Tourism Agency Must Function As Business, Coker
The process of amending some of the Acts that established some agencies under the Ministry of Culture is underway. Two months ago, the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism had a public hearing on a Bill for the repeal and enactment of a new Act for National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR). Last week also, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) took its turn for a public hearing for a similar process.
The event had the largest turnout of stakeholders, according to the representative of Senate President and Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Sen. Bala Ibn Na’Allah, to underscore the importance of the exercise for the culture sub-sector and especially its Director-General and former Lagos State Commissioner for Culture, Mr. Folarin Coker, and other key stakeholders, who travelled from far-flung places to make input to the Bill.
In his opening remarks, Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, Sen. Matthew Urhoghide, stated that the Acts establishing some of the agencies in the ministry “make them mere entertainment agencies, while others exist without any law to back their existence. Therefore, we have no choice but to come together and provide for those that do not have and emend those Acts which do not allow such agencies to operate to met with set objectives and to generate revenue, not only for their survival, but to help boost the country’s economy.”
He said since the enactment of NTDC Act in 1992, it has not undergone any review or amendment “despite having passed through several socio-political and economic changes. The Act, like most laws made under military regimes, is characterised by so many inadequacies and shortcomings”
Urhoghide then stressed the role of tourism in enhancing economic growth and development, adding, “Tourism stimulates economic growth by generating income, employment, investments, exports and serves as catalyst for socio-economic development.”
Urhoghide stated that tourism was “included as a target in Goals 8, 12 and 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last year, tourism generated a global GDP of USD$7.6 trillion (10 per cent), with 292 jobs and accounted for about 30 per cent of global service exports.”
However, given the above figures, Urhoghide, lamented the poor contribution of tourism to Nigeria’s economy, when he said, “Unfortunately, the contribution of tourism in 2016 to Nigeria’s GDP was quite appalling, with its N1,861.4 billion (1.7 per cent) while in The Gambia and South Africa, tourism contributed 7.4 per cent and 4.6 per cent directly respectively to employment.”
He therefore advised stakeholders in attendance to seize the opportunity to make informed submissions that would be synthesised to make an Act to give the agency the status of an ‘Authority’ for its effective performance its statutory role in repositioning the sector for optimal results.
NTDC’s Director-General, Coker was emphatic when he stressed that the time to revamp tourism laws was long overdue for the sector to contribute its share to economic development. Coker, who is bringing his private sector dynamism into a sector bugged down by needless bureaucracy, argued that the agency must act like any forward-looking business concern if it was to make impact in a recessed economy. For Coker, therefore, the ever-willing private operators in the tourism sector were waiting for the needed impetus, which only an agency with an enhanced ‘Authority’ status could wield to give direction and the country its deserved place as the world’s preferred tourism destination.
With the proposed Bill that would transform Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation to ‘Nigerian Tourism Development Authority,’ Mr. Coker hopes to hoist the ‘Tour Nigeria’ flag high for all to see the infinite possibilities the sector holds for all stakeholders and foreign tourists as well.
In his submission at the public hearing, Coker noted there was too much at stake in the proposed Bill in the repositioning the sector needed to get to its desired destination. In terms of job-creation, business stimulation in the allied sectors of the economy, contribution to national GDP, harnessing of the human and material resources in the sector, a new branding that tourism could give the country, Coker noted that the possibilities were so infinite. But he said a new impetus was needed through the instrumentality of an improved legal framework to lift the sector. He said there was so much locked away in the country’s tourism by the subsisting obsolete laws, which only a new instrument could also unlock for a buoyant sector to emerge.
Earlier, Sen. Saraki, said Nigeria’s abundant natural reserves and sites (Yankari, Benin Ancient Wall, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Mambila Plateau, Ogbunike Cave, Aro-Chukwuku Long Juju Slave Route, etc) that could attract tourists from all over the world were grossly under utilised, as they were not properly developed and marketed to attract visitors to earn the country revenues. He commended the stakeholders in the arts and other creative Nigerians for unconsciously branding themselves and the country through their creativity and said they needed help, which only a government agency that is fully empowered could do.
Repositioning the tourism sector, Saraki said, would not add to the socio-economic development, but also help in building bridges of understanding among Nigeria’s diverse people through domestic tourism that makes people to traverse places other than their own. He also commended sponsor of the Bill, Urhoghide, for his foresight in identifying and proposing to empower an area that could help government in generating money to run its business.
