Opinion: FTAN elections as threat to the tourism federation

Posted: July 3, 2013 in travel & tourism

nigeriaIn a recently published memo to tourism stakeholders, this subject matter was considered among key issues that have not only arrested the development of the tourism sector in Nigeria, but a real threat to the consummation of the union of the main components of the tourism Federation. It was propounded that the coming together of key sectors of tourism practitioners was in recognition of their interwoven relationship as vital ingredients or catalyst for attaining optimum development.

Arising from this premise therefore, should be a blueprint or guiding principle for the enthronement of a culture of mutual respect and consideration for the components of a true federation. The importance of the founding quartet comprising ATPN, NANTA, NANTOP and NHA was such that they were even recognized in the enabling decree establishing the NTDC and continue to feature in the appointments to its Board. The American political federation is a classic example of a convergence of interests and States, devoid of any perception of dominance by any group or the primitive culture of winner takes all. The British renowned Unwritten Constitution recognizes critical norms that civilized entities predictably obey, which in the case of Nigeria may never be followed even if written on billboards. Still Nigerian political culture has been  sensitive to the perception of domination by one group over the others and has accordingly evolved “Federal Character” and also introduced rotational leadership. So why not FTAN that is uniquely a federation of so many diverse groups.

We see three key issues regarding the coming FTAN election. One is the looming shameless dominance of the leadership of the Federation by the hotel sector which has kept multiplying itself in spurious associations that are clearly sub-units of the same hospitality group. We are now approaching a tilting point in which centrifugal forces would demand that FTAN be unbundled to allow for the formation of a true Hotel Federation, in order to save the vital interests of other key tourism stakeholders. This primitive trend of dominance by one group is now manifesting in the unbridled ambition of individuals through cronyism for the leadership of FTAN, without the decency of a concerted understanding that it should revolve round the various key sectors.

To refresh recent memories, we recall that Chief Goodie Ibru, a hotelier, was the first FTAN President. He was succeeded by Alhaji Munzali Dantata from NANTA. Then Chief Duke, a hotelier, became FTAN President from the Cross River Branch. After Duke, came Chief Samuel Alabi, again from the hotel group. Already, the Chair position of FTAN Trustees was unilaterally given to a hotelier without deep roots in the industry. Now we hear that some hoteliers with scanty pedigree in tourism are again jostling for a cheap shot for the FTAN Presidency through the manipulation of cronies. Even in many traditional societies, leadership is known to rotate amongst ruling houses based on customary respect for sensibilities of the various core groups.

The real tragedy of our short experience in the development of the tourism industry in Nigeria is the huge knowledge gaps that have shaped the perception of policy makers in equating hotel development with tourism development. There is the old English adage that says “the hood does not make the monk”. Saddled with tourism leadership carrying such tunnel vision, it has been difficult to identify and transform the real products in tourism development, since the focus has almost exclusively been on the hotel sector, which in actual sense is more of a support service rather than the main product. Is there any wonder then why it has been so difficult to get things right in spite of all the noise and expense on our tourism development?

Election delegate

The extant 2003 Constitution of FTAN provides for State Chapters, apart from the federating Associations at the national level. This is in clear recognition of the concurrent nature of tourism in legislative matters. Moreover, the tourism products reside within the States and even Local Governments. For some recent tourism activists, it is instructive to recall that the FTAN AGM of 2006 under the leadership of Alhaji Munzali Dantata has been the most celebrated event by private sector stakeholders. That AGM produced Chief Duke as FTAN President from the vibrant Cross River State Chapter. Invitations for that AGM were received by the functional State Chapters from the FTAN Secretary General and participation was full. The controversial circumstance of the 2009 AGM led to a low-key AGM that produce Chief Samuel Alabi, but since then it is as if that is now becoming the norm. All recent FTAN AGMs have been akin to a village meeting – to show the type of lacklustre leadership that now jostle for positions. Now the State Chapters have been completely relegated, while still touting tourism as the largest sector of the economy.

The charge by the FTAN Constitution is for the sustained development of Chapters, even up to the Local Government levels (grassroots), in which case FTAN is meant to be a mass movement involving and affecting wide sections of the population. You can be sure political leaders would like to attend that kind of AGM, not the type that a Director is sent to represent the DG or Minister. In 2006, about four (4) Governors were in attendance and some Ministers, in which the President was represented. So what has this to say for the direction of the extant leadership of FTAN? In Nigeria of today, people who are clueless about the real issues have been allowed to cross the entry bar and remained long enough as to question our collective sanity. As a early as 2008 some of the following FTAN Chapters had been inaugurated:- Lagos, Kaduna, Cross River, Edo, AKwa Ibom, Kano, and so on; so where are we now? I would expect that those with full Chapter recognition be given invitations for five (5) Delegates to the AGM, while those not yet inaugurated or dormant be given two (2) Delegates slot – the State protem-Chairman and Secretary. In my proposed Constitutional review, I had recommended that there be a National FTAN Consultative Council (NCC), which comprises the FTAN Governing Council and the Chairmen and Secretaries of State Branches. This Council should meet at least once a year to create strong linkages with Stakeholders across the political federation and even up to the grassroots.

The FTAN secretary general

This position was not intended as a houseboy or PA to the FTAN President, but from the salary scale used for the recent recruitment in which I was involved, the Sixty thousand Naira (N=60,000=) package might not even compete with Dangote drivers. Here we have a tourism federation that has been mostly led by a rich hotel sector and we cannot boast of a Secretariat building owned by FTAN or hire a middle level Secretary General, which much earlier in the same FTAN was a =N250,000= position with expenses. I had even posited that the hirelings we have had in recent times should not be made to debase the title of Secretary General, since by experience and emolument, they were clearly a mismatch and should therefore be given the appellation of Admin Manager or Executive Assistant.

So, where do we go from here. We should elect a Secretary General on the floor of the AGM with a commitment to serve the tenure of the Council on part-time basis as with many associations. This will be without salary but only an expense account. Such should be assisted by a fulltime office manager, since only such in the meantime would allow for the engagement of the right calibre of persons that can play the weighty role required by the FTAN Constitution. The Secretary General could actually have more experience than the President in Tourism Administration and should actually be competent enough to correctly advise the President and engage wide stakeholders without being an embarrassment.

Recommendations

1.    Concede FTAN President position to another deserving sector now – NATOP, NANTA, ATPN. The nomination and election can be done at the AGM.

2.    Invite all State Chapters to the AGM in fulfilment of the Constitutional provision.

3.    Declare the position of Secretary General vacant and to fill same at the AGM through election, after zoning to another sector from the one a President was picked.

Conclusion

We need FTAN leaders who can engage issues from across wide sections of interest groups, otherwise how do you run a potentially huge body without a strong communication culture, especially in this internet age. So here we are with so called tourism leaders and other high appointees whose voices have never been heard as to the direction of critical policy issues before their appearance on stage, and even remain so all through such tenure only to scurry their pecuniary interests.

Courtesy: Andy Ehanire (Edo State FTAN Chapter)

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