Tourism is described as “the act and process of spending time away from home in pursuit of recreation, relaxation, and pleasure while making use of the commercial provision of services” Britannica.com.
I would like to add my version as well. To me, Tourism is the simplicity of life that pampers a traveler’s ego. Why do I feel Tourism is the art of nothingness? I’ll explain by giving three examples out of a dozen, but first I’ll have to note that the average idea of Tourism and Hospitality as perceived in the Nigerian context ends with a cooler of Jollof rice, alcohol, and pepper soup. Without these available, Tourism isn’t likely to flourish as you would expect. Perhaps it is about the purchasing power, perhaps it is about cultural and traditional preferences. I can’t really tell why we gravitate towards these three over the excitement that tourism should generate.
Now, have you heard of the Lion of Lucerne in Switzerland? Probably not, but now you have. It is the statue of a Lion designed by Bertal Thorvaldson and carved by Lukas Ahorn. You’ve probably never heard of both men before now either. Anyway, during the French Revolution in 1792 Swiss Guards were massacred by the French revolutionaries and in commemoration of this, the statue was carved out around 1820. The famous author Mark Twain, author of The Prince and The Pauper, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer among others is reported to have said of the statue “It is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”. Is that a solid endorsement or what? He would certainly have gotten millions in Followers and Likes if he had said that today.
So here we have the statue of a Lion in Switzerland that represents fallen soldiers killed by the French and promoted by a renowned writer from America, designed by a hitherto unknown person, and carved by an equally unknown person, at least unknown to many Nigerians unaware of the iconic art and crafts of the outside world.
So what does this information translate to? Simple. Read this. The statue attracts over 1.4m tourists and visitors yearly. If each visitor spends only $50 on average by visiting the site, buying souvenirs, buying drinking water, grabbing a light meal, or spending on anything typical for a visitor to spend on, including transportation, accommodation, and the likes, the Lion would have earned the community a minimum $70m in revenues generated, at the end of the year. That’s more money than we generate from our National Theatre in 5 years, after spending much more than it cost to carve out the Lion, and I stand to be corrected. That $70m circulating in the community and larger areas creates and maintains employment for the people. This is the nothingness in Tourism that needs to be harnessed in Nigeria. Not that fast though, remember the carved Lion is over 200 years old. Within those years, roads, hotels, vehicles, phones, and cameras have all been developed and established and they cater to the needs of the visitors and tourists to date. In other words, we can say the enabling infrastructure is in place to accommodate growth.
The second example of nothingness in tourism is this. One of the greatest mysteries known to mankind is in Egypt. Yes. The great Pyramids of Egypt. There’s not much to be added to this tourist site in terms of accolade or description. Movies, documentaries, musical videos, news reports, and every feasible outlet of communication have all at one time or the other promoted the Pyramids simply by referring to them. In all fairness, though they are truly a sight to behold. Mind-boggling is an apt description for the Great Pyramid. Over half a million blocks weighing over 2 tons each were used to build the Great Pyramid (one Volkwagen Beetle car weighs about 1 ton). Some of the blocks used to weigh over 70 tons each.
The dimensions of the structure are equally mind-blowing. It sits on over 13 acres of land and is about the height of a 50-story building, or so I am told by those who promote the tourist site. You might not want to know how the circumference of the earth is captured in the dimensions of the Pyramid. Mind-blowing stuff that propels tourism, after much research has been carried out.
Well if this doesn’t impress you or it doesn’t make you wonder about its existence, don’t be alarmed. According to tradingeconomics.com about $12b was earned as revenue from tourism in Egypt in 2019 and you can bet the Pyramids had a part to play in drawing visitors. By the way, the Pyramids have been around before the first Europeans thought about building a boat, and before Julius Caesar was killed by mutineers.
The third and final reason for my title, The Nothingness in Tourism is this. Madame Tussauds. This company presents wax figures of celebrities, royalty, and famous people including athletes, musicians, and politicians. It is what it is, simply put, unlit candles designed in the image of people. According to cnbc.com the company attracts over 50m visitors worldwide in its 22 branches across the globe and recorded earnings of over £450m in 2017. Why would people all over the world pay to see wax statues in England and Europe and America and not those molded in Owerri? Madame Tussauds was founded in 1835, by the way, when there were no mobile phones or cars with side airbags. That’s the power of the nothingness in tourism, the ability to stay the course and keep telling your story.
In Nigeria, where this write-up is directed at, my attention is drawn to Cross River State, so let me land there.
The state, unlike its neighboring Niger Delta brothers and sisters, is not endowed with black gold, and crude oil, to the extent of says Bayelsa or Delta State. In comes a Governor with foresight, Donald Duke; I attended the same primary school with him by the way, years after he had left though, so I claim a little bit of his background that brought out his visionary brilliance. Thank you.
Donald decided to leave oil and gas and focus on what came naturally to the state. A pristine environment for Tourism. Before we go to Tinapa, the very popular and seemingly and sadly, failing tourism resort and enviable project, let us talk about CERCOPAN.
If you don’t tell your tourism story, nobody will know about it. I spent a few nights in Calabar on my way to Boki Local Government where I had invested in agriculture and in particular Cocoa farming. Not to digress but I saw pineapples so golden and sweet, the juices spouted out with force when you spliced them open, and the bananas would rot away on the farms as there wasn’t enough infrastructure in place to do the needful. The pineapples were sold at 3 for N100 or less if I remember correctly. Meanwhile in Lagos by Falomo Roundabout one dry pineapple was sold for N200 if I remember correctly. This write -up however is about the nothingness of tourism, so let me focus on that.
I ended up at CERCOPAN.
