By Frank Meke
In the last two years, there has been an orchestrated and concerted satanic confrontation to rubbish my integrity and journalistic expectations on how to hold leaders accountable for their action or inaction on tourism issues in Nigeria. At each point or outing where my commentaries and positions dwelt on request to account how our national tourism fund or assets are being managed, opposition commentators and their representatives seems to thrive on sentimental adjudication.
The many lies from the synagogue of satan are wont to paint my interventions as ‘personal” and when questioned by serious minds or by those whom they wish to encourage to toe their Balak doctrine, their vindictive response evaporates like an ice-castle. Honestly, to report tourism in Nigeria, particularly the high level of corruption therein is like an adventure through the wilderness or walk through the Jordan.
There is a huge level of compromise, threat and intimidation ever present in this business. From the Ministry of Tourism to its underperforming Parastatals, to our private sector tourism associations and non-governmental bodies, there are huge holes of fraud, maladministration and open festering of uncaring response to getting the sector out of the woods unto the right path.
And at the point when questions on audit and accountability are muted or commented upon, the profiler is targeted with intense official and unofficial intimidation. I will recall few instances before going into the main body of today’s essay.
In 1993 or thereabout, I had the privileged opportunity to cover the first attempt by a private sector body, Association of Tourism Practitioners of Nigeria (ATPN) to host and husband a Nigeria cultural festival in Abuja. Its then president, chief Mike Amachree and secretary, Samuel Oresajo went into the effort as lone rangers. The festival was needed to forge a kind of national unity and knowing the military and their love for adventure and tourism, the Amachree agenda was seen as rebranding Nigeria tourism and culture.
It was a failed effort in terms of planning and execution. My boss then, Ogbeni Tope Awe had insisted that I must report the event beyond the official niceties and presentations of papers. Our vanguard tourism column was the pioneer in tourism journalism in Nigeria then and nothing short of best researched reports must brace its weekly content.
When the Abuja festival report on ATPN effort broke forth, hell was let loose. Amachree fumed and threatened, blackmail was not left out of the campaign to make me recant my report as fake news. Everybody abandoned me except few colleagues, reporters who were not consumed by pettiness to the national reaction to which the report attracted in the industry.
I would not forget Ayo Arowojolu, who reports tourism for Champion newspapers and who particularly went to chief Amachree to request behind the scene amicable resolution of the issue. In fact, Arowojolu had threatened to join in reporting the other side of the failed project if Amachree would not stand down.
It was my first baptism with reporting tourism as it is in Nigeria. Years later, Lagos state tourism officials had torn my shirt and threatened to sack me from my place of work for daring to expose their greed and fraud during the era of Olagunsoye Oyinlola as governor in Lagos. Governor Oyinlola who investigated and acted based on my reports on Bar Beach saga over Eko Tourist Beach Association tango with Lagos which led to the demotion of a senior Lagos tourism official by the governor.
Muyiwa Adetiba, the publisher of a publication I worked for then gave me all the moral support and chased away the thieving officials who came to lie against me on “personal” agenda. On Nigeria Tourism Master plan, I was frontal and dedicated in reporting its various failings which caught the attention of then, President Olusegun Obasanjo who called for a review and auditing of the document. The meeting at the villa was hot and unsparing, trust Obasanjo who sword mouthed those behind the effort. Thereafter, corruption went to court, obtained judgment behind me, and the publication I represented then. My crime was that it was “personal” to report that fund for the document was misapplied.
Thank God for providence and quick intervention of my friend, Andrew Okungbowa who then works for the Guardian newspapers and who graciously let the proverbial cat out of the bag of satanic conspiracy against me. Indeed, but for the threat by Segun Runsewe to challenge that Kangaroo judgment, who knows what would have happened to me.
There are plenty bruises, with perceived friends and foes in the sector who craved my allegiance to them and not for the good of Nigeria tourism. Until recently, even minister Lai Mohammed had threatened me with litigation due to my determined position that our tourism can be better managed.
To me, it is a cross and to which I owe total allegiance to God, our children yet unborn and dear country. The current situation at Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is a storm that shall also pass away. I do this job not to please any man but to God and everything good he made for Nigeria and Nigerians in the areas of Culture and Tourism.
Nigeria is one beautiful country yet undiscovered and to have its tourism potentials begging for exposure and leadership cannot be factored on “personal sentiments”. Whoever privileged to sit on this key area of our economy must be ready to be audited. Nigeria is no one’s fathers’ estate and therefore those who lead us must show verifiable achievement(s) and account for the opportunity to lead a nation of 200million people.
As a tourism reporter and development journalist, have I also done my job well? Have I not assisted leaders with ideas and supported their good initiatives? Is it “personal” to say a man did well at point and when he strays and takes eyes away from the general good and so reports, it becomes “ personal”? Is it personal to share thoughts and anxieties behind closed doors and later shout it to heavens when good reasoning failed?
I just kind of wonder at this black sheep tag of my position and work. It is written that Jesus Christ is light unto men and darkness cannot comprehend it. My brush and sometimes heads on collusion with tourism corruption in Nigeria is legendary. Once, few years back, I ran a comprehensive exposure on how Sure-P fund for tourism was diverted to private pockets. It was a trip that took me round Nigeria.
The SUN Newspapers gave it a vintage space and the corruption gang went on “personal” voyage to lure me into sentiments of nonexistent platform of friendship and brotherhood. This “personal” accusation thing against me cannot hold water; it is a spiritual intimidation from the books of Balak and will fail any day.
By Frank Meke