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eTN Ambassador Editorial

Nigeria: still no uhuru for Nigeria tourism sector

Lucky Onoriode George, eTN  Jul 16, 2011

(eTN) - For close to 24 months now, I have decided to remain quiet and sit and watch as events in the tourism sector unfolded. Since 2006, when Otunba Runsewe was appointed the director general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC], as an acclaimed friend of the media he is, his face has appeared on the pages of newspapers and on television hundreds of times a year - more than the number of times the country’s major attractions received mentioning in his five years as the boss of the apex tourism agency.

The aforementioned was his style, and because of his generosity as well as his audacity of propaganda machines being mainly anchored by the travel and tourism press in the country, the NTDC boss can do no wrong.

In fact, for those who profited from his lavish and flamboyant media appetite, praising became a daily routine. Like the man who they say the gods want to kill, which they first made mad, Runsewe is no respecter of anybody.

From Aborishade to Fani Kayode, from Bello Gada to Adetokunbo Kayode, and the immediate past minister Alhaji Sadiq Mohammend Abubakar, to him, he is a minister, a lord, and a tin god unto himself.

Those ministers who attempted to question his recklessness chickened out, because Runsewe had the media in his pocket.

For months, his fight with Kayode Adetokunbo, then minister of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation, then later Labor and Defense, respectively, brought a stand-still activities to the ministry.

His arrogance went further with him, name dropping whenever his superiors called him for questioning or to even ask of his whereabouts. Either the Chief of Staff to the President mandated him to do one thing or the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives sent him on errands.

The aforementioned was his style.

What has he done in the last five years besides drops names and initiate programs that were never accomplished?

From the purported airport car services to buses for tour operators to nothing. From navigator to no direction and most surprisingly, outside broadcast [OB] van that was shamelessly commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan when he was Vice President.

As the Director General of the NTDC, for years, he was made to believe by those around him that him alone or the NTDC can single-handedly promote and market Nigeria as a tourism destination.

He ignored the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN], the umbrella body for tourism's private sector in the country, calling them criminals and vagabonds.

This went on until he was forced to negotiate and began a feeble relationship with the federation.

Just weeks ago, the name of the former President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria [FTAN], a hotelier and a former spokesperson of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC], Chief Edem Duke, a turn-around and a departure from the tradition of appointing a green horn to head the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation, this action of the president has elicited several debates and panic around the tourism industry over the fates of several individuals and organizations that he has come to boss over.

However, since the screening and subsequent naming of the former FTAN President as Minister, there has been an uneasy calm in the sector and one would have thought that this period should be ushering in a new beginning for the tourism industry, having a professional appointed as minister for the first time in the history tourism in Nigeria.

In times passed, many had argued that the Nigerian government had no political will to develop the sector as echoed by the former minister of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation, Prince Kayode Adetokunbo, that the bane of the sector was the lack of attention to issues by people in authority, under-funding, poor infrastructure, and a rise in the level of corruption and crime in Nigeria.

With the promises in the mind of many, good tiding has been expected in the area of proper articulations of tourism issues, events execution, and harmonization of priorities.

In person of High Chief Edem Duke as minister, the tourism sector is confident that the country’s tourism potential in creating jobs, earning significant foreign exchange, and inducing the development of some of Nigeria’s major attractions, as well as faith in the federal government in its wisdom of continuous experimentation, the new minister and the flamboyant director general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC], Otunba Segun Runsewe, found themselves in the driving seat of the Nigerian government drives to create opportunities for millions on Nigerians must seen to be doing just that.

Without doubt, the country needs and requires a new approach that would be different from the shenanigans of the past Ministers and Director General of the NTDC that would raise the operational discipline of the tourism sector at the federal, state, and local levels across the country.

At a time where the fortunes of the travel and tourism sector is dwindling by the day, tourism practitioners expect the minister and the NTDC Director General to lead by example.

Regrettably, that is not what is playing out at the moment. A few days after High Chief Edem Duke was named the new Minister of Tourism, Culture, and National Orientation, the NTDC has launched its usual campaign of calumny against the new minister through its weekly sponsored page in The Sun Newspaper anchored by the corporation’s uninformed media consultant.

In his sponsored page in the Sun of Thursday, July 14, 2011, with a headline: "Jonathan: The Tourism Minister We Do Not Want," the NTDC media consultant wrote not like a professional "Spin Doctor" we call them in public relations and media circles. The entire story was nothing but full of unethical use of the media in sounding and disseminating or propagating neophyte ideas of what tourism and how it should be run in Nigeria.

In the immediate past, the director general of the NTDC who sees himself as "tin god" appeared on television and on pages of newspapers selling his ideas of what tourism should be, unfortunately, there was nothing close to reality in all his campaign.

Already on ground is a controversial “Tourism Master Plan,” as its implementation is still generating hot debate.

The task of the new minister is to ensure that leadership of NTDC is positioned and must be seen to be promoting and marketing Nigeria as a positive destination globally.

In the past, we have witnessed and seen the country sacrificed because of the unending feud between the previous ministers and the NTDC boss, a situation that kept practitioners asking if they are working for themselves or for the tourism industry in the country.

Because of the unending fight, Nigeria has missed several opportunities that it would have used in making cases for why tourism investments and tourists should visit Nigeria at both local and international arenas.

The recent editions of Abuja Carnival would have been a huge success if the committee, the ministry and NTDC have worked alongside other relevant organizations at seeing that no stone was left unturned at achieving the desired success for Nigeria tourism.

Yearly, Nigeria participates in three of the world's most important travel and tourism fairs, yet no single brochures or promotional materials on Abuja Carnival was on display. From FITUR International Exhibition in Madrid, Spain (held every January and February), to ITB-Berlin International Travel Exchange in Germany (held every March), to the World Travel Market (held every November in London), nothing on the carnival was ever displayed because of internal feud.

While a seemingly new battle line is drawn with Runsewe’s media consultant firing the first salvo, Nigeria’s tourism sector will no doubt remain largely undeveloped and rated far lower than any emerging destination in West Africa, behind Ghana, Benin, Gambia, and Cameroon, among others.

One must still acknowledge the little achievements of the NTDC, though tainted with lies upon lies, one of which the NTDC circulated false news that it purportedly won BEST Exhibitor Awards at the 2011 edition of ITB-Berlin awarded by the University of Cologne (Cologne Business School), news that has so far been debunked by the school.

In actual fact, among African countries that participated, 13 were selected, 10 were shortlisted, and Nigeria came in 9th position in an email from the organizer of the award to by Mr. Mario Arnold, Public Relations and Press Relations of the ITB 2011/Best Exhibitor Award, Cologne Business School.

For the NTDC Director General, he must sheath his toga of war and act like an elder statesman that an OTUNBA should be.

As for the Minister, a total commitment is expected of him and from all his tourism agencies. Like a friend told me, High Chief Edem Duke promised that his first assignment is to unite the factionalized travel and tourism sector, as well as the travel and tourism press.

[Editor's Note: uhuru means "freedom" in Swahili.]

Nigeria: still no uhuru for Nigeria tourism sector
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