Solomon Chung

A scene from the Calabar Carnival in Cross River state.

For most oil-producing nations, the unrelenting fall in the price of crude oil means countries must creatively find new ways to generate much needed revenues to keep their economies afloat.

It is therefore not surprising that the Nigerian Government has taken measures to diversify the country’s economy and shift emphasis to other key sectors like agriculture, solid minerals, culture and tourism. Nigeria’s repositioning of its culture and tourism sectors for accelerated development is therefore strategic thinking at the right time.

Within the scope of this effort, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture is organising a National Summit on Culture and Tourism, from the 27th to the 29th of April, to chart a course that will make the sector one of the country’s major revenue earners and a stimulant for economic growth, away from the current dependence on oil. The summit signposts Nigeria’s determination to harness culture and tourism’s uniqueness and potential to employ various strata of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower.

The resilience of the culture and tourism sector is indisputable. Despite wars, political turmoil, natural disasters, medical scares, terrorists’ attacks, economic and energy crises in various parts of the world, international trade in cultural artefacts and tourism services has grown spectacularly since the 1980’s.

According to figures released by the World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals increased from 25 million in 1950 to 1.133 million in 2014, while earnings moved from two billion dollars to 1.245 billion dollars in 2014. Arrivals worldwide is expected to hit 1.8 billion and emerging economies of which Nigeria is a major part, are expected to get 57% of this market share.

Clearly, Nigeria is a bed of abundant natural and material resources. Its 170 million population is imbued with diverse heritage in music, dance and festivals, an endearing hospitality and boundless energy.

Aptly described as the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria is richly endowed with universally acknowledged ecological resources, many of which can generate employment and wealth. The country is also home to a richly diverse socio-cultural landscape of more than 250 ethnic groups, which easily makes Nigeria one of Africa’s bastions of culture and tourism.

The array of tourist attractions include numerous meandering rivers; clear coastal ocean beaches ideal for swimming and other water and beach-front sports; a unique variety of fauna, flora and wildlife; vast expanses of unspoiled natural habitats and reserves, flowing with magnificent waterfalls and uncharted forests; rapidly growing cities and climatic conditions that are favourable for holidays all year round.

Both culture and tourism are also being leveraged on to serve as veritable platforms for the promotion of peace, unity and economic prosperity. Already, genres of the creative arts and tourism destinations across the country are being catalogued and mapped, to mainstream culture and tourism as major economic activities in Nigeria.

To this end, consistency and focus are key. Policies like the National Tourism Master Plan and the National Tourism Development Fund are germane to achieve strategic success. The establishment of a national carrier in accordance with international best practice is also critical and governments at all levels are integral stakeholders

Significantly, security is paramount and the the country’s visa regime must be flexible enough to encourage tourists. In this regard, Nigeria’s Foreign Missions have a critical role to play in their host countries, by hosting such activities as mini museums and arts and crafts exhibitions.

Nigeria has never been a mono-product economy and the repositioning of  culture and tourism is proof that the country is on the threshold of ushering in a new game-changer, with the potential to transform the country’s socio-cultural and economic landscape for the good of all.