This article examines and assesses the neglected development of a viable and sustainable tourism industry in Nigeria, and its adverse effect on the economy and the country in general. The article also analyses the factors responsible for the neglect of the industry and why Nigeria failed to generate substantial revenues from tourism despite the great potential. The article argues that Nigeria had potentials from independence in 1960 to present day and missed so many opportunities to develop a viable and sustainable tourism industry. The article further argues that for more than twenty-eight years, the military governments entrenched avarice, corruption, insecurity, indiscipline, tribalism, nepotism, and overdependence on oil revenues, which negatively disrupted tourism development and the overall growth and development of the nation. The civilian governments did not do better than the military; they were not serious and concentrated on the oil revenue at the detriment of other economic sectors including tourism. It is concluded here that there is still an opportunity to reverse the loss, but serious effort has to be made for it to be archived.
This article argues that Nigeria missed so many opportunities to develop the tourism industry which could have contributed immensely to the economic development of the country. The article further argues that there are so many reasons responsible for the failure of the tourism industry in Nigeria, however, corruption and bad organisation are the most important. The article traces the history of tourism in the country, gave reasons for its failure to date and provide solutions to make it successful and a major source of revenue for the development of the country’s economy.
Few years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, the country became dependent on crude oil exports for revenue and neglected all other sources of potential revenue, including tourism. Crude oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 and today is the sixth-largest crude oil exporter in the world (CIA Factbook, 2021). It is also the most populous country in Africa and the sixth-most populous in the world with more than 219 million inhabitants (CIA Factbook, 2021). The population is split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims; this confirms the influence of both Christian and Islamic cultures within the populace. There is also a large section of the population that still practices traditional worship of God through deities, ancestors, and other forms of spirits. These are mostly the custodians of the cultures, customs and traditions that still exist today. The country has more than 250 distinct ethnic groups, most of which have different cultures and customs, while some have some similarities (CIA Factbook, 2021). The cultures, customs, and traditions, including their sacred grooves and worship sites, are some of the touristic features that have been neglected over the years, which negatively affected the development and growth of the industry.
The history of tourism in Nigeria can be dated back to 1959 when the colonial government set up an ad hoc advisory committee on the promotion of tourism in the country. This committee recommended among other things the establishment of the Nigerian Tourist Association (NTA). The NTA established in 1962 was made up of government representatives and private individuals and organizations with an interest in tourism (Anand, 1997: 160). The NTA was a private, voluntary, and not-for-profit organization but was assisted by the government with funds to shoulder the responsibility of developing and promoting tourism in the country. In 1964, the association joined the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO), which was later renamed the World Tourist Organization (WTO) (Ukpanah, 1991: 1). After several years of failures, the Federal Military Government replaced the Nigeria Tourist Association with Nigerian Tourist Board with Decree No. 54 of 1976 (Nigerian Tourist Board Decree No. 54, 1979).
In 1989, the Federal Military Government reorganized the Nigerian Tourist Board and created a department for tourism in the Ministry of Trade and renamed it the Ministry of Trade and Tourism (Ukpanah, 1991: 3). Six zones were established with their headquarters to cover the whole country and later state headquarters were also established for better administration (Ukpanah, 1991: 3). State governments were also ordered to create similar ministries and local governments were ordered to create committees for tourism. Throughout this period, tourism development and policies were formulated and implemented by the three tiers of government with the help of the Nigerian Tourist Board, which has offices in every state. On 14 December 1992, Decree 81 was used to establish the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, which replaced the Nigerian Tourist Board (Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation Decree No 81, 1992). From 1957, when the ad hoc committee was established, up to the creation of the Ministry of Trade and Tourism, it was a story of failures as far as the Nigerian tourism industry is concerned, despite all the opportunities and potentials that are abundant in the country. Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation is still the government agency responsible for the development of tourism industry in Nigeria. The trend of failures continues to the present day.
