Africa: Nigeria at 57 years has a Great Potential and Squandered Tourism Opportunities


Nigeria is a great nation with enormous potentials and limitless opportunities, blessed with abundant human and natural resources. After independence, it took its pride of place among the comity of nations in different sectors of the economy particularly in agriculture, oil production, mining and steel sectors.

But today it is struggling to find a place in these sectors having squandered the opportunities to rise above the rest of Africa, be in the league of the world’s industrialised nations and be more competitive in the international community. Lack of purposeful vision, mismanagement of resources and corruption has been identified as the bane of the country’s progress and prosperity.

Time was when the mainstay of the economy was agriculture and the country was a leading exporter of agricultural products. But with the discovery of crude oil and the subsequent boom that came, attention shifted to the black gold and agriculture, which accounted for about 70 per cent of the nation’s foreign earnings, took the back seat.
Nigeria, hitherto the toast of many nations and a model in the area of agriculture, now struggles to feed itself and is a net importer of agricultural products.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, with agriculture as the number one sector in the economy, the nation was the second largest exporter of cocoa as well as the largest exporter of palm kernel and palm oil, contributing about 60 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, Nigeria produced at least 240,000 tonnes of palm oil per year, accounting for 21 per cent of the world’s total production. Nigeria was so self-sufficient in palm oil production, that it had enough to feed its people, export large volumes of the produce and still had reserves. Ditto groundnuts in the North, and rubber, produced in large quantities in the then mid-western part of the country.

As the euphoria of oil prosperity overwhelmed all and sundry, Nigeria was lost in a trance and agriculture was neglected. The groundnut pyramids in the North, the cocoa plantation in the West, the rubber plantation in the Mid-west, and palm kernel heaps in the South-east could not be sustained.

Shortly after this, several interventions, to revive agriculture and regain its lost glory were introduced by successive governments from the military era to democratic governments, but the allure and massive rent-seeking opportunities that oil opened to the few privileged ones and their cohorts as well as corruption that bedevilled such programmes, made it difficult for the objectives or aspirations to be realised.

The current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari is striving to relive the feats recorded in those glorious days. The government through the ministry of agriculture recently commenced yam exports to Europe and United States. While this is expected to bring in foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria, the development has been criticised by analysts and stakeholders in the economy.

They frown on the fact that while there are still food shortages across Nigeria with claims of famine in certain areas of the country, the federal government is exporting and encouraging Nigerians to export food.
With inflation maintaining the upward streak, even staple food has become increasingly expensive.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, food price pressure continued into August as all major food sub-indexes increased. The food Index, the agency pointed out, increased by 20.25 percent (year-on-year) in July, down marginally by 0.03 percent points from the rate recorded in July (20.28 percent). The rise in the index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, meat, fish, oils and fats, milk cheese and eggs, coffee, tea and cocoa.

However, Nigeria may be on its way to realising its potential and redeem its lost glory in agriculture. This administration, by its array of policies, seems to be building on the initiatives introduced by the former Minister of Agriculture and President of the African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina, in the administration of the former President, Goodluck Jonathan.

The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria combined with a newly developed soil map designed to aid fertiliser application, has substantially raised local production of grains in 2016 (yields improved from 2 tonnes per hectare to as much as 7 tonnes per hectare, in some states) and produced a model agricultural collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States.
As a result of the policy, Nigeria’s rice imports fell from 580,000 MT in 2015 to 58,000MT in 2016.

Besides, the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (which involves a partnership with the Government of Morocco, for the supply of phosphate), has resulted in the revitalisation of 11 blending plants across the country.
The benefits include annual savings of $200 million in foreign exchange, and 60 billion annually in budgetary provisions for fertilizer subsidies. The scheme has also made it possible for farmers to purchase fertiliser at prices up to 30 percent cheaper than previously available.

When oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1956, Nigerians rolled out the drums to celebrate the breakthrough. Little did they know that the blessing would, however, turn out to be a curse for the nation. Whose fault? The leadership is to blame for not being ingenious enough and steadfast to convert the vast opportunities inherent in the sector into long-lasting benefits for Nigerians. When the oil boom came, the government threw away its thinking cap and abandoned other viable sectors that would have been developed with the proceeds from oil to make Nigeria one of the greatest nations in the world economically.

While the fortunes of the agriculture and mines & steel sectors fast dwindled as a result of neglect, the oil sector, now the mainstay of the economy (accounting for 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings and 70 per cent of government revenue) was mismanaged. Hawks feasted on the sector, corruption festered and the sector and the economy at large are yet to recover.

