A recent parley between the leadership of the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) with the media and stakeholders in Nigeria tourism and culture sector in Lagos has once again brought to the fore Nigeria’s economic diversification questions, and the role of tourism and culture in this push. The urgency for economic diversification has starred the nation on the face in the wake of the current economic realities and with the continuous ravage of the COVID-19 pandemic over global economy.
The parley discussed and mapped out strategies to set agenda for the next four years and beyond on how the sector (culture and tourism) will play a key role in rebuilding and growing the nation’s economy.
Intervening at meeting, the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the President of the World Craft Council (WCC) African region, Otunba Segun Runsewe believes the rich and diverse cultural resources of Nigeria and given the abundant tourism resources, it stands to reason that if the country must diversify its economy, the country must look outside crude oil which is the current major foreign exchange earner, and focus on arts, culture and tourism as one of the key players in the economic development.
He said: “In the light of the above, I have convened this meeting as the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the President of the World Craft Council (WCC) African region, so that we can brainstorm and cross-fertilize our experiences on the way forward for the next four years and beyond. Essentially, this platform provides opportunity for us as stakeholders to re-strategize and set a new agenda for our sector.
“The near total dependence on crude oil exportation as the source of our foreign exchange earnings has greatly slowed down the pace of development in other sub-sectors of the economy such as Agro-Allied Industry, manufacturing, solid minerals, and the service industry, among others.
“The progressive fall in the prices of petroleum products and its attendant shock on the economy of Nigeria has made it highly imperative for Nigeria to pursue a sustained process of economic diversification, if we must attain the much needed economic stability and development. It is now clear to all that Nigeria can no longer continue to depend solely on crude oil exportation. This meeting is highly desirable as a platform for engendering national discourse on the options available to Nigeria as we seek to attain national development.
“Permit me to point out that I had alerted Nigeria a long time ago on the dangers of our over-dependence on oil. While serving as the Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation between 2006 and 2013, my policy thrust was encapsulated in the slogan “oil is good, but tourism is better because oil is exhaustible while tourism is sustainable and environment friendly”. At the leadership conference held at the International Conference Centre on April 28th, 2009, I had the privilege of speaking on the topic “Beyond Oil: Diversification Options. In that paper, I drew attention to the need for Nigeria to begin to look outside oil in her quest for development. I also shared these thoughts at the ECOWAS Congress on Sports Development in West Africa, held in Abuja on August 10th to 11th, 2011.
“Today, I will re-echo the views I have always shared on the need for us to drive the economic diversification process using the rich resources in Arts, Culture and Tourism. Before I discuss these in details, let me give a brief background of the evolution of Nigerian economy over the years.”
Nigeria Economy before the Advent of Oil
He went down memory lane to explain that pre-oil Nigerian economy was based on agriculture. During the 19th century when Great Britain was transiting from agriculture-based economy to industrialization, Nigeria thrived on its strong agriculture based economy. In the 1950s and early 1960s, agriculture retained its position as the biggest contributor to the Nigerian economy. By 1959, cocoa had become Nigeria’s biggest single foreign exchange earner. Nigeria was also one of the three largest producers of groundnut in the world at that time. There was a high production of both cash and subsistence crops like rubber which accounted for about six percent of the total exports in the late 1950s; coffee, cotton, guinea corn, beans, yam, maize, cassava and rice. The Mining, Manufacturing, Commerce, Trade and the services sector accounted for about 25 percent.
Before 1970, Agriculture contributed more than 75 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings. Since then, however, Agriculture has stagnated, partly due to government neglect, poor investment and ecological factors such as drought, flooding, disease and reduction in soil fertility. By the mid-1990s, Agriculture’s share of the nation’s export had declined to less than five percent, thus giving way to crude oil as the mainstay of the economy.
The 1950s can generally be regarded as the decade of major petroleum discoveries. The discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri in 1956 was a major economic breakthrough for Nigeria. From a modest beginning in the 1950s, oil production accelerated rapidly in the 1950s. The increase in the demand for oil was a great boost to Nigeria’s economy at a time when its traditional cash crop income was decreasing due to a fall in the World Market price.
In 1974, after the first oil price increase, Nigeria was producing 2.2 million barrels of oil per day. The 1970s was a period of significant boost in the nation’s economy arising from the oil boom.
While the prices and production of oil dropped dramatically in the 80s Nigeria again experienced a windfall in crude oil exportation during the Gulf War. Ever since, the nation’s economy has remained largely crude oil dependent.
The current state on global economy has made the need to develop other streams income for the country imperative. For about five decades or more, crude oil exploration and exportation have dominated Nigeria’s economy. While in most other oil producing countries, crude oil exportation provides the needed revenue for developing and strengthening other sectors of the economy, it would appear that the discovery of oil in Nigeria has come with its attendant woes. This is because the Nigerian oil wealth has tended to becloud our sense of initiative and economic vision, while promoting a national culture of unbridled corruption, laziness, opportunism and primitive acquisitive tendency.