Nigeria’s tourism potentials from independence to date
It is generally agreed that Nigeria had great tourism potential and opportunities to develop a viable and sustainable tourism industry at this period. It was a new, independent country in 1960 and the tourism industry was supposed to grow together or simultaneously with other developments in the country. The potential can be seen in the various and different touristic products available in the country. According to Esuola (2009: 121), to understand Nigeria’s tourism potential, the country should be divided into six geopolitical zones: The North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and South-South. He identifies two hundred and seventy-five opportunities that are well spread all over the six geopolitical zones, most of which are yet to be developed into stages where they can attract visitors and earn revenue for the country (Esuola, 2009: 121). Aremu also identifies three different types of tourism and provided examples that fit into the different types: cultural tourism, which emphasizes the culture, traditions and customs of the people; ecotourism or ecological tourism, which represents natural sites, caves, beaches, waterfalls, etc. that have not been tampered with by human activity and are mostly in their original state; and religious tourism, which represents places of religious worship and ritual offerings (Aremu, 2001: 14).
Cultural tourism and religious tourism are the same because it is difficult to separate religion from the culture of the people; religion is part of the culture of the Nigerian people. Cultural and religious tourism provides the tourist with aesthetic pleasure and different opportunities for picturesque gazes. Good examples of these are the Argungu Fishing Festival, which is the largest fishing competition in Nigeria, Eyo Masquerade Festival, Patigi Regatta, Ed El Fitri and Eid El Kabir Durbar celebrations, Oshun Festival, Igbo Yam Festival, and many others. Ecotourism sites, which represents the sublime, such as Yankari Game Reserve, Borgu Game Reserve, Kainji Lake National Park, Old Oyo National Park, Olumo Rock, Bar Beach, Eleko Beach, Alpha Beach, Badagry Beach, Obudu Mountain Resort, Ikogosi Warm Springs, Zuma Rock, Sherri Hills etc. are many in Nigeria. These are just some of the major areas of opportunities and potentials for tourism development in Nigeria. According to Luke Amadi and Prince Igwe ‘Eco-tourism focuses on ecological issues associated with tourism… and relates to the preservation of natural resources e.g., flora and fauna - plant, animal, and natural resources’ (Amadi and Igwe, 2016: 13). A cursory look at the Nigerian environment will show that more needs to be done in the aspect of eco-tourism.
In total, Nigeria has thirty-two game reserves, national parks, and animal sanctuaries (Aremu, 2001:14-16), sixty museums, twenty-five archaeological sites, and thirteen tourist villages (Mustapha, 2001: 172). Most of these game reserves are not well funded and deserve more attention. Among the above listed, are major and minor potentials waiting to be developed to an international standard, which could have put Nigeria on the global map as a tourist haven. It is also important to note that besides the fact that Nigeria had opportunities and the potential to develop its tourism industry during this period, the country was also blessed with resources, both human and material, that could have been utilized in a positive way to improve its tourism fortunes. Petroleum was discovered in 1956 in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria and these natural resources, which have made Nigeria one of the richest countries in Africa, were not properly utilized to develop tourism in the country. Instead, the leadership abandoned every other source of income, including tourism, and concentrated on revenues from petroleum resources. Petroleum resources, which are one of the main sources of income for Nigeria are also some of the reasons for the underdeveloped state of Nigerian tourism.
Factors responsible for the failure of the tourism industry and evidence of missed opportunities for economic development
The factors responsible for the failure of the tourism industry in Nigeria from 1960 to present are many, and they were quite avoidable in the sense that they were all self-inflicted. Some are more important than others but all of them combined to contribute to the sorry state of Nigerian tourism. Political crisis and instability are some of the major factors responsible for the failure of this industry at that time. Nigeria became independent in 1960 and the Nigerian Tourist Association was established in 1962. According to Aremu, the main objectives of the association were:
(i) To encourage the creation and development by all possible means, plans, facilities, and tourist interest which could be offered to international and domestic visitors; and
(ii) To project the image of Nigeria as a country in which tourists and holidaymakers will find abundant attractions (Aremu, 2001: 24).
