Tourism, Art and Culture: Segun Runsewe’s recipe for economy diversification

At the leadership conference held at the International Conference Centre On April 28, 2009, Olusegun Runsewe, the then director general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), was one of the keynote speakers.

Otunba, as he is fondly called by his admirers and those appreciative of his passion for result-oriented endeavours, drew all attention to the podium where he stood with his expository speech, facts and progressive instances.

His topic then, “Beyond Oil: Diversification Options”, was not just catchy but imperative, at a time all hands needed to be on the deck to save Nigeria from over dependence on crude oil as the main source of foreign earning.

As anticipated, the then NTDC director general drew attention to the need for Nigeria to begin to look outside oil in her quest for development.

Not stopping there, at the ECOWAS Congress on Sports Development in West Africa, which was held in Abuja from August 10-11, 2011, Otundba Runsewe also shared the same thoughts to fellow West Africans.

Not also relenting once more, on August 20, 2021, Runsewe, who is now the director general, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and president, World Craft Council (WCC) African region, reechoed the same views.

Moreover, he has been canvassing for tourism, art and culture as the lowest hanging fruits for economic development at every occasion to afford him opportunity to speak.

It would be recalled that during the election and inauguration of the new executives of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigerian (FTAN), at the federation’s AGM in Abuja recently, Runsewe also reechoed same views.

It is also of note that during his term as director general of NTDC from 2006 and 2013, his policy thrust was encapsulated in the slogan he coined, “oil is good, but tourism is better because oil is exhaustible while tourism is sustainable and environment friendly”.

Today, the NCAC director general and president of WCC is still echoing the same views, but now with louder voice, engaging more stakeholders and across many platforms.

The need to amplify his voice on the clarion call for economic diversification resulted in the stakeholders in August 20, 2021 interactive session with the arts, culture and tourism sector and members of the mass media as well.

Addressing the stakeholders at the interactive session, which held at Lagos Airport Hotel Ikeja, Runsewe pointed out that the session was convened to enable the stakeholders to exchange views, opinions, knowledge and experiences on how the art, culture and tourism sector can be strengthened as a vehicle for creating wealth and driving sustainable economic development of Nigeria.

The exchanges, according to him, are necessary, especially in the wake of the current economic realities and with the impact of covid-19 pandemic, which has forced nations of the world to begin to explore various means of growing their economies.

Offering his recipe for economic diversification, Runsewe declared that with the rich and diverse cultural resources of Nigeria and given the abundant tourism resources, “if we must diversify our economy, we have to look outside crude oil which is the current major foreign exchange earner, and focus on Arts, Culture and Tourism as one of the key players in our economic development”.

He decried that the near total dependence on crude oil exportation as the source of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings has greatly slowed down the pace of development in other sub-sectors of the economy such as agro-allied industry, manufacturing, solid minerals, and the service industry, among others.

The need to look to the art, culture and tourism sector to rescue and boost the country’s declining foreign earnings is pressing more today because of the progressive fall in the prices of petroleum products and its attendant shock on the economy of Nigeria.

“The progressive fall in the prices of petroleum products and its attendant shock on the economy of Nigeria has made it highly imperative for Nigeria to pursue a sustained process of economic diversification, if we must attain the much needed economic stability and development.

“It is now clear to all that Nigeria can no longer continue to depend solely on crude oil exportation”, he said.

Reviewing the options available to Nigeria for economic development, Runsewe insisted the art, culture and tourism sector is more viable and sustainable for economic growth as volatility of crude oil prices in the international market, crisis in the oil producing region and other challenges do not impact the art, culture and tourism sector like they do to the oil and gas sector.

He insisted that the art, culture and tourism sector can deliver the country from economic quagmire as it has done before.

Read also: Harnessing Nigeria’s tourism potentials for sustainable development

According to him, Nigeria had a vibrant economy before the advent of crude oil, which was based on agriculture, and tourism can lead the country back to that vibrancy again.

Offering practical ways of using the art, culture and tourism sector to boost foreign exchange earnings, he noted that Nigeria is one of the most culturally diverse nations of the world with over 250 distinct ethnic groups, each with unique culture and cultural products.

These assets are what tourism-rich economies like the United Kingdom, Israel, China and France are using to draw the world to their countries to spend their hard earned money while on visit.

“In Europe, the role of Culture in development shows that the arts enrich the social environment with stimulating or pleasing public amenities. In the same vein, China and Australia have underscored the fact that the Culture and Tourism Sector contributes to economic development by facilitating creativity, innovation and self-reflection and as such recognizes culture as a key component of society’s well being. In fact, cultural industries have become for China, the base station from which it develops and updates its technological advancement and wellbeing”.

Already, many of the country’s rich and fascinating cultural festivals are already on the world cultural map and are attracting the patronage of international audiences. From Osun-Osogbo in Osun State, Eyo in Lagos State, Argungu and Nwonyo fishing festivals in Kebbi and Taraba states, new yam festivals in Igbo land among others, he insisted that these are goldmines.

Explaining how huge earnings will come from the festivals, he said that festivals events serve as catalysts that attract recreation seekers to destinations with great tourism potential, and it means that visitors are likely to spend more days in a given destination when attracted to the cultural festivals in that destination.

“This long stay helps to improve the revenue base of the people thereby also impacting on the local economy. One festival per state would go a long way in attracting tourists into the country thereby contributing to the development of the economy through spending in hotel lodging, patronage of local cuisines, transportation, purchase of arts and crafts products among others”, he explained.

Apart from cultural festivals, other crowd pullers include the music industry, the movie industry, arts and crafts products, indigenous cuisines, among others.

Also considering the over 700 kilometers coastline covered with unpolluted sand beaches, great ecotourism resources including over 20 game reserves and seven national parks, growing hub for religious tourism, among others, Runsewe insisted that Nigeria can earn more from the art, culture and tourism than the declining oil and gas sector.

But, he noted that the dreams of surpassing Dubai’s achievement in tourism or rivaling the likes of Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa and even Gambia which have built successful tourism economy is possible only when all stakeholders come together, commit to the dream and make sustained efforts at achieving them.

Truly and like Runsewe has said, “If we must diversify our economy, we have to look outside crude oil”.

The time to do so is now.

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