By Adekunle Adekoya
HIGH Chief Edem Duke, the Honourable Minister of Tourism, Culture & National Orientation, needs little introduction. Before becoming a minister, he has never really left the public domain, ever since 1994 when he succeeded Ogbuefi (now Igwe) Alex Nwokedi as GM, Public Affairs of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
After his tour of duty in the oil sector, Duke surfaced in the tourism and hospitality business as an hotelier, his imposing bulk becoming a regular feature at various tourism fora, local and international, and had made immense contributions towards the development of the sector which is hoped can earn forex for the nation.
In the interview below, the Tourism Minister speaks of his experience in the few months after his appointment, and of his hopes and aspirations. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Nigeria at 51?
Without making levity of your question, I will quickly remind you of that TV advert, “I better pass my neighbour”.
I think Nigeria at 51 is green and we have asserted ourselves at the age of 51, there are other countries in the west coast of Africa that attained 51, may be a little over and we don’t look like poor cousins when we compare the point at which we are and we also think that within the frame work of the continent itself, we have recorded immense achievements.
I always try to look more at the things that have positive in the make up of our country but there are challenges far outweighing the challenges no matter how critical they are.
How do you see the schedule of ministry of tourism and the entire sector and industry of tourism in Nigeria from a ministerial point of view?
Well, one has been a stakeholder in this sector, upon my assumption of duty as a minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, the first thing that struck me was not what you saw from outside and what you see from inside is completely at variance with the assumptions of those who are outside.
The first challenge I got on the first day as a minister was at the day the induction of new ministers, the presidency communicated the transformational agenda of Mr. President to us and I flipped through the transformational agenda which is about 170_plus pages, I didn’t find one line that mentioned the word tourism, culture or national orientation.
I then picked up another document and looked at the priority program and projects of government for the transformation period and I didn’t see one project that is from the ministry of tourism. And I know there are people who are in the public sector of tourism that have been doing a lot of work over the years and this work was identified in the vision 202020.
But I know from his pronouncement that the president is keen on developing culture as enterprise, developing tourism as a platform for the diversification of the economy. And I pleaded on my first cabinet meeting with Mr. President on the matter.
What was President Jonathan’s response?
He graciously gave a time frame for us to develop an agenda and have it mainstreamed into the transformation program. Having done that, I presented the agenda to the heads of parastatals of all the boards. And I gave an overview of the transformation agenda of the ministry and I gave all parastatals to go and review it with boards and make their own input.
I have noticed that one or two uninformed members of the press claimed that the minister of tourism has no agenda. I have operated in corporate Nigeria at a very high level including the private sector and I understand the institutional requirements of administering, of being in the business, department or ministry and so, my own road map haven developed the agenda was to forward it to departments and agencies under the ministry.
Having done that to get their inputs adopted and appraised and after that, the most important thing for me to do especially at the verge of commencement of budget process for 2012 was not to take it to the press but to communicate it to the economic management team, ministry of finance, the ministry of national planning, the budget dept and certain other critical partners within government, because my view is that perhaps the failure of having gotten our selves in the front seat of transformation agenda may have been due to a communication challenge.
What were the things you noticed while preparing your position?
I also noticed that there was a huge knowledge and capacity gap. Tourism, culture and national orientation has been seen as the heart, a holding ground for civil servants who were looking for a more auspicious ministry to move to and so, I began to communicate the essence of professionalism in the sector, especially in the public sector where policy issues emanate.
I brought in one or two experts to interface with the hierarchy of the ministry and departments and agencies under the ministry.
Tourism and culture has always been activity driven not objective driven and so it was a matter of what are we doing this month, what are the traveling plans, what quality of T_shirts are we going to pay, what paper bags are we using and of course, we have done this with so much specialization and perfection that you know.
To cross the rubicon to now communicate the fact that tourism, culture and national orientation is as professional as in medicine and engineering, that it has the intellectual components, that it uses itself as development, that it engages science, evaluation, technology and ICT, so that our colleagues in other ministries and those who are responsible for appropriating money for the growth and development of ministries and agencies will not look at tourism as a poor intellectual cousin to other ministries.
These to me are critical for the take off of the sector. So there is a knowledge gap and this we are addressing.
The agenda is ready and available now. I have submitted it and it is at the juncture of the budget process, there are other people that I have to present this to. For example, it would be presented to the cabinet and to the president officially apart from having passed it through my colleague ministers.
If you are caught up in the red tape process, what time frame are you looking at?
I think, with this month of October that will be done and I must at this point say that I have received a lot of understanding not only from the Mr. President but from my colleague ministers who have all of a sudden realised that this has not been strongly advocated in the past.
And I’m getting support morally from very many of them. However, I hasten to say that the biggest economy on the country today is driven by tourism and we have always been firm as an oil and gas economy so can you imagine if we are able to, in addition to the revenue from oil and gas, be able to galvanize tourism and culture to its full potentials what this will mean for GDP of our country and of course, given the initiative of Mr. President in agriculture and all the other sectors.
The issue of security is a problem to tourism, is there any initiative on ground to curtail this menace?
Well, if we listen carefully to the president’s independence broadcast, he left Nigerians with no doubts. He was unequivocal about his commitment and the fact that he has put in place a new security frame work to tackle the security challenges. He also reestablished his faith in the security agencies to address the challenges.
He said because our country has always been relatively safe in the past, it is very worrisome for Nigerians in general that these issues are escalating at this point in time but I also will like to add that in very many parts of the world, there are issues of insecurity that have been better managed in the media.
I understand the anxiety of a nation but remember a couple of weeks ago, there were days upon days of unparalleled violence and crises and acts of brigandage in far away United Kingdom and after two, three days then reports were blatant even though that activity continued for a little more than that.
