All over the country, there have been calls for diversification of the nation’s economy. This is coming on the backdrop of speculations that the nation’s oil wells would in the near future, get depleted, and with such development, the now rich country, Nigeria, may become a beggar nation, if care is not taken.
It is in the light of this that Delta State which habours, a larger quantity of the country’s oil wells has been harping on the possibility of turning the State into a tourist haven, bearing in mind that Tourism a relatively untapped and undeveloped sector in the country, would be a viable option and a money spinning sector like oil.
Hence, in Delta State, the sing song among government circles, is building a Delta State without oil. In this exclusive interview with the State’s Commissioner , Directorate of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Richard Mofe-Damijo, he talks about the efforts being made to ensure that the dream is realized and also narrating the challenges encountered in this effort.
He discloses that most people do not consider tourism as viable option for a Delta Without Oil, adding; “to convince people about all of this, is still very difficult. So, you find out that when you are trying to structure things that are outside the oil, banking and telecommunications industries, people are slow to respond. Banks, for instance have not started opening their doors to me yet to be able to partner me in most of the things I want to do.
Asked the reason for this lukewarm attitude, the Film Maker emphasizes: “Because there’s this disregard for anything that is not in the core areas of their business as in oil, telecommunications, because they still do not see how tourism can generate a lot of money. You can check the statistics and figures from Gambia to Jamaica to London and New York, they still look at you, and at the end of the presentation, they say , ‘let us wait and see’. Every body adopts a wait and see attitude.”
Speaking to us on how the journey has been since his appointment as Commissioner, Directorate of Culture and Tourism in the State, Mofe-Damijo says:
“It’s been very challenging but I thank God we are forging along. We have achieved some major strides in terms of infrastructure and also in terms of tourism. You are coming at a time we just finished the World Tourism Day celebration, which prior to that we were fortunate to be able to have our PPP taking off on a good flying start. We have a group called Sarna PFM from the United Kingdom (U.K). They are bringing a 250 million Dollars tourism project . It’s a good one and includes wild life reserve resort. The wild life is for the Asaba area and the water tin park is for the Warri area. That is on course, the Memorandum of Association (MOU), had to be signed. In terms of infrastructure, we are also lucky to have got the Efurrun Round about successfully completed . There is also the Efurrun Garden Park, which is going to be equipped with other equipment for children.
The Efurrun Garden Park is going to be adapted to make it more children friendly. So, we are going to have swings and rides and all kinds of things there for parties and all of that. We want to make it a centre for the community to come and celebrate children’s birthdays, parties and weddings and all of that. Also, there are a lot of projects going on in different places, around the state. We want also to have a befitting infrastructure for culture and events purposes, one is being built in Asaba and the other one is being built in Warri.
“The state government has signed a two phased 250million Dollars private partnership project (PPP) Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with an United Kingdom based firm, Sarner PFM to build a World class tourism village in Udu near Warri. The project would be known as ‘Delta Leisure City’. The project would also include a top class animals games Reserve to be known as ‘Delta Hill Top Games Reserve’ to be located in the Asaba area of the State. On the 250 million Dollars MOU World class tourism village, the commissioner said the facilities which will sit on a combined 500 acres of land when completed will no doubt provide jobs for about 10, 000 persons as according to him there are only five World class tourism village across the globe and the state is lucky to have the sixth one.
Asked why these projects are cited in Asaba and Warri, which are already towns instead of locating them (the projects) in the rural areas so as to develop them, he says,
It is the same thing. When I say Warri , it is actually in Udu Local Government Area. We just use that because Warri is a commercial city and you can not take the presence of entertainment in Warri, away from it because it has always been a very highly commercial city. The number you have there in terms of population gives rise or gives birth to that kind of entertainment thing. That’s why you find a lot of comedians, musicians and all that there. We have never heard of a place there where performances can take place. That’s why we need to put a cultural centre there. There are a whole lot of things happening in the rural areas. There are skills acquisition centres, arts and crafts centres in almost all the local government areas being developed.