After independence, the country enjoyed relative peace and stability up until 1964. After the second election, all hell broke loose in Nigeria because the opposition parties accused the ruling party of rigging the election. In these circumstances, it was difficult for the association to make any meaningful progress because the country was politically unstable. There were political assassinations, violent riots, and arson, which eventually culminated in the first military coup on 15 January 1965, when the Prime Minister and many top government officials lost their lives. A counter-coup d’état was carried out on 28 July 1966, when the military head of state and many civilians and military officers also lost their lives. There were ethnic killings, and the army and the country were divided along ethnic lines. This instability continued until the country became engulfed in a civil war in 1967 that lasted until 1971. For the Nigerian Tourist Association, two years were not enough to truly make any difference in terms of establishing a viable and sustainable tourism industry in the country. From the beginning of instability in 1964, the NTA could not achieve anything. It became a moribund organization with no visible achievement apart from joining the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO), which was later renamed World Tourist Organization (WTO). This was the situation until 1976 when NTA was replaced by the Nigerian Tourist Board (NTB) (Nigerian Tourist Board Decree No. 54, 1979).
The Nigerian Tourist Board was established by a Military Decree, known as the Nigerian Tourist Board Decree No 54 of 1979, which was enacted to turn around the fortunes of Nigerian tourism. The board was given all powers and responsibilities to do everything possible to develop the country’s tourism into a viable, sustainable, and revenue-generating industry. Some of the main objectives were:
(i) To be responsible for the operational, financial, and economic programmes related to tourism.
(ii) To recommend land-use policy for tourism and to establish necessary subsidiary organizations to achieve tourism objectives (Nigerian Tourist Board Decree No. 54, 1979).
Despite all the funds allocated and the support given to the board by the Federal Military Government, it failed to archive its main aim and objective of promoting Nigerian tourism to be one of the major foreign exchange earners for the country (Aremu, 2001: 38). Some efforts were made by the board in reorganizing the various administrative and bureaucratic arrangements to enable the success of their policies. However, inefficiency, a lack of well-trained personnel and a lack of serious effort on their part made the organization redundant. For a very long time, the board had nothing to show for all the funds and good-will invested into it by the government and private individuals. It became just another government agency bogged down by corruption and wasteful use of resources. The decree that set up the board was laudable, and the contents of the decree were achievable; however, the board was involved more in organizing seminars, workshops, conferences and attending meetings in and out of the country without a practical and determined effort to turn around the fortune of the country’s tourism industry.
For the sixteen years it existed, it was more of a wasteful venture that paid lip service to tourism. There was no sincere effort to achieve the objectives spelled out in the decree that set up the board. On 14 December 1992, the Federal Military Government enacted Decree 81 that created the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), which replaced the Nigerian Tourist Board. Shortly before the replacement of the board, the Director-General of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Industries who supervises the board commented on its activities and summed up its achievements.
“A close observation of the performance of the NTB since 1976 has left much to be desired. NTB has a chequered history. It failed to create any impact on the country’s tourism industry” (Federal Ministry of Trade and Industries Newsletter, 1992). The creation of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation was supposed to usher in a new attitude towards tourism by the Nigerian government. Apart from the desire to develop the tourism industry, the Nigerian government was looking for other sources of revenue because of the crash in crude oil prices in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This made them look at tourism as a possible additional source of revenue for the country (Okoroafor, 1995: ix). In 1989, the government created a department for tourism in the Federal Ministry of Trade and Industries and renamed the ministry the Federal Ministry of Trade and Tourism. In 1990, the government also declared tourism a preferred sector of the economy. The efforts of the government at that time to revive the tourism industry were commendable. Bureaucratic and administrative changes and reorganization were carried out, and funds were made available for the success of the industry. At the same time, the government also released its new tourism policy, which according to Esuola, aimed to:
Create awareness nationally and internationally on the Nigerian tourism potentials, generate foreign exchange, encourage even development, promote tourism-based rural enterprises, generate employment, and accelerate rural-urban integration and cultural exchange (Esuola, 2009: 302). However, all these efforts did not yield any meaningful results as far as the aims and objectives of the policy were concerned. According to Mustapha:
“The national tourism policy was high on good intentions and low on concrete measures and achievements” (Mustapha, 2001: 180).
