Nigeria is currently at a crossroads that requires all hands on deck for national survival. As the Yoruba people say, if the skies were to fall, there would be no one living who would be unaffected by the devastating effect of such an occurrence; such will be the effect of failure to make concerted efforts at this period of national uncertainties.
Although the challenges that Nigeria faces are multi-dimensional like the head of the legendary monstrous hydra, there is no gainsaying the fact that the most penetrating of these challenges is the austere economic realities that we face. Prices of oil have taken an all-time slump and a country totally dependent on the product was caught napping and helpless. They say heaven helps those who help themselves. Nigeria and Nigerians were too deep in indulgences, which forbade us from saving in the years of surplus or even consider any revenue option with passion. All we did was play lip service to the urgency attending the need to diversify the economy without matching words with action. We have started to talk once again and my only hope is that this time round, we would find the grace to walk the talk.
Perceptive Nigerians must marvel at the nation’s complacency over the years. I mean those who can see several low hanging revenue generators waiting to be plucked by the country and how successive governments have paid little or no attention to exploiting these opportunities. Like lazy people who are content with being spoon-fed by the crumbs of fish from the fisherman’s pot, we have refused to put ourselves to task and explore the various opportunities that nature presents us with as a country.
One of these low hanging fruits is the vast tourism potential available in the country. I agree that it is a developmental possibility that virtually every administration in the history of Nigeria has identified and mouthed promoting. One of the boldest moves in that direction was the creation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former President went further by establishing the Presidential Council on Tourism, which he chaired just to show the premium that he placed on harnessing Nigeria’s tourism endowments. But then, we cannot say we achieved any significant landmark on this front in the years after the Obasanjo administration in spite of ceaseless pontificating from governments and practitioners about the need to take tourism more seriously.
Now that the chickens are coming home to roost and our total reliance on crude oil has blown up in our faces nearly strangling life out of our economy, I am hopeful that current expressions of intent to develop the tourism industry in Nigeria would be matched with not just action, put appropriate actions.
It is gratifying that part of the plans of the current administration towards the actualisation of the elevation of tourism is the resuscitation of the PCT to be chaired by Presidential Muhammadu Buhari himself. I do not see any better way to drive home the seriousness of the administration than this concrete step taken with the inaugural meeting of the council on September 6, 2016.
After this inaugural meeting, the hope is that the PCT, being the highest policymaking and implementation body on tourism development in the country would work fast and assiduously towards exploiting the opportunities that tourism presents from employment, revenue generation and even the reputation of our dear country.
It is gratifying that this body is inter-ministerial in nature such that you have the ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Works, Power and Housing, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Environment, Aviation and Transport as well as the President of the Federation of Tourism Associations in Nigeria as members. A foundational requirement for the development of a vibrant tourism industry is giving equal attention to and providing an enabling environment for operators in all ancillary sectors.
For me as a practitioner in the downstream section of the aviation industry and someone whose interest in tourism has grown over the years for instance, I want to suggest that government needs to prepare for a complete turnaround of the aviation sector if we plan to make any meaningful impact with tourism.
The current unease with which foreign and local airlines do business in Nigeria does not reflect the intention to revamp the tourism industry in Nigeria.
We know for instance that airlines like Emirates have in the past couple of months reduced the frequency of their flights into Nigeria, while United Airlines, one of the two airlines with direct flights into the United States as well as the Spanish-owned Iberia have withdrawn their services, deploying the vehicle to a seemingly more profitable route in the case of United Airlines.
It was also in the news recently that Nigeria’s position as the prime destination point in the West African sub-region has been compromised by the loss of the country’s natural hub essence to neighbouring Ghana.
Although Ghana has not attained the hub status yet, its 2.5 million passengers capacity terminal seems more effective than Nigeria’s five million capacity terminal.
It is doubtful that this came as a surprise to anyone. Nigerian authorities appear to have ignored attempts to ventilate the discontent of these airlines to the lack of fluidity of the policies affecting the industry as well as the uneasy environment under which they operate. The perennial shortage of aviation fuel has taken the shine off the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and crippled Lagos as a travel hub in the sub-region. This is not to speak of the shameful and recurrent blackout and cumbersome bottlenecks at the departure and arrival terminals of our airports. All these and more, which have not received adequate attention from the authorities, gave the crown to Ghana.
Seeing Nigeria’s sloppy handling of its aviation sector, Ghana moved in and took the advantage by doing two things. It introduced a Visa on arrival for all Africans policy, such that traveling to Ghana has become easier. That is a sure incentive for tourism. Secondly, Ghana reduced aviation fuel by 25 per cent. And since the product is affordable and available, the airlines have taken the bait and Nigeria is the temporary loser for it.
Suffice is to say that issues like the scarcity of aviation fuel and the lack of professionalism at our airports also affect domestic operators. Unless we deceive ourselves, airlines, foreign and domestic, are central to the development of tourism in any country.
Air travel is still the safest means of transport as of today, hence foreigners interested in exploring our tourist potential will only be confident in the satisfaction that they would be safe while flying in our airspace.
I actually see no country in the world that cannot make tourism a major revenue earner. Creative nations have turned trees, houses even streets into tourist attractions. It is just a function of knowing what we want and planning to attain that purpose. As far as tourism is concerned, Nigeria must understand that it is not just about our natural endowments but a systematic development of all complementary sectors, a key one of which is aviation.
CAPTAIN EVAREST NNAJI IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF OAS HELICOPTERS AND CHAIRMAN OAS GROUP