Time for Nigeria to pay attention to tourism
Festive times usually encourage festive imagination. So, it is unsurprising that the celebration of the yearly Ojude Oba festival in Ijebuland on September 14 was loaded with ambitious aspirations. Three governors who attended the festival, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and Nasir el –Rufai of Kaduna State, rated the cultural fiesta in superlative terms, adding that it deserves to be listed as a global festival.
The colourful festival, held every third day after the yearly Eid-el-Kabir festival, was marked by “parades by the different age grades popularly referred to as ‘regberegbe’, and the horse riders (Baloguns), who turned out in colourful attires to pay homage to the Awujale one after the other.” The Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the king of the land who was at the centre of the festival, received deserved commendation for sustaining it. Amosun described the festival as “a marriage of culture and tradition” that had become a rallying point for not only the sons and daughters of Ijebuland, but the whole country.
Talking of the sustenance of the festival, the role of telecom giant Globacom in keeping the show aglow is worth noting and worth celebrating. The company has sponsored the event for 10 years as part of its Glo Heritage Series. Globacom Chairman Dr. Mike Adenuga, who was represented at the event by the commercial coordinator, business enterprise, Mr. Folu Aderibigbe, said: ”Over the years, Ojude Oba has remained not only a point of crystallisation and social re-engineering; it is as well an avenue for the constellation of ideas and initiatives that are geared towards prompting the growth of the society and the wellness of its people.” It goes without saying that the company’s continued support, among other enabling factors, is critical to the realisation of the dream of a globally recognised Ojude Oba festival.
What does it mean to be on the “global tourism map?” Amosun said the festival could generate huge revenues and boost the country’s economy. Dickson said the festival was exportable: ”Ojude Oba is not only for Ijebuland or the people of Ogun State; we need to showcase it to the rest of the world.” Interestingly, Dickson linked his maternal grandmother to the Fidipote family in Ijebu Ode, saying “there is unity and strength in diversity.”
There is no doubt that the country has what it takes to become a prominent cultural tourism destination; and there is also no doubt that the country lacks what it takes to be such an attraction.
A recent report highlighted the country’s underdevelopment in the tourism sector, and quoted The Global Chief Economist, Renaissance Capital (RenCap), Mr. Charles Robertson, as saying that Nigeria is losing at least $8bn in tourism receipts. The expert emphasised that improvements in airport quality and visa policy were non-negotiable. He said: “Why is Ghana 25 times more successful than Nigeria in attracting tourism revenues? Indeed, why is Nigeria the second least successful African country in attracting tourism receipts out of the 43 we have data for (only the DRC is worse)? One deterrent is the visa process… We argue that deterring tourists is an economic mistake, especially when the EM or frontier economies are weak. Countries like Russia and Nigeria could do with the diversification that tourism might provide.”
The RenCap economist added: “When we look at net tourism receipts (spending abroad by your citizens, minus spending in your country by foreign tourists), we can see which frontier countries are doing best (Croatia, Jordan, Mauritius, Morocco) and which are doing worst (including Nigeria, Pakistan and Romania)…Nigeria, via improvements in airport quality and visa policy, might in the long-term do far more to address its tourism deficit…”
Of course, tourism development has a price tag. Apart from the aspects identified in the foregoing report, there are important infrastructural minuses that need to be tackled to realise the dream of a tourism-friendly and tourist-friendly destination. What about basic things like power and water? What about good roads and good environment? What about security, and law and order?
Certainly, it is not enough to establish formal structures for tourism development and promotion without the political will to make them work and achieve results. In other words, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which is the country’s apex tourism agency, should be driven with focus by the political authorities to realise its vision “to make Nigeria the foremost tourist destination in Africa” and to positively project Nigeria tourism as a major pillar of the economy that could take the place of oil as the source of foreign exchange earnings.
But it is not just the Ojude Oba festival that should be taken to global prominence. Nigeria has many other festivals across the country that deserve such attention and action. These include the Osun-Osogbo festival; Argungu Fishing Festival, as well as many other cultural sites that are a tourist’s delight. It must be understood though that festivals grow to global status through tourism-friendly policies and not by imposition on the tourism market.