By VICTOR NZE
The exit door at the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) may once again welcome the embattled Director General of the agency, Mr Folusho Folarin-Coker, as aside his drop in rating among industry operators of late, has now also lost the trust of his staff, who last Wednesday, demanded the resignation of the former Lagos State Commissioner.
Unceremoniously shoved out of Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode’s cabinet as Commissioner for Tourism, Folarin-Coker’s appointment as Director General of the NTDC in April, this year, was expected to seal the constantly revolving door at the agency that has seen four chief executives occupy the top seat in a space of three months.
Folarin-Coker’s appointment by the Federal Government was initially hailed as a step in the right direction by industry operators against the backdrop of his professional background as an outsider considering that the previous three occupants of the position who succeeded the sacked Mrs Sally Mbanefo, had been from within civil service structure with two of them senior directors from within the NTDC.
It would be recalled that following the sack of Mbanefo in November 2016, three senior directors, namely; Mr Boniface Ebuka in December 2016 (acting capacity), Mrs Mariel Rae-Omoh in January 2017 (acting capacity) and Dr Paul Adalikwu in March 2017 (in acting capacity,) were variously appointed within three months from late December 2016 to March 2017, before the eventual emergence of Folarin-Coker in April (in full capacity).
However, less than eight months into his tenure as boss of NTDC, Folarin-Coker has already fallen out with the industry stakeholders who celebrated his initial appointment, as well as other interest groups. And only last Wednesday, staff at the agency’s headquarters located at the Old Secretariat, Garki, Abuja, took over the corporation’s premises in a protest demanding the immediate removal of their Director General over accusations bordering on misconduct and incompetence.
The aggrieved NTDC staff accused Folarin-Coker of high-handedness and poor welfare of workers, in addition of further claims that he was not competent to occupy the position, just as they called on the Federal Government to remove him immediately.
The demonstrators carried placards conveying different messages including ‘NTDC staff not animals,’ and ‘NTDC staff says no to oppressor,’ ‘DG Mr Folunrusho Coker, we are tired of your insults, we are not your slaves,’ ‘Coker, give us our job, we want to work,’ ‘Coker needs management training,’ ‘Coker, stop all impunity and financial recklessness in NTDC.’
Other placards read: ‘NTDC staff are not animals, treat us like human beings,’ ‘Special assistant is not a full time employment,’ ‘Let the staff work, what kind of a leader is Coker,’ ‘Seven months after assumption of duty, no meeting with staff,’
‘Coker said Buhari has not been able to achieve anything in two years and so NTDC staff should not expect him to do magic,’ ‘Folunrunsho Coker lacks human relations, he is a bully,’ ‘PMB, as a matter of urgency, should sack Folorunsho Coker,’ ‘Only Coker attends foreign exhibition,’ among others.
They further accused Folarin-Coker of setting up a project unit which is not part of the NTDC nomenclature, but a conduit pipe to syphon money out of the NTDC.
The workers lamented that Folarin-Coker has not been able to achieve anything since taking over NTDC barely eight months ago as they also expressed disappointment over what they called his poor leadership style and lack of respect for the workers.
However, the NTDC helmsman is not new to controversies as back in August, his decision to forward to the National Assembly a bill which sought to revise the framework of operations of the corporation came up for public hearing drew the ire of industry operators.
Heavy criticisms trailed the proposed NTDC Act Cap N137 LFN, 2004 (Repeal Re-enactment) Bill, 2017 (SB.429),as it came up for public hearing on the floor of the senate, with the umbrella body of industry practitioners, the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN)and other stakeholders contesting amendments sought by the corporation in the bill.
Immediate past president of FTAN and chairman of its Board of Trustees, Samuel Alabi, who is also a legal practitioner, described the proposed NTDC bill said as an ‘illegality.’
‘‘It appears the drafters of the bill are not aware of the import of the Supreme Court judicial pronouncement on the status of tourism in the 1999 constitution as amended. By the Supreme Court decision, tourism has been held to be a residual matter, and therefore, only state Houses of Assembly could validly legislate on it.
‘‘It is laughable that what the Supreme Court had dismantled in 2013 on the basis of the 1999 constitution is now been reassembled by the Senate without first amending the relevant 1999 constitution. It is like reinventing the will, pure and simple,’’ said the Legal Adviser of the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos.
The FTAN in its own position paper presented on the floor of the Senate by its President, Alhaji Rabo Saleh Kareem, faulted Section 4 (c) Membership of the Governing Board; Section 15 (c) Functions of the Corporation; Section 15 (d) Functions of the Corporation; Section 16 (f) – Functions of the Corporation (continued);
Other contentious portions of the proposed bill, according to FTAN, include: Section 18 – Establishment of a Tour Operating Company; Section 22 (f) and (g) Funds of the Corporation; Section 26 & 28 – Establishment and object of Tourism Development Fund; Section 29 – Tourism Development levy, which the association must be expunged from the proposed bill.
Particularly for Section 29, titled; ‘Tourism Development levy’, FTAN said the ‘entire prayers sought for inserting this section and clauses into the amendment are ill conceived and would make the Levy inoperable on ground, more so there would be no transparency in the processes.’
According to FTAN, “Tourism Development levy should be collected on the site where it is applicable by the operators and immediately paid into the bank accounts of Tourism Development Fund. Tourism Development levy should be the primary source of funding for the Tourism Development Fund.”
Other stakeholders flayed the NTDC for introducing a bill which seeks to ‘alienate the private sector operators in the country.’
A tourism expert, Dr. Franklin. J. Adejuwon, advised that the bill should treat the NTDC as a regulatory and supervisory agency of government and ‘not an autocratic organization that would begin conflicting with Minister’s powers or encroaching on the rights of the people,’ adding further that ‘tourism is entirely based on human relations and influence. The bill must therefore attend to these tendencies in its contents.’
Adejuwon chaired the Presidential Committee which drafted the original National Tourism Masterplan that was adopted by the former President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s administration and launched by Chief Adetokunbo Kayode as then Minister of Tourism and National Orientation.
“The proposed bill should limit the cooperation to giving guidelines only and follow up with state governments to operate within the guidelines. We should remember when a situation is within the concurrent list, state governments have direct powers to do and undo. There cannot be any imposition of powers by federal government in this aspect.
Inspectors can only operate through state organisations responsible for tourism. Let us avoid building an empire for NTDC at the expense of poor people who wish to earn a living and provide jobs for other people by investing in the industry,”Adejuwon said.
President, Nigeria Hotel Association, Mr Lanre Awoseyin, on his part, criticised the contents of the bill, saying the document were against the spirit of the constitution of the country, even as he advised President Muhammadu Buhari not assent to it.
He said that the bill also stated that one per cent of hoteliers’ charges each year would be remitted to the Federal Government, which he described as “outrageous, obnoxious and abnormal”.