The four refineries built in the 1970s by the federal government to refine 440,000 barrels of crude oil per day, could only produce 8.55 per cent of the installed capacities by 2016, according to a report of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). A nation replete with some of the best brains in the world and blessed with abundant deposits of crude oil and gas reserves, now imports nearly all its refined products for domestic consumption.

Activities of militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have made the matter worse. Although, there has been relative peace in the region over a period of time, the significant fall in crude production is blamed on vandalism by the militants.

If Nigeria’s oil sector is experiencing a nightmare, worse things are happening to the steel sector, which has been comatose for so long. The steel industry of any nation is a coefficient of its industrialisation but in Nigeria, the benefits of the multi-billion dollars that were spent to build the country’s steel production complex, Ajaokuta Steel Company Complex, have not been realised.

The Ajaokuta Steel Company Complex is a metallurgical process plant facility, built about 35 years ago by the administration of former President Shehu Shagari and envisioned to generate industrial and economic activities that are the kernel of the much-talked-about diversification of the economy.

Located on 24,000 hectares of sprawling green-field land-mass about 38 km from Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, the steel complex was designed to operate with other ancillary facilities. The steel plant itself is built on 800-hectares of land. The chosen technology for steel production is the time tested blast-furnace – basic oxygen furnace route for steel production.

Following the decision by the federal government in 1994 not to continue with its construction, the Ajaokuta steel complex, which is the largest of all the steel plants in Nigeria, was left at 90 per cent completion and has been lying fallow for a long time.
Efforts have been made to revive it to no avail. A rolling plan was designed for its revitalisation within the last 30 years.

However, the aspiration to make the complex economically viable is far from being realised. The steel complex, which has been a subject of politics, has been moving from one crisis to another.

The Ajaokuta Steel Complex was in 2004, first concessioned by the federal government led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, under its privatisation programme to Global Infrastructure Holdings Limited (GIHL), a subsidiary of ISPAT of India, on a 10-year technical management contract. This followed the termination of the 10-year technical and financial concession agreement with Solgas Energy, USA for the management of the Ajaokuta Steel.

The concession was later converted to sale, on the advice of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the transaction was concluded in May 2007 at the twilight of Obasanjo’s administration, when GIHL bought 60 per cent of the federal government’s 100 per cent.

But the steel complex has since been returned to the federal government after a series of controversies.
President Muhammadu Buhari was reported to have given approval for the execution of the modified concession agreement with Global Steel Holdings Limited, following reports of the mediation meetings forwarded to him from the Justice ministry. The mediation meetings, recently held in London, followed months of negotiations between the Federal Government and Global Steel Holdings, coordinated by an international mediator, Phillip Howell-Richardson.

It is yet to be seen if the resolution would move the revitalisation of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex forward so that the desired vision to make steel a major component of the economy’s diversification would be realised.
This is so because the government has been playing lip service to the issue of diversification as there appears to be no concrete and practical steps taken to show that the leadership is serious in taking Nigeria out of the present mono-product economy.

Poor vision, a lack of political will, infrastructural decay among other shortcomings are responsible for Nigeria not being the number one country when it comes to tourism in Africa. All the ingredients were there at independence, and for those who were around then, the future of tourism in Nigeria must have seemed so bright.
But just like in many other facets of national life, it has been a story of unfulfilled potential, of squandered opportunities.

Nigeria’s central geographical location in Africa means it is easily accessible from all parts of the continent; north, south, east and west. Combined with the fact that the country is one of the top business destinations in Africa as a result of being the leading oil producer on the continent, it only seemed natural that it would be its leading aviation hub, not only for intra-African travel but also to link Far East countries like China and Japan to the West – the USA, Latin America, the Caribbean.

A few countries have built their tourism by first positioning themselves as aviation hubs and also establishing national carriers as tools for both diplomacy and tourism. The Middle-Eastern Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as Qatar are recent examples. Closer to home, Ethiopian Airlines toes the same line.

At independence, Nigeria already had a two year old airline, the West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) Nigeria which was later rebranded Nigeria Airways. In its heyday, Nigeria Airways flew to over 40 destinations both local and international. Apart from major Nigerian cities, its route included major African capitals starting from the West African sub region, a few cities in the Middle-East, multiple European cities and New York. Unfortunately, the airline was run into the ground due to mismanagement and corruption and ceased operations in 2003. From its ashes rose Virgin Nigeria, which later became Air Nigeria. Both suffered a similar fate.

