“Why Lagos is Number One in Entertainment and Tourism Promotion” … Akinbile-Yusuf

Mrs. Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, Pharmacist and politician, is Commissioner for Tourism Arts and Culture, Lagos state. In this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, Akinbile-Yusuf elaborates on efforts the ministry under her supervision has been made towards the development of entertainment and tourism in Lagos State, her steady success in exploring, promoting and transforming Lagos into a major African tourism and entertainment hub. Excerpts…




What has your ministry been able to achieve since your appointment as Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture?

We have injected funds into the entertainment sector by supporting practitioners and notable celebrities, especially during the pandemic period. We injected about N1 billion was released to that sector to bring it back to life. Arts and Entertainment Practitioners including the popular Chief Mrs. Nike Okundaye of the Nike Art Gallery were present. We have commissioned the Glover Memorial Hall and launched the Tourism Masterplan. We have the medium-term and immediate actions in the masterplan. . Now, I can tell you that all the immediate action in the masterplan has been achieved. We are driving a pilot programme to drive tourism in all the 57 LGS and LCDA. All the tourism products in the council areas have been identified and we are trying to promote the products across the council areas of the state as of now because we believed that we can only promote tourism from the grassroots in the council areas and it ha been a success story. Also, a few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari was in Lagos to commission the John Randle Centre for Yoruba History and Culture. The centre is not just a museum but I call it a knowledge-sharing centre and what we need to do in Yorubaland and not just Lagos State is to promote Yoruba culture and with this centre we can learn so many thing about our culture, especially about our past in the olden days; how our forebears lived their life before the westernisation of our society. We also have an Olympic size swimming pool at the centre.

Also, one of the things we have been able to achieve is in the area of  training in 2021. As of today, we have been able to train over 3000 youths in creative skills with different partners including Ebony Life Academy and DelYork Film and these are organisations of international repute that are partnering with us to train many youths in different areas of filming, script writing, fashion among others in the creative industry. I am happy to say that some of the films produced by the trainees have been premiered even at the international level. When we went to Toronto Film Festival, one of our students actually had a premiere of her movie at the international film festival and it is a pride that the state government doing what it should do to actually assist and empower the creative industry because we are blessed with o many creative talents and all that we have to do is to harness these talents, polish them and make them to shine in a way that the world would be able to see them because Nigeria is the soul of entertainment in Africa and Lagos is the hub of entertainment in the country. So, when you talk about entertainment, most of the Nigerians making wave across the globe are from Lagos State, both in comedy, music and acting, they are shaking the entertainment scene across the globe and we are proud to associate with them and everything they are doing. In the past, Nollywood used to be rated third in the world, but today it is rated as second movie industry in the world because of the investment that the Lagos State has made into it and I am sure the industry would soon catch up with Hollywood and become number one movie industry in the world.


Have you been able to attract foreign investors into the sector through your ministry?

In a way, we have been able to attract foreign investment into the creative sector. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) during the recent Ehingbeti Economic Summit with investors in joining hands with the state government to make sure that our vision for the development of the creative industry comes to reality. We signed an MoU with DelYork Film International and o many people are partnering with us through DelYork Film International to make sure that the Lagos Film City in Ejinrin area of Epe, comes to reality.


What are the plans to make the tourism masterplan work and to what extent has the masterplan been implemented?

We have short-term and long-term plans. Everything about the short-term plan has been achieved in the last few years; like the community-tourism base that I mentioned earlier, is one of the short-term goals, having the annual calendar for tourism activities in the state are all in place and also a special website to promote tourism activities in the state too have been achieved. Our regular engagement with stakeholders is in line with the THEMES agenda(of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu) which is anchored on using transportation and security to drive tourism because traffic and ecurity key factors in tourism promotion and I can tell you that the tourism masterplan has been more than 80 percent implemented.

The medium term plan was conceived to provide infrastructure and to provide enabling environment for the private sector to actually come in and we are planning to implement the tourism promotion agency in 2023. If we don’t use tourism promotion agency to promote tourism in the state, we would not be able to harness the potentials of Lagos State in tourism and we will not be able to encourage investors to key into our vision a far as tourism infrastructure development is concerned.

With regards to the N1 billion post-Covid palliative, fortunately, Lagos State already has a working structure with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) to give loans to beneficiaries, and as of today, all the money was disbursed to practitioners who to the best of my knowledge have been paying back the loan. I know of someone that has already finished paying back the loan and is currently planning to apply for another facility.

We have the Cultural Heritage Centre in Alimosho Local Government and Lagos Film City in Ejinrin in Epe Local Government. For the cultural centre in Alimosho, we are already done with the design and we have sent it to the Ministry of Work for their appraisal of the design and we are waiting for their report so that we can pass it on to the governor for his approval.


What are you doing to promote the J Randle Centre to promote culture?

The John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History is not a child of an accident. The Board of Trustees of the Centre is the only one that the governor himself chairs. We already have the Board of Trustee, Legal Team, and management of the centre in place, hence, the concept of the centre was a well-thought-out idea from inception. In fact, we are partnering with the British Museum for the training of all employees of the centre and we have a competent consultant handling the employment of workers for the centre. The National Museum is also ready to work with us on the centre and we want to ensure that we take absolute control to ensure the centre remains relevant in the next 30 years and above and that is the operational cope that we have put in place for the centre to function effectively.


