The Senate has passed the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) (Repeal renactment) Bill 2017 into law. The law, which was initiated to reposition NTDC, is awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari‘s assent. NTDC Director-General Folorunso Coker speaks with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on his expectations of the law and its relevance to global tourism objectives.
Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Director-General, Mr. Folorunso Coker, has described the new NTDC bill awaiting President Buhari’s assent as the needed legal framework to grow the nation’s tourism potential. He said the new bill when passed into law will prompt a financial framework that allows the agency to operate as a business entity capable of generating huge revenues for the economy.
He likened the NTDC’s legal framework to the required foundation (the financial framework inclusive) laid in the communication, banking, oil and gas sectors, which resulted in their huge revenue returns.
He lamented that most tourism operators are now unable to access loans from the banks because tourism does not generate individual returns, which may allow it to withstand 25 per cent interest rate. This, according to him, is because tourism is not seen as a serious business.
Coker, who spoke in Lagos, said it is not profitable for the corporation to sit on the fence as a regulatory body and being unable to behave like a private sector concern in terms of understanding people’s needs.
He noted that since he assumed office in 2017, he has refrained from performing assignments on the pages of newspapers, but focused carefully on building blocks on a foundation that will allow subsequent development plans.
“In tourism, the legal framework for the commercialisation of tourism world best practices was not there. The law was really old. The law has also been handcuffed by a Supreme Court order, so it was not a law that could allow tourism industry generate the kind of revenues the oil and communication industries have. That is the significance.
“With the legal framework required for the financial framework to sit on, with the global best practices locked into that, you can see that the lip services that tourism was paid can not achieve much, except the legal frame work is in place. For instance, tourism operators cannot conveniently borrow from the bank because tourism is not seen as a business, because there is no legal framework that supports it. Now, hopefully that will change as soon as the bill is passed into law,” he said.
According to Coker, despite these challenges, tourism has been very lucky with the on-going infrastructural development (roads, rail, security, power) embarked upon by Buhari’s administration across the country. He added that for every naira President Buhari has spent in making the life of every Nigerian better is what tourism requires.
He commended Nigeria for investing in agriculture, manufacturing, power, rail, road and other infrastructure, noting that the best off taker for these industries is tourism because it consumes almost all the products. “Tourism will create more intense demand for agricultural products, manufacturing, power, etc. and ‘we will see good value for the investment,” he said.
“Every naira spent benefits tourism. Even though tourism is angling for more funds for specific tourism projects, a lot of things are being done that benefit tourism as it benefits the larger society. Also, we have started the process of Tourism Satellite Account, (TSA), which allows you to measure what is going right or wrong,” he said.
On the journey so far, Coker said: “This is not something one would particularly want to publicise. But, in terms of NTDC, I met a lot of historical debts. And with limited funding it was important that I discharge some of the historical debts, but I also kept the organisation alive. The financial engineering was required to balance that historical debts that I did not create, but keep people running and paid off little by little, without fear or favour.” The implementation of that is what attracted the initial protest by staff of the organisation. “If you have very limited resources, you must close loopholes. And when you do that, there will be crisis. In terms of human capital, our focus has been digital. I am glad that the staff have embraced the digital training because the future is digital. Today, the richest companies in the world are not in the oil and gas sector, but digital, where Apple, Google etc. are leaders. Everybody’s life in the future will be disrupted by this new technology.”
Promoting tourism brands
“Within the NTDC’s Tour Nigeria and Nigeria Flavour the digital marketing brands we created, we can generate in-bound tourists from the Diaspora as witnessed in Ghana last month, which might have been subsidised by that government. By virtue of our population, we have the strength to bring good number of Diaspora to Nigeria. We are pleading for financial institutions to make funding of tourism cheaper for tourism stakeholders because tourism does not generate individual returns yet that allows it to stand 25 per cent interest rate.
“If you go to Dubai or London, most of the tourism facilities are domestic first and foremost, but expanded to accommodate international plugging.
“In fact, Nigeria offers value for money when compared to other cities. As long as we have good value for money, we will get the international tourists. All we need to do is get our fundamentals right. That is what I am trying to do.”
Tourism Development Fund
“This is to aggregate the taxes that are due to tourism and allow the identification of tourism tax that will go into the development fund, which will be managed by a board. For instance, if NTDC wants to build a small motel in Gurara Fall, we need to bring a seed money as counterpart fund to execute such project. This is to encourage the host state.
Use of data for development
“We have a very good relationship with National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The Bureau examined the performances of tourism related industry in the economy and declared that tourism was responsible for 34 per cent of the country’s GDP and 20 per cent employment generation. These figures are incredibly encouraging to me.
“It is good Nigeria is investing in agriculture, manufacturing, power, rail, road and other infrastructure. The best off taker for these industries is tourism because it consumes almost all the products. Tourism will create more intense demand for agricultural products, power, etc and we will see good value for the investment. By investment, I mean the seed money we need to put into the sector to encourage state and private operators. In fact, the bill is not punitive to anybody as it is more by collaboration than enforcement.”
“Hotel standardisation and grading across the world are done by countries and not by states. We are going through the motion with UNWTO to put ourselves in a position to grade all our hotels so that we can deliver value for money. We cannot force any state to subscribe to standardisation of hotels because it is in the state interest to subscribe. Will anyone wish to have many standards or one standard that is uniform across board?
Expectations from the law
“I see a future where NTDC is a technological company in the sphere of tourism regulation just like UBER in the sphere of transportation, Inter-switch in the provision of switching system in the banking sector. That’s is my vision for NTDC.”
Court acquits, discharges suspended SEC DG, Gwarzo
A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court on Tuesday discharged the suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo, of the charge of fraud filed against him.