Talking about this year’s World Tourism Day, and what it portends for the common man, he says, it is culture diversifying, to tell the common man that outside the petroleum industry, there’s a whole lot more out there. “You know the World is large, huge and the opportunities to be engaged in various sectors of the economy are there , and tourism is a vital aspect of life in that area. I give you an example. When the resort in Udu (Warri area ) is completed, it will be able to employ over 10,000 young people. That’s a major reduction in our unemployed people.
Stressing that the project would be completed in 18 months. We have not started. I said from the day they break ground. We have just signed the Memorandum of Association (MOU). So, they will still need to do the ground breaking ceremony. We are happy that the funds have already been sorted out Government is not providing the funds. The funds are coming entirely from the Organisation in the UK. What government is providing are other services and of course, the land. But government has a stake in it . Our contribution entitles us to a 10 per cent stake.
Mofe-Damijo however, disclosed some of the basic challenges that he has been facing as Commissioner, Directorate of Culture and Tourism.
“It’s the fact that most people do not consider tourism a viable option for a Delta without oil, for instance. So, it takes a lot of time to convince people for the need for some of these things we are talking about. We are trying to inaugurate tourism bodies within all the local government areas. The local governments are slow in adapting to World trends and changes. I remember even as Special Adviser, when I was going round talking about entertainment, and the need for them to encourage entertainment within their local governments, as a way of empowering young people, they didn’t quite understand what I was saying.
Only until recently when the programme I was doing, I was telling them about at a time, started showing on African Magic that some of them called me to say, “Ah , you didn’t tell us that the thing was going to be on African Magic when it is completed .”And I said, it can even go beyond African Magic. What we are doing is , you don’t need any body to explain to you the power of entertainment when you remember that the most popular people in the World are people in the creative arts. It is the brain power that is the next frontier. It is not what nature endows the earth but what nature or God has endowed the human brain with. That is why intellectual property and all of that is next frontier, but even to convince people about all of this , is still very difficult . So, you find out that when you are trying to structure things that are outside the oil, banking and telecommunications industries, people are slow to respond. Banks, for instance have not started opening their doors to me yet to be able to partner me in most of the things I want to do.
He explains, because there’s this disregard for anything that is not in the core areas of their business as in oil, telecommunications, because they still do not see how tourism can generate a lot of money. You can check the statistics and figures from Gambia to Jamaica to London and New York, they still look at you and at the end of the presentation and say , let us wait and see . Every body adopts a wait and see attitude, so, it then behoves government to be the sole provider of , almost ninety something per cent of the funding.
This is not unusual. Just that society has to take some time to adapt to changes in society because in those days, the major patron of the arts is usually the royalty which is represented now by government because all the carvers you read about in history, they all used to work for the king. The king used to have an official court jester, dancers and drummers, etc. That’s why you have royal drummers, royal singers because the larger society could not pay for the services of creative people. So, usually you find that they were employed, kept and funded by the royal stool. And the royal stool today of any community is government , So, that is why you find out that the onus falls on government but with government divergent expenses as well, funding becomes a challenge. I mean, today, the entire country is facing challenges of funding.
In different areas, we want to expand our roles. We want to provide light, employment, infrastructure. All of these have challenges of funding and so on. We want to expand education and security and all that. It takes a while for you to get the kind of funding that otherwise you need to fund a sector that needs pampering at this point in time.
But he would not hit the nail on the head as to what the expected revenue that could accrue from Tourism per annum for one to see it as a viable option for oil. Hence he says, “I can’t give you figures now but it’s an area where the amount of investment and the long term investments that you put in the area, will determine what you will get from it in future. I give you the example of Cross River State. You know that the last eight years were spent in building some kinds of foundation for tourism. Now, we are entering that race where we are beginning to put the structures in place for that kind of tourism. My idea is to drive domestic tourism more with the events.
That is why you will find out that the increase in terms of concerts or festivals and shows that have happened in Delta State in the last two years, has been on the increase.
Finally, he wants all and sundry to know that it is very possible to have a Delta State without oil. “All hands should be on deck to make this dream achievable. Tourism is really, a very viable option. It is a sector that needs long term investment to be able to give the desired result