How has the various arts theatres been put to use so far and the Film City in Epe and Badagry tourism centre?

We have two of the art theatre functioning optimally and one of them was razed by the mob during the EndSARS protest in 2021 and we are waiting for approval to reconstruct the burnt theatre. We had waited for the committee set up by the state government to take inventory of the public assets and facilities vandalised during the protest and when it was taking too long we had to take steps to see to its reconstruction. For the Alimosho Theatre, it is running with various activities including the recent training for youths on creative skills with the late Peace Anyiam-Osigwe. The same thing with Badagry Theatre which is also functioning optimally. The fencing of the land on which the film city will be sited I currently ongoing and we have also signed an MoU with the consultant that would handle the project and the design is ready. For the Badagry tourism centre, we have commissioned the slave market and the spot where Christianity started in Nigeria under the Agia tree has been completed now. And by the time we complete all these facilities, people would be able to see the tourism potential of Lagos State. Therefore, we are not folding our arms when it comes to tourism development, it is just that we are taking it one by one as far as the development of the sector is concerned.


What are you doing about ecotourism especially tourism around beachfront and coastal lines?

The development of our beachfront is captured under the long-term project in our tourism masterplan. We are partnering with the Ministry of Waterfront on what to be done about our beaches. Ewe have been to Ogombo area of Lekki and other places to see the beaches but there is still a lot to be done and we are planning to have a tourism endowment fund where IGR derived from tourism promotion can be invested in the endowment fund to be used to develop tourism development and by the time we are done, it would be easy to move faster in developing the tourism potentials of our beachfront and ecotourism. So, we have a long way to harness our waterway to make it a tourism product.


How are you going to use entertainment sector to sensitise youths against drug abuse?

Not long ago, one of our prominent drummers, Ara, held a meeting with us and went to Mr governor along with the Ministry of Youth and Social Development to discuss this very pathetic story of our young people being into different kinds of drugs and how they can use the entertainment platform that promotes it in the past to speak against it.

In the past, I was the Commissioner for Youth and Social Development and we wanted to start a project called Acada before I left. The project was about finding a way to inculcate the people in the entertainment industry to speak against illicit drugs and their usage.

We are looking at partnering with the ministry of youth to come together with the ministry of tourism and entertainment, to have that Acada project because the issue has eaten deep down into the minds of the youths and children of less than 10 years, smoking different kinds of drugs and it is something that we need to look into.

We would also be involving the ministry of health; we need to know where they are getting these drugs, so we can make it so difficult for them to access the drugs, and do different kinds of rehabilitation and civic engagements to make the public start speaking against it. So, it is going to be an inter-ministerial project for us in the state.”


What are you doing to curb the use of beachfront around the Badagry area of the state from being used as criminal activities including petrol smuggling?

You cannot isolate security from tourism development because it I only when you have a secure environment that you can promote tourism, so whenever we find any of our tourism assets being used for illicit activities the best thing is to encourage security agencies to prevent such facilities from being used to perpetrate crime. We can be everywhere to monitor but we make sure that we clear such assets from becoming dens of criminal activities with the assistance of law enforcement agencies. So, we are partnering with security agencies to ensure that everywhere people love to visit in Lagos State is free of crime.


What is your assessment of the performance of the state government in the development of tourism and entrainment sectors in Lagos?

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been performing creditably well in the tourism and entertainment sectors by creating an enabling environment for the sector and practitioners to thrive. We had the end-of-the-year Greater Lagos concerts during the Yuletide in December last year attended by people from far and wide who applauded the state government for organising the shows. You cannot imagine the billions of naira that exchanged hands during the events held across Lagos State. We are actually putting together data to inform the public about the number of people that attended the statewide end-of-the-year concerts; Wizkid was there, Kizz Daniel was there, Asake was there and so many others. Ali Baba also had his own show that was grand, so which other state in the country was able to do what Lagos did in the entertainment sector and promotion of tourism?  We also hosted about 7000 delegates during NAFEST. This shows that Lagos is secure and that the government is working efficiently in the areas of tourism and entertainment sectors and if we are to rate the performance of the state in this light, I will say that we have done more than 8o percent in terms of performance.


You recently hosted the National Festival of Arts (NAFEST). So, what has Lagos State gained or benefitted from hosting the festival?

We had NAFEST between November 7 and 13, 2021. About 31 out of the 36 states in Nigeria participated in NAFEST and we hosted over 7000 participants during the festival and many commercial activities took place during the event. We have people engaging in buying and selling and you cannot imagine the amount of money that exchanged hands at the event including transactions on hotel booking, food sellers, that had their well time and we were able to celebrate ourselves and promote peaceful co-existence among ourselves. You will see the people from the north eating what the people from the south are eating and helping in exchanging our diverse cultures and values during the period of the festival and everyone was happy that we will continue to be Nigerians with peaceful coexistence. You can see that Rivers State came to the festival with huge contingents and it was so large that we were shocked but at the end of the day, Lagos was able to beat Rivers State to clinch the first position during NAFEST, because this is Lagos, and we are always ready to be the first at all times because this is Lagos and our contingents from all local government areas of the state put up a very wonderful performance to the admiration of participants at the festival.