Anambra State’s Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Dr. Kenneth Anierobi is a political scientist. He had taught at College of Education, Ehamufu, worked in, Shell Nigeria Limited. In this interview with POLYCARP ONWUBIKO, he spoke on the importance of tourism to the state’s economy, socio-economic growth and development. Excerpts:
PEOPLE hardly comprehend the essence and objectives of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs; what really were the overall objectives of the state government to establish it?
The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism has three key segments: the diaspora affairs, the arts and culture, and tourism part which include the hospitality sectors. These three segments are sectors of our state and society that are very important to the government. Our people have penchant for travelling; somebody said that our people have the “philosophy of njepu” because our people travel a lot and therefore, we have a very significant diaspora population across the world.
Now if we go back to the fundamental principles of the Governor Willie Obiano administration which is encapsulated in the vision and mission of the government to make Anambra State the foremost investment destination which is all about attracting people to invest in the state; given the potential and size of our diaspora population, this is very important segment that you would like to bring in into that objective of investment. So, we want to attract the diaspora population to participate in investment in the state.
So the government is foresighted. Thus the state had realised the huge resources and potential that exist in this segment and therefore, putting a ministry to focus on and engaging that population towards that vision of the state was very important.
The second part is tourism. Tourism is also an area that has huge potential for investment and for business. So focusing on that sector as well with a view to putting in place policies and programmes that will maximise investments in that sector; so that is one of the reasons the state government is having a ministry like this.
Thirdly, we have arts and culture aspects. Again when we talk about tourism and getting people to come to Anambra State for investment, you can see that arts and culture is a veritable instrument to achieving that objective. So when we promote our arts and culture, they become destinations for tourism; so you can see the connections.
So this ministry is an integrated government department which tries to harness these three areas of our state towards that objective of making the state the place where people will come to invest to grow the economy, to provide employment and develop the state.
Is there anywhere the state government helped Anambra indigenes in the diaspora when they had problem or does it lie with the federal government?
There is a department in this ministry that looks after the diaspora. We are looking at two key activities which are to engage the diaspora population and to also enable them provide the support they need in order to key into these investment objectives. So we are established to reach out to the Diasporas there, engage them, find out what they need in order to come and invest in the state. We support them if they have problems; so it is about engagement and supporting them. Engagement throws up other issues, tell them how they can come in, and then you listen to them and hear what they need to have in place.
Specifically, you will have individual issues and group issues in the diaspora which are part of our responsibilities.
For instance, there was a young man from Anambra State who had gone abroad to study and he ran into difficulties and we called him and took steps to intervene and get in touch with the Nigerian Embassy in that country where he is and then took steps and measures to get him out of the difficult situation he was. So that is part of what we do; so we help to solve problems and help to facilitate the diasporas to come in and be part of the developmental programmes of the state.
In the area of cultural and traditional festivals, how does the state government differentiate between those that are apparently rooted in pure idolatrory?
The starting point is that culture is the totality of the way of life of a people. So the scope and variety of culture is wide; you have cultures that are material and those that are non material. For example, the food and dances of the people, the music and the crafts are parts of culture; and sometimes people tend to focus on the static element of the culture; the non material types like beliefs, religion and things like that.
But the standpoint for us is that for us, we are looking at the way of life of our people. What are those ways of life of our people that are useful and beneficial that can help the people to develop because ultimately, we are looking at growth and development of our society.
And so, when we say that we are promoting our culture, it’s not about going into negatives or things that are unwholesome. So as I said earlier, we try to turn this arts and culture into tourism; to investment. You can’t attract people to invest if you begin to promote cultures that are bad or evil and uncivilised. So we are focusing on the positive aspects of the culture; those things that can endear people to the state; that can make them want to come to the state.
People will like to come to Anambra State to savour the kind of food we have, to participate in our dances and music. Nobody wants to come to Anambra State because he wants to do some fetish things. So the issue of what part of culture you want to promote is very clear to us because we are looking at the positive elements of our culture that will help us to realise that objective of attracting people to Anambra State to invest.
Did you have challenges on asumption of duty having not worked in government ministries and how did you tackle the challenges?
This is my first time of working in my state. First of all, coming back home is a transition and every transition comes with new experience. You have to look around to learn about the environment and acclimatise and learn in order to be in line of what is expected of you. I had worked in an organised private sector, an oil company; so coming into the public sector where things are not exactly the way things are in the private sector was also learning. So in the private sector, there is a great deal of emphasis on performance. So there are performance management processes.
They are very rigid; they are very clear so you deliver or you are out; which is not exactly what you have in the public service. So that is the part of transition, part of the dynamic process; but for me, I do not see it as a challenge because I already understand that part of what I have to do is to bring in the best practices based on my experience because ultimately, everybody wants performance and delivery; it doesn’t matter whether it is private or public sector.
