I NEVER DROVE A CAR UNTIL I BOUGHT MINE
Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Otunba Segun Runsewe, is one man who nurses a pleasant nostalgia of his early life. Indeed, he loves talking about his early life in the North.
Runsewe told Saturday Sun how his upbringing made him what he is today.
What was your childhood like?
I had a great opportunity while growing up. I am a Yoruba man who grew up in the North. Then there was no tribal sentiment; no religious differences. We all lived in harmony then in Kaduna, in the early sixties. Our childhood was fantastic. I must tell you that one of the best things that happened to me was growing up in that environment. It was when I got to school that I started knowing that there's a difference between Christian and Moslem.
We lived in harmony, all of us. There was no problem. We ate and dined together. For instance, I am a Christian and I grew up in the midst of Moslems. During the fasting periods, I wouldn't eat in the afternoon. If I had to, it had to be somewhere, because I must respect their religion; that was how we lived and there was no problem. There was never any time we had problem.
So, my childhood was one of the best things that happened to me. It had lovely companies, nice people around me. When I hear people say they are fighting, especially, the north against the south or east, it amuses me and I ask myself, what is going on? Is it not the same Nigeria we grew up to know and appreciate ourselves?.
Which schools did you attend?
I started from Saint Michael School and I went to Government Technical College, Minna where I went to Kaduna Polytechnic. Thereafter, I went London School of Management Studies and School for Business Executives, also in London. Finally, I was at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, where I did my master's degree programme.
Who were your peers then in Kaduna?
I can't forget them. I have some childhood friends, most of who are northerners. I have the like of Sulaimon Kuta, Aminu George, Kabiru Ismaila and a host of so many others who grew up with me. We are still in contact up till today. During naming we call each other and we attend.
Do you speak Hausa?
I speak Hausa probably better than English. I am the first southerner to be the General Manager of New Nigerian Newspapers and I can tell you we even communicate with managers then in Hausa. You see, I am still worried about how all these divisions started. We all lived together as brothers and sisters. I don't know what is happening now. What is happening in Jos now, to me, is like a dream. Somebody like Segun Odegbami was brought up in Jos. I was brought up in Kaduna; some others in Kano. But I pray that God who gave us that peace and harmony in Nigeria would allow it to reign again so that we can live in harmony. That's my prayer.
How would you describe your parents?
I would sound immodest if I tell you that I have one of the best parents that ever emerged in the world. My mother said to me, whether I like it or not, I must be somebody in life that I mustn't disgrace her. Yes, my dad said something to that effect too. He would always tell me that I must not only get things done, but also ensure that I got them done very well. To me, my parents ensured discipline and I thank God for that discipline. It has paid off for me and I am passing same to my children. My father made sure I never drove a car until I bought mine.
But your dad had a car.
Of course, he had cars, but he wouldn't allow me drive it. Also, my mother made sure we slept on the floor of our bed. She said we had to be where she would be seeing us because we were the only gold she had. These things happened then, unlike today when parents spoil their kids. I am sorry to say that then one man would have 30 children. Incidentally, they would not be taken good care of. Now people have three or four and take good care of them. That's part of the problems with our society today. I was lucky. My parents wanted the best for me and they never allowed me to go astray and I thank God that this has really helped me.
What kind of pranks did you play while growing up?
What kind of pranks? You see, there are two kinds of youths. There are street-wise youth life and there is this extrovert life. But it is better for a child to be street-wise, not a child that will see a dog and will start screaming. A child that has seen so many dogs on the road is sometimes stronger. It helps you to prepare yourself for challenges. So, to me when you talk about pranks, there is no child in the world who didn't play pranks. It depends on the level and the percentage. But thank God, ours was manageable and that's why we can tell the story today.
Can you recollect yours?
