I recently got the chance to do an informal interview. It was based on tourism in relation to politics and history. Since today is our independence, there’s no better day to put it up.
Some call him Ojomu, some honourable, others chairman (there’s is no shortage of names/praises in Nigeria), I call him jags sometimes, but most importantly, I call him daddy. 🙂
For those who won’t be able to listen to it, below is the summarised transcribed version with a couple of pictures.
What are some of the ways history has influenced tourism today in Nigeria?
We have people like Mohammed El-Kanemi (of Borno State who founded the Kanem empire) and Usman Dan Fodio (founder of the Sokoto Caliphate). When you go to the North, you can see their architecture is of Islamic Influence especially from North Africa.
Daura, which is present day Katsina has a well where Bayajidda killed a snake that was preventing people from getting water. Now it is a tourist attraction. Daura is the home town of Rtd Major Gen Mohammed Buhari, a one time military head of state.
In the South Coastal areas, we have Badagry which has the 1st storey building in Nigeria, the exit point for slave trade also known as the point of no return. When you go there you can see the chains which were used on them.
There are alot of other places in the country, and they have all by virtue of history, become places that must be seen and should be tourist attractions in the country.
Do you think politics has influenced tourism or has any relationship with tourism in Nigeria?
Politics should influence tourism because political will to encourage tourism has a huge role to play. The government has to formulate policies that are favourable to tourism. But right now it is still lacking and is a far cry from what it should be.
Why do you think it is lacking, do you think it’s because the govt is not placing a lot of emphasis on tourism compared to how important they think the oil sector is?
Yes, because the government isn’t paying too much attention to tourism. If you look at a country like Kenya, alot of their foreign exchange and income is derived from tourism, and Nigeria should be capable of generating even more than Kenya. One of their major attractions is their safari. And in Bauchi state, we have the Yankari game reserve.
Does that still exist?
Yes, it has been recently upgraded by the Bauchi state government
And there are still animals?
Yes there are. If that is properly maintained, it is going to be quite an attraction for tourism.
So you definitely think Nigeria has tourism potential
Oh sure, and you also have the Borgu game reserve, present day Niger State.
How do you think we can develop tourism in this country, both govt and individuals?
There has to be an enabling environment first. Security has to be upgraded, the ease of visa into the country, the attraction, how welcoming the airports are, these are basic requirements.
You’ve been around since the 60s and watched the country grow, people usually say the country is worse now than back in the day. Was there any form of tourism back in the days?
Yeah, in those days, we had the Durbar (a Muslim festival in the north), horse riding, the Eyo festival in Lagos, the equivalent in the Cross River axis of the country etc. But like with everything in Nigeria, as the economy got worse, less was available to spend on these things. In the last 3 years, the Durbar festival has been cancelled in the North due to security challenges. That is why security is very important.
I know you’ve lived in Lagos, Kogi, Kaduna & Ife. Do you have a favourite city in Nigeria with regards to tourism, festivals or culture?
The environment is serene. Well old Kaduna. They had the Durbar festival regularly, race horses and good hotels.
So accommodation was not a problem?
No it wasn’t and the environment was very peaceful in the old days.
Compare old Kaduna to new Kaduna with regards to tourism
Tourism in Kaduna is practically dead now due to the security situation.
Are there any states in the country that promotes tourism in the country right now whereby people come from all over to see?
Cross River. Every December they have the Calabar festival. And we have the Osun Grove at Osogbo by Susanne Wenger. (Side Note: The Osun Grove was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005)
Is that still functional?
Oh yes. People come from all over like Brazil to see it and to partake in the culture. It is a Sango shrine. (Sango is the god of thunder and lightening).
Pros vs Cons of tourism in Nigeria
Tourism is a growth area in Nigeria. which is worth exploring. The cons of it, like everywhere that has tourism, there will be fraudsters or pick pockets who want to take advantage of you. Another pro is the beaches we have, which if managed properly can also be another tourism source like in Kenya.
Do you think the local people play an important role in tourism?
Yes, the locals do. They have to be welcoming of visitors, good hosts, friendly and amiable.
In Lagos, you can see influences of the colonial masters with regards to architecture like the churches. Did they do that in other states or was it just because Lagos was the capital back then?
Well, what they tried to do was to try to adapt to every environment where they were. But their exposure was not too pronounced in other places early on. It was mostly in the coastal areas.
So structures in the East/West are mainly man made from mud and clay which people just found interesting?
If I was a visitor to Nigeria as a tourist, what would be your advice?
A peaceful Nigeria?
Well I would say visit Plateau for the scenery, the Yankari Game Reserve & the Mambilla plateau. You can still get bits of the old city walls of Zaria and Kano. They are still in existence and of course the Ikogosi warm springs.
We seem to have alot of waterfalls in this country. Any idea how they are maintained or have we just let them be?
In years past, Gurara falls and Ikogosi warm springs for example, were well maintained but when the economy started going south, there wasn’t a lot done and they were being ignored. But now with civilian rule, there’s alot of renovation going on because every state government wants to generate income.
I think that transport is also another reason tourism may be slow to pick up. Traffic also could be a deterrent.