SUBMISSIONS came from stakeholders in the sub-sector like hoteliers and the different associations and groups in the tourism sub-sector. They expressed a mixed baggage of hopes and anxiety about some of the provisions of the proposed Bill. The issues of multiple taxation and levies dominated, as well as the number of representation on the board of the proposed Authority. Like every effort at making a change from the familiar, comfortable ‘old’ to the uncertain, untested ‘new’ order, some nerves appeared frayed at what is coming. But Urhoghide was quick to point out the necessity for the public hearing, saying their fears and hopes in the Bill were the needed framework for the formulation of the new Act, which he assured, would only come into effect after due consideration of their aggregated views.
However, what was clear was that Nigeria’s tourism sector is grossly undeveloped and under utilised and urgent intervention, like the one Sen. Urhoghide-led Senate Committee on Arts and Culture was proposing, is a step in the right direction. The many spirited interventions and contributions from the floor was ample indication that stakeholders had long yearned for changes to happen in the sector.
WHILE the Public Hearing for the Repeal and Enactment of a new Act to boost the fortunes of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, through elevation to an ‘Authority’ status, had a successful turnout and presentations from major stakeholders in the tourism value chain, the parent Ministry of Information and Culture and its head, Alhaji Lai Mohammed were not so lucky, especially in the estimation of the senators and everyone present. A junior officer in the ministry excused the minister’s absence when it was his turn to make presentation. What was worse, the ministry did not even send in a memorandum to the hearing, a development that caused outrage among the senators. They felt affronted that the minister did not only absent himself, he didn’t also deem it worth his while to send a representative nor a memorandum for a Bill that ought to emanate from his office as Executive Bill.
Senator after senator lashed out at the minister and the ministry, and proposed in strong terms the need to work towards the separation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism from the Ministry of Information for better performance of the former. They lamented that such attitude was responsible for the ceiling ministries place on creativity and innovation of otherwise inventive individuals operating in them.
Committee Chairman, Sen. Urhogghide, said, “The ineptitude you see in the sector is attributed to the ministry. Things are not working in the ministry. We take exception to this behaviour. This Bill ought to be an Executive Bill, but we took it upon ourselves to present it. Now, the minister is not here; he didn’t even send the Permanent Secretary to present a memorandum. We want to make the tourism sector work better than it has been to justify the N1.3 billion budget NTDC gets, but does not make anything in return.
“What we find is that there are no defined goals or set objectives in the nine agencies in the Ministry of Culture; only two agencies are here. We’re here to address all the deficiencies in the Act that established NTDC many years ago.”
Another member of the committee, Sen. Rose OKoh, also had harsh words for the minister, when she said, “This is a very disturbing occurrence. You don’t generate anything; yet you have high cost of personnel. You employ a lot of people. When this administration talks about change, it must be in every sphere; we are in recession. The ministry in charge is not interested. We in the National Assembly looked at the law and saw that there are gaps. I have never seen anything like this. His ministry is not generating anything and he needs to do more than just tell Nigerians what to do. What is he doing himself?”
While Na’Allah was somewhat conciliating, he proposed outright separation of Culture and Tourism from Information as separate ministries. Na’Allah’s was a subtle suggestion that the minister, Mohammed, was biased to the information arm of the combined ministry. From start, it was clear that Culture and Tourism was an after-thought for the All Progressives Congress-led administration after President Muhammadu Buhari left it out during the point of appointment of ministers and allocation of portfolio to his cabinet six months after taking office in 2015.
“Our collective decision should override the absence of the minister. The turnout today is the largest in any committee hearing of the senate. We need to separate Information from Tourism and Culture. Whenever we are ready, Tourism and Culture should be separate from Information.”
Na’Allah also noted that the ministry system has increasingly become an obstacle to creativity and ingenuity, with those at the top stifling innovative and enterprising subordinates under them, who may have better ideas how to turn things around.
“The problem we have is that no matter your intellect, you cannot go above the minister in your ministry; the entire ministry is capped. So, our human capacity that we have for development is capped. We don’t want that. Let the best hand do the job.”
Also, Sen. Babajide Omoworare lent his voice to the separation saga thus, “We must push that Culture and Tourism be separated from Information. We’re looking at a cash-cow for the country; we must remove emotion and sentiments from this.”Sen. Samuel Anyanwu was no less angry with Mohammed’s absence, saying it was a disrespect of the Senate committee’s efforts to reposition the tourism sector for the effectiveness performance of its duties.