By Joy Ehonwa
Many years ago, a friend of mine embarked on an adventure with her sister; they set out to explore Africa from country to country. While I can no longer remember the details of that tour, I am inspired afresh every time I remember it – not inspired to tour Africa, but to tour my very own country, Nigeria.
In a country with 36 states, the average Nigerian has been to 5 states or less. Fear of terrorism has grown. Our roads are not in great shape. We have students who can tell us all about Europe but know next to nothing about the next state. How can we change this trend? How can we boost the confidence of Nigerians in local tourism?
Nasco Moments host Joy Bewaji has a knack for picking the perfect guest, and she does it again for this edition. Travel writer and winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Award in the tourism category, Pelu Awofeso has been to 30 states in Nigeria in the 15 years he has worked as a journalist, and is the publisher of the online travel magazine, Waka-About. On this edition of Nasco Moments, Joy deftly gets him to answer the questions I’ve always wanted to ask. Here are the fascinating things I learnt about local tourism in Nigeria:
Local tourism is exciting. I always suspected this, but Pelu Awofeso erased all my doubts. Did you know that a bathtub that belonged to Lord Lugard still exists in Kogi state? Kogi is one of the topmost tourist destinations, with a wealth of artifacts, but they are rotting away just like in other states. The state governments don’t know what they have. The people don’t appreciate what they have. Despite this, both host and guest remind us of one important thing: Nigerians do know how to take care of visitors. Hospitality is something we have. That is the spirit of the average Nigerian.
Pelu Awofeso is welcome and made comfortable everywhere he goes. About a decade ago, he visited Sokoto and travelled in the footsteps of Uthman dan Fodio. He passed through all the places the warrior touched in the course of his jihad, and clerics showed him well kept records. He even got to see dan Fodio’s burial place. Having been to 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states, Pelu has seen things that many Nigerians haven’t; Heritage, landscape, festivals, markets, name it. He assures us that regardless of what your interests are, Nigeria has something for you.
We are not selling local tourism the way we should. This is sad, but true. Not a single state in our country markets its destinations, yet each state has at least 100. Dubai sold itself to the world. We aren’t even selling Nigeria to Nigerians. If we can do for local tourism what we’ve done with our movies and film, Nigerians will be interested and the tourism industry will explode.
Our tour agencies have a huge role to play. Take Olumo Rock for example. The government has done its part in making the place a standard tourism destination, but attempts to market the site have fizzled out. Our tour agencies would rather market foreign destinations than local ones. Pelu’s “Travel Next Door” which he launched last year has stepped into these shoes, taking people to these places, but it is not enough.
Insecurity tends to be exaggerated in Nigeria. Many Nigerians travel to other countries freely because they know they will be relatively safe; they have no reason to feel the same about Nigeria. If security is practically nonexistent in Lagos, why would I want to tour the rest of the country with no guarantee of safety? Pelu says the truth is there is violence and crime all over the world and this does not stop people from living. Other countries simply devote time playing up the beauty they have to offer, and downplaying the negatives. “It is because we haven’t been to these places we think Lagos is harsh and so the rest of the country is like that too.” He also reminds us that we have foreigners travelling in to enjoy our festivals. If all of Nigeria were as unsafe as we imagine, those foreigners wouldn’t come all the way here to enjoy our tourism destinations.
Everyone has a role to play in building Nigeria’s local tourism. The government has a role to play, the private sector has a role to play, and we as Nigerians have a role to play. What can we do? We can post pictures of the tourism destinations we know on social media. We can support local tourism literature; books, pamphlets, and coffee table books that show these places in brilliant colours. Such publications will help stimulate interest to travel and see these places. If we do not as Nigerians treasure what we have here, the world will not.
August kicks off festival season in Nigeria. The “lighting of the 16 point lamp”, which has been preserved by the Osun-Osogbo people for hundreds of years, is a beautiful festival that holds only at night. It is the first of many that will hold across Nigeria from now till year end.
Pelu Awofeso set up Travel Next Door with the goal of identifying a hundred or more locations for Nigerians who believe there’s nothing to see. His vision is getting one million Nigerians interested in local tourism, and taking them around the country. So far, advertising has only been done online and on social media, yet over a million have been reached, and hundreds have traveled with him. Excited yet? I certainly am!
Trivia question for this week: Nasco has its own petroleum jelly. What is it called? Send your answer to 08033286604 or tweet it using the hashtag #NascoMoments. The winner gets their goody bag delivered to them wherever they are in Lagos!