You’re expected to factor those things when you’re planning transportation for your guests.
Ok so could we say traffic could be an advantage? Last weekend I was in traffic on Lagos island and I got to see things I normally wouldn’t notice and got pictures of them.
Depends on how you package it. Like you said, when you’re in traffic you get to see the different faces of the community. It could be part of the attraction.
What do you think about Nigerian people? Do you think tourism is something we would welcome as a nation?
Yes. Nigerians are friendly despite their circumstances. They are very friendly and receptive towards visitors so that won’t be an issue.
Do you also think Nigerians would be willing to show off their country if the proper logistics are put in place?
What do you think individuals can do to also promote tourism?
The govt was trying to address that, which is why we have the national tourism board. But it also takes an individual to identify a growth area, carve a niche for his or herself and develop it. Then of course others will come in.
At some point, they will need to partner with the govt won’t they?
Yes, you will need government support. Whoever wants to go into tourism now will have to rely on his resources to a certain level. It can become very expensive. Another way to look at it is to team up with someone outside the country and develop it from both outside and within.
And you think that would work?
Sure, why not? Once you start making the right moves and followership, people outside will notice and will most likely want to team up and develop it. And I’m sure there must be incentives from the govt if the tourism board is approached.
Even without Boko Haram, we are generally seen as unsafe but really which country is 100 percent safe. Thailand for example as alot going on with drugs, kidnapping etc. But people still troop there for tourism purposes. How do you think we can get people to do the same for Nigeria?
Then the govt must make those tourists sites appealing enough to attract people to risk coming into the country. You don’t leave beaches for example in the hands of miscreants, dirty, unkempt and expect people to come. They have to come in and partner up with people, clean up the place and maintain it.
Do you think some of these miscreants can be rehabilitated and made into tour guides? They probably know alot about these places since they are always there, and also locals in the area.
If they are probably engaged, yes. Even in other countries, tour guides are trained to meet the needs of the tour companies. Govt will not do all.
I agree. I think a major problem in this country is we are completely dependent on our govt and expect them to do everything. Other countries have citizens coming in to do things they think the govt has not done.
Yes. I don’t see why an individual cannot buy a part of elegushi beach for instance from the owners and develop it into a tourist site.
Maybe because it would be quite expensive. If I for example decided to buy it the govt would ask me for an arm and a leg. After they take that, I would have no money left to develop it.
That’s why we have PPP – public private partnership.
Is that a thing in this country?
It’s developing and catching on.
As a child, do you have fond memories of tourist spots you visited, and if renovated you would like to go back?
I have very fond memories of Yankari Game Reserve. You could swim under the rocks, you would see baboons, lions would come and overlook you. They also had nice chalets.
Kainji Dam was also a nice place. They had alot of chalets and in those days you could go on a tour of the dam, but I don’t know what it’s like now.
During your university days in Ife, did you go anywhere around there that was regarded as a tourist site?
Yea sure. If you go to the Ooni’s palace, you still see Oduduwa artefacts, the Oranmiyan staff and so many other things from history.
So history definitely plays a part in tourism like we said earlier on?
Yes, like the Bayajidda well I spoke of earlier, I recently saw a write up on it in the papers. People still go there for tourism purposes.
Can you please tell us a little about the Jos tin mine? Does it still exist?
Well yes. You can still see the mine but it is flooded with water. It hasn’t been taken care of. It has been closed for a while now. Some years ago a train went off its tracks and fell into one of the deepest parts of the mine. It was a very terrible accident, alot of people perished because they couldn’t rescue them.
There’s another mine though, the Enugu coal mine. Another good place to visit in Enugu is the Milliken hill, a long winding road with deep gorges on the side.
Have you been there? Someone I interviewed mentioned it.
It is, but that’s part of the fun
Since you’re from Kogi State, what’s your favourite food there?
Depends on where you’re talking about, we have different tribes. Igalas, Ebiras, Okuns etc
Your area which is Okun.
Top recommendation of what to do and see in Kogi State
1. We are the first seat of govt in Nigeria. Lord Luggard settled there and the present govt office is a renovation of his office. 2. The confluence (River Niger & Benue) 3. Mount Patti
What’s living in Kogi like?
Slow and quiet
Advice for visitors on what to expect
A slow quiet town.
What are the people there like?
Friendly. Nigerians generally are very friendly, especially towards outsiders. Just take religion and politics out of the equation and we are generally harmonious. Politics, religion and tribe can be decisive.
Favourite restaurant that has a mix of both traditional and Western food.
Accomodation wise where is the go to place?
How do you get to Kogi?
Fly into Abuja then an hour drive to Lokoja. (the state capital)
What’s security like?
It’s generally safe. The cities are safe. But there are incidents on the interstates.
Is the culture rich?
Oh yes, we have a mix of people so there are influences from the North, West, East and South.
Are there any traditional rulers?
Yes, 3 main traditional leaders, one for each of the main tribes – The Attah of Igala, Ohinoyi of Ebira land in Okene and the Obaro of Kabba.
Thank you very much for sitting down with me. 🙂
And there you have it folks, a little bit of history, politics and tourism. Hope you enjoyed it.