Daily Archives: January 11, 2016

Nigerian Govt, National Assembly Toying With Tourism

The ambition of Sally Mbanefo, Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation [NTDC], apex tourism agency in Nigeria has be smoked out in just three months. The new NTDC boss who came with much enthusiasm and zeal in May 2013 following the shocking removal of the former audacious boss, Otunba Segun Runsewe in all honesty is not a happy fellow as a result of administrative failure of the government and the National Assembly to pass into a bill the 2014 budget.

After the NTDC successfully outing in November 2013 at the World Travel Market [WTM] in London, much was expected of the tourism corporation, but not with the unexpected successive events of the agency inability to attend the 2014 Tourism International Fair [FITUR] in January in Madrid, Spain and again its inability to raise fund for a stand at the on-going ITB Berlin International Travel Fair in Berlin, Germany were nothing but; disastrous for the nascent travel and tourism industry in Nigeria.

In a telephone conversation last week, NTDC director general confirmed to www.travelafricanews.com and www.africantraveltimes.com that Nigeria would attend, but would not be exhibiting following delay in the passage of the 2014 budget that has affected all government agencies and institutions, which unfortunately also has a devastating consequences on the tourism agency’s financial standing.

According to her, not showing up at the on-going ITB Berlin holding from March 5-9, 2014 will attract penalty from the organiser, suffice; a skeletal appearance is appropriate, she said. Meanwhile, some Nigerian journalists that were already in Berlin, Germany before it was made public that the tourism agency would not be exhibiting at the event were surprised and one of them noted on his facebook page that “Nigeria not exhibiting at ITB Berlin, first in 15 years” he wrote. Some tourism practitioners that spoke with www.travelafricanews.com and www.africantraveltimes.com noted that the federal government and the National Assembly are toying with tourism development in the country.

More Worries For Delta State $550m Tourism Projects

Before an exclusive interview with Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, Governor of Delta State that was published in the May 2013 edition of African Travel Times and www.travelafricanews.com respectively, it was evident that the state was being economical with the truth about its much publicised Resort at Oleri and Wildlife Park at Ogwashi-Uku tourism projects. 

While many in the state are not sure of the viability and the timing of such huge investments, Richard Mofe Damijo, Commissioner for Directorate of Culture and Tourism, whose office supervises the projects and the contractor Sarner PFN, owned by Princess Abiodun Adefuye, is also just playing to the gallery and without doubt, is a man with a very short memory that ‘the rich and famous also cry’.

It is true that Delta State must diversify her economy and investments, but such must be sensible and viable.

The Delta Leisure Resorts as presented by the state, appears would be one of the most spectacular parks and prestigious leisure destinations in the southern hemisphere, and the first of its kind in West Africa.

At various point, it has been said that the projects were inspired by the stunning Nigerian landscape, and celebrating the rich and diverse African culture and wildlife, the parks were conceptualised to cover some 300 hectares in the Warri and Asaba areas, and is being built at an estimated cost of N49 billion [US$250 million] for the resort and [US$300 million] for the Wildlife Park respectively.

The aforementioned, is not part of the several billions of naira that the state government has committed, and other amounts still being spent on daily basis.

According to the state and the contractor, the range of attractions to be built will include the following: a spectacular water park with wave pool and flume, thrilling adventure rides, a dramatic waterfall vista, an animal reserve and marine life centre, sports club and golf course, cinema complex, 5 and 3 star hotels and luxury villas, a casino, colourful live shows, stylish restaurants, a luxurious spa, and top brand shopping galore. A big joke many would say!

Apart from the above mentioned facilities, the contractor is also bragging of also including a centre for education and historical learning, such as the local crafts village, cultural museum and children’s interactive centre.

In a recent interview, the governor was also quoted as saying that, greatest care would be taken to create this world-class destination in harmony with the natural environment, using only the most ecologically beneficial construction methods, materials and facilities.

He also disclosed that the sand filling of the site of the project at Oleri alone, is costing the state a whopping sum of over N2 billion; the question is, was the condition of the land not discovered before the government chose the site?

