Akwa Ibom Tourism Industry: Can Victor Antai Wake The Sleeping Giant?
The dwindling price of crude oil globally and the recession which leaves Nigeria wailing, has sent Nigerians back to the drawing board with their thinking cap, most especially stakeholders in the economy and public office holders.
One of such personalities is Nigeria's Information & Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is making efforts to ensure the positioning of Nigeria's creative economy as an alternative income earner.
In November 2016, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel, having dissolved his cabinet, submitted names of new soldiers to join him in the implementation of the developmental agenda, of his Divine Mandate administration.
Those for appointment as commissioners included; Mr Paul Udofia, Mr Ime Okon Ekpo, Dr Nse Essien, Prof. Eno Ikpe, Mr Idoroenyin Udo and Mr Linus Nkan. Others are Mr Uduak Udoinyang, Mr Charles Udo, Mr Orman Esin, Dr Iniobong Essien, Dr Dominic Ukpong, Mr Uwemedimoh Nwoko and Mr Victor Antai. Also on the list of nominees were Mr Monday Uko, Dr Glory Edet, Mr Udo Ekpenyong, Mr Akan Okon, and Mr Ephraim Inyang.
After subsequent screening, confirmation and announcement of portfolios, Rt Hon Victor Antai was assigned the responsibility to oversee the affairs of the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, hereby making him the man in the spotlight.
A tycoon, astute politician and grass rooter, Mr Antai served in the previous cabinet as Commissioner at the Ministry of Local Government & Chieftaincy Affairs, where he ensured the equal distribution of state resources and superintended issues concerning the traditional ruling arm of the state government.
On assumption of office, Hon Antai, a two-term-elected Chairman of Mbo Local Government Area, who is known for his sterling leadership qualities, has since set sail on the journey to leave his imprint in the hitherto moribund tourism ministry. As the 2017 working year begins, this article seeks to access hurdles the already known hard working socialite will have to face in the course of his new assignment.
The Civil Service Mentality
This 'Civil Service Mentality' as funny as it may sound, will be the most difficult hurdle the Honourable Commissioner will have to cross.
In Akwa Ibom State Civil Service, things take a traditional method, the process of pitching a noble idea to the Tourism Officers, the process of getting approval and funding for initiatives, as nepotism and favoritism will surface.
More so, the Permanent Secretary & Directors are comfortable just observing United Nations Culture & Tourism related days. They do not come up with lofty ideas and are quick to frown at the numerous ones brought to them by individuals from the private sector.
Further more, Akwa Ibom State Hotel & Tourism Board, Wildlife Preservation & Conservation groups and other complementing agencies have an essential role to play in the implementation of the Ministry's goals, but they are either non existent or non functional. Talk less of Laws, Agencies, Unions and Policies to support the venture.
There is an inevitable need for the new Culture & Tourism boss to foster a good working relationship with the state Ministry of Information & Communication and Directorate of Brand & Marketing.
A lot of work has to be done in the area of preparing the mind of the people to see an Akwa Ibom beyond oil, our people should be showed how to cash in on the potentials God has blessed them with in nature, instead of carrying out activities that will make these gifts go extinct, like in the case of rare species of animals, we should be taught to preserve them.
Our tourist sites need to be guarded with all our arsenal, if lost, could never be regained, a task which falls directly on the Commissioner's desk. Also, there has to be security assurance for the lives and properties of investors and visitors to the state. Although Akwa Ibom people are known for their peace loving and accomodating nature, adequate security is an important requirement for tourism to thrive.
The discovered and soon to be discovered tourist sites need to be developed, to encourage or boost tourism, government is expected to the provide basic infrastructure needed to facilitate easy access and habitation at tourist sites in the state. The partnership with state Ministry of Works on the provision of amenities at tourist sites will really encourage the investors.
The role of Entertainment in tourism cannot be overemphasized, same as the role of Tourism in Entertainment, Entertainment is not just a major component of tourism, or a complimentary element, it is a determining factor. For instance, Concerts attract thousands of visitors in the name of artistes, band members and service providers. Take for example the Akwa Ibom Chrismas Carols Festival or Tilapia Island Resort, one is marveled by the number of visitors who troop to the state for such events, or to Abak to enjoy performances by top artistes billed to feature at events hosted at relaxation center.
For the first time in history, Governor Udom Emmanuel, having understood the income earning potentials of the entertainment industry, appointed David Sageant (Utang Akwa Ibom) as his Special Assistant on Entertainment Industry, he has since hit the ground and running with his 19 man State Entertainment Committee.
Same is also reccomended with Office of the Governor on Tourism. Nollywood Actor Ini Edo, on her appointment as Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Tourism, has displayed a high level of passion for the promotion of Akwa Ibom Culture and Tourism potentials, she had put finishing touches to host a world class Tourism expo for the state in December 2016, with a weeklong event (Ibom Fest), which was cancelled few days before the publicized date, due to the unfortunate incident of the Reigners Bible Church collapse.
Why is this partnership necessary ? Ini is a multiple brand ambassador for multinationals with huge investments across Africa, asides being a celebrated actress in Nigeria and known worldwide. Lofty ideas could get sponsorhip and see the light of the day because of her personality and relationship with these companies.
Investment in tourism has changed the fate of states like Cross River, because of the destination marketing projects initiated then under the leadership of Donald Duke. Today, tourism sustains the economy of the state.
Foreign Direct Investment through Public-Private Sector Partnership will be the crown of all efforts, as the positive effect of tourism on the economy of the host community is always enormous.
The Culture & Tourism portfolio is a huge one for Antai, a title Chief, the industry is gigantic, having the capacity to create thousands of jobs, both through direct employment within the tourism industry and indirectly in sectors such as retail and transportation. When these people spend their wages on goods and services, it leads to what is known as the "multiplier effect," creating more jobs. The tourism industry also provides opportunities for small-scale business enterprises, which is especially important in rural communities, and generates extra tax revenues, such as airport and hotel taxes, which can be used for schools, housing and hospitals.
Socially, the improvements to infrastructure and new leisure amenities that result from tourism also benefit the local community. Tourism encourages the preservation of traditional customs, handicrafts and festivals that might otherwise have been allowed to wane, and it creates civic pride. Interchanges between hosts and guests create a better cultural understanding and can also help raise global awareness of issues such as poverty and human rights abuses.
The Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Culture & Tourism needs a man with the capacity to wake the sleeping giant in the sector, exploring the natural and historical endowments, as a catalyst to enable the state diversify the economy and take its rightful place in the Nigerian nay African Toursim Map.
Victor, who had been victorious in his places of previous appointments, seems a to have a promising career in his current place of posting. Call him a square peg in a square hole, but of course, only time will tell.
Nelson NseAbasi is a Publicist, Brand/Media Strategist & Event Manager