After the sketch, titled Beautiful Underbelly, which did not take the audience much pain to connect with as they all chant ‘the Squeeze’, ‘the Squeeze’ long after the play had finished, I decided to stay back to participate in the workshop which was meant for tourism journalists, of whom I am one. I listened with rapt attention as speaker after speaker did justice to their respective topics of discussion and received applause from the audience. Although none got the applause received by the drama sketch, they nonetheless deserved the applause all the same for a job well done.
Without prejudice to any of the egg-heads that delivered those well researched papers, it was obvious that the message, unanimously passed across by all four speakers, was that Nigerian writers/journalists should learn to always write about the beautiful aspect of Nigeria rather than concentrating on the negative aspect which was capable of scaring international tourists and investors away from our country.
The question is: do we have to pretend that we are good when we are not? How many lies do we need to tell in order to make our country a tourist destination? Are we not rather supposed to be asking ourselves what we are supposed to do that we are not doing or rather what we are doing that we ought to stop doing?
One of the paper presenters argued passionately and I did concur with him that the development of our tourism sector depended a great deal on what impression we created of our country through our writings. For this same reason, the Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, recently had a breakfast meeting with the Association of Nigerian Authors—to appeal to them, as critical partners in the re-branding project, to promote the better side of Nigeria with their craft rather than face the real issues.
The real issue, as I was able to sum up the courage to tell the gathering, is for government to stop pretending and create the enabling environment for an improved standard of living for Nigerians and in Nigeria for the would-be tourists and investors to see rather than calling a spade by a different name. To say nothing is working in our dear country may sound like an overstatement but it is the truth all the same. There are well known private tourism development initiatives that are not able to thrive because of the economic situation, epileptic nature of electricity supply, security and other factors too numerous to mention for fear of doing that which one is asked not to do—write Nigeria down.
No matter how hard we try; no matter what we do, even if we commission some of the best among us to write about the Beautiful Underbellies of this country—which, in the first place, are yet to be fully tapped into—it may never be enough to woo tourists and investors. What we need to do is to create the enabling environment rather than push the blame of not being able to live up to our biddings on writers/journalists.
There is crime in South Africa. There is homicide in the US. Terrorism is the order of the day in India. Japan is prone to natural disasters. The list is inexhaustible. These problems are known to everyone the world over because those people write about them, yet it has not in anyway stopped tourists from visiting those countries. Why, then, should the fact that Nigerian writers/journalists write about the bad things happening in Nigeria be responsible for tourists’ failure to visit Nigeria?
Like the Yorubas will say, “Ohun to wa leyin ofa, o ju eje lo”—literally, this means “what is after six is beyond seven”. Our government should call a spade a spade and, as a matter of urgency, and with all sense of responsibility, put its acts together and create the needed enabling environment. Without constant supply of electricity, adequate security and such other amenities, we cannot be talking about re-branding or tourism development.
Adesewo is the Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja chapter