Chief Edem Duke talks to Fascinating Nigeria about building cultural relations with China, Nigeria’s potential as a top African tourism destination, and how Fascinating Nigeria is helping to achieve this.
Q: Earlier this year, you hosted a delegation of Chinese cultural experts in Nigeria. How has that meeting promoted Nigeria’s cultural relations with the People’s Republic of China?
A: The meeting gave our cultural relations with China an enormous boost. Firstly, the Chinese experts worked with their Nigerian counterparts to share knowledge and help both countries gain a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures. Secondly, some of them will be working with our National Gallery of Arts to assist us with 4,000 works of art that need major restoration work. And thirdly, we are working together to promote language in each other’s country, which is a very important element of our bilateral relations.
We have been building up good cultural relations with China for some time now. In 2012 my Ministry opened a Nigerian Cultural Centre in China which, to date, is the only African cultural centre in China. The centre represents our ambition not only to improve our country’s tourism but also to develop Nigeria’s economic and global influence. Culture is a tool that we can use to help advance our influence around the world.
China has been an enthusiastic partner, for example by participating in our Abuja Carnival and hosting a group of young Nigerians who spent a year learning gymnastics and calisthenics in China.
We have also had some academic exchanges, where representatives from key universities in Nigeria and China have worked in each other’s departments. Then came President Goodluck Jonathan’s State Visit to China, which was the crescendo of promoting not only our political and economic relationship, but also our cultural relationship. Following this, the Chairman of the Chinese ruling party visited Abuja to open the China Cultural Centre, which includes a language laboratory and a library.
Another exciting development is that the Chinese government has worked on a project to adapt the film Beijing Love Story into the Hausa language Labarinso, which premiered on NTA, the Hausa station in Nigeria. We in turn are looking for Nigerian films which could be translated into Mandarin.
And finally, the celebration of Nigeria Culture Week in China’s Nanjing Province took place from 16 to 18 October. This is the second cultural week we have held in China to celebrate and promote Nigerian culture to the local people. In November a performing group from China will take part in the Abuja Carnival. So in all, our experience with the delegation from China has been very rewarding indeed. Perhaps it is something that we can replicate with other countries.
Q: Where does Nigeria rank in world tourism?
A: The leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan has clearly identified tourism as one of the building blocks of the Transformation Agenda. We are working with the economic management team to diversify our single-product economy and build tourism into a mainstream economic sector. When you consider that Nigeria’s creative sector is our largest non-oil export, you can see how important tourism, and therefore culture, is to our economy.
The 2012 report by the World Travel and Tourism Council indicates that, in a study of 184 countries, Nigeria has the second greatest potential for growth over the next ten years. These findings were echoed a few days ago, when the World Bank identified Nigeria as having very strong potential markets which are yet to be converted to major economic benefit. When you look at the number of airlines from different countries that come into and out of Nigeria, you realise that Nigerians are some of Africa’s most adventurous tourists. Nigeria is a major player in Africa’s tourist market – not only do we visit more countries but we also spend money, which supports retail markets in the UK, the UAE, Asia and around the world. Nigerians are valuable tourists.
Nigeria may have a low global ranking today, but we have enormous potential. So we really need to work with global stakeholders, domestic stakeholders and governments, to convert this potential into a great source of growth for our economy.
Q: Where is Nigeria now in the World Travel Market?
A: Nigeria has always supported the World Travel Market, as the leading international travel industry exhibition. We have been to Spain and Berlin, last year it was held in London, where we launched our tourism brand identity, Fascinating Nigeria. It showcased all elements of Nigerian culture – our diversity, the natural beauty of our country, our people, our creativity and our energy. We used the platform of the World Travel Market in London to show that Nigeria is the biggest tourist market in Africa. It was very well received and we will continue to build on that.
Q: How has the launch of Fascinating Nigeria boosted the tourism sector in Nigeria?
