Coincidentally, this time, (April) in 1999, Nigeria ’99 FIFA YOUTH WORLD CUP was on – going. It was one of the grounds where some of the finest talents that ever kicked the round leather ball on famed stages, were discovered. That includes the legendary Ronaldinho.
Some of the most memorable flashes and sheer display of brilliance took place across the 8 host cities – Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano et al –
Never have we had that much foreigners troop in to Nigeria. They were excited to visit again or for the first time, the most populous black nation. Many of them had read or heard of Africa and her famous safari offerings. Some of them had listened to Fela afrobeat and were fascinated by his notes. They had read about Prof. Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first (literature) Nobel Laureate. They had studied Pa Chinua Achebe ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Anthills of The Savanna’ or ‘Man of The People’ while undergoing African Literature Studies in Harvard University or any Ivy League Schools. Others had read D.O Fagunwa’s Ògbòjù Òdè Ninù Igbò Irùmòlè (Forest of a Thousand Daemons).
Images have been formed inside them and they were looking forward to seeing and feeling the stuff that makes a Nigerian thick like the aforementioned legends, aside visiting stadium to watch matches. They were looking forward to sightseeing – not our good roads, most of them had seen better where they came from – our most dramatic landscape, verdant nature, as much as they were interested in knowing us from our rich history.
But, what happened? For the most part, we dwarfed their expectations to visiting the stadia, returning to their hotels and repeating same routine, till the event was over. That’s a chance to make at least $50m (as at 1999) more from a non-oil, one – off revenue source – flushed down the drain.
That’s an opportunity to get these fans cum tourists to come back again and tell their friends and family about the sense in wanderlusting after Nigeria, swept under a pile of rubble.
I’ll cut us a slack. Our level of awareness about the potentials in tourism, as at then, was less than 5%. But should we repeat these humongous error? What are we doing to preempt that? Is there any fellowship between the NFF (and other sport governing bodies) and NTDC/Tour Operators?