The spate of missed opportunities and the dearth of policy initiatives which ordinarily should drive growth in the tourism sector to an appreciable level of visibility have been further compounded by the lack of attention from the Former Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and his team.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 scrapped the then Ministry of Tourism and Culture and proceeded to merge the ministry with that of Information, with effect reducing the tourism sector to an agency within the Ministry of Information and Culture, to the dismay of tourism operators who had hoped for a separate platform for tourism.
Furthermore, the operators had also frowned at Buhari’s choice of a professional politician, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to oversee the ministry, as according to them, it was a wrong move going by Mohammed’s perceived lack of appreciation of his role as a tourism minister and the fine line of difference between being an Information minister or government spokesman on one hand, and a tourism minister, who is a brand ambassador for the entire country.
However, only recently, the disquiet in the sector came to a headway as industry operators and experts, admitted that Buhari’s choice of Lai Mohammed, may have done more harm to the sector than good, further declaring that the minister has now put at risk the gains that tourism has made over the years due to his failure to manage his role as tourism minister and investment canvasser for the sector as well as the face of the country, which ordinarily should inform his manner of operations and utterances.
Failure of the minister to show up at the opening of a four-day training session for tourism writers and media managers from the three tourism agencies within the ministry provided the perfect scenario for industry operators to carpet Alhaji Lai Mohammed over his perceived misunderstanding of the role of the Ministry of Information and Culture in activating and unlocking the growth potential of tourism in the country nearly four years after his appointment to the ministry, aside paying lip service to the sector.
The minister was invited as the special guest at the training session organised by the three parastatals in tourism; Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), for tourism reporters under the auspices of the Association of Nigerian Journalists and Writers of Tourism (ANJET) in Abuja.
However, during the opening ceremony of the event, while the people waited in vain for him to present the government’s roadmap and policy framework, Mohammed, it was learned, had detailed the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Deaconess Grace Gekpe, to represent him. To make matters worse, Gekpe too failed to show up only to send a representative, the newly appointed Director of Domestic Tourism in the ministry, Mrs. Opakirite J. Nzobwu, who only turned up after the ceremony had ended.
This did not go down well with the industry operators who were at the event as many of them expressed displeasure over the minister’s and the ministry’s poor attitude towards tourism stakeholders and tourism itself.
They bereted the minister and the permanent secretary for the lack of respect shown to the event and tourism having regard to the fact that the minister’s and permanent secretary’s offices at the Federal Secretariat (Bullet House), is less than a five-minute walk from the venue of the event.
Many of them expressed the fact that the minister has all along been a pretender to the office as he has never really shown interest and commitment to the sector beside bashing in the glow and appurtenances of the office and not interested in deepening the growth of the sector besides the rhetoric and public appearances put up by him when it pleases him and his team.
They accused Alhaji Lai of not working in synergy with the private sector to the extent of not attending activities organised by them as in the case in question. They attributed this to the failure of the minister and the permanent secretary to understand the fact that tourism bears a bigger weight to that of information as such have acted over the years in a manner that is antithetical to the tourism sector that they are supposed to develop and promote.
Even the tourism reporters felt disappointed with the minister as well, considering the fact that he was formally written and invited for the event, adding that the minister didn’t even acknowledge the letter sent to him on the event while the ministry media team that was expected to be part of the training session didn’t also show up.
They viewed this as a sign of total disregard for them and the sector as well as a negation of the minister’s promises of providing technical assistance to the sector and organising training sessions for tourism reporters. Given the fact that in his first trip to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) headquarters in Madrid, Spain, one of the agreements he signed was for technical assistance and training of Nigerian personnel including tourism reporters and till date none of those promises has been fulfilled.
“The former minister’s lack of understanding and concern for the tourism sector in preference for his information and political portfolio is the major reason why the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) and other tourism stakeholders, as well as cultural workers, are clamoring for a restoration of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture ahead of the new cabinet to be constituted by President Buhari.
‘‘We call on President Mohammadu Buhari, as a matter of urgency to create a Ministry of Tourism and Culture so that tourism will be given its rightful place and attention and not made to play a second fiddle to information as we have seen display here today by the minister and his team who totally disregard our event for other matters that they rate above us and tourism,’’ said FTAN President, Alhaji Rabo Saleh, in his remarks at the opening ceremony of the training programme.