Buhari’s allocation to tourism, mere tokenism – Lai Mohammed

MINISTER of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed yesterday faulted the budgetary allocation to the culture and tourism ministry in the 2016 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing the allocation to the ministry as ‘mere tokenism

Buhari’s allocation to tourism, mere tokenism – Lai Mohammed
Buhari’s allocation to tourism, mere tokenism – Lai Mohammed

The minister also noted with regret that the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had zero allocation in tourism and culture in 2015 for capital projects in the sector. Besides, he disclosed that the Federal Government had concluded arrangements to retrieve all artefacts and portraits stolen from ancient Benin Kingdom and sold abroad which were found at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. He disclosed that the government plans to establish arts and craft centres across the 774 local government areas of the country.

This is just as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has said that there was no more paying of lips service in economic diversification. Speaking during sectoral debates on Nigeria’s economy, at the House of Representatives, the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, said that for there to be meaningful development in tourism, the government should provide good road network and steady light. He noted with regret that tourism was a contributing factor to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in other countries but only contributed less than 1.5 percent to the Nigeria’s economy.

According to him, “The reality of the situation to which we have found ourselves today in Nigeria is that we really do not have any alternative to look into other areas of the economy and to of course move away from over dependence on oil. “Tourism contributes to the GDP of many countries, unfortunately in Nigeria, this sector contributes less than 1.5 percent to the GDP. Apart from its contribution to the economy, culture and tourism creates wealthy and opportunities. “This is the only sector that creates employment opportunities for those who ordinarily would have been unemployable, either due to lack of skills or lack of education. It is the only sector that is for the under privileged and the poor, it is a sector that brings peace and stability to the polity. “It fosters unity and it discourages rural/urban migration. Regrettably, this sector faces many challenges today, ranging from institutional to logistics and then financials and these challenges have not helped the sector to achieve its potentials.” He further said that perception was another problem the sector was having which had already affected staff in the minister who considered themselves as being posted to Siberia.

He said, “I will start with the challenge posed by perception. Another problem that faces this sector is that of perception. There is the perception that the culture and tourism portfolio is reserved for those who are least favoured and it is the Siberia of ministerial nominations unlike the perceived juicy places like petroleum, finance, works, power etcetera.

“This perception unfortunately percolates down to the staff of the ministry in charge of culture and tourism who lose their self worth and who seek every available opportunity to be transferred to juicy ministries. When they fail to secure transfer, they are discouraged and they felt condemned to their Siberia, hence do not contribute much to the sector.

“Also, there is the family and social angle to this. From the early age, our parents drum into our brains that we must better be doctors, lawyers or engineers. They made us know that those who studied the arts or who have any of these potentials are the great in the society, we need to change this perception. “The truth is that any great invention is a product of a creative mind and creativity is at the heart of art and culture. Many may not notice, but legendary Italian inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci is not just into science. He was into mathematics and engineering. He was also into sculpturing and painting which are also creative art. “Another major problem is in the area of allocation of resources. It is instructive that not one Kobe was allocated for capital project in culture and tourism in the entire 2015 national budget. Yet billions of Naira was allocated for over head and other recurrent expenditure in the same ministry during the same period.

“This is apart from several millions from SURE-P that were allocated to this ministry. With no kobo allocated for capital project, what were these staffers being paid to do? Of course they are being paid to be idle. Although, the situation is is slightly different in this year’s budget, yet, I want to say with all due respect that what is allocated is still a mere tokenism. “This is one of the areas that the National Assembly can come in perhaps to approve for us a supplementary budget for this weaker sector.

“There is need for synergy among various ministries, departments and agencies. The culture and tourism ministry cannot stand alone, in order to work efficiently, there must be synergy between ministry in charge of this sector and various other ministries, departments and agencies. “The ministry of interior, foreign affairs, aviation, health and those in charge of infrastructure, the customs, immigration service and security must all be involved. Infrastructure, good roads, adequate security, steady power supply are also key to successful tourism. They have direct bearing on culture and tourism.” Commenting on the issue of diplomacy and visa regime, the minister said that traveller advisories play a major role in tourism, adding that negative travelling advisories discouraged tourists from coming to the affected countries.

He said, “This brings us back to the issue of perception. Our country today is highly perceived as insecure and many western nations have issued negative travelling advisories against Nigeria. “For a country like Brazil with Zika problem, South Africa with high crime rate and Kenya with Al Shabab problem which are safe heaven destinations for tourists.

The reason is packaging and better still perception management. “It is important that we take control of narrative on Nigeria to change narrative perception. “Investment in tourism: Government must take the lead in investing in tourism infrastructure. It must give tax break to investors, provide adequate security, long term framework for tourism project as well as engage in international discourse.” He said in Nigeria today, there was no hotel at convention centre that accommodates 5000 people under one roof and advised that the government should start building standard museums that can attract a huge number of each day visitors. “This is where the tourism development fund comes in.

It is important for the National Assembly to enact laws that will compel all direct beneficiaries of tourism, the airlines, hotels, convention centres, transport companies, telecoms, etc. “In Dubai from the 1st of July, every traveller will pay or surcharge of nine dollars, fifty cents and from this, Dubai intends to make over seven hundred million dollar this year and this is going to be invested in tourism infrastructure. “These are some of the ways we can be assisted in boosting the culture for tourism sector better. To develop the culture and tourism sector, there is the need for public/private partnership.

“But if you want private sector to be involved, you must have ready the necessary statistics. Investment is about profit making. For you to know what your investment will yield, you must know the necessary figures and data.” In his remarks before the commencement of the sectoral debates, the Speaker, Dogara emphasised that there must be urgency in the diversification of the nation’s economy in order to improve its GDP and earn foreign exchange, saying the time for paying lip service to the task is over. ‎

He expressed confidence that all that was required to successfully transform the economy and earn it foreign exchange was available within the country. He said, “With the fall in crude oil prices, Nigeria really has no choice but to stop paying lip service to the urgent need for diversification of sources of revenue for Nigeria.

The acute scarcity of foreign exchange, power supply challenges, falling GDP, fuel scarcity are some of the current matters of urgent national importance to be fixed. “It is our belief that Nigeria possesses the human and material resources required to successfully transform our economy and earn the needed foreign exchange for Nigeria. It is time for Nigeria to develop and transform into a knowledge – based economy. “Indeed ICT, Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Culture, Tourism and Entertainment; Trade, investment and manufacturing; Taxation and finance policies; science and technology; efficient Infrastructure such as power, transportation, etc have huge roles to play in the diversification of the Nigerian economy.‎” Dogara explained that “the broad objective of the sectoral debates was to deepen the engagement of Honourable members and the executive in national development policy issues and to promote the enactment of appropriate laws to enhance Nigeria’s economic growth and development. “These Sectoral Debates are necessitated by the compelling need for stakeholders, particularly the executive and Legislature to engage in debates/ dialogues towards finding sustainable policy strategies and legislations for quick recovery of the economy. “We expect as I have said, that these debates would help us to craft new laws, lead to better oversight processes and change the way we do things in Nigeria. It is our firm conviction that there is no better way to help deliver the change that our people yearn for than by speaking to those aspirations and insisting that we walk the talk‎.”