Delivery is always good for any organisation; so I think for me, it is a matter of being challenged to find a way to get my new organisation to begin to operate in such a way that are efficient, effective and deliver on objectives.
In addition to what I have said about coming to the succor of Anambra people in the diaspora, we already have in place a scheme of engagement where on annual basis, we have a conference with our people in diaspora because fortunately for us, in almost all the countries of the world, there are Anambra State Association that exist so we have been able to establish contacts with all of them.
We hold an annual conference with them; we had the last one in July. It was virtual conference as we had to contact the people across the world. We also have monthly engagement sessions which are again virtual but not as wide in scope as the conference. So, basically at the monthly session, we meet with people just checking on them how things are going on and ask for any feedback to the government and give them information about what is happening in the state. This is very important for us because in this time and age of social media, there are lots of information and it is a part of our responsibility to correct some information to enable them to be well informed.
Tourism appears to be an abstraction, how would you explain to ordinary man the meaning and why should government pay attention to that natural phenomenon?
The best way to characterise this is to make the point that tourism is a sector of society or the economy; and as a sector, there are great potentials for employment, business, for economic development, and for social wellbeing just like any other sector which can generate employment. It is a sector that can support GDP growth, it is a sector that can provide welfare for the people; it is a sector that can be leveraged to develop the society. People see tourism from idealistic point of view but it can be very specific and materialistic.
In tourism, we are looking at hotels and hospitality industry; we are looking at our natural sites that people can come to spend holidays as destinations. So what we are doing in all of these aspects of this sector is to harness them as a resource so that they can support the programmes of socioeconomic development of the state.
Tourism appears to be capital intensive and how does the ministry grapple with the apparent humongous capital requirements; what percentage of annual provision is released to enable the ministry execute the manifold projects?
The fact is that as a sector, for you to realise the potentials, you have to invest in it. There is no gainsaying the fact that the state government cannot do the investments that is needed. So our approach or the starting point is to involve the private sector, that is public-private partnership [PPP];that is the principle we operate on. We want to get the private sector to invest in the tourist industry.
What the ministry is focusing on is the enablers for the private sector to get involved; so looking at things like infrastructure, and I am happy to say that some of the specific infrastructure achievements of the current government are really welcome for us as a ministry just like the International Cargo and Passenger Airport at Umueri, which is an enabler because people can come to Anambra State easily.
They can travel with ease and the imposing International Conference Centre at Awka, where you can have global conferences, global events and when the people come, they will be looking for opportunities for further investments in the state. So we are not hoping as a ministry to finance the investments in tourism because that is not feasible and it is not even efficient.
If the private sector can be brought in, that is the way to go and they will invest in tourism as a business. And if they do that, the benefits will be for everyone. The businessmen will make their profits and returns, the state will benefit because of the opportunity that comes from employment.
Control of hotels appears to be a herculean task; how do you confront the challenges in view of the fact that most of the challenges are inaccessible roads and sanitation. Is the state government acutely aware of the grave importance of rehabilitating streets where most of the hotels are situated since accessible roads will shore up internally generated revenue?
The hotel and hospitality businesses are is a huge source of economic resources and that is an area that can employ a lot of people, support tourism, and further investments and source of revenues for the state. Our approach to managing that aspect is in two folds.
The first one is to set the standards and we try to ensure that they adhere to the standard in terms of hygiene and environmental standards. The second thing is to support them as they need support as they are partners in progress with us and we don’t see them as adversaries and muzzle them with strict controls and breathing down on them on certain laws. For instance, last year, the state government during the COVID-19 lockdown, the state government gave the hotels support from the federal government as they were the worst hit as they lost patronage.
We went round to inform them about the government’s facilities for them to access it. The question of roads is not peculiar to hotels since other businesses make use of roads and the state government is trying on roads as they are the enablers to achieve the mission of government.
What are the challenges on the promotion and sustenance of Igbo language, culture and values?
The fundamental issue is that an aspect of culture which is language is if you don’t use it dies. What we want to do is how to preserve and promote Igbo language from going into extinction. Our programmes for the promotion and sustenance of Igbo language is to find things that people would need to use the language.
So there are a couple of things we are doing; one of them is to make this language available; so right now, we are developing games and computer applications that are based on the use of Igbo language so that it can be used in schools as part of curriculums even in the institutions of higher learning in the Faculties of Arts and Culture.
These are the efforts to enable the language to survive. We also look at the other aspects of Igbo culture such as music. One of things we shall do in the next couple of months is to introduce young people in secondary schools to Igbo musical instruments.
So when you begin to promote aspects of the material culture that are likened to the language, that are another way of developing and promoting that language. So there are different ideas around it but our principle is that we have to find out what use that people can make of the language and we are also trying to promote those uses.
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