The reorganisation done between 1989 and 1990, which was supposed to reinvigorate the tourism industry, did not achieve anything meaningful. If organising conferences, workshops, lectures, seminars and attending WTO meetings were the only measure of success then we could confidently say the aim and objectives of the government in terms of tourism were attained, but the development of tourism is more than that. The tourism industry in Nigeria did not change, only the bureaucracy and administrative mechanisms changed, which unfortunately did not have any positive bearing on the overall development of the industry. Political instability was the main factor responsible for the failure of Nigeria to utilize the opportunities to develop a viable and sustainable tourism industry. From 1960 to present, which is more than sixty years after independence, the country witnessed more than twenty-eight years of military rule, there were nine military coups, seven were successful and five were bloody with many lives lost. Tourism could not thrive and grow in such a poisoned and unstable environment. According to Adora:
“Tourism is a human activity and can only survive in a peaceful environment” (Adora, 2010: 14-25). The political environment in Nigeria at that time was not right and peaceful for tourism and it prevented many would-be tourists from coming to Nigeria. Many countries discouraged their citizens from visiting Nigeria because of insecurity caused by political instability. The United States of America continuously sent out travel warnings to its citizens who planned to visit Nigeria for leisure and business. Even though sincere efforts were made in terms of the reorganisation of bureaucracy, administrative mechanisms and policy formulations, the political culture, environment, and leadership did not in any way enable the successful development of a viable and sustainable tourism industry.
Corruption and avarice also prevented the growth and development of the tourism industry. The military was very corrupt; most of its members sought power for personal gain and used the opportunity to embezzle and illegally appropriated public funds for their personal use. The level of greed and corruption in the military administration at that time was unequalled and unprecedented. Nigeria was declared one of the most corrupt countries in the world, year after year by Transparency International. According to Transparency International 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria was the fifth-most corrupt country in the world out of a total of eighty-five countries surveyed (Annual Report, Transparency International, 2020/Nigeria). Corruption is everywhere in Nigeria, from the highest to the lowest citizen, and there were very few exceptions. Nigeria was a country of anything goes, and anything was possible if you had the money to pay for it.
With the high level of corruption, funds allocated for the development of tourism were diverted and misappropriated for personal use. Contracts were awarded to unqualified friends and family members at inflated rates. The contracts were normally not completed and were rewarded again by another government or official. Because of the corruption ingrained in the society, the person that awarded the contracts ensured that payments were made even when they were not completed. In this case, funds meant for capital projects were diverted to the private use of the officials, and all that was left were the slogans, speeches, and rhetoric about developing the tourism industry. Cases of top government officials diverting salaries and allowances of their subordinates for personal use have been reported several times during this period. With this level of corruption, it was difficult for tourism to thrive and develop.
Insecurity or a lack of security is another factor militating against the development of a viable and sustainable tourism industry in Nigeria. With the constant change of governments through coup d’états, summary executions without proper trials, religious upheavals, ethnic riots, banditry, kidnappings for ransom, armed robbery, violence, secessionists, social and economic instability, insecurity, and the devastating civil war that lasted for more than three years, insecurity became a feature of the Nigerian environment. With the high level of insecurity in Nigeria, the development of tourism became a Herculean task. Concerning insecurity, Adora listed: “Violent crimes, civil unrest, kidnapping for ransom and terrorism as enemies of tourism in Nigeria” (Adora 2010: 14).