The governor also hinted that, the road median from Effurun to the park, which is being laid with interlocking tiles and colourful street lights, would gulp about N700 million from the state government’s purse.  However, Governor Uduaghan informed that the US$300 million-dollar wildlife park, which would occupy 250 acres of land at Ogwashi-Uku will harbour the big five animals.

The projects conceived as a public/private partnership business, and the government is expected to provide the land, security, the access road, including a bridge that cost the government N3 billion, while the private investor takes care of the rest;

It is being executed by the state government and Africa Sarner PFM Resorts Ltd under a Public/Private partnership agreement, while consulting services are given by Bergsten Africa, the main contractor handling the project is, Fast Approach Konstruction Ltd. 

Part of what they say all the time are, that a three star hotel of 500 rooms as well as a five star hotel of 450 rooms, tagged Tagmaha would be built in the park. The question is, for whom?

Deltans are also being bamboozled to believe that, apart from the leisure aspect of the resort, there are also structures that will usher in activities that will enhance spiritual and academic growths, and that it would emerged as the most beautiful in the world.

The state government also said the resort, will harbour a theological and research institution in Nigeria, in conjunction with an institution in Pretoria which will be funded by the United Nations.

Answering questions on the benefits of the park during a recent tour of the rite, Uduaghan said although the construction was yet to commence fully, it was already addressing unemployment in the state, as no fewer than 2,000 people were already making their living from the preliminary work going on, adding that when the project is finally completed, at least 5,000 will be engaged.

However, African Travel Times investigations revealed that, even Princess Oyefusi is not sure and certain on how to finance the two projects. At a time, she was talking of selling shares and at another, saying some individuals and organisations have promised to finance them.

To concerned Deltans, how this woman is able to charm the entire ruling class in a hopeless state like Delta remains a mystery.

Some critics argued that the projects are being used to steal land from the communities respectively, because in our investigations and conversations with key players in this deceit, African Travel Times can authoritatively say the projects will never and can never be actualised.

In the last interview which the governor granted African Travel Times, a completion date of 2015 is set, even when a block has not been laid.

Deltans, stakeholders and as well as the media must hold the state government accountable for its waywardness, recklessness and plundering of the people’s resources.

Oleri and Ogwashi-Uku people may think the government meant well for them; the truth is that, the ruling class is indulging in systematic land grabbing.

In her earlier media campaign, Princess Abiodun boosted that she fought tooth and nail to secure the building of the resort, and the wildlife projects in Delta State from a consortium of investors in Europe and suddenly now, Sarner PFN and the state government have been running around for investors?

The question is that, what happened to the earlier investors’ fund the state government and Sarner PFN, claimed to have secured?

The most annoying part of the ‘Delta Tourismgate’ is that, Princess Abiodun Oyefusi, Richard Mofe Damijo as well as the governor, displayed that they are not smarter than the average Urhobo, Ijaw or the Itshekiri market woman, and many wondered, how on earth they think all Deltans can be fooled.

Sources who pleaded anonymity told African Travel Times that, several documents have been doctored to give sweeping ownership of the projects to Sarner PFN, and that the few civil servants that asked questions, are immediately and frequently summoned to government house and threatened.

Beside the shoddy manner that the projects are being presently funded with government money without any proper accountability, tourism analyst also wondered how on earth that a state without any form of tourism structure and foundation, be wasting so much resources in building the aforementioned.

Apart from the main culture and tourism ministry and the state tourism board, there is nothing to suggest that, Delta State is genuinely willing to develop and promote tourism, rather than using the sector to steal money and rewarding cronies.

African Travel Times also have it in good authority that, the Directorate of Culture and Tourism as well as the state tourism board have both suffered lack of funding over the years, in the pursuit of their basic activities.

In the last three years, the state government has not released budgeted annual N3 million for World Tourism Day celebration, and yet, it’s committing several millions of dollars into the resort and wildlife projects.

Like many Deltans that are familiar with the projects, Princess Abiodun Oyefusi is a hustler that God has buttered her bread at the expense of the people of the state, because the two white elephant projects are the most expensive single investment in the history of the state.

