The tourism industry in Nigeria has for a long time been seen as an alternative to the oil sector and a means to grow the ailing economy. The sector is however bedeviled with a
lot of problems which even industry players are finding very difficult to solve. The country's policy makers are also not making things easier by not seeing the potential that
the sector possesses in revamping the economy. In this interview with the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation Mr. Edem Duke at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos, he bares his mind on issues militating against the sector.
WHAT is the government doing to move the tourism sector forward ana make it attractive?
The thing is in moving forward. I'm going to be very frank and open right nere, before we can talk of moving forward, we have to look backwards. Wehave paid so much lip service to this sector that it has become an academic exercise. Those in charge at the public sector that drive the policy in the industry have just little or no capacity, little or no competence to drive the industry.
I was speaking with them about hotels in Nigeria and they were asked me if it is government owned hotels or privately owned, I mean they were lost. How many international chains do we have, of course we don't have any. The places we are going to be showmg to tourist are second rated places even in Sub-Sahara Africa. In my effort to get them on ground, they told me that we are going to work with you in 2013, work with you to market hospitality in your country. First, we have to first grow and create capacity, we have to create a self believe in the sector.
Today as we speak, unfortunately tourism is been seen by the people who are supposed to drive it in the country as a transit camp where you domicile while looking to get to the juicy ministries where they believe is lucrative.
What exactly are the obstacles militating against the development of tourism in the country?
Not too long ago, a director in the ministry of tourism worked assiduously to leave the ministry. Today she is in police affairs. Again, we are contending with issues that we should have left behind us ten or twenty years ago, so there is the need for a fresh re-evaluation of ourselves as players in the sector. Luckily, the president is somebody who believes in the sector, now what we need to do is to help him to develop strategies to actualize that believe.
But we in the policy realm are still contending with the issue of believe. Is this sector going to pay me? Even the policies that we work on, we work on them with little or no believe, these are critical challenges in the sector.
What do you do as a minister? do you spend a lot of time in advocacy and in re-culturization? Do you get consumed by the constraints in your environment and you take a walk? This is where you as the media have a role to play because constant advocacy, constant enlightenment about the importance of the sector will help.
We are winning the war but at a very agonizing slow pace, and you know that when you come as the minister and you don't even know when your tenure will lapse, while contending with people who know they have a minimum 01 thirty five (35) years, as a civil servant, they either believe in you reluctantly until they see the Eldorado or they wait out till when you will wear yourself out.
So as tourism reporters, you have major role to play. In the past the moment some Ministers see this signals, they look for the exit option, begin to dream of the possibilities of been moved to a more lucrative ministry.
But I am committed to revamping the sector. It is not about me but aoout the sector and tomorrow. The difference that we are going to make in that sector. To be modest, when we made so dramatic and risky investment in Cross Rivers so many years ago, people laughed at us but today! am the one who is laughing because they have seen the bigger picture and everybody is working in tandem with the authorities in order to now find new prospect for growth.
So this is the initial challenge, as those who initiates the policies of our economy, who are suppose to know, the "all in all' in our economy and all of that, I have never heard them use the word tourism in their economic lexicon, they have never use the word! If the secretary general of the United Nations Tourism Organisation can tell us about the huge potentials and the possibilities of making tourism our main stay, why have it taken our policy makers such a long time to be able to do a re-evaluation?
I have to tellyou the truth, to be a tourism minister in Nigeria puts you in a very sorry and lonely state. I experience it, because when you sit in the cabinet meeting as a minister of tourism and make presentations and intervention, the rest of the people will laugh over it. In fact, the moment the President during cabinet meeting says Duke, Can you contribute to the topic in discuss, there is a certain kind of atmosphere in the cabinet.
They already formed an opinion that he is going to talk about tourism and culture. But you know what, i am like a preacher and may be a John the Baptist, but i say to them. surely tomorrow will come, you will come back to what we are talking about now. Is it on the issue of insecurity and the threat to our unity as a nation, you will come back this road. But let it be sooner or later and with due respect to the president, when i make my statements it falls like, not a ballistic missile but they fall in the right places because you can hardly fault it in tandem and content. But others will come and say Duke, look, It is not yet time for all this and because they are in the majority there is a tendency for your voice to be over shadowed and that is why again i have to say that the media will now have to be the vanguard of these advocacy.
But has the ministry fashioned out apian to show the nation and economic planners how important the sector is, like a master plan ?
it comes to the ground plan, I have it but it is embarrassing for you to talk about plans with no adequate resources to back it up. Of course we all know about the master plan, it is there, do you know there was a master plan even before this one which was developed under the ambit of the ministry of commerce and industry? You now say look, what can I do, let's just look for the quick way out and then I do a document that extracts and aggregate all of this.
I sat with my team and I said look at this and give me your in-put. Some of the people took the documents and they donT: even understand what it is! That is number one. Number two, how many times have I tried to bring foreign technical experts with little or no help? in fact, many of them came because or the good will, of course, they will sit down and listen to them, after which they say of | course it makes senses but where are the I sweeteners? Then, we talk about growing I our economy, when ministry oi finance I will say, you made this plans, wonderful! I You want to train eighteen thousand I people in twelve months, good idea! You I are going to grow this sector by 2.5 I percent, but put aside your plan, this year I you are expected to work within your I budget frame work.
What that simply means is that your plans I should rest in the shelves. So for a I minister who finds himself in that kind of I situation, I don't know what is expected of I him, it's a very big challenge. Why can 'tyou invite the private sector to be more active and invest in the industry?
, very good talk, I know what I go through I in trying to get the private sector to come I into the scheme of things, and to invest in I the industry. The question is that, do the I public sector wants the private sector to I come in and do what they are expected to I do? Would the public sector allow room I for the right things to be done? The public I sectors are more or less a clog in the wheel I of progress, you all know about this.
Take the Aljuja Carnival for example I where the minister wants the private I sector to come in and make it a success I and the next thing you hear them saying in I the public sector is that, do the minister I wants to take away their job from them to I give to the private sector? So the private I sector themselves begin to withdraw. I They lost interest. When the private I sectors try to penetrate through the public I sectors, they always meet brickwalls. | They ensure that they frustrate the private sectors.
Let me share my experience with you. What you see outside as a private person, when given a ministerial appointment, I and said yes i am going to move things, I when you get in there and you see the I reality on ground, unless you have a heart I of steel, you will run away. As for me by I now I would have sat back and wait for the I cabinet to be dissolved and go home due I to the enormous challenges, but I am more I determined.
Even within the struggle 11 have been trying and will not stop to until i I fet my way through, and even with that, it I as not been easy. But I have a firm believe that things will I change because the president made a I statements to me one day and I am going I to remind him of that statement someday. I He said "Duke, I will give you resources I to turn around the sector and I know that I when you do people will struggle with I you for this ministry" I can remember that I very clearly in my head. I have a vision I that in not too distance a future, tourism I industry will become a juicy ministry that I a lot will jostle to head as Minister.