Tourism Operators Congratulate Lai Mohammed Despite Row               

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*Mohammed being turbaned ‘Kakakin Kebbi’

Tourism operators in the country don’t see eye-to-eye with Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who is also the supervisory tourism minister. As he was recently turbaned “Kayaking Kebbi” some crave a warmer relationship with the minister. They also wait for solutions and actions in  Covid-19, Tourism restart among other things. The truth about the whole matter,  even though the government is paying lip service to tourism, is that the public and private sectors should work closely together to jump-start the beleaguered Nigeria tourism. JUSTINA OKPANKU writes

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was recently bestowed with the title “Kakakin of Kebbi” during the United Nations World Tourism Day hosted by the Kebbi State government in collaboration with the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) on September 27. “Kakakin Kabbi” traditionally is an instrument that attracts attention to announce the presence of the king on all messages transmitted to the population on behalf of the king.          It was surprising that tourism operators in the country are among those congratulating the minister which is a rare gesture.  Mohammed is also the supervisory tourism minister and it appears areas operators in the tourism industry are not feeling blessed. Many complained that “Lai Mohammed doesn’t come for tourism events and functions, big or small, within the country but “always travel outside the country to participate in global tourism events even during the pandemic.”  The tourism and culture communities wouldn’t mince words to tell what Lai Mohammed is not doing right as a supervisory tourism minister.

Regardless, the President of the Federation of  Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), the organised private sector tourism body in the country, Mr. Nkereuwem Onung hailed Mohammed on his recent recognition. He also praised the Emir of Kebbi and the Kebbi State government for the investiture of the minister. The traditional and cultural title bestowed on the minister, he said, is well deserved, an affirmation that the minister has done well.

”FTAN rejoices with our minister. He has done well,” he said. Adding: “Maybe after this outing, he will put more energy towards getting the industry the palliative the federal government promised us.” While some operators thanked Onung for “the voice of reason” others maintained that the “minister snubs us” pointing out his inability to be involved in the recent FTAN annual general meeting which was even held in his backyard in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

“The operators who have not come to terms with the situation have asked rhetorically “what has changed?  There is a litany of challenges affecting the sub-sector. The problem the operators said they were having is legion. And they have even made a  song and dance of it. Operators complained among other things that government pays lips service to tourism whereas tourism is a veritable tool to reduce poverty as well as foster unity. Clearly, public and private sector partnership in the tourism sector is non-existent.

“The Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) leadership is also to blame. The situation got worse in the past six years when tourism became a mere department in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. While urging the Federal Government for a stand-alone Ministry of Culture of Tourism (which it enjoyed from 1999 till 2015), private operators bad-mouthed Mohammed. They called him out to shine a new light on the rural areas in the country and by extension the tourist sites, both natural and man-made.  The tourist attractions are situated mainly at the grassroots level where there is no tourist infrastructure, including access roads.

The minister had promised that the federal government would leverage tourism for rural development. Not too long ago, he unveiled his agenda to transform the creative, tourism and culture industry into Nigeria’s new oil in the next four years.  These are things that will jump-start the sector to create millions of jobs for the youths. But it’s all talk no action.

Sadly, nothing was done before the  Coronavirus pandemic set in and impacted negatively on travel and tourism like other sectors. It was worrisome that the tourism communities neither got bailout nor palliative like their aviation counterparts, for example. One tourism operator said ” I think Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s should be talking about Tourism restart in Nigeria like his South Africa’s counterpart, Lindiwe Sisulu who was appointed just last August did.  Another operator said, “nothing stopped the Tourism  supervisory minister from hitting the ground and got running if he could attend tourism events outside the country even during the pandemic.”

Mohammed tried to correct the misconception in certain circles that he paid more attention to the informal sector.  “There is a misconception in certain circles that we paid more attention to the Information sector than we did to Culture and Tourism.

“This may appear so because the issues we usually deal with in the Information sector are those that receive the bigger play in the media.

