(Opinion) National Honours:  Nigeria’s Forgotten Tourism Heroes By Frank Meke 

* President Muhammadu Buhari

 

 

Nigeria is a beautiful country. Yes, we may be struggling on all fronts yet our worst moments, sometimes presents opportunities to which we fail to utilise.

In about three decades, one has kept faith with our people and nation, chronicling and documenting our very great moments in tourism and a many a times, our failed opportunities.  In cultural tourism environment, there are great patriots, some gone to great beyond and many, still living legends.

End of story? Yes, and No! In history of our cultural tourism experience, no government has ever deemed it fit to honour our tourism heroes. These great Nigerians has spared nothing in advancing our cultural tourism economy.  They are selfless, committed.

Great investors, frontline drivers, voices to the to the voiceless, tourism job creators, cutting across entertainment, culture, transportation, conservation, arts,  culture and tourism. I will name few of these selfless enigmas that my space can accommodate.

In doing this, I will try not to make same mistakes, our government has elevated to an act of foggy template where few kept faith but forgotten by the same people and nation, they so desired to serve.  Those, I may list here and with very brief comments on their contributions to Nigeria tourism heritage economy, are not exhaustive of the entire community of tourism game changers.

I will mention a few of our tourism heroes past and few of the living legends, we over looked for national honours and even national productivity awards. Let me share this story, and it will be brief,  an analogical rendition to Nigeria’s  deliberate neglect to the contributions of indigenous cultural tourism drivers and the industry in general.

I should believe everyone likes to play football?  It is a game of numbers and the team spirit matters. The referee is also a critical component of the game of soccer.

In December 1937, Charlton football club, took on Chelsea football club at Stafford Bridge stadium in an intense match which was stopped and abandoned in the 60th minute due to the unpredictable London weather. It was unbelievably foggy, so the story goes!

Sam Barthram, the legendary goal tender of Charlton FC, was said to be unaware that the game has been stopped. He didn’t hear the whistle of the referee due to noisy crowd behind his goal post and had kept, guiding the post in the foggy weather for over fifteen minutes, after the match was stopped.

He stood at his post, completely focused and arms outstretched to avoid being caught unawares, with thoughts his team mates, were unleashing terror at Chelsea FC goal post.

It was a caring and surprised stadium police officer, that drew the attention of Sam Barthram to the fact that the game had been abandoned due to fog.

And what did Barthram, the legendary Charlton FC goal stopper say? “How sad that friends forgot me when I was guarding their post.”

Barthram retort, represents how Nigeria has refused to recognise those who kept our cultural tourism gates. In our usual foggy reaction to serious national developmental issues, we pretend that some people, never mattered, never contributed to our national development, simply because they wear no garb of political shenanigan and do not employ bandits of trumpeters, singing tunes inimical to the growth of the collective.

Why we just beg issues and lack creativity, driven by research and documentation of patriots in the abandoned tourism sector, beats me.

Late tourism sages, Pa Ignatius Atigbi and Matthew Ebaboje Da’ Silva, were our heroes past.  While Atigbe, fought at the United Nations to adopt every September 27th as World Tourism Day, Pa Da’ Silva took on the tourism advocacy to bed rooms of our leaders during his time here and when God called him back home, it took an emerging tourism enigma, Otunba Segun Runsewe, then, Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to give him a decent burial.  Till date, no national award to these pioneers.

Alabo Mike Amachree, single handedly funded Nigeria’s first indigenous tourism association, the Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria ( ATPN). He owns an exclusive beach resort in the garden city of Port-Harcourt, aged and abandoned.

Teresa ( Ezobi) Ojo,  stood like an amazon, brought technological innovation to travel trade business in Nigeria,  held the post to the emergence of Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria,   transformed 65 years old National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) into a formidable professional trade group.  We didn’t remember her.

There were other gate keepers, such as, Kabiru Mallan, late Lanre Awoniyi, Wada Yenusa,. Frank Nneji of ABC Transport, late Chief Illodibe of Ekene Delichukwu, Goddy Ibru, late Emir of Borgu, Dr. Haliru Dantoro, ( He funded Gani Durbar festival  and reenactment of  historical Lord Lugard 1887 invasion of Borgu Kingdom,  the Race to Nikki,)  Femi Adefope, late Whispering Palm Resort owner, Prof. Femi Pearse,  Margaret Fabiyi,  of Webisco group.

We failed and pretended that we don’t have Wanle Akinboboye, unarguably Nigeria’s poster boy in global cultural tourism landscape.  He owns the World first, nature, river and beach themed resort.   He bestrides the world with the messages of cultural tourism value chain in entertainment, security and tourism, highly sought all over Africa, and indeed connecting the world to Africa as home to indigenous cultural heritage ecosystem. In doubt, go to Wikipedia, Samuel Alabi, a lawyer and hospitality boardroom giant, sits quietly at his corner, holding the post for Nigeria’s   tourism rebound. Jemi Ladi Alade  defined the path of marketing Nigeria to the world,  Gani Tarzan Balogun,  held forth on brown water tourism recreation opportunities and transportation,  Dr. Ibrahim Goni, turned around  our forest management ecosystem narrative and in one historical swoop, mapped additional 10 new National Parks, reflective of the global desire to benchmark our national forest landscape assets. We also forgot Lawan Marguba,  he gave birth to protection of forest covers,  bearing voiceless beings,  helpful to our environmental conservation survival.

The list is endless. How can we forget,  Nkereweum Onung,  President of FTAN,  tireless,  spending personal resources to reestablish accessibility and acceptation of government to power cultural tourism economy. He established a veritable link of logistics to tourism.  Susan Akporiaye, energetic, strategic, an amazon, standing tall and firm for Nigeria at the global tourism events, pushing her association to the table of national tourism and travel trade recognition.  We forgot Ogbeni Tope Awe, a great tourism journalist of all time who brought light to tourism communication.

Our biggest masquerade and believe me, a patriot and chief marketer of Nigeria in the last two decades, Otunba Segun Runsewe(OON). He deserves an elevation to higher National Honours.  This government owes him, a special diadem as our cultural ambassador, systematically building bridges of strategic cultural economy. From people to people, Runsewe sold us to ourselves, tooling culture as an oxygenator of peace and national unity.

My head is banging! And like Sam Bartram, our government has abandoned us while we build and guide our cultural tourism gate. Am sure, Nigeria, our people may not remember me too and yet we shall continue to hold forth, maybe, generations yet unborn, will remember.

Frank Meke is a Media and Tourism Consultant based in Lagos.

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