Government is not serious about diversifying Nigeria’s revenue base from oil
Are Tola Odunuga, a retired Customs officer, doubles as the national Vice President (South West) of the Hotelier Association of Nigeria and the President of the Association in Lagos State. In this interview with Olusesan Laoye, he talks about the lack of seriousness of the government in its diversification policy from oil to other sectors of the economy to generate revenue for the country. He also bears his mind on the attitude of Customs officers on vehicles and goods already smuggled into the country, saying that they have no right to seize them…
As the president of hoteliers in Lagos and member of the National Executive of th
There is no doubt that Lagos State has witnessed a lot of developments, especially in terms of road and structures which are being constructed year in, year out by all those who have been at the helms of affairs. What can be called the new Lagos started from the former Governor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu and others built on what he did.
Again one cannot say that those who were before Tinubu did not do their best within the available resources at their disposals. For instance kudos should go to the octogenarian, Pa Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Sir Mobolaji Johnson, Col. Buba Marwa Late Mike Akhigbe, Raji Rasaki and others, who had ruled Lagos. In terms of development, Lagos state has been very lucky with the kind of people who came to govern.
Do you think both the State and the Federal Governments have kept to their promises of encouraging other sectors of the economy to boost revenue generation?
As far as we are concerned in our sector, I will say that the government has not kept to all the promises concerning the diversification of the revenue base from oil to other sectors that can equally fetch the country good foreign exchange. Since this government came into power two years ago, nothing has been practically done to show that Nigeria is serious in developing tourism, which could boost hotel business nationwide.
We believe that by now the government should have taken the issue of infrastructure, especially road construction seriously, to facilitate movement of tourists who may be coming into the country. Again in some states and at the federal capital Abuja, government only concentrate on helping big hotels and those who are well connected for loans and other facilities to encourage them, while they ignore small hotels, who are actually located at the centre of the tourist attractions in the country.
No one knows why this is so, but what small and medium hotels believed is that probably, because some of the big hotels are owned by those who have been in government before, and have big money to set up big hotels and as well using their contacts in government to get patronage and other facilities needed.
In what way then do you think government can help the small and the medium hotels that are directly in the villages and cities where there are tourist centres?
What should be done is to take the census of all the hotels in the country and identify areas where there are tourist centres, The state governments too have a lot of role to play because the data would be well coordinated by them and they as well would be in the right position to present it to the federal government and other agencies relevant to tourism. Let me confess to you that many hoteliers are not happy with the way the government is treating us.
We are totally neglected and the only time they remember that we exist is when they want to collect revenue. They are making so much money from us, yet, they don’t care about how we succeed. Everything we do is through self-efforts and those of us who are still in operations are really struggling to survive. In fact some of us have diversified into other areas to stay afloat
What about revenue from tourism, do you think the government has done enough to attract outsiders to Nigeria to either invest, or patronize the country?
Like I said before, the governments need to do a lot to develop our tourist centres. Many now lack facilities that can encourage tourists or investors to come to the country. Honestly, it is a known fact to everybody that Nigeria has a lot of tourist centres that can fetch us good revenue but they are not well taken care of. Some of them are
even idle, unidentified, and because the atmosphere is not favourable, the idle ones not recognized cannot be introduced to investors for proper development.
You know that one cannot dabble into any investment without going to the bank for assistance. The terms of lending by the banks in the country is not friendly, in terms of the interests to be paid on the loans sourced for. This is part of the problem investors are facing.
Again the notion is that loans sourced from outside the country are even preferable but the problem is that the duties to be paid on machinery and modern facilities that could boost the business which are not available in the country and which have to be imported is very high. To be sincere with you, the atmosphere for doing business is not right in Nigeria.
For instance, the hotels have to pay a lot to generate power to keep the business going. Power is another area killing tourism and hotel business in Nigeria and if the government is serious about its diversification policy and want to make money from hotel and tourism, all these things which I just mentioned should be well looked into. In respect of tourist centres which are idle, I will like to draw the attention of government to one called Birikisu which in Ijebu area of Ogun State.
