It was a new beginning in the culture and tourism sector when President Muhammadu Buhari renewed the tenure of three of the directors general in the Ministry of Information and Culture. Those whose tenures were renewed for another for years are Otunba Segun Runsewe, of the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC), Folorunsho Coker of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and Adedayo Thomas of the Nigerian Films and Videos Censor Board (NFVCB).
Although the reappointments elicited mixed feelings among industry practitioners, many are hoping the renewal of tenures would offer these individuals the opportunity to consolidate on their achievements and improve in the areas they were found wanting.
However, the focus is on the two apex parastatals of culture and tourism and how they can be positively managed to improve the fortune of country through income generation and creation of job opportunities.
Otunba Segun Runsewe, the Director General of National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) came to the parastatal after his tenure as the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). He was also the pioneer Director General of the Abuja Carnival. So, he brought to the NCAC knowledge and experience both as an administrator and also on the role of culture in marketing Nigerian tourism.
As Director General of NCAC, Runsewe brought life into the parastatal with his ebullience and vibrancy. Signature programmes of NCAC like the National Festival (NAFEST) and the Arts and Crafts and the African Arts and Crafts Expo (AFAC) which he later expanded to International Arts and Craft Expo (INAC ) to include non-African countries were enlarged and made more appealing to both local and foreigners.
For example, as at the 2019 INAC, more than 30 countries have so far signed to be part of INAC. The 2020 edition was disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic.
The renewal of his tenure by President Muhammadu Buhari has offered him the opportunity to consolidate on his achievements in his first four years and do more.
However, one grey area that the director general needs to tackle is the issue of the Culture Village Abuja that is yet to be fully resolved.
Renowned journalist, musician, poet and cultural activist Akeem Lasisi described the return of Runsewe as a positive for the culture sector. He described the NCAC Director General as an administrator who brings in a lot of passion, energy and commitment in anything he does.
Lasisi commended Runsewe for elevating some of the traditional activities in the NCAC like the International Arts and Craft Expo (INAC), formerly African Arts and Craft Expo (AFAC). He also believed Riunsewe has improved the National Festival and Arts and culture.
He however, called on Runsewe create more opportunity to engage youths and pupils of primary and secondary school to learn about Nigeria’s living culture so that they would grow to appreciate and proud of the countries heritage.
Folorunsho Coker, The NTDC Director General, at the outset of his tenure in 2017, introduce some initiatives and innovations on how tomove the industry forward.
He unveiled the Tour Nigeria brand which he described as ‘an ambitious, timely and visionary brand for promoting domestic tourism in Nigeria. The vision of the master brand is to build the premier online destination for authentic Nigerian content, using technology, creativity, arts and culture to push the new national agenda. It will showcase the true spirit of Nigeria and tell the visual story of the most populous black nation in the world.’
He said the ‘Tour Nigeria’ brand was conceived to drive domestic consumption of our tourism assets and products, create new channels of tourism markets, add to the nation’s GDP, create employment, and increase spending in the economy. The brand is an ambitious attempt at promoting tourism in Nigeria that aims to shape the narrative on Nigeria as a major destination for tourism, hospitality, arts and entertainment in Africa. It will showcase the vibrant and friendly energy of Nigerians through different creative expressions, leverage on our abundant soft power to celebrate our heritage and promote our natural and cultural tourism assets, destinations and people in line with our agenda to promote domestic and regional tourism.
He was also worked to review and amend the enabling law guiding NTDC. Although the National Assembly passed the bill he introduced, the amendment is yet to get the President’s assent.
The renewed tenure therefore offers Coker the opportunity to pursue the amendment the NTDC Act.
However, many industry stakeholders believe the NTDC director general ought to have done better in managing relationship with the tourism organised private sector
There is a gap between the private sector practitioners and the NTDC. A country’s tourism thrive when there is an understanding synergy between the public and private sector. South Africa Tourism (SAT), Dubai Tourism, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) hardly embark on activities without inputs from the private sector.
The private tourism industry practitioners are currently in a very dire situation as a result of the CO VID-19 pandemic. They have been out of business for many months. The most important initiative the NTDC could put forward immediately would be on how to get them reliefs. .
Veteran tour operator and former President of African Travel Association (ATA) Mr. Jemi Alade reflected on Coker’s last four years and the new mandate: “I don’t think he has anything to bring to the table. I mean, he has been there for four years and we can’t point to anything that he has done.
