By Andy Ehi
With the recent creation of Ministry of Tourism and appointment of a Minister, Ms Lola Ade-John, to man the ministry, there is a buzz of some sorts in the horizon, which in the coming days will get to a crescendo level.
This is as people of different hues and colours, especially later day Apostles, bestriding the scene with congratulatory messages and taking the glory for the creation of the new ministry.
While for some others it is postulations and agenda setting time for the new ministry and minister. Of course, these are salutatory and welcome development in our clime as people are free to position themselves for the windfall in the best possible way that serve their ends.
One of the earliest agenda setting or what one may call ‘Beautiful Love Letter,’ is that writing on the first week of the announcement of the new ministry and minister by the Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Authority (NTDA), Folorunsho Coker.
Well written and in beautiful prose, it was also a well research agenda setting article, with the title, Nigerian tourism on the cusp of global reckoning. A ‘love letter’ from an old groom to the newest bride in town.
For the uninitiated, Coker deserves to be applauded for taking time out of his ‘busy’ schedule to pen such a beautiful letter to his new boss, Lola Ade-John, however, for those deeply entrenched in the scene and followers of development within the Nigerian tourism sector, the feeling is quite different. And this is understandable.
The love letter is self-serving as Coker obviously has a disguised agenda, however, it is nothing short of Coker displaying his grass irresponsibility and failure as the DG of NTDA. Were Nigeria to be a different clime, Coker would had by now be shown the exit door because he has failed totally and betrayed the trust of the people and the government that appointed him into this present position.
Coker’s NTDA for the record is a parastatal under the Ministry of Tourism and it is government’s apex parastatal that implements tourism policies churned out by the ministry. Coker’s NTDA is primarily charged with the development and marketing of Nigerian tourism both on the domestic and global scene.
He has held this coveted position for over six years running and the question that begs for answer is how come in the last eight years that his brother and former boss, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was the minister in charge of tourism that Coker didn’t pen such a beautiful article to him or walk up to him to draw his attention to the agenda that he has so colourfully elucidated?
Again, as NTDA what exactly is his duty and what has he done over the last six years that he has suddenly woken up to pen a letter, Nigerian tourism on the cusp of global reckoning, to the new minister?
The fact is that Coker has by the letter shown that he lacked the basic understanding of his role and the enormous power that he bears to transform the Nigerian tourism without waiting on the minister as he would want his readers to believe.
What he has done is buck passing and an attempt to pull a wool over the new minister and courts the innocent new bride on the tourism block because his office is as a matter of fact charged with the responsibility of undergoing the agenda that he has put out to the minister.
If he believes otherwise then let him tell Nigerians what are his remix and what he has done with the huge budget allocated to NTDA in the last six years that it now suddenly dawn on him to be the one setting agenda for the new minister when he couldn’t lift a finger in developing and promoting tourism over these six years?
A cursory look at the six points agenda colourfully marshalled by Coker would show that these are functions that fall totally under his watch and not the ministry as the much the minister can do is to offer political leadership for the ministry, initial policies and oversee what NTDA and not take over NTDA functions otherwise there would be no need for the existence of NTDA.
Commissioning of a National Tourism Development Master Plan
It is on record that a national tourism master plan for Nigeria exist, which was developed during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and reviewed by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who under former President Muhammadu Buhari presided over tourism, that was neglected and left to rot but for personal benefits that accrued only to Mohammed.
It is misleading for Coker to be calling for the commissioning of a tourism master plan when one in existence neither touched by a pole by himself nor his former boss.
Activation of the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA)
Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) was introduced to Nigeria and domiciled in NDTA by the former Minister of Tourism, Franklin Ogbuewu. Again, during Lai Mohammed time experts from the United Nations World Tourism organsiation (UNWTO) were sponsored by him to work with the ministry, NTDA and the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics on implementing the TSA.
The question then is what did Coker do with the TSA under his watch that he is now putting out as an agenda to the new minister?
Placement of Tourism in the Federal Constitution
It is worthy to note that Coker has suddenly realised that pushing for constitutional resolution to the Supreme Court judgement of 2013, which puts tourism entirely under the state government, would make tourism a national concern and empower the federal government to drive it and not the NTDA Act 2022, which he has wasted public resources in putting in place and yet not able to achieve anything since then.
Leveraging on the Open Skies Agreement and the Single African Market
It is laughable that Coker as the promoter of Nigerian tourism has not once in the last six years engaged constructively with the aviation sector and other related bodies in Africa that is now charging the minister on open skies when in fact, he has the power to have leveraged on this since then.
Strengthening Institutional and Human Capacity Development Across the Industry
When has it become the duty of the minister to carry out this function when NTDA and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) and other parastatals under the ministry should be the ones courting partners and building capacity?
If the minister takes over this function as posited by Coker, the question then is, what becomes of his NTDA Act, in which he glowingly outlined those to be partnered by NTDA to achieve his pipe dream?
Encouraging Tourism Investment and Funding
A good point no doubt, but it beats imagination that after Coker got NTDA Act 2022 signed into law, having regard to his declaration before now that with an enabling Act getting funding for the development and promotion of Nigerian tourism will be an easier task.
How come since the Act came into being that Coker has not been able to moblise funds for the sector that he now wants the minister to head that effort?
New Regional Leadership Role
This is only a ruse and a means to siphon Nigeria money as the case of Coker and Lai Mohammed romance with UNWTO over the years has shown. Until NTDA works closely with the local organisations and operators such as the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), no amount of linkages with the international bodies or seeking leadership position at the global level will transform Nigeria.
But rather promote the individual as, again, the case of Mohammed has shown having wasted Nigeria resources on UNWTO he has now been rewarded with an advisory post by the UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili.
In the love letter to Ms Lola Ade-John, Coker wrote; ‘‘We will work together to promote the “Tour Nigeria” brand to accelerate the growth of tourism, collaborate with international organisations, neighbouring countries, and regional tourism bodies.’’ Good point, but how much of this was he able to achieve in the over six years that he has been in the saddle?
The truth remains that if Coker’s NTDA has lived to its billing over the past six years, his love letter would had been needless. He needs to wake up from his dream and face the reality on the ground. Which is that himself and his former boss have performed woefully and only succeeded in bringing Nigerian tourism into disrepute while serving their individual ends.
Therefore, he should not in connivance with the civil service bureaucracy attempt to hoodwink the new minister with his so called agenda but allow her the liberty and dignity to settle into her office and commence the task of rebuilding Nigerian tourism from the low level that Mohammed and himself have plunged it in the last eight years.
Coker is a wily and old fox. He main agenda really is seeking to warm his way into the new minister by posturing to be celebral and on top of the game whereas he is none of these. Because he has not shown the operators the benefit of his understanding of the sector and the direction that the sector should be headed as he has stated in his missive.
It is best for the new Nigerian tourism on the horizon for people like Coker, who had the opportunity to turn the bend but rather bottled up for their personal gains to be kept away from the new minister.
The new minister by now should be calling him to prepare his handover note while she quietly head hunt for a new czar for NTDA with who together with the private sector they can work to in unity to chart a new path for Nigerian tourism.
It will be dangerous for the minister who has made it clear that the bigger picture for her is making Nigeria a choice destination and money spinner by promoting it both nationally and internationally.
To achieve this onerous task then, she doesn’t need a Coker who for over six years made Nigerian tourism a patched and landlocked sector as he never believed in promoting the country tourism neither on the international or national level beyond his Abuja office and Google site.