By Jimoh Babatunde
The governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, said the said the time has come for government to go beyond the drawing board and elevate tourism as key driver of the local economy in content and practice.
Speaking at the first Plateau Tourism Conference held in Jos recently, the governor noted that Culture and tourism have been identified as key drivers in a bid to transform the socio-economic fortunes of Plateau State and by extension, Nigeria.
“we would invoke a state of emergency on tourism. It means we are going to focus and put more attention on tourism as a source of revenue for not only Plateau State but also for Nigeria, and instead of Nigerians running to Kenya or UK because of their weather, we would do the needful by developing the content and upgrading facilities that are in place and people will find the destination irresistible.
“When I mentioned state of emergency, I mean full attention will be paid to tourism, because we have many sources of revenue in the state, we have agriculture, which we are developing right way, we have minerals that are already there and we also made tourism as part of our five policy thrust; first of all, we are ready on the number which is peace and security. You cannot introduce tourism without peace and when you have peace what do you do? You must enjoy it.”
Lalong said the government will develop a tourism policy that subsequent government will find difficult to do away with.
“If you are thinking about a policy for tourism development, it is not a one year thing or a one tenure thing, in order to develop stability you must have a framework, which is an introduction to the tourism development strategy.
“We will develop a policy which will be approved by the executive and when it becomes law and it is working in the state, subsequent administrations will find it difficult to do away with. We have seen it happen in so many states, we have seen the benefits in so many countries which have strategically positioned tourism to grow their economy. And so it will be unfair for anybody to dump a viable venture.
“What I am doing is not for my tenure but we are developing it for posterity, so that whoever comes instead of bringing it down, will be expanding it for the benefit of the people of Plateau State.”
He used the opportunity to pay tribute to the first governor of the state J. D. Gomwalk, who in his wisdom, saw the need to create and lay the foundation for tourism to thrive.
He listed the legacies of Gomwalk to include the first museum, zoo, polo field, Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, hotel,among others , pointing out that because of the subsisting tourism economy then, coupled with unique good weather and the people’s legendary hospitality, Plateau was nicknamed ‘the home of peace and tourism.
“”For a long time people kept on calling it home of peace and tourism until when the state started having some crisis. But even after that crisis, we still use the same slogan for the state. Plateau is the only place where people run away from when there is crisis and return to when they need a cool place, for quiet time and for their holidays.”
Speaking on golf tourism, the governor said that in the last two years, the state has produced more than 20 professional golfers, who can compete at any international level.
He spoke of plans to revive Rayfield Golf Course, which he described as the oldest golf course in the country, constructed in 1913.
“Miners came and they started playing golf here in Nigeria, so there is no reason why we should not have a golf course. We are trying to bring out the beauty of the golf course back, so by the time we finish the greening, the historical aspect will be a brand that will bring international golfers to the state.”
The Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe,, who was one of the speakers at the conference, commended the governor for looking in the direction of culture and tourism while seizing the moment to inform the world that Plateau was safe and ready for business with its vast potentials in culture and tourism destinations.
The NCAC chief debunked stories making the rounds that the state was in crisis stating that he would not have travelled to Plateau along with his staff for the conference if the state was not safe. Runsewe added his voice to several other speakers at the event who collectively expressed determination to hit the ground running by working with the governor to market Plateau to the rest of the world as a preferred destination.