When he talks about aviation and tourism, he does so with passion. Dr. Franklin Adejuwon , one-time Commissioner for Home Affairs and Tourism in Lagos State and later Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, in this interview, speaks on what the country needs to do to revive the aviation and tourism sectors.
He also speaks on the purported sale of the National Theatre, the railway and why government should leave pilgrimage in the hands of private tour operators.
On the state of the tourism industry with crises in many parts of the country
Well, tourism is particularly vulnerable to crisis of all kinds, be it socio-economic, socio-political, terrorism or even mishandling, mis-management and bad planning. It reacts very easily to internal and external shocks but returns to growth when the situation normalizes.
On the change needed from President Buhari in the tourism industry
No doubt, development of the industry did enjoy massive support between 2000 and 2008; it was actually placed as one of the six priority goals of the then regime principally because of the need to develop the non-oil sector of the economy as well as the influence the industry has on both rapid physical and socio-cultural development of the nation.
As a result of the priority placed on this sector by Nigeria, international organizations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) came to the support of Nigeria with heavy funding and technical know-how.
These efforts heralded the production of the National Tourism Master Plan which is a 15-year-road map for the development of the industry in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the process has been badly managed if not almost destroyed by several circumstances by the immediate past government.
With this in mind, and the huge economic, security and social problems facing the new government, it may be difficult to advise the new government to place the industry on the same platform it enjoyed during the Obasanjo regime, neither can we get the support of those international organizations without adequately attending to the unimaginable level of meaningless and frugal expenditures of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as its major parastatals.
However, the industry is itself a driver of national economy; it is supposed to contribute and support national environment and physical growth of a nation. It is a self-rejuvenating industry, which shall resurrect through another sphere presumably at the regional or state level depending on how fast the country is able to recover from her huge problems.
On what should be done in the aviation industry that has a role to play in tourism growth.
It has been an unpalatable situation in the aviation sector and I am sure the President must have received a cup over flouring as to the immense financial and management recklessness that have plagued that sector in the last five years.
The reality is that wherever there is a large government vote, there is where the devil of corruption and squander lives. Whichever sector government parastatals, especially their chief executives, are given elastic administrative and financial powers, there abide recklessness of boundless impropriety just as witnessed in the petroleum sector.
It is up to the present government to act without sentiment but sufficiently ruthless to curb the excesses of all these sectors and put them under perpetual search light.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) literarily lycanthrope itself under a self centered Director General who amassed so much wealth and threatened so adversely our international relationship with other governments before the National Assembly put a stop to the mess and threw him out of the establishment.
A minister was also equally forced out of office at the instance of public importunate outcry. So much mess in the aviation sector! It is my strong advice that Government shall obtain EFCC and SSS, clearance on every appointee before any consideration; it is also my strong advice that all recycled people should never be considered for any position.
New blood with fresh ideas should be injected into the system. We are over 170 million in population, and there are a lot of retired air force officers with sound mind and capable of handling the aviation ministry instead of mediocre. Such should be given consideration.
Further to this, the parastatals under aviation and tourism need to be collapsed to sizeable number to minimize superfluity and frivolous appointments and waste of fund while people who are professionally inclined should only be considered for professional positions.
The financial mess in the aviation sector is alarming, it will need the hands of God to bring financial sanity to some of these places. The Oronsaye report will help the government a great deal if considered, it is such a good report that has deliberately been locked in the shelve because it heaped out a lot of truth and exposed wrongs.
Just before I close up on this question, the location of an hotel at a designated car park at MM 2 is entirely obtruded, absurd and senseless. If we have to imitate, we have to do so wisely. It would have been more feasible if a multi story car park were to be built at this location, such would have averted the dreadful nightmare travellers are going through at MM2.
On the purported sale of the National Theatre by the immediate past Minister of Tourism
Well, this attempt was unfortunate. I heard about the attempt and also raised a serious objection to it. The minister should see himself lucky to have not gone ahead with the plans, perhaps today, he would have found himself in a pot of hot soup.
I do not know how old he was in 1976 when some of us toiled day and night to make Festac 77 a reality.
The National Theatre is about the only outstanding and symbolic historic monument left behind by the military. The roof is popularly referred to as “General Gowon’s” military cap. It is a symbol of unity and the first assemblage of the entire world black race. Though Nigeria was ignorant to capitalize on Festac 77 to establish a sustainable tourism industry, never the less, we should neither destroy nor cede our national pride to any bloody Lebanese for a price.
Lagos State government activity in the tourism sector is still very potent and still revolves round the black race culture in some aspect. I believe the National Theater should be transferred to the Lagos State government in the spirit of true federalism.
I am confident, Lagos State will turn it and its environs around. We will make the entire area a luxurious and happy environment that shall encompass monumental fun fair, wonderful night life inclusive of aquatic sports, restaurants and in fact, a trade fair ground for local products.
I entreat Lagos state government to commence its application for the national theatre; I also want to admonish the Federal Government to let go to the deserving hand and free itself from unwisely spending.
Presently, the national theatre is parastatal Headed by a Director General and controlling a humungous budget annually. It is an unwise disposition!
On the need for government to cede pilgrimage packaging to tour operators
When I was in Lagos State as Commissioner for Home Affairs and Tourism, my priority was tourism ,travel and hospitality development. I was indeed very modest about pilgrimage which I considered as passive to my objectives because it involved exportation of hard currency which was not my priority. Today, pilgrimage has become a huge enterprise at the federal level resulting in modus vivendi of unimaginable foreign exchange exploit.
I will say categorically that as much as we want to down play religious matters in the country body politic, the issue of pilgrimage should be ceded to the private sector to be run alongside the tour operating business as done in other countries.
After all, tour operators are the ones receiving at the destination end and not government. Pilgrimage is an aspect of religious tourism. Let government be out of it and clear off “job for the boys”. It will be surprising to realize what so much money will be realized from the collapse of the pilgrim boards.
On how government can restore the railway system
First, all attempts in the past have been cosmetic with the major aim of enriching individual pockets. Even fools who are objective and who have the interest of this country in mind know very well that we have been operating antiquated system which cannot function well in today’s setting.
Nigeria rail system was established by our colonial masters to ferry farm produce and not designed for the movement of people. The gauge is far too narrow for speed as well as the type of wide body carriages now put on them. This affects equilibrium, center of gravity and encourages accidents.
It is rather unpleasant that civil servants sit down to write misleading memoranda supporting inadequacies in this sector which have resulted in the waste of funds on our rail system.
Unless and until we discard of the old system and set up modern gauge and rail sleepers of modern strength, we will just be scratching the tortoise back in this sector.
Government does not have to do it all alone; government should only be the facilitator while franchising out to prospective investors both internal and external. The country can be programmed into different viable divides and franchised out for a minimum period of 57 years initially while it collects royalties on each passenger carried.
If this plan is properly discharged, government will be surprised at the huge amount of money it will amass from this simple deal ;the country would have also progressed tremendously. Whether with the avariciousness of Nigerians, this can be made to happen is another issue.
On how the tourism industry can be revamped
As I had earlier stated ,the problems on ground are so enormous that the new government has to concentrate on the most critical issues first such as the economy, electricity, infrastructure and security before embarking on ancillaries.
This is not an indication that tourism is of less value. Of course, it is an integral part of any nation’s building process, but we must put in place a sustainable electricity system, very good infrastructure which should imbue investors’ interest in the rapid development of super structures and technical material basis. Robust electricity outfit throughout the nation must be guaranteed.