“But I can tell you, with evidence, that we achieved a lot in the Tourism and Culture Sector, or in the Creative Industry generally,” he said.                      The tourism community in Nigeria may like Lai Mohammed or not, Alhaji Suleiman Argungu, Chief of Staff of Kebbi State Governor, as reports say, described the turbaning of Mohammed as Kakakin Kebbi as a symbol of national unity. For him, the bearer of the title Kakakin Kabbi is now the spokesperson or image marker of Argungu Kingdom of Kebbi.

Lai Mohammed’s winning moment for the endorsement could be when he made an incredible effort to get Argungu  Fishing Festival back in the spotlight. The 2020 edition of the festival took place several years after it was rested, and it may have impacted the economies of the local communities at the time.

Not a few said they were glad to see this happen. The minister was a cynosure of all attention during the lovely cultural event.  Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife, himself, may have expressed his admiration for the minister during the fiesta while others thanked him.

Mohammed’s interest in Kebbi Tourism had helped as the state government showcased what makes the destination tick, including the Argungu fishing competition and Argungu Auto Rally in 2020. Fishermen catch fishes with bare hands in a much sought after fishing competition. The winning fish at the 2020 edition of the festival weighed 78kg.

It was a chance to promote tourism. The minister had worked closely with Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu as well as other stakeholders to ensure the cultural event was held in 2020. Organising the Argungu festival was a big deal. It was easy for the outside world to see Kebbi is safe. Basic infrastructure like electricity and a good road network was provided. Travel and tourism, experts say, is a significant contributor to human development. The transformation in Kebbi’s economy was evident with the influx of visitors.

The winner of the fishing competition smiled home with N10 million and other mouth-watering prizes. It was not a winner takes of the sort, thus other participants got big rewards and consolation prizes. The not-so-lucky fishermen sold their day’s catches, big sales. Tourism with its substantial job creation spin-off could act as an antidote to the sluggish rural communities and their economy.

Insiders said tourist receipts to Kebbi State rose following the successful host of the 2020 Argungu Fishing Festival which aims to open up North-West Nigeria. The minister commented underscoring the significance of the event in Northern Nigeria struggling with terrorism.

Why did Mohammed get back to Kebbi?  It was obviously a recognition for Mohammed who supported cultural tourism in 2020.

Precisely March 2020, when Covid-19 was getting a bit dangerous, global events like ITB Berlin (a travel Expo), were cancelled. Still, Argungu festival took place attracting the crème de la crème of the Nigerian society. Almost all the big names in Nigeria including President Mohammadu Buhari and Senate President Ahmed Lawan celebrated Kebbi Tourism and other attractions.                                                All the 774 local councils in the country can easily boast unique tourist products. It is amazing.    Nigeria is richly endowed with huge tourism potential and boasts diverse views cultures, wonders and attractions around both states. The thrilling sites, both natural and man-made, blew even the minds of Nigerians themselves. There’s a problem of low-level awareness though.

Moreover, security concerns tend to deter prospective investors and tourists.  Mohammed took the bull by the horn and began the making of the Argungu festival 2020.  Like everywhere else around the world fears about safety amid the coronavirus pandemic won’t let people travel for leisure.                                          It is hoped investors and tour operators will be making enquiries.

Apart from the popular fishing competition,  Kebbi boasts other unique attractions such as the Abdullah Fodio tomb at Gwandu, the Kanta museum at Argungu, the Yauri Boat Regatta, Uhola Festival in Zuru, Old Ruins of queen Amina càmp, Girmace, and Shrines in Zuru, Karishin Settlement in Sakaba. There are massive rice fields and pyramids across the state which are natural attractions.

The state is looking to attract potential investors. The Kebbi State government had assured that it will create an atmosphere conducive enough to promote long term investment in Kebbi and by so doing alleviate poverty.

The President of the National Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Hajia Bilkisu Abdul said at a time she was considering visiting Kebbi State with her members in the post-Covid-19 era when Tourism fully restarts. Travel to Kebbi is worth the while as the state is not in the no-go parts of Northern Nigeria. There are definitely some right lights for Kebbi Tourism overhead after Coronavirus.

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