A: Launching Fascinating Nigeria as a brand identity last year has brought a new enthusiasm to the culture of tourism in Nigeria, particularly among those involved in the tourist industry. Since the launch we have seen a greater awareness of tourism as a potential market – and, we believe, a greater number of visitors to our country, although we must wait until end-of-year reports to confirm this.
Our country has also benefitted from positive international exposure from the publicity campaign running on CNN and other media platforms, both nationally and across the African continent.
In fact some of the tools we have used to boost our tourism sector, such as launching Fascinating Nigeria, generated a huge amount of interest at the General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization, held at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe–Zambia border in August. So we can boldly say that it’s a good initiative heading in the right direction, and will generate greater benefits as the years go by as it is developed as a strategy.
Something else we can say about our extraordinary country is that Nigeria has 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory, so we are almost like 37 countries in one. All of Africa’s culture can be found in Nigeria. When we think of the fact that one in every five Africans is a Nigerian, and one in every eight black person in the world has Nigerian origins, it shows you that our people can be found all over the world. Yes, we have challenges like any growing economy and every growing democracy, but our people’s pride in our nation is unprecedented. Our enthusiasm for everything we do brings out the best in Nigeria. We are a nation of 167 million people, each with their own story, and these stories are finding expression in our movies, music and many other creative areas.
Q: What should we expect from some of your parastatals?
A: We have a number of new initiatives planned. On 9 September the National Tourism Development Corporation unveiled plans to restructure, bringing in a new spirit of professionalism which we believe will strengthen it and help deliver on its mandate.
In the cultural sector we are looking at the possibility of developing some big infrastructural projects in 2014, for example one or two new museums. We have also identified 100 heritage sites for restoration and we are looking at the possibility of working with donor agencies and corporate organisations to ensure that this can happen.
Other developments include exhibitions of Nigerian artefacts in Sweden, Germany and South Korea, where we are hosting an exhibition of works of art by some of our pre-eminent artists. So there is a great deal happening in the cultural sector.
In terms of national orientation, we are about to unveil a new campaign on value re-orientation. What we used to call the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) has been restructured into a volunteer group which is helping to restore social order and discipline in various communities around the country. We see a great many possibilities in this area – as the old proverb goes, “We will eat the elephant piece by piece”.
Q: Given the country’s security challenges, how do you think tourism can thrive in Nigeria?
A: People often say that the security situation in Nigeria is a serious barrier to the growth of tourism. Much as I agree that security is a critical consideration for tourism in any country, I would also like to say that the Federal Government is doing a lot to address this issue, including seeking opportunities for dialogue.
However we are also challenged by perception. By this I mean that in the past we have never really marketed Nigeria as a tourist destination, so we have not yet built up a reputation from word-of-mouth reviews to give an alternative perspective to balance people’s misgivings.
Take a country like Egypt, for example, which has for decades steadily promoted itself as a tourist destination, even though it has security challenges. When the security situation begins to improve, the government calls on tourists to return – and the tourists do return, sometimes even in the heat of a security crisis. The numbers may be lower, but tourists arrive because over time they have come to know the destination and built up relationships with tourist service providers there.
These are the kind of actions we should begin to take, and to develop safety corridors to our prominent tourist sites. We need to work with tourist service providers to promote our sites and ensure that people have a very good experience when they visit. This is how we can begin to change people’s perceptions of Nigeria as a tourist destination.
There are countries that are seen by the world as exotic holiday destinations, but which have far more security challenges than Nigeria. However they have invested in communications strategies to address this, and assure tourists they will be visiting a safe holiday destination.
These are some of the challenges we must rise to, and identify a way to reach the hearts of tourists, both national and internationally, especially Diaspora Nigerians and Diaspora Africans.
Q: How do you unwind in the midst of your busy schedule?
A: My work is my passion, and I am somebody that is able to relax easily. Sometimes work feels like work, and sometimes work feels more like a hobby. This is work, but it is also interesting and has a lot of entertainment attached to it, so I feel I have the best of both worlds.