Apart from the effect of near total neglect the oil economy has had on other critical sectors, the fluctuation in the world prices of petroleum products has continued to pose great threat to the stability of our economy, thus making effective planning on a sustainable basis extremely difficult. For example, while the International price of crude oil rose to over a 100 dollars per barrel in 2013, it came down to as low as 28 USD dollars per barrel in 2016 far below the 38 USD per barrel budgetary benchmark for the 2016. Today, the current price of crude oil stands at 64.90 USD dollar per barrel which is ahead of the 2021 budgetary benchmark of 40 dollar.
The forgoing goes to underscore the compelling need for diversification as the only way for a sustainable economic development in Nigeria.
Runsewe spoke also on the importance of the culture and tourism sector to the economy: “Culture has to do with the sum total of the beliefs and ways of life of a people in a given society. It includes their customs and costumes, their language, festivals, food, folklores, dance, drama, songs, arts, artifacts and so on. There is an intricate relationship between culture and tourism. This is because culture provides the basic content for tourism.
“In fact, there can be no sustainable tourism without a strong cultural content, as almost all Tourism activities are Culture based.
“A cursory look at Tourism-rich economies like the United Kingdom, Israel, China and France reveals a common and consistent pattern of Culture-based Tourism with Culture being the single biggest motivation for Tourism.
“Nigeria is known to be one of the most culturally diverse nations of the world. It has over 250 distinct ethnic groups, each with unique Culture and cultural products. The rich and diverse cultural assets of Nigeria have the capacity of sustaining a robust Tourism industry and driving the process of socio-economic development if adequately explored. In what follows, attempt shall be made to explain some aspects of Nigerian culture that could serve as key drivers of sustainable tourism and the economic development of Nigeria if fully harnessed.
“Nigeria has rich and fascinating cultural festivals. Many of these festivals are already in the world cultural map and are attracting the patronage of international audience. Some of the prominent festivals in Nigeria include Osun-Osogbo Festival in Osun State, Eyo Festival in Lagos State, Argungu and Nwonyo Fishing Festivals in Kebbi and Taraba States respectively, Pus Kat and Bit Geomai Festivals in Plateau State, New Yam Festivals in various parts of South Eastern Nigeria, the Durbar in the Northern part of Nigeria, Boat Regatta in South-South and the National Festivals of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) the annual Cultural festival of the National Council for Arts and Culture.
“It is important to note that festivals events serve as a catalyst that attracts recreation seekers to destinations with great Tourism potential. This means that visitors are likely to spend more days in a given destination when attracted to the cultural festivals in that destination. This long stay helps to improve the revenue base of the people thereby also impacting on the local economy.
“For a nation as large as Nigeria with rich and diverse culture, one festival per state would go a long way in attracting tourists into the country thereby contributing to the development of the economy through spending in hotel lodging, patronage of local cuisines, transportation, purchase of arts and crafts products among others. Accordingly, the National Council for Arts and Culture is developing a festival calendar to enable tourist know when to take holidays in Nigeria and savour the rich cultural manifestations it has to offer.
“Another related product of our Cultural industry that can be harnessed and developed to boost arrivals is our Traditional Music. The people’s art is an integral part of their daily activities. This rich cultural heritage, which includes myths, legends folklores and traditional music are cherished within Nigeria and in other parts of the world. The unique selling point of our indigenous music as a tool for Tourism lies in their flavour and the Nigeriansness of their rendition. This peculiar and distinctive feature of our traditional music has attracted tourists from far and wide. If greater and more conscious efforts are made to harness and develop this aspect of our heritage, it could serve as a major driver of our Tourism industry.”
As stated earlier, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation state with over 350 distinct ethnic nationalities. Each of these ethnic groups has its unique cultural heritage, thus making Nigeria the most culturally diverse nation in black Africa.
Nigeria is generally known to have the most fascinating and most colourful cultural festivals in the whole world. These cultural festivals are expressed in songs, dance, drama, incantations and so on. Festivals are an integral part of Nigeria’s culture, depicting the country’s customs and tradition in a very colourful way. These offer tourists unique opportunity to sample Nigerian culture in its pure and undiluted form.
Nigeria has comparative advantage over other African countries in cultural tourism. Many of the cultural festivals in Nigeria have gained International prominence and have continued to capture the fancy of international audience.
Organized cultural festivals in Nigeria are a major source of tourist flow in the communities where they are held. With the influx of tourists, come very high commercial activities that impact positively on the life of the communities. As the hub of cultural tourism in Africa, Nigeria can use cultural festivals as a vehicle for fast-tracking the development of tourism and stimulating rapid economic growth of the nation.
There should be a calendar of festivals in Nigeria drawn on the basis of their clusters to enable Tourist Plan for their visits. In the same vein, skill acquisition centres already established by the National Council for Arts and Culture should be fully funded and equipped to train Nigerians on the production of Arts and Craft products.
It is a general belief among participants that the sector takes its pride of place in the Nigerian economy. This, they believe, could be achieved through working together to synergize, share ideas and experiences on the best practices in the sector. Countries like China, India, Dubai, Brazil and South Africa that are reaping from the huge benefits in the arts, culture and tourism sector today started like Nigeria.