“The industry for now is in a very precarious state because of the situation in the country. The insecurity is seriously affecting tourism. Although tourists are still coming despite the bad situation. I just completed a ten-day tour with some Europeans and they had a wonderful time.”
Since the NTDC boss said he would be concentrating on domestic tourism, Alade said: “The domestic market is very difficult to grow due to the present situation in the country. You know also that people don’t have the disposable income to travel. If you look at the domestic tourism market itself, it is very minimal. Nigeria has a population of over 200 million and maybe one to two percent of that, or less, is the market for tourism. It is very minimal. It needs to be expanded. How do you build a market for people who cannot afford to travel? It is a big challenge. You find out that most people travel once in a year and they visit their villages. But that one now is being challenged because of the security situation. So, movement of people is very limited in the country. It would have been good to get the youths to travel, but the youths cannot afford it because the parents would have to be the ones to sponsor them. But the challenges they are facing do not allow them to do that. What has been growing is the student excursion over time. A lot of children are now visiting places they have never been before through school excursions. This is a good development for tourism in Nigeria. That is being done by individuals. I don’t see any concerted efforts by the government.”
Alade advised on how to market local destinations: “In the area of marketing, you have to k now how to create the market. You have to create a product, you have to create a destination that will be viable and that will be meaningful for people to want to visit. You have to look at different angles of tourism. If you look at what Dubai is doing, they create activities. I can see that Coker is trying to do that with the Eko for Show thing. It is not something that government alone can do. It has to be community driven.
On partnering with the private sector, Alade said: “When you talk about interaction between the government and the private sector, the job of the government is to create the enabling environment. It is to enable the private sector to thrive, to be able to have business going. Most of the tourism practitioners look up to government. They want government to do this and that for them. The private sector should create activities. That is what brings revenue from government. In a situation where the government agencies want to compete with the private sector, it is not going to work.
“The government has a role to play in tourism. It is not that they should be the ones doing things like “Flavour…” You have private sector practitioners already doing this. What you need to do is to assist them to grow. You want to help them to develop their business. If you look at such initiatives by government in the past, they ended up being abandoned. Is it the Black Heritage Festival, and so on, they have been abandoned.”
However, FTAN Vice President South West, Otunba Ayo Olumoko scored the NTDC boss’ performance high in his first tenure high. Otunba Ayo Olumoko said: “ I have not followed his scorecard, but the one that I saw online which he prepared, I think he has done very well. Probably that must have warranted his being given an opportunity to come back for another four years.
“You see, we should not forget that this last for years have been tough for everybody including the agencies. That was when they were talking about doing one bill or the other; NIHOTOUR and everybody, trying to do a bill support and regulate the tourism sector.
“For this four years tenure, I am an apostle of one thing…I have noticed that everybody is interested in NTDC, why? How about the other parastatals? Nobody is talking about the other parastatals. There a kind of selective ‘vendetta’ that is being done against the person of the Director General. Sincerely, and that is what I abhor.
“This is the first time that we would have professionals that are3 being picked to manage our agencies. So, we should not be casting them down. This guy has done four years. Of all the Directors General, he is the only one, when his first tenure elapsed, he handed over to a senior director. Of all the other directors general, nobody did that. He was re-appointed. Since his reappointment, this is the first time in the NTDC that a director general will leave and would come back and the civil servants would be celebrating, even up to the security people.
“So please, I want us to try and manage ourselves. Yes, it cannot be perfect. His policies may not tally with other people’s expectations. What we need to do, like I have been telling those who care to listen, is to engage him. This next four years, what we need to do is to engage him. We are not engaging our directors general enough.”
When Olumoko was reminded that there were no stakeholders meeting with groups like FTAN in the first four years, he said: “When he came, nearly all the practitioners went to pat him courtesy visit. I remember that our late FTAN President, Saleh Kareem Rabo he led all the executives of FTAN to his office. We told him that we were ready to work with him. We told him that we would like to be part of anything that he would be doing.
“We should make our directors general accountable to us. If they are not calling us, let us speak out. I have been telling those who care to listen to me that let us bring any proposal, any ideas, let us bring it to him. If he is not doing it, then we should speak out. We should hold a press conference to speak out.”
Many tourism practitioners also believe that Nigerian culture, properly package and sold as the tourism product, can yield foreign exchange for the country and create employment for youths both in the urban and rural areas. These are some of the expectations for the returning helmsmen of the two parastatals.