his part and his team to appreciate the delicate nature and balance of the multiple task assigned to them by the nation otherwise, the issue of misconception or information receiving a bigger play by the media will not come in.

This was so because that was the way Mohammed and his team p l a y e d it out forgetting the fact that if you grasp properly the enormity of tourism and culture task to information and apply the right communication and marketing mix and nuances required, the reverse ought to have been the case.

Therefore, the challenge facing him and his team is how to change the narrative, using culture and tourism as the main trust for communicating the issues of the ministry and the country because for every information on Nigeria, it is the duty of the ministry to always play it out from the tourism angle by examining the implication of it on the sector, which is very fragile.

But the problem as seen by many of the stakeholders is the lack of understanding of this critical element as the minister most often sees himself as the mouthpiece of the ruling party, and not even of the government, hence its very combative nature in communicating with Nigerians and the world, forgetting that this impact negatively on the country’s tourism and culture sector across the world. Some of the achievements outlined by the minister include:

The National Summit on Culture and Tourism held in April 2016 in Abuja, Roundtable in Lagos, which led to creating financing for the creative industry by the Central Bank of Nigeria; Fight against piracy; and Partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the British Council.

Other notable achievements, according to the minister, are: Engagement with UNWTO; Hosting right of the 61st UNWTO CAF Meeting; Election of Nigeria as Vice President, Africa, at the 22nd General Assembly of the organisation in China; Tour of a number of tourist sites across the country; Attendance at festivals; and Showcase of the Eko Atlantic City during the 2016 World Tourism Day and the 2018 hosting of the 61st UNWTO CAF Meeting. Agenda for the next four years In looking ahead, Mohammed certainly knows that the road to the tourism windfall is not paved yet, hence he promised to ensure that more is done in the next four years to lift the beleaguered Nigerian tourism out of the nadir. ‘‘We promised to do even more for the sector, working with all stakeholders,’’ he said.

That appears good enough but what is of most importance is his admission that if the right thing is done for the sector, especially by the government, the sector has the capacity to turnaround the fortune of the nation. ‘‘This sector, if well harnessed, is capable of creating thousands of jobs for our evercreative and energetic youths,’’ admitted Mohammed. To this end, he shared his big dream for the sector in the next four years.

‘‘In this regard, please permit me to reel out, for the very first time since assuming office last August, the highlights of our agenda for the culture and tourism sector for the next four years, in order to build on the gains of the past four years.’’

As outlined by him, the ministry’s agenda include: ‘‘To set the necessary legal framework for the sector, we will conclude and launch the national policy on culture as well as the national policy on tourism; Finalise work on the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) Bill and submit it to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and Establish the Endowment Fund for The Arts to create a legal framework for the financing of the sector.

On this score, the question that many stakeholders, particularly those in tourism, will be asking the minister and his team, is what about the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) that has been in abeyance since the days of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, with Adetokunboh Kayode, as minister of the defunct Ministry of Tourism and Culture? Other areas of focus by the minister are: ‘‘To make the National Summit for Culture and Tourism a yearly affair, starting from the first quarter of 2020; Ensure a regular meeting of the Presidential Council on Tourism (PCT) to catalyse the growth of tourism.

We plan at least three meetings a year. ‘‘Kick-start the implementation of the parts of the Tourism Masterplan that constitute low-hanging fruits; Complete work on the establishment of Tourism Statistics and Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), working with the UNWTO. ‘‘Institute a unified national celebration of the World Tourism Day, instead of the current situation in which we have multiple celebrations. Again, here the minister may be going against the established grain of the celebration of WTD by the UNWTO, which encourages every individual, locality, and state to celebrate the day while the ministry holds a national celebration of its own

However, it should be noted that while a number of states, localities, individuals and communities are trying hard to keep to this culture, the federal government or ministry has been failing in this regard. For instance this year, the national celebration was held in Asaba hosted by the Delta State government, however, the minister who was supposed to be the chief celebrant stayed away from the celebration.

Therefore, trying to follow the new route being proposed by the minister will only sound the death knell of WTD celebration in Nigeria rather, if the minister is serious about institutionalising an already existing practice, it is for him to keep to his bargain of the present status. Another vision of his is to: ‘‘Hold a National Council on Culture and Tourism in May next year, and then hold it yearly thereafter. Organise a Regional Summit on Culture and Tourism, starting next year, with a view to working with other countries in the West Africa sub-region to foster the development of the sector.’

’This may just turn out to be another self-aggrandising pursuit that will yield no concrete result. Already, there is enough regional conferences on tourism and culture, with many of such events hosted by Nigeria. In this regard, the minister’s focus should be on taking a look at the existing ones and ensuring that the federal government take advantage of them to advance the course of tourism in the country and the sub-region.

A clear example is the Akwaaba African Travel Market, which is hosted yearly in Lagos, Nigeria and organised by a Nigerian, with governments and operators from Africa countries, including the west coast and across the world, attending to promote their destinations but sadly, this event is totally neglected by Nigeria government. The minister and his team never showed up for any of them during his first tenure despite several attempts made to have attend the exhibition.

This year’s edition was held last month without the presence of the minister and his team and even the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), whose remit it is to market and promote Nigeria. The only presence of the federal government at the event was the representation by the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), with Otunba Segun Runsewe.

Back to the minister’s vision: ‘‘Continue with our visits to tourist sites and attend as many festivals as possible across the country; Finalise work on and launch our National Festival Calendar this year. This is to attract more tourists, domestic and foreign, to these events; Get more sites in Nigeria inscribed as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organsiation (UNESCO) World Heritage sites; Explore private sector branding of the nation’s cultural centres abroad.

Again, some of these areas called for questioning as it will be interesting to know how many cultural festivals, and tourists sites were covered by the minister in the first tenure, their state and contribution made to them?

Also, it is appropriate to find out if the minister and his team know the way to the first ever cultural heritage site (Sukur Cultural Landscape) earned by Nigeria in 2000? And if they do, what is the present state and what efforts were made in the last four years by the ministry in developing, promoting and marketing them? It is only when these questions are answered in the affirmative that people may applaud the minister his quest for new UNESCO’s sites otherwise, what is the use of having the sites when as a government and people we lack the drive to maintain and promote them to the world? The same also applies to the issue of having private sector branding Nigeria’s cultural centres abroad.

Because it is on record that none of the four cultural centres hitherto operated by the country are functioning as they have all been closed down. These are located in Pelourinho, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, Beijing, China, Johannesburg, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago.

Except of course, the minister is referring to building new ones or bringing back to life the already closed centres, for which records have it that yearly allocations are made for them in the budget of the ministry. For this year alone, a budgetary allocation of N45 million was made for the centres whereas in 2017 budget, N68m was allocated while in 2018 budget N25, 641.023 was allocated for the centres in Brazil and China. ENDNOTE It is quite appropriate to dream but the issue remains whether the minister and his team have the capacity to realise a number of the issues outlined by him?

Two critical elements missing from his presentation are those of engagement with the private sector and the parastatals under his portfolio. If the minister must make any appreciable progress in the next four years, he must seek to engage more with the private sector and identify closely with every of their issues and carry them along in whatever the ministry does and also show interest in their activities by showing his presence and not shying away from attending their events.

The same applies to the parastatals, which were largely left to operate on their own with no coordination or relationship of any sort.

This must change as the parastatals are the engine room of the ministry, and a situation where the minister and his team alone carry on as if those parastatals do not exist must stop. There must be a working synergy between the ministry and the parastatals and this must be extended to the private sector.


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