Nkereweum Onung: The Story

By Frank Meke

Alabo Mike Amachiri, the living tourism legend, gave all he has to tourism in Nigeria when he was young and flourishing. The Buguma exponent is better known as the Portharcourt Garden city promoter, where he ran his waterfront tourism facility, hotels, and museum.

Alabo Amachiri was more than just the glamour investor in the industry. He was the apostle and founder of the Association of Nigeria Practitioners of Nigeria( Atpn)

Alabo Amachiri spared no kobo on the propagation of industry unity and progress. He was selfless to the extent that the simplistic thought his devotion was mumuish.

What is the gain in spending one’s hard earned resources on an emerging market to which Jankara market exclisped in profitable activities and grandiour but to Amachiri, tourism is to life and the people, his opium

Just like every human movement and gathering, the pillars unto dishonour poisoned the Amachiri Atpn vision. After his hugely successful Abuja carnival in the early nineties, internal crises, largely driven by extremely misplaced interests, who thought that the Bugumu chief tourism activism would land him big government laurel in cash and kind., gathered in ignorance to ambush Atpn.

Though Amachiri hugged Atpn as his baby and would brook no opposition to his tourism doctrine, his stubborn selfless passion and failure to accommodate new thoughts to the towering national interest of Atpn, led to the depletion of its gains and influence.

Long story, short, Atpn as the industry behemoth, bigger than Amachiri, interestingly Nigeria tourism centric, went into surgery and gave birth to Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria

Amachiri was bitter, but the spirit of Atpn, the selflessness, togetherness, and commitment to the best of Nigerian tourism unity refused to die. At least, Amachiri succeeded in planting a vision even though many people who trudge around today and boastful of tourism tomorrow, to which they have done nothing deserving of posterity and sacrificial commitment.

To give ftan same wide breath and reach, I do remember Mrs Tereza Ojo ( ezeobi), Ade Haruna, late pa mattew ebaboje Da silva , Ogbeni Tope Awe, Jimi Alade, Tarzan Balogun, Victoria soluade, Mrs Josephine Anene, and many others who sacrificed time to birth ftan.

This aspect of ftan birth pang story would not be complete without the mention of Alhaji Tukur Mani and kabir malan. Tukur mani was once our industry towering influence and acting DG, Nigeria Tourism Board, lately Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation and now Nigeria Tourism Development Authority. Tukur, who later became Permanent secretary , Federal Ministry of Commerce, where tourism was once domiciled, brokered the peace and indeed suggested that we have a national tourism federation to which no individual could lay claim to its growth and development.

Tukur is a living personal friend and to whom I sought his interventions to save Atpn and also keep the industry united. Even when he became a super Permanent Secretary , Ministry of Health during the Abacha regime, Tukur mani gave me access to bring many tourism industry troubles to his table for solution.

Kabir malan was Tukur mani’ s man Friday, a jolly good fellow who as Tukur’s special assistant, was unrelenting in ensuring that peace reigned among industry practitioners and in Atpn in particular, also ensured ftan received federal government backing.

Unknown to many people, Kabir malan later became President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies ( nanta) and, in fact, helped to stabilise the association during one of its growth pangs is today, chairman, Board of Trustees, Aptn.

Two years ago, Nkereweum onung happened on our scene, I mean in the quest to transform ftan. Samuel Alabi, BOT chair, ftan, confessed publicly during ftan’s twenty sixth AGM that Nkereweum Onung towering influence, wisdom, and endurance has impacted positively on the industry unification process.

For the first time in its birth history, Nkereweum onung brought all government tourism agencies together to join the private sector to chat a new direction for the industry. Even though he failed me( I don’t know about you), I was surprised to see DG, NTDA, in the person of folarin Coker. Nkereweum onung brought also Nura Kangiwa of National Institute For Hospitality and Tourism Studies, and trust our industry grand patron, Mr Tourism, talk and do, industry ceiling breaker and cultural tourism advocate, Otunba Segun Runsewe, was also there.