The tomb of the Queen of Sheba, If you ask many people they will tell you that they don’t know that something like that is there. The Ogun state government has not even care enough to develop the place. No publicity is giving to the place for people to be aware of the existence of such a thing in the remote part of Ijebuland. In fact, this is one of the things people go to Jerusalem to see. Queen Sheba was a biblical figure and we all know her role with King Solomon.
If such a thing is in Nigeria and people are not aware of it, then the government is not serious yet about improving tourism to boost the country’s economy. You see Queen Shaba died here in Nigeria, buried here in Nigeria and in Yoruba land yet people are not aware of this. Honestly it is a big shame on the country because this alone would fetch so much money for the state, the country and even the local environment where the tomb is, if the governments do everything to make it attractive for tourists to visit.
In this respect have the hoteliers derive anything from the government so far?
Well, I will say that we are enjoying security. The way security is now being provided for hotels is fantastic and we thank the government for this. It has given us rest of mind to operate. Apart from this, there is nothing else we are benefitting. You can hardly find hoodlums in hotels in the country. As for the roads, especially in Lagos, they are still under construction but as far as power is concern, there is nothing to write home about.
The last government of President Goodluck Jonathan, gave bail outs to some sectors and even the entertainment Industry; was your association considered for this gesture by the government?
We made representations to the government so that our members could get free interest loan. We have the tourism Bank to handle this but nothing has been forth coming. Even when we were fed up with the promises of government that our matter would be looked into, we made representation to the National assembly but the situation has remained the same.
Recently people in hotel business complained of being over taxed and levied, what is the situation now?
Like I said before, government only cared about the taxes from us. We are being over taxed and paying various forms of levies. For a long time, we have been calling on government to do something about the taxes and levies being collected from us. We asked them to harmonize them so that what we pay would not amount to double or triple taxation.
Well, further on the request for the harmonization of taxes and levies that we pay, we learnt that the present Governor of Lagos state, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode has promised that all these would be harmonized and the state government is working towards this. And that we would only pay once in a year to a central pause instead of different organization or agencies of the state and local government coming at will to demand all sorts of taxes or levies, such as VAT, consumption tax, liquor license and TV/ Radio, license, among others.
They are many levies – up to 20 – and they are affecting us as well. For instance, both the federal and state governments take consumption tax from us and we had complained several times without government doing anything about it and that is why we are calling on the government to remove some of the taxes because they are affecting our business.
As a retired Customs Officer, what is your reaction to the issue of payment of duties on luxury items, imported and the imbroglio between the senate and Customs?
Let me say this rift between the senate and the present Customs boss was not necessary. Anybody who wants to use luxury things and import them to the country should be prepared to pay for the required duties on them. What the senate did, to me, was a show of not wanting to succumb to the rule of the land. They are lawmakers and they are supposed to understand better.
What I don’t support and which I will like to condemned is for the Customs to keep harassing, people on the road for vehicles which they have been using for over three years or even more. They should stop pestering innocent people the road for the vehicles which they bought legitimately because the Customs ought to have prevented vehicles from passing through the wrong routes across the borders to the cities.
How do you think more jobs opportunities could be created in the country?
This is a big task for the government. Although government cannot provide jobs for the people hundred percent, it should be able to provide enabling environment that would encourage job creation. Right now, that is lacking and that is why, a lot of people are not encouraged to keep establishing where people could be gainfully employed. This is also discouraging small and medium entrepreneurs.
The issue of power is also part of the reasons why jobs are not available for the youths coming out of schools. Before now there were jobs everywhere but right now many companies have folded up because the atmosphere in the country is not conducive for them to operate.
It is a shame that many companies are relocating to neigbouring countries where things are normal for their operations. Many of the factories that moved out have more than 1000 workers, and by now they should have increased their capacity for workers, while more companies would have come on board. The main issue is for the government to make electricity available and you will see that many of them would come back; honestly those of us operating business in Nigeria spend a lot to generate power to keep the business going.