By Francis Onoh
Enugu – the coal city state and the regional centre of southeastern Nigeria, is known as a peaceful metropolis, with a weather that is relatively serene all through the year (a requisite for tourism to thrive). Enugu people are also calm and accommodating, engendering an atmosphere that is attractive for visitors and investors. However, the potentials of Enugu as a location that offers touristic activities have remained untapped over the years. The impressive natural hills surrounding the city that ought to have been an attraction for those who do hiking and mountain climbing have over the years been relegated; while the relaxation spots sprouting in several areas of the city are usually unsecure, offering no more than standup entertainment and platforms for the young to engage in high consumption of alcohol and other delinquent practices. Consequently, the revenue that should accrue from tourism in the state is lost, accounting for the over reliance of the state on the monthly allocation from Abuja in order to run its desired projects.
The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) and the State Economic Empower and Development Strategy (SEEDS) identified the need for infrastructural development and employment generation through investment in the tourism sector. The proposed Enugu International Conference Center adjacent to the popular Okpara Square that has been abandoned for over a decade, was to do exactly this. Under the pretext that it is a white Elephant project, an endeavor that was supposed to engineer a sector of the Enugu economy was abandoned by previous administration in the state. Such is not only disheartening but a dismay of our ignorance and insincerity towards economic development of our people. If this project were to be considered for its true economic potential, multiple conference halls and art exhibition halls showcasing the unique art works abandoned in the state will be located therein; in addition to a cultural library where literature on diverse cultural orientation can be found and local culture explored for tourism promotion.
However, one has to also appreciate the commendable effort so far taken by the present administration in revisiting the project and its pledged commitment to commence work on it.
The proposed international conference centre will attract groups (government and corporate) from within and outside Nigeria, becoming as it were a source from which the state will earn foreign currency. By attracting several persons and groups, abandoned hotels and resorts center in the state will be revitalized; cognate businesses will thrive and more employment opportunities created. Such will no doubt, engender significant growth in the local entertainment industry of the state. A creative and entertainment institute can as well be established within the site, for the impartment of practical entertainment/art skills, which will subsequently (hopefully) lead to the emergence of the new media entertainment. This in particular will aid human development and empowerment and such emergence will help stabilize the mediocre stage the local entertainment industry has been. The Enugu State Ministry of Culture, Tradition, History and Orientation will also be domiciled there (to lead the administration of this important centre). Thus, not only will the proposed international conference centre aid massive development, it will help boost the economic potentials of the state, showcase the talents of young Enugu residents who haven’t yet got the opportunity to show the wider world what they can offer.
Perhaps, some may argue that it is a capital intensive project and that the usual bureaucratic bottleneck characteristics of the public sector of most developing nations will stifle it; I would however note that such a view does not hold water – as there are ample platforms for public-private partnership for this sort of projects. The international conference center when developed, will like the Vienna International Centre host so many international organization offices, engineering more employment opportunities for Enugu residents. Exchange of ideas will increase and contacts with the right people will aid development in this part of the world. It is therefore in this regard that I recommend that a team be sent to study the “Internationales Congress Centrum” in Berlin; so as to understand how similar world class centres are run. Such will help us to know we can run ours, particularly as regards aesthetics and management of large scale conventions, concerts and establishment of theatrical productions centers.
The state which is always in battle to find finance to fund capital projects such as this, can apply and access credit facilities based on the specific project from local and international creditors. Of course, what is required is a prudent management of resources devoid of political considerations and the goal to make Enugu the ‘Berlin’ of Nigeria (as regards hosting international conventions and conferences) will be attained. It is true that a lot of good has been done but a greater good can still be done when we put the people first. Let tourism lead the battle for economic development of the state and we shall soon move millions out of poverty. The whole world may soon be heading to Enugu, the quality of Enugu visitors may soon improve; the attractiveness of investors in the state may take a new twist only if we act fast.
Wishing the great actors at the lion building the strength to move Enugu State forward.
Francis Onoh contributed from Enugu you can reach him through mail at firstname.lastname@example.org