It’s not every day that you walk on the streets or departure and arrival lounges of airports in western countries and something positive about Nigeria stops you dead in your tracks. Often, when you travel with Nigerians, you sense varying degrees of apprehension when they come in front of immigrations officials in foreign countries.
The conversation with foreign immigration officials sometimes is like being pulled over by a traffic cop who is trying to fulfill his monthly ticket quota. He treats you with suspicion and baits you to talk yourself into trouble. Nigerians being one of God’s smartest creations walk around that minefield gingerly.
Our government does not help much. Most foreign countries have a strong public relations unit in key foreign capitals. They fight back against every bad press, they turn their embassies into advertisement for their countries and they deploy their notable citizens as unofficial ambassadors.
Last week I saw something that made me stop in my tracks and practically obstruct the human traffic scurrying to their departure gates. I’m strolling casually from an airline lounge towards the departure gate of my flight at London Heathrow when two signs right outside Lounge F of British Airways greeted my eyes as if they were signs to the gates of heaven.
“Port Harcourt,” the sign screams. I’m strolling past it because I’m also busy talking shop with one of my big brothers. I’m strolling past it because you don’t expect stuff like this from Nigeria. I’m wondering why I’m just hearing of a Caribbean country called Port Harcourt. I thought I knew all the Caribbean countries and was wondering how ashamed my geography teacher was going to be if he could see me right then.
Tourism is a huge business. It’s where the bug bucks is. Some countries, especially the Caribbean nations depend on tourism for their livelihood. It’s the way the world works in this age. Nations spend a boatload of money telling the world about their country.
They know the alternative is that if they don’t, some other folks will do it for them in a very bad way. Nigeria should be in the vanguard of this. The country should be the Mecca of tourism in Africa. A lot of black people can trace their heritage back to Nigeria. The country is a political leader in Africa. The country’s heritage attracts a wide spectrum of people.
Imagine if there is a book on tourism on Nigeria and you pick it up from a bookstore in Manhattan or Paris. Just imagine if you’re a foreigner with a few thousands to spend knowing the world. Then you happen to pick up this book that tells you about Nigeria and Nigerians, the attractions and the cultures. And, just assume that there is power and a degree of security. You may just have to tighten your visa rules because a flood of tourists will flock into your nation.
But the custodians of Nigerian foreign policy and marketers are enigmatic. When they get attacked on CNN, they take out pages in Time magazine to explain their position, forgetting CNN and Time belong to the same parent company. Nigeria is one country where our leaders battle themselves in the race to give the country a bad name.
When you try to read about Nigeria online or in newspapers, the impression you get is that Boko Haram has a blanket of terror spread all over one part of the country and the Niger Delta militants cover the other half. You think of a country bitterly divided by two religions and people who are so tribal two people from different tribes can never be in the same room.
But here I am, walking through London Heathrow and I’m seeing something that makes me do a double take, something that comes so easy to more forward thinking people but seems to elude us. Something from Nigeria that beats with pride, hope and promise. Something from Rivers State.
Here I am standing right smack in the middle of a walkway, taking pictures of two posters proudly, forcing groups of travellers to pause and see what the fuss was about and watching a group of Asian tourists taking pictures of me taking a picture of the posters while they took some too.
Here is little Rivers State trumpeting the values of the state in the heart of one of the busiest airports in the world. The positioning is fantastic. Hundreds of thousands of travelers from all over the world are bound to see it. Many of the big wallet businessmen and women who drift through the lunge are bound to stop and give the state a thought. Rivers State is gonna reap huge benefits from this.
Now, you gotta give kudos to any man or woman who does good. Rotimi Ameachi and his team in Rivers state have done a great thing selling their state to the world. They’re not only selling a state, they are selling the opportunities that abound there. They are selling the people and they are selling the culture. Even though it’s not his job, he’s also selling the Nigeria.
Hopefully, he can sell this dream to all his brother governors. And, hopefully when the katakata in PDP settles, he can sell it to his brother, Goodluck Jonathan. Heavens know Nigeria needs it.
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