BY FRANK MEKE.
This inspiration came to me while going through boarding formalities this morning at lagos Domestic Airport Destination Abuja, wake up call 4am, departure from home @ 5am, arrived airport 5:55am
Over the weekend, a four hours road trip took me from lagos to Ekiti, detouring through Ondo and back to lagos. It is a choice, a hard choice to make and live for country and people, reporting the best our nation, our culture.
It has been almost three decades, living in the air and risking the roads across Nigeria, Africa, and the world. It is the most difficult way to make a living, knowing that the next trip could be the end.
It’s like being a soldier, the next bullet, could just be another epiphany for an unsung hero, a selfless and patriotic Nigerian, a fellow with greater opportunities elsewhere but chose to preach Nigerian tourism, Nigeria culture, about the biggest black nation on earth, so gifted, so unique yet abased.
In taking to this missionary and tourism evangelism across Nigeria, there have been many good people who stood and encouraged me. There are also many who think they don’t owe me any respect and so spend valuable time, in and out board rooms, some at mammy water drinking bar, punching my ugly face.
Some people are so angry and incensed by my weekly write ups about their failings that they conjured all kinds of evil narratives to bring me down.
Do I care? Indeed, it is part of the job to irritate those who came to our space to drink pepper soup and choice win when they should be working.. in fact, it is a sin to share the same podium with tourism industry players or selected leaders, who threw opportunities to bring about changes to the wind.
This business is not about clamouring for awards or public praise. It is not about my face but that of an industry so beguiled and abused. It is about dedication, commitment, and not the next pay day. So travel journalism is a special call, though many of us who are Jews are not Jews.
Sadly, the media, in general, does not celebrate itself, and in truth, we can understand. It’s a thankless job, a divine assignment profiling the most intrepid. The absurd can not do this job. The simplistic and wealth seekers will burn out.
Many had come our way, lured by the beautiful stories of our cultural tourism diversity, entrapped by the lush of our forest ecosystems and luxury appointments of our hotels and in mid stream, screamed for deliverance and gave up.
In this business, night is like daytime, no leave, no transfer, just absolute and total commitment to the best of our nation and people. There had been colleagues who died in action, Emeka Anokwuru, Winny Mbata, and lately, Chief John foaseke.
Pa Mattew ebaboje Da’ silva was a forerunner like moses. He died talking about tourism in Nigeria. He was the voice and kept the industry on its toes.The late sage of tourism dared the mistakes, the skeletons in the cupboards of our tourism. Da silva was a screamer from the rooftop of our tourism house. He saw tomorrow, and as a father told us of what shall befall our tourism for tomorrow if we keep quiet.
We kept the candle and allowed it to burn midstream. We, the tourism media, fought ourselves and allowed the Jews to divide us.
Today, it’s sad that the tourism press hardly celebrates itself. There’s a difference between writing a story and celebrating a story. The tourism press is the soul of the industry, uncelebrated, good enough to be used, and hardly deserving respect, honour, and acceptance.
Sometimes, I watch scallywags, and latter day tourism saints come to our space and pollute it and get away with it. I have also witnessed my dear colleagues give up to intimidation, preferring rags and begs for sanctification from the unsanctified, the sacrilegious betrayers of our tourism case.
Let me not join the camp of the ungrateful. In 1994, there was a Tereza Ojo ( ezeobi), graceful , beautiful, and cerebral president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies ( Nanta). She instituted and inaugurated the first ever travel media award in Nigeria. Mrs Ojo, unknown to many people, clearly defined the future of the industry with the critical role of the media in view.
At ntdc and now at NCAC, Otunba Segun Runsewe invested in the exposure and experience training of Nigeria tourism media. He is incomparable, and today, the industry is its best public advocacy stronghold because there’s a Runsewe that is committed to knowledge based tourism reportage.
Susan Akporiaye, President of nanta, thirty something years after Tereza Ojo ( ezeobi), opened the flood gate of appreciation of the media, went a step further and instituted a travel media Hall of fame and in one big swoop inaugurated both the aviation and tourism Reporters into nanta Hall of fame. It was unprecedented.
She celebrated them, honoured them beyond measure, and got Dr Gabriel Gbenga Olowo of Aviation Round Table and proprietor of Golfview Hotel and Sabre to serenade with them.
These are possibly few of such public effusiveness and appreciation of the burden bearers of the industry. However, it regrettable that the trend of ignoring the contributions of ourselves, by ourselves still subsists.
I met an industry chieftain in Ondo over the weekend who wondered why the tourism media operators take pleasure in running each other down. I looked him in the face and advised him to run away from such character assassinators and save himself from the backlash. The millipedes will come against you when they have devoured their likes, I gently dropped the bombshell.
You won’t find me in the camp of spoilers and envious professional colleagues. Like the saying goes, some mothers do have them.
So today, I celebrate my colleagues and friends, Mrs Taiye Olayemi of News Agency of Nigeria and Andrew Okungbowa of Dailly Telegraph, who were recognised by Nigeria Association of Tour operators in Ekiti over the weekend for their dogged advocacy for the good tourism Nigeria.
Andrew Okungbowa, I must confess, has been consistent, vocal, and loyal to the industry. He has had his days of Jacob troubles in the industry and has lost friends whom he felt betrayed the Nigerian tourism space. A care giver, mentor, and encourager of certain emerging tourism sensibilities, Andrew Okungbowa is a tourism puglist and hardly tolerates insipid tourism submissions. Truly selfless and patriotic, he would dine with an enemy of tourism, publicly remorseful of his failings and repentant as Saul, better known as Apostle Paul.
Taiye Olayemi is a strategic writer, untiring, intrepid, and unbelievably a dreamliner. Taiye deserves the natop award, and more shall come if she insists on remaining committed and dedicated. Sometimes, I admire this upcoming tourism journalism enigma from a distance. She has the right character, the passion, and the willingness to break boundaries.
Her baby Samuel, is a strong statement on how challenges of pregnancy, would not stop Taiye from climbing the slippery hills of Assop falls in the plateau, to capture the experience never shared with Nigerians about our waterfalls.
She had strapped little Samuel on her back to cover festivals across Nigeria, travelling miles with a single-minded drive to tell the good about Nigeria.
My respect and appreciation to this uncommon Nigerian tourism journalist, with a future clearly defined by her sagacity and passion.
Taiye is chasing experience and not the next pay, and I am a witness and admirer.
Let me advise the leadership of tourism media to celebrate these drivers of the tourism sector and headline their efforts. To continue to bury the contribution of your best eleven and pretend that others will roll out the red carpet in appreciation is illusionary and simplistic.
To Natop, I must commend ime udo. I was in Ekiti because I believe Ime udo deserves my support and prayers. She has refocused natop, but the crowd should be separated from the suffocation of pedestrian backpackers.
If ime udo keeps to her dream and refuses to measure her feet with strange footprints, natop will fly, and I know so. To Nkereweum onung, chairman, Board of Trustees, Natop, thanks for your mentoring and sacrifice for the industry.
From my fellow tourism media advocacy awardees, we say thank you, natop. We shall continue to hold the light for all to see.