There was no tribal adversary against going to the United Kingdom but when you have isolated incidence, serious though, you find out that it appears as if there was a global conspiracy against Nigeria.
It will be so over reported that even the efforts of the security agencies will be scorned and you find that this kind of reportage even emanate from within, so that it appears as if our country is held to ransom by this development. But the president has said that these isolated incidents will not define us as a country.
In terms of its impact on tourism, we will try to learn lessons from the economies and continents that are actually identified as countries with very high crime rate but which tourism is growing at a phenomenal rate. So we have to also as Nigerians while condemning this act of violence, find ways of managing the reputation of our country.
How much of partnership with private people are you going to have this time around?
Well, one of the cardinal points of my programme in this administration of the ministry is to increase the participation of the private sector in the activities of the sector. I have noticed that in the past, the private sector has never felt an integral part of the sector and one is that first and foremost private practitioners must increase their foot print around and within the public sector.
This ministry is a ministry of public and private sector. So our colleagues in private sector must be inquisitive; they must demand information and they must feel welcome within the corridors of the ministries and its parastratals. Ministries, departments and paraatratals must also include private sector in every of its important projects.
I am going to ensure that there is a more general participation by the private sector and we are going to develop activation committees which will be looking at master plans. We will also have private sector to drive them. We must create that collaborative platform or else, it will not work.
There are critical issues that for them to work in the interest of tourism government must play a role and private sector must play a role. There are some that only the private sector can play a role and vice versa.
We must ensure engagement by these two critical partners or else, we will not be learning from the global best practices and we will perpetually be a clog in the progress of the private sector. So all of this we are going to put in place this month of October.
What are the specific incentives for these private operators?
Well, I do not have the authority to define how the private sector gets incentives because the essence of being in the private sector is profit; in the public sector it isn’t. What I’m desirous of doing is to create opportunities to make money. Apart from that the private sector must also renew itself in different ways.
There must be capacity, they must be able to access the finances that will help them to promote their business and if they don’t come to tell us that they want to invest in hospitality, we will be willing to go to government to say this is critical for development of hospitality and so on.
If there are issues that will lead to infrastructure, we should be able to say to our collaborators and partners in ministry work that there is a huge potential in tourism clusters in certain parts of the country. We need, say 10 kilometers of road in order to open up that particular area. These are the kind of incentives that we will be able to work with.
How can we grow domestic tourism?
In fact the primary focus of the ministry is to develop the domestic tourism because when you talk about the census figure of 150 million plus people having them to move around this country is enormous. The prospects of getting our traditional rulers to move around the country, visiting their brother traditional rulers, the prospects of Nigerians taking their leaves within the country, are very enormous.
We are hoping that if we are able to get the kind of support that we are anticipating in 2012, we will launch a travel Nigeria 2012 programme. This will be an advocacy platform for us to get our legislators and other government functionaries spend part of their holiday within the country.
You know, our leaders in various political offices define some of the ways in which the followership responds to certain stimulus. I’m talking now about travel Nigeria 2012. The campaign that will last till 2015 and again, a campaign to visit Nigeria in 2014 in order to try to address the prospects of domestic tourism _ an
in-flow from outside of our borders and these are all going to be driven by the private sector.
We will create the frame work and restructure the ministry, departments and parastatals in order to be able to give life to this vision.
The media in Nigeria helped develop tourism in South Africa. Are you planning to do a similar thing here?
You know, that is the irony of our situation that whereas it is easy for us to go and see in other places what we refused to see in our country but you cannot blame the South Africans because, they are exploiting the weaknesses of our own system.
They have used marketing tools to sell their country; they have the mandate to do so. We also have mandate but what have we done with our own mandate? However, we are going to deploy very aggressive marketing to market Nigeria within Nigeria for Nigerians and to market Nigeria outside of Nigeria to Nigerians and Africans in the diaspora and we have identified parts of the world where that marketing initiative will be deployed.
And we know that the biases of western media have not created major encumbrances for us. So we can not blame other people for doing their own job well and for the success of their work to show so glaringly and expose our own inadequacies. Of course, it is a challenge and I have no doubts in mind that within the country we have the competencies to deal with the matter in a favourable manner.
Many of the parastatals in the ministry seem to be in competition with the industry itself, have you noticed it?
Well, I think that if everything were going well, we will be discussing how much revenue that we are generating. But there are challenges within the ministries and there are challenges within the parastatals
You know, there were evidences that some ministers posted to tourism and culture in past saw their posting as a punishment.
So they go there from day one without any desire to do anything. Though it has been said extensively, I will doubt whether a minister who takes an oath will actually go to a ministry and decide that he/she is in a wrong place and will not do anything.
Be that as it may, we have identified a capacity gap; we have identified lack of professionalism. This is not peculiar to the ministry but when I spoke about them, I spoke in a broad term about the parastatals. One of our mandates is to restructure the parastatals in a way that they will be able to rise up to the challenges of the sector and the mandate of their various agencies.
There is also the issue of funding which is not enough. So we must also seize every opportunity to advocate for an increased funding of the sector. There is also a challenge in the sense that for a sensitive sector like this, we can not run in isolation. You must find institutional synergy with the principal ministries with critical deliverables so as to make your job easier.
The other day, I was speaking with the minister of transport and he asked me to give him an information on where your important tourist locations are as we develop the railways let us see how we can cover those areas. That’s synergy.
Again, I put my issue before the minister of finance, and she said her ministry will support us not only through federal government budget but will also place PPP opportunities and platforms at our disposal. So I’m going beyond the shores of Nigeria to other countries that have grown their tourism to find partnership that can help us to meet some of our challenges.
So I will want to spend a couple of days in each state of the federation, working with the state governments to develop the potentials in the tourism sector.