Benue state on the threshold of becoming tourist destination

AUSTINE TULE, in Markurdi, the Benue state capital, writes on the imperative of developing the culture and tourism sectors of the state to attract local and foreign tourists, and ultimately shore up the state’s revenue base.

According to available records, the culture and tourism sub- sectors have today become one of the highest employers of labour in industrialized countries of the world..

These countries and nation- states are focusing more on these sectors to turn around their economies, and on the other hand, highlight the good image of their countries.

Records have also shown that countries like Brazil, Croatia, and South Africa are notable on the list of those making economic waves through tourism
In Nigeria, Cross River state only recentlly joined the league and all roads now lead annually in December to the rich cultural display that abounds in the state. This development has greatly enhanced the state’s economic profile while its tourism potentials have continued to grow creating wealth for its people.

Benue state, believed to be rich in the area of tourism – with rich cultural potentials unfortunately has over the years grappled with the problem of developing these potentials.

It has not been able to advance ways through which it can fully harness same to turn things around in the aspects of job creation and revenue generation.

Most of its tourist destinations are either lying untapped or presently under-tapped as available information shows. It is common knowledge that the state boasts of such tourist attractions as, the Ikwe Wild Life Park, located at Igbor in Gwer East LG; the Ikyogen wild life in Kwande LGA, the Onimobia Home Springs in Okpokwu LGA, and the Ber Agbum Cattle and Fishing Resort in Ushongo LGA, just to mention a few.

The first civilian governor of Benue state, the late Apolos Aper Aku, did not just identify these sites, but also went ahead to kick-start the development of the tourist sites.

However, available records reveal that since that regime was terminated in 1983 through a military coup, successive regimes in the state have not done more than pay lip service towards the development of such sites to meet the vision the late Aku had for the tourism industry in the state about thirty years ago.

Apparently In recognition of the role tourism and culture play in contemporary economies worldwide, the immediate past Governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, upon his inauguration for a second term of office in 2011 immediately restored the scraped state Ministry of Culture and Tourism whose mandate he said was to scout and develop to the fullest the tourism potentials that abound in the state.

With a renewed commitment, the administration actually took bold steps in trying to revamp this ailing sector, but could not achieve much owing to the lack of political will to implement most of the programmes lined up in this sub-sector of the state economy.

During his swearing-in for a second term in office on May 29, Governor Samuel Ortom, promised to among other things, pay attention to the tourism sector, saying that a workable formula will be put in place towards resuscitating the moribund tourist sites in the state.
Governor Ortom announced the merger of the hitherto Ministries of Culture and Tourism with that of Arts; and renamed it as Ministry for Arts Culture and Tourism, saying that the objective is to properly reposition the tourism sub-sector for optimum output.

Manned by a seasoned administrator and politician Hon Ngunan Adingi, and ably supported by Chief Tahav Agerzua, the principal special assistant to the governor on culture and tourism, and again merged with the Ministry of Information, the new Commissioner on assumption of office in July 2019 underscored the important role tourism has come to play in the economic lives of the people world over.

She pledged the commitment of government in developing the tourist destinations in the state with the view to enhancing its internally generated revenue.

Coming at a time Nigerians are full of expectations, it remained to be seen how the administration of Governor Ortom, through this ministry will actually live up to this ambitious vision of rejuvenating this two important sectors(culture and tourism) giving the backdrop that successive governments had also brought forward such sugar -coated blueprints in that regard, but never saw the light of the day.

Not a few say that efforts should be intensified towards upgrading other aspects off tourism such as, its cultural aspect. This can be done through partnership with private firms.

They maintain that festivals such as the yearly AKATA FISHING FESTIVAL, amongst the Tiv, Etulo and Abakwa cultures who are predominantly fishing people of Benue state usually held in Lake AKATA, in Katsina Ala local government area to promote the rich cultural and tourism resources, should also be given a new face.

This, according to them will in no small measure help develop cultural tourism in the state as well as establish Benue as a veritable tourist destination.

A civil servant in the state who spoke on condition of anonymity commended the state government for reviving the annual ‘Kwaghir’puppet theatre which is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated cultural show among Benue people; He also gave kudos to the government for reviving other cultural activities in the state with a view to marketing her rich cultural potentials to the outside world.

It is the view of several people in the state that as fantastic as the renewed dreams towards rejuvenating the tourism and cultural potentials that abound in the state may seem, the drivers of this new vision should exhibit a high level of commitment in reviving the sectors.

.They argue that for any country to attain the desired goal in these sectors, it must toe the line of patience as operators of the industry in countries such as Brazil, South Africa did.

They said the new team should also expedite action towards reviving all the moribund tourist sites in the state, adding that an extensive search should be carried out with the view to discovering more tourist sites in the state for onward development most especially, now that nations world over are diversifying their sources of revenue.

It remains a firm believe that all concerned in this regard will not renege on the zeal and commitment pledged so that hopefully, in the next few years , Benue state which also prides itself as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ with a very rich cultural heritage will also join the league of world class tourist destination.

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