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UYO: Where Tourism Icons are Made

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By Frank Meke

Some things make sense, depending on interpretation and delivery.  For instance,  does a location matter when we celebrate? Crowd nko? Music and entertainment,  and the content, I mean the message.

UYO, Akwa Ibom state government, played host to the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) inspired World Tourism Day celebrations last week Wednesday. UYO, is Nigeria yet not Nigerian.

If you are a globe  trotter, surely this beautiful city may confuse you, but again, it has the magic of recalibrating your palate, a foodies capital, truly a home away from home, better than most homes.

UYO can also massage you, just for shi shi, and depending on your ego,  this destination deliberately and consistently lifted to provide greater recreational opportunities is the peacock of Nigerian tourism space.

Tourism infrastructure here is tempting,  top notch and the people,  its great asset. When a man is in love, sure do please read his lips. UYO is a pride, and I wonder how many people know about it?.

UYO needs to move out of Akwa Ibom. That’s another story for another day.  It is simplistic, strategic, and a successful story that must be shared. The successful tourism progression of UYO as the emerging tourism destination must be shared, deliberately driven to empower the people.

At water fountain Square, I sat with my niece, who took to chaperone me as my friend Obong Ekpe Okon, the unofficial and official tourism guide of Akwa Ibom abandoned me. Na joke, ooo!

The truth is that Obong and I shared several tourism expedition experiences in the past, and on this visit, I had wanted to break away from his very possessive hold,  very exhaustive, expansive, and sometimes emotional.

My niece school here and knows her way around. No exclusive taxi drops,  she commanded, and we hopped from the city bus to another. I can’t possibly remember when last I took public transport. I was indeed pleased  with this anonymous means of getting around to  meet with the real people, the influencers of the culture and hospitality of the state.

These are the unsung tourism generals, and their authentic hospitality tripped me. Can you imagine being welcomed with a smile on the face in a city, with the front door carefully opened for you? Even Uber drivers in lagos or elsewhere won’t do that for you!.

These UYO transport operators can smell you out as a visitor and are so engaging that you wonder if they don’t understand the subsidy economy.  Indeed,  life here is so gregarious,  positively revolving and eternal.

Now, back to my main deal in UYO, which is to witness the making of new tourism icons, a celebration cleverly woven around the city of Akwa Ibom state as the new tourism destination in Nigeria by Nkereweum onung, Senior Special Adviser to governor Umo Enoh of Akwa Ibom state. Nkereweum Onung is also President, Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria.

His tourism charity began long ago in neighbouring Cross River state,   until governor Eno Umo brought him back home.

Let me write this down. UYO should exclusively become a tourism capital state with Akwa Ibom state moving its administrative capital elsewhere, maybe somewhere not far from UYO, so that tourists can truly flex and flesh around without let. At the Water  fountain Square, something needs to be done to cover the man holes that are so deep down and could swallow any Golliath.

Men or women of average height like me won’t even be noticed if we breach those man holes. That apart, the water fountain Square is UYO most romantic hot spot for me. The clean environment is in tandem with the theme of WTD, which called for a special investment profile for green space.

Now, having shared those experiences with you, the award night was vintage Nkereweum onung style. Sometimes we forget, when our friends change position and in this instance, here is a tourism conscious event put together by a state government, pulling its presence to build a peaceful city state, where both indigenes and visitors must mingle to celebrate life.

After the thrills at the open day discussion on WTD held Ibom’ s  Tropicana Mall, this night for the tourism icons awards was a show stopper.

Everything about this night was surreal, and that governor Eno umo didn’t show up, didn’t take the glitter away.  Please don’t jump off the handle. The governor was ably represented by Charles udoh, the state commissioner of tourism.  Great guy, handsome, athletic, orator, but a disappointing late comer.

Our servants in government must show us refreshing transformational attitudes.  Why come late to your event, a focal cultural tourism programme which is a  silent arbiter to how you value your guests and those who will attract tourism naira to your home state?

Governor Eno umo in hundred days,  told us every Friday in UYO is happy hour, a key tourism investment drive and to which he deliberately sought the collaboration of Akwa Ibom state political actors, thus engendering peaceful coexistence and unity needed for an emerging tourism destination.

Unlike other parts of the country,  Akwa Ibom is peaceful and inviting. UYO is not plastic but with a cultural tourism soul, soothing and healthy, and bearing the torchlight of where Nigeria should be in tourism.

Governor Eno umo, though a notable hotelier before his foray into politics,  rightly deserved FTAN iconic award, a tourism hospitality general, so recognised by his own cultural tourism community in Nigeria.

Eze Patrick Anyanwu is also a hospitality caregiver and giant. He is the President of Nigeria Hotel Association (NHA) and for dogged advocacy for new metrics in the business,  targeted by multiple taxation across board, Eze Patrick Anyanwu was also unveiled by FTAN for holding forth despite the challenges.

The last man standing, the rave and enigma of water transportation economy in Nigeria, Dr Gani Tarzan Balogun made up the list of tourism generals unveiled by Nkereweum Onung led Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria.

Gani Tarzan Balogun is a leading  industry headmaster and for over four decades pursued the best boat transportation ecosystem, decidedly and sacrificially evangelical, setting up state chapters of boat operators and water transportation bodies across the country. A tourism generals, general, Tarzan as he is known in the industry,  is a boat construction engineer and had partnered with the Nigerian navy in showcasing indigenous efforts in ferry construction.

Nkereweum Onung has in two years, changed the narratives of industry recognition awards, focusing on facilitators and influencers with rich history of commitment to the growth of the sector as against simplistic flowery showpiece awards dotting the industry which has brought the sector no gain and badge of honour. Nkereweum Onung also brought peace and unity among stakeholders. The bridge is still far but we are on the way to getting there, hopefully and prayerfully, very soon.

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