Every child tells the parents I am going to 'X' place and end up in the other places. It is normal, but the fear of your parents is the beginning of wisdom. I remember that I visited a family in London and the father said to the boy, 'why are you doing this? You must be stupid.' And the boy said to the father: 'Daddy, you are insulting me.' We dared not try that during our time. In fact, it was a pleasure for your dad to insult you. But youths of today have gone to a different level, whereby they even claim to know more than their parents. Today, parents see their sons put on earrings, plaiting their hair and they say it is fashion. To me, it is rubbish. Parents must try and bring their child up in God's way, so that they can have peace at the end of the day. Without that, there is no peace for them, but I thank God that we went through that.
What experiences shaped your life?
You see, there is no success without struggle and there is no progress without problems. Also, there is no champion without challenges. Please, let me reveal this to you. As a child of God, a child of God doesn't come across problems, but challenges, which prepare him for the next level. To me, before I became close to God, probably, I thought about my problems, but I couldn't remember because they became challenges. God has managed them for me.
Would you like to mention some of those challenges?
Yes, I remember I was determined to go to one of the best schools. When I got to London and I was told that I was late; that was one of the biggest challenges I ever had. I felt bad. You see, I thought I was going to spend a whole year doing nothing. I would never forget this man, Peter Allen. He was my lecturer. He said to me, 'this young man looked determined.' He took me to the director of studies and he explained the circumstances surrounding my lateness and because of that the man had a second thought and said that within two weeks they would put me on stand by. Those two weeks I got to school before everybody and did everything well. That was some of the discipline I had that is helping me today. If I had been going late or didn't do the right thing they would have just dismissed me. But because of that determination and commitment they saw, they believed in me. Thank God today I made one of the best results. So, that is one great challenge I faced in life, but I thank God I overcame it.
Your name has become synonymous with tourism in Nigeria. How did you develop interest?
It was a divine call, beyond human being. If I tell you today that I have all it takes, I would be deceiving you. I didn't have all it takes, but you see, when God is preparing you for something, things would happen that you wouldn't even understand yourself. It is beyond human being and I am repeating it to you that it was a divine call, because sometimes I would just be sleeping and some ideas would just come. Sometimes, I would look at the ideas; it would look stupid, but in the end people appreciate it. So, it is beyond human being. What I have been doing isn't in the textbooks; it is practical tourism. Tourism isn't about organizing workshop or seminar. It is about impacting on the people. Some were there before me; God didn't open their eyes; but when I got there, God didn't only open my eyes but opened windows and things work out well.
If I tell you I was prepared, it is a lie. The only thing is that immediately I realized that this job given to me is beyond me, I took it to God. Sometimes God even give you challenges for a purpose and I thank God for the challenge he has given me. I never liked tourism. I wanted some other offices, but I didn't get them. Thank God I didn't get them. God has done much for me in tourism now. If not for him, I wouldn't have, probably, achieved anything there. So, it isn't about what a man likes; it is about what God has in store for him or her.
Can an introvert excel in tourism?
One of the weapons God gave to me to use in tourism is my journalism exposure. You see, journalists are one of best materials that we don't appreciate n this country. A journalist is a gatekeeper; so he is being conscious of people watching him. A journalist knows his work is time-bound; if you don't go with your story on time, others will break it. There is no way you can do tourism without interacting with the media. It isn't possible.
One day, the chairman of the editorial board of a newspaper asked me if we didn't think some people might think my media appearances were much. I said to him that every country of the world has a face of tourism. By the grace of God, Otunba Runsewe is the face of tourism in Nigeria. Again, if you are a minister today and some journalists want to see you and you dismiss them, saying you are busy, you have created problem for yourself and the country. If you attend to the journalist quickly, he will balance his story and that's the strategy I have been using. I make sure I intimate the media with everything I am doing.
The danger people don't understand is that tourism has two components: internal and international. That's domestic and international tourism. You see, you are selling to internal public and international public. Can you sell into any of these publics without knowing them? So, if you don't know how to do it, don't go there. Tourism is very sensitive and you must sell it to the right public to get the right feedback. If you don't like the media, don't go there. It is like you are DG, NAFDAC and you say you don't need the media.
When you intercept contraband, who will tell the public?
One thing I did when I got to tourism was to fight the fraudsters in the industry. If you don't attack the fraudsters, that industry can never excel. They did everything to undermine me, but I thank God I made headway.