Of NTDC DG, Mediocrity and Wasted Billions on Incompetence

Posted on: April 14, 2021, by :

The Nigerian tourism industry is currently in a deep slumber foisted upon it by actors within the public and private sectors.

As a Nigerian travel journalist, the first tendency is to play the ‘siddon de look’ card as a result of past neglect, vilification and abject lack of support for travel journalism in the country from both the public and private sectors.

However, one is forced to write being aware of one’s constitutional responsibility as a journalist and also because of the passion and deep sense of duty to the industry. One has to also write so that posterity will not ask ‘what did you do?’

Currently, the apex tourism body in the country, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is facing a leadership transition with the last occupant of the position of Director General (DG), Mr. Folorunsho Coker, out of office, having completed his four-year tenure.

The proper thing would have been for the former NTDC DG to present his scorecard to the Nigerian public before leaving office, knowing that he was there and worked as a servant of the people. There was no such opportunity, just as there was little or no interactions in the last four years with travel journalists to explain the NTDC leadership’s policy trust and focus.

 The only official interaction the NTDC leadership had with the travel press in the last four years was when the travel press paid a courtesy visit to the former DG to welcome him as the new helmsman.

But despite this handicap, one would be failing on one’s constitutional duty to the Nigerian public if one refuses to look at this tenure that billions of Naira was allotted to in the last four years, and what the money was used for.

However, the good thing about looking at the four years of Coker’s tenure is that he clearly stated what he intended to achieve between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2021.

Folorunsho Coker’s Vision for Nigerian Tourism in 2017

Coker gave a sneak preview of his blueprint when the Association of Nigerian Journalists and Writers of Tourism (ANJET) paid him a courtesy visit in 2017. He said: “We also need to identify our key products in comparative terms now. What do we have that others don’t have? That is what we have to identify and market.

 “Right now our entertainment and hospitality industry has become our selling point, and with that we identify our niche market and age bracket of that market. Our fashion and film sectors are already known all over the world.

“We need to key into these markets and identify the segment of the society shopping in that market. My focus for now will be the development of the domestic industry which I believe is much more sustainable and which if properly done will drive the international market for us. If we are able to get it right, then the international segment will naturally take care of itself. We have to start from home.

 “For you the journalists, you are the ambassadors of Nigeria tourism, so for that we must reach a pact to safeguard our products and objectively point out the way forward. This is so because in this digital age, your words carry effect and reach to influence opinions and viewpoints around the world.”

These were the words of the former NTDC DG. He was very clear on what he wanted to achieve.

 At the risk of sounding repetitive, the four years tenure of the last DG of NTDC was, according to him, predicated on ‘ the development of the domestic industry which I believe is much more sustainable and which if properly done will drive the international market for us. If we are able to get it right then the international segment will naturally take care of itself. We have to start from home.

So, how has this been achieved?

Tour Nigeria and All of Us

The former DG then went ahead to unveil what he called the TOUR NIGERIA brand. He described it as ‘an ambitious, timely and visionary brand for promoting domestic tourism in Nigeria. The vision of the master brand is to build the premier online destination for authentic Nigerian content, using technology, creativity, arts and culture to push the new national agenda. It will showcase the true spirit of Nigeria and tell the visual story of the most populous black nation in the world.’ This sounded wonderful on paper.

He explained this position further: the ‘Tour Nigeria’ brand was conceived to drive domestic consumption of our tourism assets and products, create new channels of tourism markets, add to the nation’s GDP, create employment, and increase spending in the economy. The brand is an ambitious attempt at promoting tourism in Nigeria that aims to shape the narrative on Nigeria as a major destination for tourism, hospitality, arts and entertainment in Africa. It will showcase the vibrant and friendly energy of Nigerians through different creative expressions, leverage on our abundant soft power to celebrate our heritage and promote our natural and cultural tourism assets, destinations and people in line with our agenda to promote domestic and regional tourism.

“To quicken growth in our tourism industry, we have prepared a Tourism Development ROADMAP with short, medium and long-term objectives. We have also agreed on a strategic 5-point Action Plan to innovate our tourism and improve service delivery and effectiveness in critical sectors of the industry. The acronym for the strategic 5-point Action Plan to grow the industry is CHIEF.”

CHIEF stands for: Corporate governance and regulation; Human capital development; Infrastructural development; Events and marketing; Finance and investment.   

The Tour Nigeria mantra of the NTDC sounds good only on paper also but what interface did the former  DG of NTDC have with the organized private sector like the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and the tourism industry value chain to map out strategies on how to galvanise the Nigerian public to visit tour sites in the country and grow the industry?

