Susan Akporiaye, NANTA President
By Frank Meke
National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) is about 47 years old, going to 48. The Association has contributed immensely to the history and growth of Nigerian travel and the tourism industry and does not gloat about it.
And until the brick breakers came to the Nigerian tourism space, NANTA rightly held a board position in the making of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (now Nigerian Tourism Development Authority).
Its two-legged operational importance in the tourism and aviation sector justifiably conferred it the wisdom to share and contribute its knowledge, expertise, and support to growing the need to reposition Nigerian tourism and the travel( transport)content in the aviation industry.
The founding fathers of Nigeria tourism, from its birth as Nigeria Tourism Authority, to Nigeria Tourism Board to Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation ( NTDC), were supportive of the growth of nanta and during its trying moments, decreed and like the supreme Court judges, pulled away the rugs from self seeking spoilers who wanted to cause a slit of the Association.
These were during its dramatic and formative years in the early seventies, a development that foreclosed such divisive tendencies and through progressive constitutional righteousness, the association blossomed into greatness, stronger and open to new ideas and character.
Talking about character, whoever emerged as president of this iconic association, tends to define its character, deliveries, interventions, and growth or failings.
I will possibly dwell on a few of the presidents of this association that I knew closely and covered their times as a journalist. Their character of selflessness, boldness, and courage in the face of threats to their private businesses is beyond pedestrian definition and understanding.
And of these lots, I will mention and share the character models of Olufemi Adefope, Teresa Ezeobi( now Ojo), Soji Amusan, Dayo Adeola, Ahmed zabadne, Munzali Dantata, Bankole Bernard and Mrs Susan Akporiaye.
It’s important to highlight that the association leadership is usually dominated by men,and often takes to supersonic flight when women take over, and theirs is a challenge not only to engendering new business offerings but a zealous search for the best of NANTA tomorrow.
I will come to the two women ceiling breakers in NANTA later. Femi Adefope, in his days, was a daytime terror to foreign airlines. For each of the obnoxious policies which these foreign airlines subjected nanta members to, Adefope will scream blue murder, shot from the hips, and as a trained forensic expert, his clinical deployment of confrontational legalism, puts the unrelenting and domineering foreign carriers in disarray.
He was courted and hated at the same time, and he maintained an open door to the tourism media. He was always available to share his dream for NANTA. Adefope avoided the temptation to remain in power beyond his call and worked hard to Unite nanta, and today, he is the octopus of the aviation downstream sector, where he runs his business with grit and wisdom. He indeed shaped the position and deliveries of NANTA in his very unapologetic combative image. His menties, a story for another day.
Munzali Dantata brought fortunes to NANTA leadership. He was then young, rich, and ambitious. A scion of the famous Dantata family of kano, Munzali Dantata, was a very patient and caring leader. He was during his time out in nanta, a General Sales Agent for Saudia, the national carrier of oil rich Saudi Arabia.
Munzali Dantata spent his fortunes on nanta, in a single-minded effort to change its image and also bring it into the national tourism economic space. Though tolerated by the usual noisy and egocentric lagos cum South West NANTA members due to his peace seeking outreach to foreign airlines, Munzali Dantata toned down NANTA’scombative facade to suit his worldview.
Then came the fire spitting, fearless and courageous Tereza Ojo (Ezeobi). Her special advisers were Femi Adefope, Olu Ogunsulire, and Babatunde Akala. I had this feeling that these three musketeers dragged her into nanta leadership.
Tereza was graceful and richly connected. Her Tess Travel is the official travel implant in most foreign embassies, and she was big, I mean very big, in cultural tourism promotion. She filled the grounds of the kano Durbar festival with a chartered plane filled with foreigners and brought Ogun state into the limelight as a domestic tourism destination. As the then President of Nigeria Cycling Federation, Tereza Ezeobi (Ojo) pushed forward the tourism content in that sport genre into national reckoning. The spoilers of Nigerian Airways hated her guts as she boldly confronted their thieving hands in honey pot the airline and at one of such heated meeting at the office of then Minister of Aviation located around Tafawa Balewa Square, she had to be smuggled out through the minister’s back door to avoid the raging Nigerian Airways leadership who could not tolerate her righteous indignation.
