- The recent government announcement to take the tourism industry seriously in Nigeria is producing results. Several new access roads to tourist destinations are being constructed, cultural sites are restored and Nigerians are using their creativity to create new tourist attractions, including a new carnival and a reconstructed ancient slave trade route.
Nigeria - West Africa's leading nation, encompassing tropical beaches, rain forest, savannahs, lively cities and rich cultures - in November last year announced its ambition to become a significant tourist destination. Before that, however, the Nigerian government admitted it had to solve problems regarding "issues of stability of electricity, security of lives and property and bad roads."
Now, Nigeria's Presidential Council on Tourism has met in the capital, Abuja, to review the progress made so far. The meeting demonstrated the large range of efforts currently underway to enhance the sector, but also that much remained to be done. In his keynote address, the President reiterated government's resolve to "take tourism more seriously as an integral part of the nation's developmental aspirations, making it a major revenue earner like oil and gas."
During the last year, many projects have popped up, mostly focusing of Nigeria's structural lack of tourism infrastructure. The federal government in Abuja is, through the Council, closely cooperating with state governments and the private sector to make Nigerian tourist attractions more available for foreign visitors.
Already, another airport at the Nigerian coast had become an international airport. The Margaret Ekpo Airport of Calabar, south-eastern Nigeria, already receives international flights. Nevertheless, the Council found, Calabar's airport still needed to extend the runway "to accommodate wider-bodied aircraft in order to ease the transportation of tourists to that part of the country."
Several road projects that are to increase access to tourism resorts are nearing completion. The Obudu Ranch Resort in the south-eastern Cross River State has now received telecommunication services and is soon to be connected to the national road grid. Work had also commenced on the access road to the Yankari National Park in Bauchi State, and local government was ordered to complete the internal road network within the park.
Finally, the federal government had commenced work on the link road project to the Farin Ruwa waterfalls in Nasarawa state and one foresees the completion of the project before the rains. The Council stressed the need for the Minister of Communications to rapidly facilitate the provision of Farin Ruwa Waterfalls resort.
Regarding cultural attractions in Nigeria, federal and state governments are demonstrating great creativity to create new resorts. In the southern Edo State, the federal government has started the restoration of the ancient Benin Moat, one of the greatest earthworks done by man. When properly rehabilitated, the Nigerian Ministry of Culture hopes the 13th to 15th century construction will be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Other cooperations between the Ministries of Tourism and Culture include the hosting of the maiden edition of the Abuja carnival. The Nigerian government earlier this month decided "to test-run cultural tourism" through the organisation of a new masquerade carnival in the capital. The carnival is organised "with a view to developing an annual tourism calendar based on integrated circuit of at least six Nigerian festivals" in the country's six geopolitical zones.
A new programme presented at the Abuja meeting was directed at the growing group of potential tourists identified as "the blacks in Diaspora." The Council noted the "need to establish meaningful cultural links" between foreigners of African origin and Nigerians. The test project presented was the reconstruction of "slave trade routes such as in Badagry, Calabar and Kano for the packaging of the nation’s cultural heritage."
Other cultural tourism projects included the resuscitation of the Argungu International Cultural and Fishing Festival in Kebbi State. The festival was last arranged seven years ago, but was last month presented as a perfect match for tourism developers by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo himself. Kebbi State Governor Adamu Aliero recently told journalist he agreed the festival had great potentials.
The Abuja meeting of the Presidential Council on Tourism was the second ever. The first meeting was held in December last year, shortly after the Nigerian government decided it was time to "generate revenue from tourism sector." For too long, the federal government found, the oil and gas sector had attracted all investments in the country.
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