Some vehicles were acquired ostensibly to drive the Tour Nigeria mantra. How accessible was this to tour operators? In what conditions were these vehicles and how did NTDC partner with the private sector on how to achieve the goal of increasing traffic to Nigerian tour sites.

The only time an honest push and a renaissance towards selling Nigerian local destinations were witnessed was last year through the Naija Seven Wonders zoom conference. This was at the height of look down last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This writer was among the guests for the maiden edition. It led to a reawakening of desire to push Nigerian tour sites. Hitherto unknown sites such as Idere Hills in Oyo State, Abuja  Mpape crushed rocks and so on, became very popular. Where was NTDC leadership during this difficult period?

As a result of this private initiative, the Nigerian domestic tourism industry drive is currently being spearheaded by a  group of young, passionate, adventurous, patriotic Nigerians from almost all the geo-political regions of the country who dare the devil to get to our rich, but unappreciated and undeveloped tourism sites. They inundate us with amazing pictures and rich adventure stories. 

So, how has the NTDC marketed Nigerian tourism in the last four years? All the talk about building premier online destination for authentic Nigerian content, using technology, creativity, arts and culture to push the new national agenda, what did the last NTDC DG achieve in the last four years?

While the NTDC wallowed in activities and lack of vision, young upcoming tourism stakeholders were on the road marketing and promoting Nigerian tourism content. They took all the risks, some even paid the supreme price. Yet we had a leadership at the apex national tourism agency that made all the right but hollow noises about tourism, who, even with full complement of the might of the Federal Government’s purse, had to be cajoled and ‘blackmailed’ into visiting tourism sites. They did not have passion or emotion for the industry, but were passionate about the subvention from the government that went to the industry. 

They use political connections to corner this important sector, and use the same to try perpetuate their poor leadership and incompetence.

Between last year and now, there has been a great renaissance and desire to market Nigerian tourism sites. NTDC’s input in all these is ZERO.

Back to the CHIEF initiative by the NTDC,  ‘C’ stands for corporate governance and regulation. The only effort in that regard is the lobbying of the leadership of the National Assembly  to amend the NTDC act.  In this process, NTDC  leadership, in the last four years, threw everything into this effort. Unfortunately, four years later, nothing came out of it.

‘H’ stands for ‘ human capital development’. Either in the public and private sector, there is nothing to show for this in the last four years.

In the last four years of NTDC, the only infrastructural development I know of apart from the Tour Nigeria vehicles is the building of a toilet at a tourism site in Plateau state. But if there are others, the NTDC did not give us such information.

‘E’ stands for events and marketing. This area is comatose: the only major event NTDC had held outside  Abuja, was the North Central Stakeholders meeting.  If the focus was on domestic tourism like the ex-NTDC DG said, the least he could have done was to put his money where his mouth was. Unfortunately, no such thing was done.

‘F’ completes the CHIEF initiative. One might not be competent to know about the finances and investment or what the last leadership of NTDC meant by that. Definitely no value was added to Nigerian tourism in this area in the last four year.

IF the industry stakeholders would be truthful to themselves, the last four years of leadership at NTDC has been a disaster. It is tragic that billions in allocation was voted to NTDC in these years, and four years later, there is absolutely nothing to show for the money. Rather, the  industry is poorer than in it was on April 1, 2017.

Like NTDC, Like FTAN

Though the NTDC leadership in the last four years has been a disaster simple, but the organized private sector under the umbrella of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) had not been better. Despite the obvious incompetence at the NTDC, FTAN leadership for fear of repercussions never voiced any dissent. The FTAN leadership would prefer to keep quiet for fear of being labeled, but would rather murmur from the back.

Other industry associations are pushing for palliatives and relief from the Federal Government for sectors less impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The government has honoured and  intervened in these sectors, but FTAN would prefer to keep quiet and create non-existing excuses for not being proactive.  For those who are afraid of the heat, why go near the fire?

The Federal Government made funds available for the sector through the ministry headed by the Information and Culture Minister Lai Muhammed. So far the fund turned out to be another lie. Who will help these tourism operators?

Until FTAN, NATOP and other bodies begin to forcefully demand that these characters competently do their jobs and in the process protect the industry, the Nigerian tourism industry will continue with this current all motion and no movement dance.

Lastly, on the leadership vacuum at NTDC,  if Folorunsho Coker is returned as NTDC DG, it would definitely not be because of performance. From the score card above; he scored zero beyond the razzmatazz of sophistry.  It might just be because of other extraneous factors like having the backing of a powerful political heavyweight. The Nigerian tourism industry will be the victim for this.

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