What exactly is unique about Bayelsa State ?
Our terrain is unique. Very difficult terrain on the one perspective, not for the lily-livered I would say but believe it or not, it’s a lovely experience. In places like Lagos , you pay so much to go out on a boat ride, for us we don’t have a choice. We want to go home and it’s a boat ride to most local villages and even when you are not taking a boat ride to the local villages, your scenery is always water and so I think it’s a unique environment we find ourselves in.
It is an environment that all around the world, people who find themselves in such areas, one of their greatest means of revenue is tourism. I think it is an excellent idea that the present administration has chosen that we have such a beautiful thing to sell and so we should do everything we can to ensure that Bayelsa reputation improves, becomes a fantastic one and we have much more people coming into Bayelsa.
Talking about reputation, what are you doing to deal with the negative perception of the state?
The present administration has done wonders where that is concerned. Like in every great cities of the world like New York and the rest, the hazards are there. But believe it or not, I find it safer to live in Bayelsa than Lagos at the moment. I am not saying that we haven’t had what I would call epileptic incidences of kidnapping and things like that but none of it in the city of Yenagoa .
The security in Yenagoa is well controlled. The government has instituted a security that the response time from when you call them is less than two minutes. I think that is excellent for any standard you can find anywhere in the world. That makes the criminals know that there is actually no space for them inside Yenagoa city and I know there are plans to expand the work that the security people have been doing beyond Yenagoa.
Obviously there is no tourism without assuring people that they are coming to a safe and secure terrain. We do ensure that all our guests come in safely and go back safely and so far that has been the case and it will always be the case. While we do our work organising events, we also have the security people by our side working with us to ensure that they are aware of everything we are planning and that the town will be safe and secure for everybody coming.
I would like to use this medium to assure people that they can visit. A year ago, we have had international guests and they are coming again this year. The likes of Reverend Jesse Jackson, Baroness Valerie Amos, among others have visited and would still come again this year. We had had a lot of prominent people come into town and its all been safe.
Not only the prominent ones even the unknown because I know we have had visitors on each and every of our events and they have come and gone back. Girls were safe passing through our creeks and all that. I want to assure people that its been tested, its not like we are just saying in this case, so that can be well assured that the government of Bayelsa has put a lot in place to ensure the safety of its citizens and our visitors alike.
I live here. I don’t have any security patrol.
What are the challenges of your job?
Like every other job, it is not like a walk through a rose garden to put it that way but it’s not bad. I wouldn’t like the job if it was any less challenging. I will be bored out of my mind. I am naturally a hard working person. I thrive when it’s challenging and when it’s not challenging, I would probably want to go more or less. I am coming from the private sector, so you want to hit the ground running.
You want to get it done immediately. That is what we are used to. I have successfully come up with a team that has been wonderful even though half of us are from the civil service and they have come to understand that this boss is different. I am happy with the situation I have in my agency.
Five years from now, how do you want to see the tourism industry in Bayelsa State ?
We have worked with our hoteliers. We have better hotels in town. The government hotels are all in place, they are five star hotels of international standards. These events that we have started off are now internationally renowned events. I’d like to see a situation of somebody from New Orleans attending the forthcoming Bayelsa Jazz festival. We have a large group of creative youths in Bayelsa.
I want to see them attain an international status that is beyond the level of shows for the local crowd to being able to pull shows that we would all be proud of and I think with the experience they are going to be getting with all the events we are organising, that obviously would be one of our achievement in the next five years.
How much do you hope to make in terms of revenue?
This time, it’s a beginning, we might be spending more than comes in but we hope to have a lot of corporate supports so that its not very weighty on the state government and as time goes on, we hope to be able to work in the blue and move away from the red.
We hope to be able to generate much more income from all of these that we are doing. We shouldn’t even look at it directly from what we sell from tickets. If we look at the larger picture from the perspective of the fact that the individuals who come into town would lodge in hotels, of course they would buy our tickets for the show, they would eat-all that is revenue coming into the state rather than an exodus which is what we had prior to this government. We are hoping to build a situation where we now have people coming in to spend. If we had a general turnover, lets assume what we have today is one billion, five years from today we would be talking as much as N10b
What is your impression about the Nigerian tourism as a whole?
There is still so much to do. When it comes to awareness, we need to change our attitude to understand that it is ours if we are proud of it and if we sell it better, it will sell better. And so we get an improved tourism and hospitality attitude. We need that as Nigerians. We should also understand that around the world, one of the greatest areas where you can make the greatest amount of money is tourism and it is the greatest source of revenue in the world at the moment.
If we move away from thinking oil, we need to understand that so much can be made through tourism as well. And it’s not a business that just concerns government alone, it’s a business that every individual can partake of in one little way once we have encouraged it to grow to the maximum that is available to us. Africa is being seen as the next tourism destination.
If Nigeria can tap into it and develop what we have to that level whereby the average American or British person wants to travel and would choose to come to Nigeria, it will be better for us because that way, you can imagine, instead of our Naira going out, we would now start having dollars coming in. Automatically, it is better income for this country and we would improve our standards tremendously.
Like I said, each and everyone of us has a part to play. Even if it is just helping security to make the place more secure, we can be our neighbours keepers. We can ensure that everybody in my neighbourhood understands that we want a safe and secure atmosphere. And we all have a part to play in ensuring that. I want pray that five years from now, we can boast of all these. We understand that even if I am just a Coca Cola dealer, I can sell more coca cola when my town is safe, secure and more beautiful.
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