The security situation is a very big problem and hinders the development of tourism in Nigeria. For example, Nigeria is regarded as one of the most dangerous countries to live in the world because of the activities of fundamental Islamic group known as Boko Haram and the numerous splinter groups that came out of them. These terrorist groups have killed many people and destroyed several communities in the country. The World Economic Forum's "Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report” published every two years has been listing Nigeria since 2015 as one of the most dangerous countries to visit in the world (World Economic Forum, 2019).
Tribalism and nepotism were also very important factors that have stunted the growth and development of tourism in Nigeria. The country has more than two hundred and fifty ethnic groups. Most government officials prefer to locate projects, including ones related to tourism, in their hometowns or cities, even if there were better locations suitable for such projects. Contracts and jobs were offered to friends and family members, even when they were not qualified and had no experience for such endeavours. Ethnic struggles and agitations are very prevalent and endemic in Nigeria. A lot of people see, interpret, and react to issues not from a nationalistic point of view but from an ethnic point of view. Thus internally, the average Nigerian thinks of being a Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, or whichever tribe he or she comes from before thinking of the overall interest of the nation. With the ethnic differences and nepotism taking a front row in the decision-making process, it was difficult for sustainable and viable tourism to develop. Ankomah and Crompton mention the five factors that have prevented or slowed down the development of tourism in Sub-Saharan Africa: Image; lack of foreign exchange to procure parts, equipment, and other resources for tourism development; lack of skilled manpower; a weak institutional framework for tourism planning; and political instability, resulting from civil liberation wars and military coups, which compounds the other four problems (Ankomah and Crompton, 1990: 11).
Out of these five factors, only negative image, lack of skilled manpower and political instability are applicable to Nigeria during the period in question. The issue of image is vital; most people saw Nigeria as an African country that is politically, socially, and economically unstable and was unattractive in terms of a tourism destination. Tourists naturally want to visit places where they can do things differently and escape from their day-to-day regular activities at home. They do not want to visit places that are unsafe and insecure, and they do not want to visit poor and impoverished communities because that is not fun for them. They do not want to visit places that are in the middle of civil wars and political turmoil. The image of Nigeria was negative and would not encourage visitors seeking leisure, only those on business and diplomatic duties visit Nigeria regularly. The negative image painted in the Western media of sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, discouraged genuine touristic interest in the country.
The lack of skilled manpower was another bane of the tourism industry in Nigeria. With the huge population and able working segment of the population, one would expect the country to have developed a skilled and experienced labour force for the tourism industry. Most of the people that were involved in the industry from the top to the lowest rank did not know much or have any experience with tourism and its development. Most of them were civil servants working for their monthly salaries with no passion or love for the specific industry they worked in. Most did not care if tourists visited Nigeria because they felt it would not impact their salaries or lives in any way. There was no proper coordination among the three tiers of government with regards to revenue allocation and administrative responsibilities. Even with a well-organized institutional framework, the lack of skilled labour to execute the policies and plans made it impossible to grow and develop the industry into an enviable level commensurate with the size, wealth, and prestige of the country.
The lack of an adequate infrastructure was another problem faced by the tourism industry at that time. Although Nigeria has twenty-two airports and twenty-three airstrips at that time, (Books LLC, 2010), most of them were in disrepair, needing renovations, upgrading and outright replacement of equipment and facilities in many cases. For some time, the United States government banned all American planes from landing in Nigerian airports because of inadequate security and a lack of proper landing equipment. This situation badly affected the Nigerian tourism industry because it reduced the number of Americans flying into Nigeria. Most of the road networks in Nigeria were bad, especially some that connected the major cities to the touristic sites and features in the country. The country is crossed by networks of train tracks built by the British colonial administration; however, nothing was done to improve and modernize them. It is important to know that the trains were crucial because they linked most of the major cities to the rural and remote communities where tourist features, and sites are found.