Mr Gwarzo’s co-defendant, Zakwanu Garba, who was the Executive Commissioner of the commission, was also discharged and acquitted.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had arraigned the two officials before Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf on a five-count charge bordering on fraud.
The former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, suspended Messrs Gwarzo and Garba from their positions in November 2017 over allegations of corruption.
The minister then set up a panel to investigate the alleged issues, after which the ICPC arraigned them in court.
Delivering judgment on the case on Tuesday, the judge, Mr Baba-Yusuf, held that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused persons committed the offence for which they were charged.
The judge said by its own admission, the prosecution through its witnesses and evidence confirmed that the action of the defendant was by a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of the commission.
Ruling on the first count of a five charge of use of office for personal enrichment against Mr Gwarzo, the judge said the ICPC did not prove its allegation.
He held that while the first prosecution did not implicate the first defendant in her testimony, the remaining witnesses who are operatives of the ICPC contradicted themselves.
“Furthermore, exhibit 19, which is a memo from the governing board of SEC, has clearly demonstrated that the decisions of the board of SEC as the highest decision and policy-making body of commission is legal.
The judge also absolved Mr Gwarzo of the allegations that he used his official position to corruptly enrich himself by using the monies paid to him as car grant as the DG of SEC.
Mr Baba-Yusuf held that: “The burden of proof was on the prosecution but through its own exhibit, which includes a board resolution which approved the car benefit for an executive director who had spent more than two years in office, the charge against Mister Gwarzo has not been established,” he said.
He said the fourth witness under cross-examination agreed that the board resolution was lawful and that the car grant was non-refundable.
Mr Baba-Yusuf held that the testimony of Prosecution Witness Two clearly showed that the first defendant had no role in deciding what he was entitled to and as such could not have used his office to enrich himself.
The judge, however, concluded that the evidence as a whole cannot be used by any court or tribunal to convict him.
He, therefore, discharged and acquitted him.
The court in the fourth count also discharged Mr Garba on the grounds that the evidence that he aided the suspended director-general of SEC to use his office to corruptly enrich himself was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge then held that no prima facie case was established against Mr Garba who acted based on a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of SEC.
Kwara governor denies alleged attempt to tele-guide recruitment of KWASU VC
Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has denied an alleged attempt by him to tele-guide the selection process of a new vice chancellor for the Kwara State University (KWASU) in favour of particular candidates.
He said such recruitment is entirely the prerogative of the institution’s Governing Council, as the incumbent’s tenure expires.
Ahmed, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, dismissed the allegation circulating on social media as an attempt to blackmail him.
He also dissociated his office or his aides from any attempt to foist anyone on the university as vice chancellor.
Ahmed said he has been briefed by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, KWASU’s supervisory ministry, that the university is yet to receive any response to its recent advertisement for a new vice chancellor, not to talk of skewing the selection process in favour of any candidate.
The recruitment of a new vice chancellor for KWASU, Ahmed reiterated, would follow guidelines enshrined in the law establishing the university.
Stop blaming NASS for delayed budget passage, Dogara tells Buhari
Speaker Yakubu Dogara has chided the Executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari for constantly blaming the Legislature for delays in the passage of the country’s annual budgets.
In his opening address at the national budget hearing organised jointly by the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Dogara drew the attention of the Executive to late presentation its part.
He also lamented poor implementation of previous budgets and he stressed that the Parliament won’t “rubber stamp” budgets merely for the sake of early passage.
According to him, “the budget is the most important law that is passed yearly, consequently, no parliament anywhere in the world rushes it. Let me re-emphasize that this Parliament can never be a rubber stamp and neither are we prepared to surrender our constitutionally assigned rights of checks on the Executive. It is unfortunate, however, that many commentators always ignorantly accuse the National Assembly of delaying the Appropriations Bill as if we are meant to urgently rubber stamp whatever budget estimates that is submitted to us by the Executive. If we fail to scrutinize the budget proposals, it will not only amount to abdication of our constitutional responsibilities as legislators but a betrayal of the mandate of our constituents.
“Let me also add that it is very unfair for the Executive to consistently and repeatedly blame the National Assembly of delaying passage of the budget while failing to address the issue of late budget submission on its part. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, provides that the Appropriations Bill be submitted not later than September of the preceding year which will give the Parliament ample time to process the document and pass it in good time. Unfortunately, the 2019 Appropriations Bill was submitted on December 19, 2018, just 12 days to the end of the year and the earliest time an Appropriation Bill has ever been presented to the National Assembly in this dispensation was on November 7, 2017.”
Dogara however noted that in a bid to address the issue the National Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment Bill which sought to compel the Executive to submit the Budget proposals to the National Assembly not later than 90 days to the end of the fiscal year and also to limit expenditure that can be incurred in the absence of the Appropriations Act from six (6) months to three (3) months.
Dogara added that: “In yet another effort to improve institutional capacity of the Parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) establishment Bill was passed into law. It was closely modeled after the American Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Unfortunately, I regret to inform this gathering that these laudable efforts and initiatives were thwarted when the President withheld his assent to these two important Bills.
“Consequently, efforts to enact a Budget Process Bill which will spell out timelines for every activity concerning the budget is stalled because it would be ineffective to enact a law that will run contrary to Section 81(1) of the Constitution which allows the President to submit the Budget estimates, ‘at any time’ before the end of the financial year.”
The Speaker concluded by assuring that the National Assembly will endeavour to speedily pass the budget as he called on the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to appear before relevant committees and urged the Executive to ‘to muster the will to honestly and diligently implement’ the budget when passed.
In his comments, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) observed that the public hearing was crucial to inclusive and active participation in the process of passage of the 2019 budget.