Thursday, July 25, 2013
HIGH CHIEF EDEM DUKE TALKS ABOUT THE FASCINATING NIGERIA PROJECT-
For years, Nigeria as a nation has under-utilized – if not outrightly ignored – her tourism potential by doing little to preserve and promote its rich cultural heritage, alongside all the God-given natural gifts that abound in Africa’s most populous nation. The Fascinating Nigeria initiative aims to check and correct this past negligence with an aim to improve, sustain and amplify the country’s tourism culture. To shed some light on the initiative, Chief Edem Duke, the Honorable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Natural Orientation, graciously granted this quick but thorough interview from the departure lounge of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
What is the Fascinating Nigeria project really all about?
Fascinating Nigeria is the new way of communicating the tourism brand that Nigeria is offering to the world. It is an aggregation of all the cultural assets, all the tourism assets and all the definitive elements of our rich, cultural endowment. [It] is an expression of the creativity of every individual Nigerian; it is about the investment climate of Nigeria, which is the most profitable on the continent of Africa. [It] speaks to the very essence of the DNA of every Nigerian; the fact that we are a resilient people, we are very creative, we have dynamic enthusiasm, we are very forward looking, able to survive in all kinds of environments and we always take pride in our Nigerianness.
It is our belief that before now, Nigeria has been seen through a keyhole but in utilizing Fascinating Nigeria as a platform to tell the new and interesting stories of Nigeria, we open a big and wide door into, perhaps, one of the greatest countries on the face of the earth.
It all sounds very interesting but surely, you can understand the skepticism of Nigerians, as several initiatives are launched with no follow through. How is this different and what do we really have to offer from a tourist standpoint – Kenya has the Safari, for example – as business is the main reason foreigners visit Nigeria?
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Business brings people into Nigeria because it is the most profitable business destination on the continent. But then, our potential to grow domestic tourism is even great. When you think of the fact that this is a country of over 167 million people, all we need to do is make our country more interesting, in the perspectives of each and every Nigerian and to attract diasporan Nigerians and diasporan Africans, that there is a new jewel in the crown of Africa and that we have taken ourselves too much for granted in the past. You talked about the Safari, fine, after the Safari, what else is there to talk about? But when you talk about Nigeria, you talk about 774 local government areas, each with a unique culture, each with a unique offering, each with a special set of people of unbelievable potentials. You speak about 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory, virtually like 37 countries all-in-one. You talk about a huge population of diasporans, who are contributing, in no small measure, in academia, business; in every sphere of life, maintaining peace all over the world. We’re such a fascinating country. We need to instill a new sense of pride and self-esteem amongst our people. Every single Nigerian is fascinating and that is why this is the passion and this is a campaign for which [each of the] 167 plus-million Nigerians is an advocate.
There’s a troubling belief in Nigeria that everything needs to be done by the government but I expect that for a project this big, there must be heavy private involvement, particularly in hospitality and aviation for example. What role is the private sector playing in making this initiative a success?
You know, everyone always finds comfort in government companies but government is supposed to give the enabling environment and polity, framework. But the theme, Fascinating Nigeria, speaks to you and I; it resonates with the core of every Nigerian. You could write a book about what makes you fascinating; you could write a book about what makes your city fascinating; what makes your village fascinating, what makes your school fascinating; what makes your own areas of interest fascinating; anything whatsoever! So it is out of the hands of government completely, well not completely but in the sense that, this is a platform that every Nigerian can deploy because we are a truly extraordinary and fascinating people.
Are there any particular drives – seminars, conferences etc. – in place right now to pluralize efforts, besides the internet, to help get the process going and people involved or informed, at least?
This is what led to the launch and because we are a unique people, we can take this and utilize it in very many positive ways: using our social networks, our peer groups, our social clubs, educational institutions, old boys’ platforms; using every kind of relationship. You’ll find that truly, truly, the most distinctive thing, the most appropriate thing, the easiest thing that comes to us is just being sheer fascinating people.
What, then, are the main challenges that stand before us?
The main challenge, to start with, is self-belief. We embarked on this initiative because of the leadership of the President who says he wants to see a transformation, meaning a radical departure from the past, the past where we had little or no confidence in our own story. The past where we thought that government alone must do everything for each and every one of us, to a new today, where transformation begins with the individual, with the love that we express for one another, with behaving day to day as men and women, boys and girls of integrity, in the quality of service that we render where we find ourselves. The value for money that we give for goods and services that we offer, the cleanliness of our environment, the warmth of our hearts, the reception that we give to visitors who come into our country; all of these aggregate into these elements that make us, truly, a fascinating people and a fascinating country.
Finally, so you don’t miss your flight, how will the security concerns of foreign visitors be addressed?
I think it is important for us to reach out to the media and let them understand that the negative stories that are picked up by the West come from our own media. Nigeria is not worse off than many other countries that we know of but they work with the media to manage the integrity of their country.
We’re also going to be working within 50 corridors. Not every part of Nigeria is a tourism destination as at now, regardless of all the enormous potentials that exist all over the country. There are over 235 possible destinations and we’re just going to start gradually from one to another but let me also say, in many other parts of Africa, especially in North Africa where a lot of foreign tourists are going, you will see what is happening in those places and once there is a bit of respite, you’ll see that the government will first and foremost appeal to tourists to come, that their countries are safe for tourists. And that is because the tourists will be the eyes for the rest of the world. We need to borrow some of those lessons.
Another thing is that the people who come to do business in Nigeria, who flock in here, because Nigeria is such a sweet and profitable business destination, they don’t tell anybody else about it because they would like to savor and enjoy that destination all by themselves. That is why we have to initiate this campaign so that we can supplement and reposition our country in the minds and hearts of the rest of the world.