In comparison, Ethiopian Airlines, which was founded a few years before Nigeria Airways, now serves 19 domestic and 94 international destinations (including 5 Nigerian cities), raking in profits in the process.

Unlike some countries that have based their tourism inflow solely on location and man-made attractions, Nigeria is blessed with jaw-dropping natural wonders and diverse wildlife.

A tropical country with clement weather all year round, Nigeria’s geography means it has a variety of vegetation broadly divided into forests (mangrove swamps, fresh water swamps and rain forest) and savannahs. These translate into diverse wildlife comprising thousands of bird and animal species. The Cross River rainforest alone is touted as one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world.

A few countries in East and Southern Africa have built an industry around their wildlife, boosting their economies in the process. Many of the animals that attract tourists to those countries are present in Nigeria.

From the lions and leopards found at the Kainji Lake and Yankari National Parks, to the elephants and gorillas at the Cross National Park and many more. Furthermore, the white-throated monkey (also known as the red-bellied monkey), one of the rarest animals in the world, can only be found at the Okomu National Park in Nigeria.

While relatively bountiful at independence, all the above-named animals (apart from the leopard) are critically endangered and on the verge of extinction.

Unlike the animals that are now rarely seen, the numerous rock formations and waterfalls that dot the Nigerian landscape – from the hills in the south to the plateaus in the north – stare us in the face, crying for attention and development into world standard tourist sites.
Too numerous to mention, they include Idanre Hills, Olumo Rock, Wikki Warm Springs, Agbokim Waterfalls, Erin-Ijesha Waterfalls, Zuma Rock, Ikogosi Warm Springs, Farin Ruwa Waterfalls, Gurara Waterfalls, Owu Waterfalls, Matsirga Waterfalls… and many more. They were all there 57 years ago. They are in no better state now than they were then.

Another advantage Nigeria has naturally, is an extensive Atlantic Ocean coastline measuring 853km, running through seven States; Lagos, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. To put it in perspective, this is almost twice the length of Kenya’s coastline and more than10 times that of Gambia (80km). This is in addition to numerous inland waterways – rivers, creeks and lagoons.

Coupled with great weather all year round, it is amazing that waterfront infrastructure and the beach culture are practically non-existent in Nigeria. The glaring example is Lagos, Africa’s most populous city and Nigeria’s commercial and entertainment capital. You would expect that five-star hotels, restaurants, casinos, and other hospitality outlets would line the long stretch of beaches, helping to create a water-centred lifestyle capable of attracting tourists from around the world.

On the contrary though, many of the beaches have lost their allure. Rather, the present generation is regaled with stories of pristine beaches and clear blue water at locations like Tarkwa Bay and Bar Beach, with comparisons to places like Miami. The stories are that of retrogression, not development.

Nigeria is the most populous African country and the most populous Black nation in the world. More impressive than the number of its inhabitants is the diversity of its people. The country is a multinational state with 500 ethnic nationalities and a commensurate number of languages.

This variety has thrown up cultures over the years, some still influencing present day life across the Atlantic – in the Americas and the Caribbean. The country’s rich history includes ancient civilisations dating back hundreds of years (Nok, Ife, Benin to name a few), and the attendant stories and artefacts.

You would expect a multitude of functional, up-to-date museums to help preserve the past and guide the future. Of course, this also generates tourism revenue, with Africans in the Diaspora trooping in to learn more about their roots and a great past. But alas! Most of the museums are dying, worse off than they were in 1960.
Thankfully, the festivals celebrating the indigenous peoples’ culture still remain. It is doubtful however, if any of the festivals are self-sustainable, talkless of adding revenue to the national coffers.

The Durbars in Kano and other parts of the North, the Eyo Festival, the Osun Osogbo Festival, the Ojude Oba Festival, the Calabar Carnival and Festivals, the Sango Festival, the New Yam Festival, the Argungu Fishing Festival and so many more can help drive Nigeria’s tourism.

Is there still hope? Certainly! Opportunities have been squandered but the potential remains. With global dependence on fossil fuels reducing at an increasing rate – which translates to diminishing revenue for an oil-dependent country like Nigeria – maybe, just maybe there would be a rethink and a concerted effort led by government to tap into Nigeria’s tourism goldmine.

Kunle Aderinokun and Demola Ojo




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