Tereza was a thunderstorm. If Adefope is known to be shot from the hips, Tereza was the master snipper, all for the sake of NANTA’sbetter tomorrow.
Soji Amusan is a disciplinarian to the core. Trained by the German lufthansa Airlines, he brought a new training and retraining culture to nanta membership. He took on NANTA survival expectations with clinical precision, preferring to reason with nanta publics, particularly the foreign airlines rather than being combative. He led from the position of knowledge and education to the dynamic processes in the emerging world of travel as a trade. Today, some nanta members own aviation schools as a result of the campaign by Soji Amusan.
Ahmed zabadne is a Nigerian of Lebanese parentage. He spent fortunes trying to rubber stamp his business orientation background in nanta. He was collaborative and sought to have NANTA members expand their reach beyond trade on airlines’ inventories. Ahmed zabadne is a born hospitality caregiver and operator despite being a travel trade professional. He was a jolly good fellow who loved Nigeria.
Dayo Adeola is subtle but with a huge appetite for deliveries. He built the three storey nanta secretariat on Ikorodu Road and a great mobilizer of men and resources. He will out spend others in the quest to transform nanta and also mentor young persons in the collaborative ecosystem that clearly marked him out as a godfather to many trading their way to success. His trademark of competence and visionary commitment still speaks volumes in NANTA circles. Is he bound by his promises? One must learn to wrestle like Jacob to catch Adeola off guard.
Bankole Bernard is a pursuer of history and legacy. Young, stubborn, and fearless, Bankole Bernard tried to change the narratives of nanta and brokered efforts to gain back NANTA’sboard membership of NTDA, which the new pharaoh at NTDA insisted to ambush out of fear of the powerful reach of nanta in both aviation and tourism space.
He also worked hard at getting NANTA a focal constitutional authority and brought the Association some political inroads, partnering to honour game changers in the industry. Energetic and confident, he fought internal schism and selflessly flew the nanta flag. He nearly lost his life in the untiring effort to leave his name in the nanta records of achievers. Some say he is arrogant and irritant, yes to many people who do not bother to study his character. He can trump a surprise change, and that makes him a highly misunderstood enigma.
Mrs Susan Akporiaye went through the tough lines of the NANTA leadership structure to emerge as president. She confronted the Covid pandemic and gave some lifeline to most struggling NANTA members during the early days of global travel uncertainty. That pandemic period truly defined her willpower. Nanta nearly collapsed but she held strong, very strong, putting her critics on wrong footing. I will repeat that Susan Akporiaye is strong, bold, and beautiful inside more than mere physical eyes can see.
Her commitment and self drive opened the flood gate of new and old members of NANTA, who now took their future into their own hands. She spoke courage and sold inspiration.
She is Nigeria’s new tourism diva, steering nanta to other streams of income in the very dynamic and collaborative travel and tourism industry.
She has successfully shaped the NANTA dream of tomorrow, frontal with foreign airlines, shadow boxed them into a corner, with same Adefope and Tereza Ojo punchy style.
She consults with wisdom but takes responsibility where others shiver in fear. Susan Akporiaye revealed and sustained the Tereza Ojo tourism goal agenda for nanta members and, above all, a dedicated and sacrificial mentor to the young and upcoming nanta members, many who rejoice at her leadership which has engaged and inspired them to rediscover their talents and strength. From South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and London, NANTA leads in promoting Nigeria tourism, even in tech start-ups.
By mid next year, a chapter in nanta history will be closed, and another opened. Susan Akporiaye has opened the gates for the nanta young persons to raise their heads and voice to give NANTA sustainable leadership growth narratives, and so we say Amen and rejoice that NANTA is in the match, greater and stronger because a true leader emerged. Will this trend gain sustained traction? We watch and pray!.