While we wait for the funds to be secured, the projects to begin and its completion in 2015, Deltans are waiting for the promised 6,000 jobs that the government and Sarner PFN are brandishing.

The last conversation between African Travel Times magazine and Princess Oyefusi was that, she’s doing Deltans a favour for bringing two projects she knew nothing on how to execute them, raise cash to fund them,  telling lies against those who asked questions is shocking, even as she continues to live on the state resources among others.

The trend around the world is that, no country in Africa or destination anywhere succeeded by relying on the public private partnership [PPP] for its initial investment in tourism.

Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana are some of the countries with huge initial government investments, and when the sector grows and becomes stable, the state or government will scale down its shares.

That is how governments around the world initiate development of the sector to attract other investors.

Princess Oyefusi told this magazine in 2011 that, it was quite difficult for her to convince the investors’ board of the suitability of Delta State and Nigeria, instead of Kenya in East Africa.

The big question is, where are the investors and the finance that the state has been doing all the spending, with Sarner PFN scavenging for money here and there?

It is obvious now that, the completion of the first phase of the resort by December 2013 and the official opening in April 2014 will only remain a dream, as boosted by Sarner and the state government previously.

Without doubt, it is only the gods of the land that can give answers to how Princess Abiodun Oyefusi and her Sarner PFN got involved; a company that was registered long after the state government has awarded these projects to her.

At the time of going to press, not even a block has been laid as the resort is still at the sand filling level, while that of the wildlife is also at an embarrassing level.

As for Uduaghan, history is kind to him by making his cousin, Chief James Ibori a scapegoat before his very eye that he can learn from.

It would be a shame, if he allows himself to be dragged down by these two white elephant projects.

Gambia Lures Nigerian Tourists

The Gambia, a popular tourist destination in Africa known as the ‘Smiling Coast’, has thrown its doors open to discerning Nigerian visitors seeking an exotic vacation, family holiday, or savvy corporate organizations requiring high quality facilities for corporate meetings. 

“We have concluded plans to implement a comprehensive multifaceted campaign in Nigeria to launch The Gambia as a year round destination of choice to all categories of Nigerians”, said  Adama Njie, Marketing Director, Gambia Tourism Board [GTB]. 

Mr. Njie revealed that, through accredited agents and operators, all classes of Nigerian visitors can now have access to comprehensive round-the-year travel and tour packages to enjoy the world renowned hospitality, the spontaneous smile and the warmth of the people of The Gambia. 

“For years, The Gambia has been the region’s most formidable destination for people from all over the world. We believe the country offers special attractions which are yet to be discovered by Nigerians. 

Also, according to Mr. Benjamin A. Roberts, the Director General of GTB, ‘’Nigerians are very hard working and busy people, with a great need for leisure and rest. 

“Our unique geographical position at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean enables The Gambia to remain an attractive tourism destination with natural waterways that extend the entire length of the country, lagoons, islands and islets for water sporting, fishing and inland cruise activities”. 

‘’The Gambia has an astounding ecosystem which has placed the brand in the eco-tourism forefront in Africa, with a blend of nature, communities; fauna and flora interacting in a responsible and suitable manner”. 

‘’Our ecosystem is sanctuary for over 50 species of birds which crisscross the country through migration activities, making the destination a bird-watching haven. 

The Smiling Coast of Africa is home to world renowned and African inspired cultural patrimony, some of which are now listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites,” Benjamin further said. 

For Nigerians who will like a blend of business and pleasure, The Gambia also offers virgin investment opportunities waiting to be explored, particularly in the areas of eco-tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and services, with the added advantage of market access to over 300 million consumers in West Africa, given the Gambia’s gateway advantage.

Ethiopia: The Enchanting World Of Lalibela

Wole Shadare, who was in Ethiopia and witnessed the celebration of traditional Christmas in Lalibela, writes on the fascinating and enchanting nature of the historic city.

Visiting Lalibela from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, could be tedious. It is a distance of over 645 kilometres by road. But going by air makes it easier and stress free – just about 45 minutes from Gondar.