I wore my tourist persona and saw Calabar through the eyes of a tourist. Let me start by saying I was a bit worried when I first arrived in Calabar and this was sometime in 2015 or thereabout. It was like a well-laid-out trap, it was the cleanest Nigerian city I had seen in my life, Tourism standard if I should say so. Well I’m at CERCOPAN and learning about the rare primates and the reserved forests with the gorillas and drills and it is all good fun and a pleasant experience to know one can feel like a foreign tourist in their own country. Then I walk up to this little Sign. It describes the monkey I am looking at. “Sclater’s guenon”¹.
According to Wikipedia,
“Sclater’s guenon is known to occur in captivity only at the [http://www.cercopan.org Centre for Education, Rehabilitation, and Conservation of Primates and Nature in Cross River State, Nigeria”.
It looked like a monkey as far as I was concerned. It looked like any other monkey you would assume was a monkey, and it was. I stood there for a few minutes befuddled that I was staring at a rare animal that looked like any other animal of its kind. At that moment I realized what tourism is truly about. It is about pampering the dreams of the traveler, the visitor who wishes to be held spellbound by anything with an extraordinary story, after spending money for the journey. At that moment I realized how really individual we all are, even if we share similar traits and characters and physical attributes. We are all unique in our own way. It took me a visit to CERCOPAN to realize the nothingness in tourism. If you don’t tell your story, who will?
We talk of the Pyramids of Egypt, but our children don’t know about the Monoliths of Ikom². Do you? I bet you know of Stonehenge though, but you don’t know of Esie Museum³ in Kwara State, the first Museum in Nigeria. You need to visit it and be amazed at the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack that we refuse to develop for their true tourism potential.
Well here’s where this piece attempts to dot the lines and connect the whole story. The Nigerian rail system wasn’t built for the benefit of Nigeria. It was designed to move goods to the ports for the benefit of Europe. We inherited a false legacy that sadly we have not been able to develop beyond. Tinapa is dying Obudu is dying and I hear the month-long Calabar Carnival with gyrating beauties and gorgeously dressed partakers of the parade, has all but died. I blame it on the system that didn’t allow or consider rail transportation to thrive for the benefit of tourism. Wouldn’t you have liked to travel to Calabar for a weekend getaway at a resort on Friday evening, and resume work on Wednesday because of the public holidays on Monday and Tuesday? That would have been brilliant if only we had comfortable and scheduled rail services, and that could have kept the likes of Tinapa alive, barring poor administration.
Take a look at Yankari Game Reserve and see the beautiful waters on display. Alas, insecurity has added to the lack of rail service and tourism has taken a double blow. In all my years, I have never seen a wildlife documentary on Yankari Game Reserve. Why? In fact, the only Lion I have seen in Nigeria of late looked like a two-dimensional drawing. It had lost its natural wild instinct and I have a feeling it would become a pet to anyone who would feed it, and sadly, it was in a Zoo.
With visionless leadership focused solely on crude oil largesse and the commissioning of short roads and boreholes, we have created massive unemployment, and a dearth of the industry has taken center stage.
Who will understand The Nothingness In Tourism that is needed to harness our potential and turn our focus away from black gold, this crude oil matter?
Today, we have Internationally renowned celebrities who command a serious following on social media where new money is made. We have an artist named Davido who raised N250m, almost half a million US dollars in a matter of days just by asking for it from his fans (he eventually chipped in his own and gave it all out to charity, by the way, great guy). We have star power in Nigeria today that can make Woodstock resemble child’s play. What we don’t have yet is visionary leadership that understands the value of Apple and Facebook compared to our GDP.
What would it take to make tourism work in Nigeria? For me, I think not much. The natural ingredients exist in large measure. Happy, fun-loving people who require just the basic form of entertainment to raise a storm. We have a hungry market with a huge appetite for hospitality and tourism ventures, including the obvious entertainment angle. What we lack, it seems, is the patient and fortunate investor to get things right. Underestimate the sheer economic power that an Owambe party represents, at your own loss, Mr. Investor.
By the way, not to sound sour, but the interesting observation is that presently Nigeria earns more tourism revenue incomes than Jamaica, Barbados, and Ģhana, according to atlasbig.com. Makes one wonder how those countries end up presented as better positioned in tourism than Nigeria. What are we not getting right yet?
In concluding, pardon my twists and turns as I have to point out my heritage, being part of Urhobo Okpe and Itsekiri. We tell stories even when we say hello.
If I found the magic lamp and rubbed it and the genie asked me to make a wish for Tourism, this is what I would wish for Lagos State. The biggest Water Park and Aquarium in Africa, housing unseen water creatures like the great white shark, the giant octopus and the Nile crocodile, Penguins, and reticulated pythons measuring over 8 meters. Every child up to secondary school level would visit the Park with its lush greenery and authentic Nigerian cuisine, for educational purposes, and this would be in the curriculum of education for the State. Every Lagos child will be educated with first-hand knowledge of sea creatures and others too, and by so doing open up to the reality of the natural world we live in.
The railway from Jos will terminate at Epe where the then modern fish market will complement the tourist sites to be visited by guests at the Park. Funding? Like I said, visionary leadership.
Ejiro A Eghagha
Writer, Author, Digital Media Consultant
Ejiro A. Eghagha is a Digital Media Consultant Social analyst, writer, and author of Still on The Matter, an anthology of short stories for Africans in The Diaspora. An experienced politician, and soccer enthusiast, he spends time online playing scrabble and keeping out of controversies.
Tag: CERCOPAN, Donald Duke, Pyramids of Egypt, Ikom, Lucerne, Yankari, Davido, Nigeria Railway Corporation, Lagos State, Tourism
¹ Sclaters guenon monkey