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Nigeria shouldn’t host UNWTO Summit, by tourism stakeholders

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
17 July 2022   |   2:45 am
Stakeholders in the tourism have lamented the state of the industry after the pandemic lockdown and wondered why Nigeria is interested in hosting United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s conference

Lai Mohammed

Insist Government Has Not Done Much To Boost Industry Post COVID-19 Lockdown

Stakeholders in tourism have lamented the state of the industry after the pandemic lockdown, and wondered why Nigeria is interested in hosting United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s conference on cultural tourism and creative industries, describing it as a “wild goose chase of no benefit to Nigeria.”

They said the tourism industry is at a standstill, even as policymakers around the world seek ways to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, recovery, which Nigeria has not properly handled.

Earlier in 2022, the Federal Government had signed an agreement to host the first Global Conference on Cultural Tourism and Creative Industry in Lagos from November 14 to 17, 2022.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, signed the agreement in Madrid, Spain, with the Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Mr Zurab Pololikashvili.

He had assured me that the country would put together a trailblazing event.

He described the signing of the agreement as the clearest indication yet of Nigeria’s commitment to hosting a successful conference, officially entitled ‘1st UNWTO Global Conference on Linking Tourism, Culture and Creative Industries: Pathways to Recovery and Inclusive Development.

He said the global conference would affirm Nigeria’s status as the hub of the Creative Industry in Africa, and help reposition the cultural tourism and creative industry as the engine of growth not just for Nigeria or Africa but indeed all countries of the world.

Mohammed said the conference would boost the creative industries, which according to the UN generate annual revenues of $2.25 trillion and account for 30 million jobs worldwide.

He commended the UNWTO for coming up with the conference and also for giving Nigeria the hosting rights.

Also, the UNWTO Secretary-General, Mr Pololikashvili, assured that the UN agency would immediately kick-start a global publicity campaign for the event as part of efforts to ensure its success.

In an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, which was issued by the President, of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN), Mr Nkereuwem Onung, they said Nigeria does not have the moral right to host the conference because it has not done much to promote tourism at home.
 
The tourism stakeholders said, “priority has not been translated into physical reality and transformation of our sector, which is globally acknowledged as a multi-layered sector and the largest employer of labour with every ‘one’ employment out of 10 from the tourism sector.”

They noted, “the supervising ministry for Tourism; the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, and the Minister in charge, Alhaji Mohammed, is, to say the least, have neglected tourism, with no basic policy direction, programmes and activities wholly initiated and/or in partnership with the private sector to drive tourism to improve its contribution to the country’s gross domestic product.”

The letter also said that the ministry and minister appear to have an avowed disdain for domestic tourism and working with the private sector as the fulcrum to change the narrative and disruptive innovations in the sector as has been done in other climes.

“Not even in the difficult era of COVID-19 when most of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) worked closely with the private sector to devise palliative for survival strategies did the minister and ministry think it wise to court the private sector.

“The only reaction from the Minister was to set up a ‘controversial’ creative industry committee to work out palliatives for the sector.

“Unfortunately, the recommendations of the committee and the review committee are today gathering dust and cobwebs in the ‘golden’ cabinet of the minister; neither disclosed nor recommendations implemented.”

Almost two years after the committee on the implementation of post-COVID-19 initiatives for the creative industry was inaugurated, artists and culture workers are still waiting for their own palliative. The committee was inaugurated on August 18, 2020.

The Guardian learnt from government sources that creatives would need to wait a little longer as the government currently cannot fund the package.

The sources said, “government is still working towards getting the fund needed and when it is available; it will surely be disbursed to creative workers.”

In March 2020, most cultural institutions closed shop, and events were postponed or cancelled, either voluntarily or as advised by the government. These included libraries, archives, museums, film and television productions, theatre and orchestra performances, concert tours, zoos, as well as music, arts festivals and exhibitions. The tourism industry was practically dead and needed recovery packages.

Recognising that the pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on jobs and that many individuals were temporarily or permanently out of employment, governments world over began to introduce measures to support workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 that apply to all sectors of the economy, including those who work in the culture sector.

Governments noted that fiscal stimulus and charities for artists would provide the fillip for growth. The Federal Government, at that time, had said it was collaborating with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide palliative and strategic intervention to the creative industry to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the sector.

Already, the government had put in place measures to tackle the impact, which include different financial intervention including N50 billion targeted at households and micro and small enterprises. The interest rate was also cut and a moratorium was announced on principal repayments for CBN intervention facilities.

The government also announced an additional N100 billion intervention fund in healthcare loans to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners intending to expand/build capacity, as well as identification of a few key local pharmaceutical companies that will be granted funding facilities to support the procurement of raw materials and equipment required to boost local drug production and N27bn to save existing aviation industry organisations and jobs, through a targeted stimulus package and fast track the establishment of a private sector driven national carrier.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, noted that the creative industry is a major plank of the economic diversification policy of the Buhari administration, as it creates the highest number of jobs after agriculture.

“By and large, the pandemic has been very severe on the creative and entertainment industry but the government is reaching out through the CBN to provide palliatives and intervention to cushion the effects of the pandemic,” he said.

Mohammed said because of the challenge, “we have, therefore, decided that instead of addressing this problem piecemeal, we should do so holistically for a more positive outcome,” noting that the creative industry is a very critical sector of the nation’s economy.

Taking a cue from Europe and America, the Federal Government approved the appointment of Ali Baba, Segun Arinze and others into a committee of creative industry stakeholders to advise it on the best way to mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry.

The committee, which was led by Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, professionally known as Ali Baba, had Anita Eboigbe of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, as Secretary. Other members of the Committee were Bolanle Austen Peters, Charles Novia, Segun Arinze, Ali Jita, Baba Agba, Kene Okwuosa, Efe Omoregbe, Prince Daniel Aboki, Chioma Ude, Olumade Adesemowo, Dare Art Alade and Hajia Sa’a Ibrahim.

The terms of reference of the committee included assessing the expected impact of the pandemic on the industry in general and advising the government on how to mitigate job and revenue losses in the sector, as well as to create succour for the industry’s small businesses.

According to the minister, the committee is also to suggest the type of taxation and financing that is best for the industry at this time to encourage growth and also advise the government on any other measures or measures that can be undertaken to support the industry.

Following the submission of the committee’s report, the Minister gave an assurance, noting, “we will study the report and commence its implementation in earnest.”

Listing the government’s insensitivity to the sector, he said, “our sector was already struggling with infrastructure deficit and funding opportunities before COVID-19 hit and then this ‘downturn’ that has followed. The results? Our government said it is looking for money, understandably so, but other governments are passing infrastructure bills and funding their different communities to jumpstart the economy, we are here allegedly enacting policies that are inimical to growth and development.”

The letter said: “Sadly, the Minister has not felt the need to work in this direction especially given our peculiar situation; with our economy bleeding and our tourist destinations gripped by insecurity that does not repose confidence in tourists and investors in revamping our neglected tourism.

“Rather, what we have seen over the last seven years is that the minister and the ministry have been more focused on merely attending international events and meetings of the UNWTO, and thus, becoming ‘biding specialists’ by lobbying to get hosting rights to any UNWTO related events without putting in perspective the attendant economic cost and benefits to the country.”

The letter concluded, “we the private sector, strongly believe that this world conference is of no benefit to Nigeria and our tourism industry. It is rather self–serving and more of personal aggrandisement and these can be deciphered from a critical analysis of the present state of our tourism and culture.”