Besides the stress free nature you also have the advantage of arriving early and in high spirit and expectant mood to a historic celebration that could easily be described as the “eight wonders of the world”.

It was an exploratory trip for the team of Nigerian journalists who flew with Ethiopian Airlines. It was a fascinating trip as one suddenly is transported through the mountainous ranges to a mesmerizing underbelly of a maze of historic structures, sights and sounds of the historic city of Lalibela.

The underbelly of Lalibela Your first impression is that this is truly a wonder of the world and the fact that it is in Africa – even though not as famous as the pyramids in Egypt – makes it the more alluring and exciting.

Despite its ancient nature [it’s actually over 800 years old], with remarkable dosage of life and religion. Lalibela is history and mystery frozen in stone, its soul is alive with the rites and awe of Christianity at its most ancient and unbending. No matter what you’ve heard about Lalibela, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen of its breath-taking rock-hewn churches, nothing can prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself.

It’s not only a World Heritage Site, but truly a world wonder city. Partaking in a vigil here during one of the big religious festivals, when white-robed pilgrims in their hundreds crowd the courtyards of the churches, is to witness Christianity in its most early, pristine and powerful form.

The world-renowned group of 11 churches at Lalibela comprises a very important historical and religious site, attracting thousands of pilgrims from around the world. The churches represent a unique artistic achievement, in their execution, size and the variety and boldness of their forms.

You can feel the devotion and spirituality in every corner. Definitely worth waking up at 5am to join the local people for their morning prayers – they are very warm and welcoming and you can sit amongst them in silence, watching and soaking in the breath-taking atmosphere.

Almost bearing a semblance to the Taj Mahal in India while the rock hewn churches share similarities with Petra in Jordan [though on a much smaller scale], but what makes Lalibela so much different from Petra is its “livingness,” as priests and hordes of people still use the churches as worship places.

Lalibela, unlike Petra, is primarily being used as per its original purpose and hasn’t [yet].been reduced to a mere listless and lifeless tourist destination. The creative ferment and intriguing as well intricacies of a group of 13 rock– hemmed churches during the 11th century, still intrigue and excite many visitors to the location.

The churches come across as very massively and artistically created, exuding not just curiosity but enchantment as well.

These churches breathe life and the tour guide did a good job recounting the history of the city and its various worship centres, highlighting the churches’ relevance today.

On this fateful day, we were fortunate to be visiting on the same day that Christians in the city celebrate the annual Christmas [January 7]. So, it was a wonderful and exciting experience to partake in this historic celebration for the first time ever, making it a second Christmas celebration as one had earlier celebrated the 2014 Christmas in Nigeria.

Exploring the innards of the churches come with their own challenges as the structures are rugged, rocky and with steeple and slippery stairways as well as having long passageways to navigate. One needs to be in a very good state of health to go through the rigours but despite the challenges, the experience is a memorable one.

All the churches are so impressive. Except for certain repairs, they are all in one solid stone block carved on the outside and the inside.
Non–Ethiopians pay [$50] to see these churches and the money generated from them don’t go into the coffers of the tourism bureau but rather it goes to the churches.

But it doesn’t appear as if much of the many go into keeping the churches. Religious tourism is supposed to be at best here given the high traffic generated, but for some reasons not many of the tourists are pleased with the level of religious tourism as tourists from Europe, Caribbean, Africa and the United States of America who are more in numbers here described the brand of tourism as “more commercial and less religious”.

Though this is a pretty little town but the churches have given it colour and character, making it an impressive and must place to visit. The constructions here are sights to behold with noble intentions and their religious nuances quite obvious to feast on. Lalibela may originally be a pious city with its magnified and monstrous churches, but over the years, especially with the influx of tourists, its religiousity seems to be enjoying less emphasis while commerce appears to be taking over most of the religious rites.

For instance one witnessed a baptism scene during the visit where the participants seemed to be more interested in the outward celebration of the event and not the solemnity and seriousness that are attached to such an important rite in the Christian faith.

