In the past two weeks, the seeming rot in Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation ( NTDC), has been on the front burner of the industry eye balls. In sum, about N6 billion that is, if you add up 2021 release in budgetry allocation, have graced the account of the premier federal government tourism agency, yet nothing to show for it.
In the February 18th edition of my column in the soar away Sun newspapers, I had specifically articulated item by item listed projects on NTDC radar, many re-circled through the three years budget lifespan from 2017 to date, certainly conduit pipes allegedly generated for either misapplication or misappropriation of funds.
In furtherance of our efforts to investigate this process and give right thinking members of the society, industry players, National Assembly and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, a birds eyes view or situation room report on NTDC projects implementation baseline, I headed to Calabar last week to locate and evaluate a supposed Comprehensive Tourism Development Centre in Calabar municipal,one of the many ongoing tourism projects that was alleged to have gulped more than N250 million in the past three years.
What I found in Esuk Mba, a sleepy village in Akpabuyo Local Government Area in the same Cross River in 2015, also stirred me in the face as I combed the municipal of Calabar searching for the project to no avail. There were no such project (s) in sight just like the Ministry of Tourism under Edem Duke had listed Esuk Mba for a sureP tourism project that never happened.
Please, permit me to rewind on sure P Tourism funds. Under President Good luck Jonathan, a special Tourism Development fund was allocated to the Ministry of Tourism to upgrade, and rehabilitate select tourism sites across Nigeria but along the way, the Ministry and some supposedly clever Nigerians shared the funds and submitted projects completed report to President Jonathan.
For a detailed investigative findings of how that fund running into billions of naira developed wings through kangaroo projects, get the copy of Saturday Sun of January 10, 2015 on pages 68 and 69. It was an award winning investigative report which led the anti corruption sweeping broom of President Muhammadu Buhari to indict the then Permanent Secretary, leading to the demotion of Tourism as a stand alone Ministry.
Sadly less than six years,same circle of tourism projects misapplication, had slated Calabar municipal as headquarters of tourism Russian roulette, this time by the the management of NTDC.
Let me report that an afterthought visit to the Mariam road location of NTDC Calabar Zonal Office , brought to fore a tourism office left to fallow, indeed neglected, an eyesore, fit for piggery warehouse, lifeless!!
I wept for Nigeria, for an industry, clearly misled, deceived and left for scavengers and the worst tourism management team ever in the history of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).
Two weeks after my last exposure of NTDC recourse to represent tourism project items, repeatedly over the last three years without detailed delivery evidence even though funds were appropriated and released, one Nanna Yakubu, the Zonal Coordinator for the Jos Zone of NTDC, sent me about five separate documentry video rushes of two minutes duration of #destination tour Nigeria, which gulped millions of naira and placed on U Tube channels. Sadly the average visit on each of the poorly scripted and poor voiced over video efforts, was about 539 viewers in three years.
For lack of space, let me give you a run down of the viewership assessment in three years. Kano Durbar,364 viewers, #Tour Nigeria, The Heart of Africa ( 539) Yauri Rigatta, Kebbi state(580), Nigerian Flavour, a documentary on food/ culinary Culture (580). I didn’t bother on Jos and Abuja. If you must know’, this project, #Tour Nigeria is at heart of the Federal Government and National Assembly focal expectations to generate tourism revenue into national coffers but was showcased by the management of NTDC as a mere entertainment circuit. It failed totally to yield any investment return to the country in cash and kind.
Added to the Tour Nigeria agenda is the expected purchase of buses at N40 million on each budget circle as an ongoing project in the past three years and there are no buses for the Special Tour Bureau, a dedicated department for the management of the tourism visits and businesses across the six geopolitical zones.
It is sad that a Tour Nigeria project, specifically projected to to market and promote Nigeria through eductours or guided visits for Nigerian tour operators, travel media, travel agencies, community influencers, Youth Tourism Organizations(YTOs) and other stakeholders, who shall at the end, is expected to master the rudiments of Nigeria tourism marketing and promotion iniative, was cleverly jump started through staggered documentaries, targeting no particular local or international audience.
Hot on the highway of very rascally alleged misapplication of funds,is an Assessment and Authentication of Tourism sites across Nigeria which in three years allegedly gulped about N21million at N7 million per yearly projected circle.
So far,the stakeholders meeting had gulped about N30 million, on a yearly alleged N10 million projected expenditure with birds as witnesses and attendees. As I was about to put this column to bed on Tuesday morning, news got to me that NTDC had woke up from slumber, purportedly heading to Jos for its first ever public stakeholders meeting, that is two weeks after this column questioned the existence of the magical stakeholders item listed by NTDC, which never happened in the last three years.
We now wonder at the efforts to blackmail me for helping NTDC to come clean on accountability and service to 200 million Nigerians crying out for job empowerment through tourism. Certainly, corruption is a lier, and one thing I know, is that the devil is a lier from the beginning.
The sudden NTDC subterfuge response to reports on this column, though clearly meant to cover up tracks, still left NTDC in the hollows of incredibility as its alleged participation and support for Heritage festivals, beats me hands down. In three years, about N47 million was allegedly dedicated to this phantom projects every year.
Last week, a certain community in Jos was adjudged as beneficiary of a “latrin” and solar light system from NTDC and the question remains, where are the others? This one built in Bokkos was done possibly through direct labour in January, 2020 and we are yet to be told where such other interventions can be found across the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
If the 2021 budget circle goes into implementation, NTDC is expected to revisit# Tour Nigeria, Nigeria flavour Road show carnival, a new project worth about N242 million, which like previous efforts, may develop wings. It is an established pattern.
The sad implications of some of these alleged phantom projects are the outright disconnect between NTDC and the private sector. In three years, there are no established or known tourism project (s) done in partnership with the the organised private sector, non. The private sector is no good according to the bragging of a tourism kindergarten emperor at NTDC.
Secondly, the workforce in NTDC is divided more ever before, discouraged and oppressed, with daily poor managerial experience and accountability.
In Jos for instance, the Zonal Coordinator, was allegedly promoted above the seniors, who refused to be part of a system introduced from Abuja head office to work against laid down administrative expectations and procedures. Maybe, that is why Jos zones is favoured above other zones across the country by the unquestionable and all knowing tourism mayor of Abuja NTDC.
At the Abuja Office, the Pharaoh of NTDC instead of building cohesion and comradrie among the various departmental heads, has enthroned divisiveness and criminalised open professional opinions and submissions of brilliant tourism technocrats, who opposes laid-back and jankara decisions. As industry players would retort in mockery of NTDC poor leadership, “Abuja no be Lagos”.
Sadly significant, were open and bold resistance by the workforce, whose leaders had on several occasions led out frustrated NTDC workers to carry placards, calling for change and investigations.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Culture and Tourism, had sequel to the cry of the workforce and industry, visited NTDC to lecture and call the management to order to no avail, leaving hapless Nigerian tourism practitioners and other stakeholders, wondering why change cannot start in NTDC.
By next month, the first most horrible four years circle of the leadership of NTDC comes to end, the question remains, who is deceiving President Muhammadu Buhari that the failed management at NTDC deserves a renewal of a very disappointing mandate.? We watch and pray!!.
* Frank Meke, a Media and Tourism Consultant writes from Lagos.