By LAIDE AKINBOADE
Culture, Tourism and National Orientation Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed, was born in 1961. Before his appointment as minister, he was the Chief of Staff of the Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Alhaji Bayero Nafada. Before then, he was a teacher at the Federal University of Technology, Yola. He was appointed minister in April 2010.
In this interview with Mohammed, he explains his vision for the ministry and what he has done so far.
You have been in the saddle as Culture and Tourism Minister for 10 months now, if you were to look back at your activities in office, what would you want to describe as your highest point?
The highest point of my activities in office is my ability to mobilise major stakeholders in the culture and tourism industry to support government programmes. This is manifested in the apparent support we now get from major stakeholders in the industry with respect to programmes that our ministry undertakes which clearly in recent times show there is a massive support.
We have been able to reawaken the Nigerian public on the importance and benefit of promoting our culture and promoting tourism through various initiatives; some are initiatives that are built on existing programmes.
I am aware there is a Culture and Tourism Master-plan, how far have you been able to execute the content of that master-plan?
Well, when I came on board, I discovered that there was a committee to implement the culture and tourism master-plan, however, there were some challenges so the ministry disbanded the committee before my assumption of office.
And, I asked what the problems were, I discovered that we needed more input from our development partners and, of course, the National Planning Commission (NPC), and, to that extent I undertook a visit to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation where I had discussions with the executive members there and a task team was appointed after which the team visited Nigeria. During the visit, they proffered a way forward as to how best the tourism master-plan can be implemented.
We took that to NPC and we agreed that a technical committee should be appointed and which we did and which has already submitted its report. The report we have considered and now setting up a task team in the ministry with the secretariat and it would involve local consultants and international consultants. And, we have given the report back to NPC to enable them get some funding for us in support of the implementation of the master-plan and the other part we have made budgetary provisions this year.
In 2011, we really need to make the implementation secretariat functional.
At a point, crude oil would cease to be Nigeria’s forex earner, can we turn to culture and tourism as a major source of foreign exchange earnings? And, when you hear people say that, what are the things that go through your mind?
What goes through my mind is that when we develop the potentials of tourism in Nigeria, we stand the chance of attracting so many visitors into the country and we can then earn a lot of foreign exchange because the potentials we have in the country are varied in different sectors of the government and depending on the interest. We have so many cultural interests in the country.
In potentials, we have eco-tourism, conferencing, and, of course, because of the diversity and population of this country the scenario beauty that is abundant in this country, it is clear that it holds a lot for us on what we can earn in foreign exchange.
We will be able to generate so much money provided we are able to implement the tourism master-plan.
By implementing the tourism master plan, we would have put in place those frame works, those structures, those requirements, incentives that will bring, first, investment into the tourism sector in the country and, second, bring a lot of tourists inflow into the country.
What that means is that there will be so much money coming into the country. So, because those ones are sustainable, we now say if oil is not there, tourism is a clear substitute to oil.
Since you became the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, what do you think of the level of participation of the private sector in the industry since they normally complain about lack of Federal Government’s participation and investment in culture and tourism?
I agree with you that a lot needs to be done by the private sector in participation in the tourism sector. We do not expect the Federal Government’s participation in tourism or tourism projects, what the Federal Government is supposed to do is to provide institutional framework, provide the necessary environment, and create incentives for the private sector to develop these potentials.
I know, of course, there are challenges that are faced by the private sector but, of course, they are supposed to be the major drivers of investment in tourism sector so, they need to do more.
Nigeria will become a focal point during the April elections, the safety of our hotels is very crucial; so, what are those things that have been put in place to let them feel a sense of being at home even when they are not at home?
Of course, as elections come close, there are a number of security challenges in recent times, but the Federal Government is putting in place sufficient measures so that lives and properties are secured.
And, to that extent, if we are able to secure them on that and we are able to have very good elections, then we stand the chance of attracting people into our country and people will feel at home away from home.
One good thing is that if we conduct good elections people have a lot of confidence both in terms of investment and in terms of interacting closely with you and that is exactly what the Federal Government is trying to do.
Finally, sir, we heard of actors complaining of not having a theatre or having a studio built for them by the Federal Government where they can bring out the best in their trade. Is the government looking towards assisting them, because whenever you hear them talk, they complain about government abandoning them, look at Nollywood, it is said to be the fastest growing in the world.
If you go to Tinapa, Cross River State, there is a very big theatre there and it is underutilised. I believe people can make investments in this sector. Nollywood is a vast and big industry, where people can invest and make money.
The private sector operativers can come and build studios either in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna and, of course, they stand to gain a lot because this is a very big industry. It is one of the biggest industries in the country to the extent that the government has so many competing demands, then the private sector will be better placed to build this type of facilities.