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LAGOS, FG SET FOR SHOWDOWN OVER TOURISM REGULATION

By NBF News
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A major face between the Lagos State Government and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is brewing over grading, classification and regulation of hospitality and tourism establishments in the state.

Recently, the state government through its Ministry of Tourism and Inter-Governmental Relations, called on tourism operators to disregard threats by the NTDC to levy or regulate them, the ministry was established by the state government in 2007, the NTDC, a federal agency, has no statutory powers to regulate tourism and hospitality in Lagos State.

According to Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-Governmental Relations, the NTDC cannot claim to be the apex tourism body in Nigeria charged with the sole responsibility of regulating the sector.

But the Federal Government gazette No. 21 vol. 84 dated April 9, 1997 conferred on NTDC the power to register and classify institutions in the industry thus, ' The owner of every hospitality and tourism establishment shall within 60 days from the commencement of these regulations or from the commencement of operations, apply to the corporation in the prescribed form for the registration, classification or reclassification of a hospitality or tourism establishment on payment of such fee as may be prescribed by the Corporation from time to time.' Section 9 (1) of the document says,

'The Corporation shall grade every hospitality or tourism establishment in a class which conforms with the minimum standard with which it is proposed to be kept and managed considering all the facilities available at such hospitality or tourism establishment.' Speaking at a media chat at Alausa, Ikeja, Afikuyomi described the corporation as an illegal entity, saying, 'at best the NTDC has become an uncreative anachronistic meddlesome interloper.' Afikuyomi who could not hide his anger queried, 'why did NTDC hold a stakeholders meeting in Lagos on January 4th 2011 instead of Kano or Calabar, since they took us to court last year? They should have gone somewhere else for decency sake they should have gone elsewhere and should have kept quiet over the court case, he fumed.

Afikuyomi said the state government was equally infuriated by the advertisement and recent statement allegedly made by the NTDC claiming that the corporation is 'the apex tourism body to regulate, co-ordinate and harmonise all tourism activities in Nigeria'. To make matters worse, the corporation went further to adduce and arrogate such responsibility to it, based on a repealed law.

'The NTDC went further to claim that by reason of the Bye-law enacted in 1997 Section 1 Sub-Section 3 which provides that: 'No person shall operate a Hospitality or Tourism related establishment without obtaining a Licence from the Corporation,'

While reacting to the above, Afikuyomi said the statement was false, unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect and therefore, should be ignored by all hospitality and tourism establishments operating in Lagos State. He vowed to protect the businesses that operate in the state saying 'it is our sacred responsibility to ensure that people of the state can go about their legitimate businesses without any fear of intimidation, harassment and extortion by anyone no matter how highly placed'.

Afikuyomi said that, 'we will not allow them to misuse security agencies for their own narrow selfish interests. We will not allow multiple regulatory processes in our State. We will protect the industry against multiple charges and support the industry through infrastructure renewal and contingent support services to the industry. Let me for the purposes of further clarification state unequivocally that NTDC is an illegal Body and no one must parade themselves as acting on behalf of NTDC in the Lagos State forthwith.'

However, when contacted, the NTDC official claimed that the National Tourism Policy for Nigeria handbook published in 2005section 17.4 'recognizes NTDC as a technical organ of government; therefore, NTDC shall be restructured to assume a technical posture of professionalism and effectiveness. Through technical orientation and assistance from the World Tourism Organisation and International Labour Organization, it shall formulate guidelines for tourist accommodation, grading for the state governments to implement. It shall coordinate the exercise on grading through well-trained inspectors and its Sectors Coordination Department.'

While quoting Section 17.5 of the policy, the officials said 'The NTDC shall ensure compliance of State Tourism Organizations (STO) with standards and regulations as laid down by the Federal Government and also issue certificate on an annual basis to all approved, certified and graded tourist accommodations and facilities.

But contrary to this official position of the apex tourism body, Afikuyomi said while serving as Senator of the Federal Republic in 1999, the National Assembly set aside all existing byelaws and decrees enacted by the past military regimes including that of the NTDC thus rendering them ineffective.

According to him, it is important to note that it is illegal for anybody or group of people to operate outside the Hotel Licensing Amendment Law No. 23 Volume 43 Lagos State of Nigeria Official Gazette 2010, and The Hotel Occupancy and Restaurant Consumption Law No. 30 Volume 42 Lagos State of Nigeria Official Gazette of 3rd June 2009. Above all, the commissioner said the overall constitutional authority of regulatory powers of the Federal Government of Nigeria is clearly spelt out and limited to the Provision of Section 4 (2) (3) item 60 (d) part one of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

This provision, according to Afikuyomi, is superior to every other legislation and it clarifies and limits the activities of the NTDC or Federal Government in relation only to tourist traffic, that is, issues relating to movement of tourists, foreign travellers, visas among others. His words: 'This is quite sensible knowing fully well that in most States as in Lagos State less than five percent of those who patronise night clubs and bars are foreign travellers and less than 25 per cent of those who patronise hotels are foreign tourists/visitors.