Journalism in the service of society

Tourism and the climate of fear

By Ben Tomoloju

…our tourism industry should engender a sense of pride in Nigerians across all ages, boost their morale sufficiently to create a vibrant tourism culture locally and attract international clientele to enhance the country’s foreign exchange earnings…this should be pursued beyond rhetoric, in an atmosphere shorn of social abberations militating against the safety of tourists especially as evidenced in our recent history.

ON September 27, Nigeria joined the rest of the globe to mark the 2020 edition of the World Tourism Day. The celebration took place in spite of the odds which is not often addressed in tourism talks in the country. Perhaps in a bid to avoid pouring sand in the grains of what is normally a recipe in a genuinely hedonistic menu, the fun is rather emphasised in tourism talks while the other unfortunate reality is generally ignored, a reality that has perennially subverted the good prospects of the tourism industry across the world.

Clearly, the World Tourism Day was celebrated amidst seemingly intractable incidences of violence ricocheting around the country.  Armed robbers, kidnappers, political brigands, and anarchists in all guises have wreaked havoc on the populace time and again.

Law enforcement agents are not spared. Some are mortally felled in the course of their duty of securing the land against the menace of bandits and insurgents. Farmers have a hard time trying to work on their farms. Their agrarian settlements are ruthlessly attacked by murderous adventurists with whole families mowed down cold-blooded in one fell swoop.

The climate of fear is even exacerbated by the fact that a sitting governor’s convoy with all its retinue of security details has been attacked not once, but twice in recent times. Professor Babagana Zulum is reputed as one State Chief Executive in Nigeria that has distinguished himself by giving hope to the downtrodden and working assiduously in a most hostile environment — of war for that matter — to maintain social equilibrium. Unfortunately, in spite of his patriotic zeal, public spiritedness and commitment to the good life for the citizenry, suspected terrorists of the so-called Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), as reported, attacked his convoy along Monguno/Baga road, on Friday, September 25, and killed 17 members of his security personnel. So disheartening was it, especially as the governor was on his way to resettle 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). That is how horrific the fear-engendering climate of violence can be to the good life in all its ramifications. It is bothersome and a disincentive to all, including the growth of a viable tourism industry.

INDEED from the bit of pronouncements and a little display of potential attractions during the celebration, it is certain that a credo of ‘the tough gets going when the going gets tough’ is embraced passionately by the tourism authorities in the states, at least to prove a point for doggedness. And this is salutary.

One is not laying the issue of social violence bare for the sake of it. Neither is it to scare stakeholders in the tourism sector and the entire community of patrons, local and international, in any manner. (Afterall we are all in it together). Rather, it is to push the need to protect the tourism industry effectively in the country’s overall security strategies even as other areas of national life are receiving attention in this regard.

The value-adding potentials of tourism is economically high and require no special emphasis. Major economies worldwide and even developing ones have amply demonstrated the rating of tourism as a high revenue earner. Most of these economies also face the challenges posed by socio-political deviants and violators of peace as painted above. They have experienced horrifying attacks on locations and institutions in the travels, hospitality and general entertainment industries. In Africa, the heritage sites in Mali from as far back as the 14 century, during the era of the great traveller and historian, Ibn Batuta was pulverised by Islamic fundamentalists. Egypt and Kenya, African countries that generate substantial fractions of their economic mainstay from tourism, have also suffered similar life-threatening fate  and had to rejig their security architecture to provide adequate protection for domestic and foreign tourists.

The point at issue here is not only about stationary objects of tourist interest, but also about movements, about people travelling across the length and breadth of the country from and towards one destination or another.

DOMESTIC tourism used to be an enthralling habit of Nigerians, at least within a reckonably influential social bracket. This bracket also tried to influence the young schooling generations. Excursions by various schools societies were rife. They were fascinating experiences for pupils and students. Members of the Historical Societies travelled to view historical sites and monuments. Those in the Geographical Societies went after peculiar features in topography, vegetation and the aquatic splendour of oceans, rivers, springs, waterfalls, cataracts and lakes. Fine-art students also relished the sight of peculiar landscapes and nature which they sketched or painted. There was also sports tourism of sorts in schools generated through inter-school competitions.

Tourism habit was imbibed from the youthful stage. It was subsequently translated into a massive population of adult patronage.

In Nigeria, this is not a folktale. It was a reality remembered with a feeling of nostalgia. As far as one can see, such extra curricular activity is a rarity these days.  The exception is, perhaps, found in the elite private schools where parents have to cough out humongous amounts for their children and wards to visit foreign countries, as close as Ghana and as far as the USA, during the long vacation. This, however, is not the type of youth tourism orientation that one is drawing attention to. Certainly not one that confers dignity on other countries above ours, so long as Nigerian government can mitigate the climate of fear and create an enabling environment for the creative and recreational activities of tourism to be explored in an atmosphere of peace and friendliness.

The cliché of the world being a global village still holds a vital joint in public mentality. Thus, one cannot ignore the need for a cosmopolitan breed to emerge in every generation as the international dimension in the elite schools appears to indicate. But it should not diminish the Nigerian factor in the process. The thrust of this piece is that our tourism industry should engender a sense of pride in Nigerians across all ages, boost their morale sufficiently to create a vibrant tourism culture locally and attract international clientele to enhance the country’s foreign exchange earnings. And this should be pursued beyond rhetoric, in an atmosphere shorn of social abberations militating against the safety of tourists especially as evidenced in our recent history.

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