Sambisa as a RUGA: Leveraging tourism in Nigeria
The first and only time I visited Calabar, the Cross River State capital was over eight years ago as head, Voice of Nigeria Training Centre to attend the Conference of Head of Training Institutions in Nigeria organized by the Centre for Management Development (CMD). During the three-day programme, I soaked myself in the freshness of a city that prides itself as an old seat of the British Colony in Nigeria.
Calabar is where an Irish humanist, Mary Slessor put an end to an abhorrent cultural practice of murder of girl-twins because of the prevailing myth that such multiple births portend bad omen for the largely heathen society in the early part of the 19th Century. In my morning and evening survey of the city during the conference, I found the city possessing an alluring beauty, with well laid out streets. Calabar exemplified environmental purity during my visit.
In this city, I saw the definition of dignity of labour in the passion of street sweepers. From as early as five o clock in the morning, they were on the roads, with brooms in both hands and with mechanical precision and sweat streaming their faces, their two hands sweeping in dizzying speed to give the city of Mary Slessor a glittering look as the sun rises daily. Its cab drivers were genial as I engaged them in discussion.
As the conference wound up, I had time on hand to take a tour of Tinapa Resort. Tinapa is a futuristic theme park with benumbing and vast shopping facilities. The resort is the making of Donald Duke whose dream was to turn his home state into an Eldorado of sort, an African tourist destination that would rival Genting Highlands in Malaysia. A visit to Malaysia is incomplete without a sight of Genting. Tinapa should be the marvel of Cross River, a diamond in the sun that splashes light on the garden city as it welcomes millions of visitors into its bowels to lavish life savings as tourists. But has Donald Duke’s dream to make Calabar a daring tourist destination materialized? This can be confirmed or refuted by what has become of Tinapa since he left office after eight years in the saddle. Since, my last and only visit to Calabar, Tinapa has hardly made any cheering news as a tourist destination to put the city or Nigeria on the world tourism map in the mould of Disneyland.
Yet for a state like Cross River, if it were in South East Asia, which I’m a bit familiar with, Tinapa would have been a high revenue earner as it pulls millions of tourists into the embrace of the garden city. Not just Cross River; every state in Nigeria has the potential to earn megabucks from tourism, far more than what some whole countries in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean islands earn from visitors. If in New Delhi, one could pay to visit the home of the Ghandis, I ask why can’t our tourism ministry make millions from Tafawa Balewa tourist site in Bauchi? Indonesia’s Taman Mini Indonesia Indah Independence Park receives streams of tourists daily in Jakarta, a site promoted by the wife of one the country’s presidents just as the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and the adjoining KLCC Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur is a daily crowd puller. Daily, the beautiful mosques of Bandar Seri Begawan, which we found in poster everywhere, are visited by tourists from China, Australia and the Philippines. The entirety of Singapore at the Southern tip of West Malaysia is a tourist delight. When Nigerians travel to Dubai or Doha, they tell tales of even just the airports as tourists’ havens.
When we travel to Saudi Arabia or Israel, we talk of those countries beyond the spiritual import of Hajj, Umrah or the pilgrimage for Muslims and Christians. We talk about beauty and order in those countries. We talk about efficiency of their public infrastructure that makes life and commuting comfortable. When we travel to India for medical solace, we envy the health services on offer round the populous country. When we attend conferences in Europe, we are fascinated by the quality of service of the hospitality industry there. The sporting infrastructure in some countries is the main attraction that yields for them billions in dollars. Some islands in the pacific region are just good enough for their pure silence and green verdant landscape, perfect for rehabilitation or recuperation. Brunei Darussalam for instance prides itself as the Green Heart of Borneo Island in celebration of the country’s environmental virginity.
Travelling by road to Abuja occasionally, I always luxuriate in the sights, scenes and sceneries of the lush foliage of green vegetation as it unfolds, rolling hills and hillocks, towering mountains, heavy boulders and intimidating rock formations that define the Nigerian landscape in that segment of the country from Osun through Ondo, a strip of Edo and the swathe of Kogi during the near twelve our drive before entering the sprawling Federal Capital to be surprised by its wide boulevards. It is a sheer beauty, indeed alluring, mentally rejuvenating and spiritually soothing or calming, like the feeling one gets in the rain forest of the Borneo Island, shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. On such long trips, I am most mentally fertile, manufacturing many of my masterpieces on motion. Abuja has a fair share of iconic buildings to be proud of, including the breath-taking National Mosque and the opulent National Christian Ecumenical Centre that qualify as tourist attractions in many countries of the world. Traveling from Abuja to Kaduna sometimes last year, the Idu Train Station was my transit point from where I had a ride like in a flight to the Northern Nigerian political capital.
What do these tell us about tourism in Nigeria? Simple. The country has vast tourism potentials, which unfortunately have not been sufficiently tapped into. I think we first need to have a wider perspective of tourism. Tourism is not just about travelling to have fun or for holidaying. Tourism covers every aspect of life that necessitates one to leave his home for another. From pilgrimage to establishing business link, seeking university admission, health rehabilitation, conference participation, arts and specialized exhibitions, trade fairs, cultural shows, sports fiestas and cultural festivals come under the gamut of tourism.
Each state government must therefore seek opportunities in the comparative advantages of its territories, leveraging on them to develop into tourism assets or potentials for earning huge revenue. This requires investment in supporting infrastructure and providing the enabling environment to attract tourists of different shades and intents to their states. For instance, Lagos the Centre of Excellence and State of Aquatic Splendour is blessed with beautiful beaches waiting for further exploration. All the littoral states from Lagos to Cross River can form an Atlantic coastal front to develop water sports just as the states in the savanna belt can offer the land for dizzying safaris and mesmerizing motor races. Our rainforest region indeed is crying for conversion into wild life parks for exploration of our flora and fauna and fascinating forest expeditions to discover nature. All round the country, money can be made in showcasing our cuisines and our artistic dexterities in exhibition of our prodigies wasting away in many city corners or finding solace in crime as one million boys, Badoo, internet fraudsters and traders in flesh and body.
Now the Borno State Government according to news has decided to hand over part of the dreaded Sambisa Forest to the Federal Government for the experimentation of RUGA. Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum announced the donation recently when the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai El-Kanemi, visited him at Government House, Maiduguri during Sallah and hinted that the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, agro rangers and hunters had been mobilised to secure the area and revealed “We have identified six different locations we consider safe for the pilot scheme in the state. The Ruga scheme is as old as history; it is not a new thing. I don’t know why some people are politicising it.
This is exemplary as Sambisa is where the notorious Boko Haram once used as cover for their onslaught against the Nigerian state in their mad ambition to overrun the country and force on the nation their queer ideology that attacks rationality and knowledge, the very foundation of the faith they claim to profess. Extricating it from politics or escapism however, what a business tourist zone Sambisa would be if developed into the ideal RUGA as it becomes an attraction for the world to see a zone of death rise as a settlement that spells a new dawn in employment and productivity where business in dairy or milk products, meat processing and associated industries comes alive.
This would be a model for business tourism in Nigeria. We can locate more dreaded places and flashpoints around the country, recover them from hoodlums and brigands and turn them into money spinning ventures. Individuals can even be invited to purchase them for development into theme parks where adults and children can holiday.
Solanke is Acting Deputy Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development, Voice of Nigeria and volunteers for the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), Nigeria as Director, Media & Strategic Communications