Some concerted effort must be put in place by the people and even the churches, who seem to be enjoying the attention and commercial gains, to preserve the religious nuances and essence in order to retain its originality and make it appealing to many who want to savour authentic religious values and practices and the commercialized ones.

History Lalibela is in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645 kilometres from Addis Ababa and noted for the 11 medieval monolithic churches, which are hewed out from the underbellies of rocky ranges and plateaus.

These building are attributed to King Lalibela who set out in the 12th century to construct a “New Jerusalem”, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Ak-sum Empire. There are two main groups of churches – to the north of the River Jordan: Biete Medhani Alem [House of the Saviour of the World], Biete Mariam [House of Mary], Biete Maskal [House of the Cross], Biete Denagel[ [House of Virgins], Biete Golgotha Mikael [House of Golgotha Mikae]; while to the south of the river are: Biete Amanuel [House of Emmanuel], Biete Qeddus Mercoreus [House of St. Mercoreos], Biete Abba Libanos [House of Abbot Libanos], Biete Gabriel Raphael [House of Gabriel Raphael], and Biete Lehem [House of Holy Bread].

The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis [House of St. George], is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches.

The churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors and roofs among others.

This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. Ten centuries ago, King Lalibela had a vision: That his capital, Roha, in what is now northern Ethiopia, would equal Jerusalem in spiritual and architectural glory.

It was this dream, which gave birth to the 11 fantastic churches, which were hewn in the reddish-pink volcanic scoria rock, each unique in style and this is what has given the town it character and allure. King Lalibela lived to be 96 years old and saw to the completion of his dream, which was one of the legacies he bequeathed to the people and town.

When he died in 1221 BC, he was buried in Beta Mikael Church and Roha became known as Lalibela.

Today, it stands as a historic landmark of sacred architecture and a World Heritage Site inscribed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO] and if one may add also as one of the wonders of Africa.

According to popular legend, angels were believed to have greatly aided the construction work at night while St. George supervised the construction as his horse is believed to have left hoof prints on the passageway leading to his church — Beta Gyorgis, the last to be built, and arguably the loveliest, cross-shaped, with elaborate windows.

When the sun sets over the hills, it glimmers inpink, gold and moss green. No wonder people thought celestial help was needed. These awesome buildings were carved with hammer and chisel, each out of a single scoria block, by an estimated 40,000 workers.

In the 1520s, the Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvares, wrote that he was “weary of writing more about these buildings because it seems to me I shall not be believed”.

Features of Lalibela’s churches Lalibela packs the kind of aesthetics and mystical power of Macchu Picchu and Angkor Wat, with the advantage of not being mobbed by tourists, at least not yet. Grouped in two clusters, the churches have roofs at ground level and plunge down 40 feet. Seven of the 11 churches are organically embedded in the rock while four are self-standing, with well-defined geometrical volumes.

Among these is the world’s largest monolithic rock-hewn building, Medhane Alem, with 72 pillars and five naves.

The complex rambles underground, a labyrinth of narrow passages, causeways, steps and tunnels, endless historic landmarks for which the country is famed, they include – carved obelisks; the Ark of Covenant, Gondar with its castles and palaces; Negash Amedin Mesgid – walled Muslim city of Harar and Lega Oda, some distance from Dire Dawa where carved paintings of ancient time are preserved; Cities, notably among them are Addis Ababa, which is the political, socio – cultural and commercial nerve centre of the country; Aksum and Gonder.

Cuisine Top on the list of traditional cuisines is the wot meal, which is more or less Ethiopia’s national menu and there are varieties of it such as meat, fish or poultry and vegetable of hot pepper spiced with stews and supported by unleavened bread known as Injera.

There is also the popular Buna, Ethiopian brand of coffee. Ethiopia is one of the world’s coffee producing nations. Nightlife Night life in Ethiopia is phenomenal and full of colours with a blend of outdoor activities and spots to keep you busy round the clock.

Addis Ababa, the capital city is a suitable place to savour the vivacity of the people same as such cities as Gonder, Aksum and Lalibela where you find different levels of night clubs, bars, restaurants and events centres to unwind.