But this piece of futuristic dream is not all to Nkereweum onung magical recalibration of an ftan for all, and not for a few. His coming was met all kinds of unbelievable roadblocks, many coloured in ethnic garbs by the industry Janneses and janbreses.

I have been around for a while and to the glory of God, but I have never witnessed the type of viciousness and animosity generated by those opposed to Nkereweum onung ambition to contribute to the growth of ftan

Indeed, the nay sayers to his ambition, just like is seen in the larger Nigeria political space, brought just mere bed room rumours and personal animosity to the ftan leadership campaign space.

Nkereweum onung was not deterred and held to his dream of pushing a new ftan, respected, proactive, and protective of the emerging tourism industry.

He won back many people who opposed him through a strategic and successful ftan re-engineering blueprint. To everyone who gave him opportunity, Nkereweum onung would visit to explain how and where the industry should go and must be impactful.

Nkereweum onung was not vain, and during one of our many mid night meetings, we agreed that ftan is desirable and worth his personal sacrifice. He got me and many others to commit to support his effort and not betray him.

For the sake of ftan, I don’t need to swear an oath of blood letting sacrifice either of ram or cow. My words, my assurance to firm and supportive of him is sufficient. Nkereweum onung flew into lagos, on several occasions from his base in calabar, trusting that we should not betray him when takes the job to give ftan a new address.

There were several times that we were not sure if there was an industry worth the efforts. In one of those nightmarish days before the election two years ago, we were caught up in one of the worst traffic jams in the history of lagos. We had left a meeting held at the Victoria Island office of Gani Tarzan Balogun by 5pm and didn’t get his hotel in Ikeja until about 2am.

My car ran out of fuel, but providence was all we had, as we braced through the terrifying traffic and all just for the good of our nation and its tourism industry. Once in a while in that monstrous traffic, I will steal a glance at Nkereweum onung and his straight face and unbreakable mien, inspired me to go the full hog.

I can’t possibly recount all that happened during those early days of intensive conferencing on the future of ftan and, in particular, what Nkereweum onung should represent.

Nkereweum onung is a man of peace. He is human like all of us and with our many failings, but he is not a pretender, neither deceptive. He respects the individual and the collective and is willing to bet for a united front.

Nkereweum onung deliberately avoids the headlines. His humility is infectious, but don’t take him for granted. Nkereweum onung can sting when you push him to the wall. , and wisdom is his second name.

In two years, he has kept faith with his promises to ftan. The sacrifices are huge, and ftan today is on the road to recovery, to bring both government and private sector to work together. Though attempts to divide ftan during the unwto conference in Nigeria last year failed in its entirety, it availed ftan the opportunity to separate the crowd of fortunes seekers from the dedicated and committed industry players who believed in a strong and united private sector tourism practitioners body.

Even though it is the right of the individual to seek self glorification, no war has ever been won by the individual selfishness but through collective sacrificial commitment dedication. Nkereweum onung personified that collective responsibility and commitment.

It’s not yet Uhuru, still plenty to do, but he has shown guts,moved out to the west coast, and shared his dreams of a united West Africa tourism agenda without borders.

At the just concluded 26th AGM in Abuja, the ftan of our dream was revealed and manifestated. The struggles are still ongoing, but we have crossed the Jordan.

Nkereweum Onung was rewarded with another two years of hard work unopposed. In his hotel room during a short break during the event, Nkereweum onung whispered to me that his shoes hurt. He is a giant and wears size sixty something, same big footprint he will leave positively behind in ftan history, with so much gains and influence that those coming behind him must work hard to enthrone greater opportunities fit enough for his footprint in ftan.

I salute this courageous Nigerian, selfless and patriotic, and I pray that we live to see our industry take its rightful place in the economic calendar of our nation through the advocacy of ftan under Nkereweum onung in the next two years. The dice is cast, and the race has just begun. Congratulations, Nkereweum onung.

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