Following the crash in the international price of crude oil, Nigeria’s cash cow, with its attendant dwindling revenue, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has been resolute in its determination to diversify the economy.
In line with the economic diversification drive, the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Lai Mohammed, has underscored the commitment of the present administration towards exploiting the full potential of the tourism sector. He believes that it is glaring that oil revenue could no longer provide resources to meet the growing and competing demands of the nation, hence, government is currently exploring tourism as catalyst for economic growth and job creation.
According to him, the experience of the past three decades clearly highlights the shortcomings of a development strategy that places premium on foreign exchange earnings from non-renewable natural resources, especially oil and solid minerals. “The economic and social dislocation that has been the country’s experience from the 1970s right from the first decade of the country had its origin in the collapse of the international oil market.Our experience in the recent past also clearly demonstrates that oil and mineral resources are non-renewable and have very limited potential for addressing the development challenges that face the country today over the medium and long-term period,” he says.
Against this background, the minister believes that the nation’s diverse and unique cultural heritage, the flora and fauna, as well as the historical sites that abound in the country are capable of driving tourism to create a sustainable economy.
The uniqueness of tourism as an important economic sector is evident in its ability to employ the skilled, semi-skilled and the unskilled manpower, while its resilience is proven by the fact that despite wars, political turmoil, natural disasters, medical scares, terrorist attacks as well as economic and energy crises in various parts of the world, international trade in tourism services has grown spectacularly since the 1980s.
“Today, as the nation grapples with the daunting challenges of re-strategizing the gains of our democracy and also occupying its pride of place in the comity of nations, tourism has been identified as a veritable option for sustainable development,” he says.
Mohammed notes that in a bid to create a more conducive environment for tourism to thrive in Nigeria, the present administration is focusing on improvement in infrastructure, curbing youth restiveness, which scare away the tourists and enactment of a sustainable institutional framework for Public-Private Partnership (PPP). He also advocates the establishment of a Tourism Development Fund to serve as an incentive to encourage private sector participation in tourism development.
Indeed, experts in the tourism industry believe that with its rich cultural heritage and numerous historical sites, Nigeria could easily be transformed into a destination of choice for tourists. An investor in the hospitality industry, Mr. Ini Akpabio, says that what the Federal Government should do is to give a facelift to historical sites in the country to enable them attract tourists. Akpabio, who is the Group Managing Director of Nanet Group, says that uplifting the status of the sites would help in repositioning the tourism sector in the country and boost its foreign exchange earnings.
Nigeria is often touted to be rich in oil and mineral resources, but with thousands of natural tourist sites and a sprinkle of man-made tourist destinations, the real wealth of the country, perhaps, lies in the tourism sector. While a few of these sites have made the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage Site lists, many others are on the tentative list, awaiting attention and patronage from government. Some of the sites that are capable of attracting tourists include the Ibeno Beach, the Obudu Mountain Resort, in Cross River State, the Tinapa Free Zone & Resort, the Osun-Osogbo Grove(A UNESCO World Heritage site), the Queen Amina Wall, the Idanre Hills, the Ogbunike Cave in Enugu, the Nana Living History Museum, the New Afrika Shrine and the Kainji National Park.
Other sites that could be developed into centres for tourism include the Ikogosi Warm Spring water; where warm and cold water springs ooze out and touch, yet retaining its potent identity, the Yankari Games Reserve, Wikki Warm Springs, in Bauchi State, Kainji Lake Game Reserve in Niger State and Oguta Blue Lake of Treasure in Imo State. Others are the Argungu Fishing Festival and the Mambilla Plateau which the immediate past Minister of Tourism, Chief Edem Duke described as Nigeria’s “Crown Jewel of Tourism.” These are places that can attract tourists from across the world and yield the much needed foreign exchange for the country. Besides, there are also fantastic five-star hotels which could easily serve as home away from home for visitors.
Sir Mike Obioha, former Special Adviser to the Imo State Governor on Tourism says it has become imperative for Nigeria to invest in tourism because it has become a big money spinning business in the world to the extent that the industry is now the mainstay of the economy of many countries. “Indeed, tourism has become a goldmine. Happily, Nigeria is blessed with great tourist sites and has all it takes to become a destination of choice for international tourists. The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) needs to do more to develop the sector,” he says.
For Dr. Samuel Nzekwe, former President of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), there must be a pragmatic policy that will improve the tourism sector and increase the revenue base of the country. Nigeria, he says, can generate N1.2 trillion from tourism yearly, if adequate infrastructure is provided. To achieve this goal, he implores the government to improve on the state of the infrastructure such as roads, power supply and security. “All over the world, tourism is a big revenue earner to governments and infrastructure can create the enabling environment for this to happen,” Dr Nzekwe says. According to him, Nigeria is capable of generating a quarter of its total annual revenue from tourism, if the sector is well managed, adding that “Brazil, United Kingdom, Kenya and Egypt earn a lot of revenue from tourism.”
The NTDC is committed to government’s interest in boosting tourism. Sally Mbanefo, Director General of the Corporation says her team is leaving nothing to chance in its efforts to ensure practical development and promotion of tourism. Her words: “Nigeria has a better advantage over many other countries to benefit from tourism. We have the advantage of population. Tourism contributes 10 percent to the global GDP but as at now, Nigerian is not fully benefiting from tourism like other countries. For instance, 4,333,000 tourists visited Nigeria in 2013, which contributed about 4 per cent to our GDP, while tourism contributes 17.7 per cent to the GDP of Gambia; 13 per cent to Egypt; 12 per cent to Kenya; 11.9 per cent to Mexico; 9 per cent to South Africa, and 6 per cent to Cuba. We need to know that Nigeria should focus more on tourism as the best alternative to oil, with domestic tourism as the catalyst.”
No doubt, the country has huge tourism potential but for this sector to be productive and add value to the economy of the country, there must be a pragmatic policy that will improve the sector. Indeed, experts believe that Nigeria should emulate France which has put in place a policy that will drive the tourism sector from now till 2020.
At the moment, Nigeria is not a tourism destination due to insecurity that currently plagues North-East and kidnapping in the South. The state of insecurity must be addressed to encourage tourists to visit the numerous historical sites in the country.
Tourism as a money spinner will increase the revenue base and create employment for the teeming population of the unemployed. Interestingly, the Buhari administration realises the importance of security in boosting tourism, hence, its determination to combat terrorism and make Nigeria safe for investment.