It is a basic truism that Nigeria today is sitting on a tourism goldmine, which is as rich, if not richer than oil. The tourism industry also can boast of potentials capable of generating significant investments toward economic development of the country. But sadly, in spite of the over 7,000 tourism sites that cut across the six geopolitical zones, the sector is grossly underutilised and underdeveloped for optimal yield.
Take for instance, the photographs of the civil war museum at the Ogbunike caves in Anambra State, Idanre Hills in Ondo State, Ikogosi Waterfalls in Ekiti State, where there is a hot and cold water spring or the Farin Ruwa in Nasarawa State and the Gurara Waterfalls in Niger State, among many others.
But Taraba State is much more blessed, that probably explains why the state is often referred to as‘Natures gift to the nation’. In the state alone, there are undulating and rolling hills, thick forests like that in the Amazon forests of Brazil, with all season rivers, parks, including the Gashaka-Gumti National Park, the largest in the country with various species of rare wildlife including buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, tigers, hippopotamus, antelopes, baboons, birds and reptiles etc. Also, there is the temperate Mambilla plateau climate standing imposingly at over 9,000 feet above sea level, which in fact is the highest point anywhere in Nigeria.
Tourism, no doubt is a very powerful tool that can be deployed to ease the country of several challenges. If for instance, the Rio festival in Brazil can attract millions of visitors annually with their millions of foreign currency that help to boost the Brazilian economy, there is no reason why such annual cultural fiestas cannot, if properly organised and given their richness, do the same for the country.
For instance, this government should ensure that domestic tourism is further reenergised, as it remains the foundation for attracting international tourists. Domestic tourism alone has a very high revenue and job creation potentials.
Assuming that about 20 million Nigerians travel locally for business, leisure, culture, religion or sports annually there will definitely be an increase in the money going into the coffers of the domestic tourism market. It also reduces to the barest minimum rural/urban migration, as people will stop running to the urban centres for jobs not readily available whereas other jobs are around and within their localities. Another reason is that it creates unity, as people travel from the south to the North, West to the East, appreciating the culture and tradition of each other.
Therefore, repositioning the tourism sector of the economy should be seen as a welcome development. Such a desire of government should not have been more appropriate, considering that government around the world, including the developing ones are faced with mounting economic slowdown and a deteriorating revenue sources.
But for government to do this effectively, it should endeavour to put in place necessary frameworks for structural change and adequate regulation to support the industry. It can also collaborate with stakeholders to develop enough infrastructures that support the industry’s growth. Government can also encourage prospective investors through incentives such as tax holidays, excise-duty-free grants etc.
Truly, nature has been good to Nigeria. It has vast natural resources, including mineral resources, fertile lands, rivers and lakes, unmatched scenery, good climate, hospitable people and more crucially, an enduring peace in the land. But sadly, nature’s gifts have not been matched by commiserate investment in order to turn these potential into reality for the good of the country. For this to happen there is the need for partnership between the government and the private sector. In conjunction with the private investors, the rivers, thick forests, wildlife, temperate climate etc can be turn into a first class tourist sites and destinations. If this where to happen, the economy will receive a boost and be of benefit to both government and the citizens who may want to be involved in the industry as operators of lodgings, tour guides or handicrafts vendors.
We are mindful that the tourism industry is a daunting business, not the least because it requires big capital to develop the necessary infrastructure and perhaps above all patience, as the rewards may not start flowing immediately unlike oil. On the other hand, its benefits are truly enormous, not only is the industry a great employer of labour, which is an antidote to the increasing wave of unemployment in the country.
In this case, therefore, we urge the different states with tourism potentials to wean themselves from reliance on the monthly federal allocation, by intensifying efforts to develop the vast untapped tourism industry in their respective states. This is the time to turn these nature’s gifts for the benefit of the states and the country at large.