There were standard and five-star hotels in the country, some comparable to any hotel in the developed world, but they were inadequate and mostly located in the major cities. Until 2000, when democracy was reintroduced to Nigeria, the major hotels in Nigeria were owned and controlled by the federal government, which made the involvement of the private sector minimal and insignificant. The over-involvement of the government in the industry and the minimal involvement of the private sector also contributed immensely to the failure of the tourism industry. The private sector had little or no serious participation in the tourism industry and the federal government, in a military fashion, dictated everything, from policies and planning to implementation and supervision. The private sector was largely an onlooker. The lack of active involvement of the private sector was partly responsible for the failure of the industry because the private sector had extra resources to invest and could go into international business partnerships that the government could not get into. The participation of the private sector was crucial, and Nigeria did not utilize it at that time.
Another important factor responsible for the failure of tourism in Nigeria was the lack of profound interest and a leisure ethic in tourism by the populace (Mustapha, 2001: 172). Most Nigerians are not truly interested in investing their money and time in tourism and leisure because they had no funds for such activities; most are struggling to survive and could not spare money and time for leisure and tourism. Mustapha argues that this was the reason why most Nigerians refused to bother with tourism and leisure. The lack of finances and leisure time is notable, which negatively affected intra-national or domestic tourism in Nigeria (Musisi, 1985: 203). The inability of Nigeria to harness its agricultural resources to utilize agro-tourism was a missed opportunity. At that time, a large section of the population was involved with agriculture; agricultural development is also tied to rural development in Nigeria. Developing agro-tourism was the right thing to do because most of the people had agriculture or farming as their occupation, it was simple and inexpensive. Nnadi and Akwiwu define agro-tourism as:
The practice of agriculture for tourism … is the practice of utilizing the art and science of producing crops and animals for aesthetics and pleasure. It is the process of creating imagery and ornamentals from agriculture for the appreciation of mankind. (Nnadi and Akwiwu, 2005: 97).
Lastly, Overdependence on petroleum resources was another important factor responsible for the failure of the tourism industry. Before the discovery of oil in 1956, Nigeria depended mostly on its agricultural cash crops, exporting mainly to Britain and some European countries. Nigeria used to be the number one exporter of palm oil (vegetable oil) and groundnut (peanut) before and after independence. Gradually, Nigeria abandoned all other sources of revenue and concentrated on revenues from crude oil. In that period, crude oil accounted for more than 90% of sources of revenue for the country. With the discovery of petroleum, every other source of income and any possible potential income-earner like tourism were neglected.
The successive military governments that ruled the country naively abandoned everything, concentrated on Petrodollars, and went on a spending spree, which led to military coups and counter-coup d’états, corruption, bloodshed, political and economic instability. For example, the World Tourism Organization, in its statistics on 1981 tourism revenues, showed that Nigeria made $55 million, representing 0.3% of its total export, while Kenya in the same year made $240 million, representing 20.2% of its total export (Ukpanah, 1991: 22). These figures show the seriousness attached to this industry and the success and level of development it has attained in both countries. Some like Chinua Achebe believe that tourism can never be successful in Nigeria when he argues that: “It is a measure of our self-delusion that we can talk about developing tourism in Nigeria. Only a masochist with an exuberant thirst for self-violence will pick Nigeria for holiday; only a character out of Tutuola seeking to know punishment and poverty at first hand! No, Nigeria may be a paradise for adventurers and pirates but not for tourists” (Achebe, 1984: 10).
However, there is no mistake that cannot be corrected including revitalising the Nigerian tourism industry. This article posits that the tourism industry in Nigeria might be at low level, however there is an opportunity to revive, develop and sustain it as a major foreign exchange earner for the country. This argument is in line with Ovat’s argument that “Despite all earlier failures, the government should not be discouraged; it should still make new efforts to develop the sector”. (Ovat, 2003: 33-44).