Oct. 5, 2016

Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo


Sally Uwechue-Mbanefo

Director General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC)

"We offer many incentives such as a 120% tax holiday for the first five years."


Sally Uwechue–Mbanefo graduated as a lawyer in 1986 from the University of Lagos and has 29 years of corporate professional experience. She spent 21 years in banking and finance, two years in the manufacturing sector as director at Lafarge Cement Africa and Coca-Cola Nigeria, along with three years in upstream oil and gas at the executive director level. Most recently she was as Chief Tourism Officer for the Apex Tourism Agency, and is now Director General of the NTDC.

The main goal of the NTDC is to create a world-class tourism sector in Nigeria. What is the strategy for realizing that goal?

This is the perfect time for tourism in Nigeria, because corporate governance is at an all-time high, with trust and confidence instilled in Nigerians and foreigners, thanks to President Buhari and his government. When you reduce corruption, there is a cumulative reductive impact on criminality. We are very pleased with this war against corruption, which gives credibility to our national narrative that is both compelling and rich in its cultural diversity and the nation building efforts of the new government. The old image of a corrupt Nigeria is now happily a thing of the past. This is also reflected in domestic tourism as well as foreign tourism investments, because investor confidence is enhanced. Furthermore, having been democratically elected, our President's stance against corruption and his personal integrity have given a boost to the nation's economy, investor confidence, and tourism awareness that would not have been achieved otherwise within a year. This is the fourth consecutively democratically elected government we have had in Nigeria. This is critical, as it sends a powerful signal of stability to foreign investors and bodes well for the tourism sector. Our banking industry is progressive and dynamic; services are improving all the time. They have liquidity, a good capital base, and are stable. We are one of the largest and fastest growing economies in Africa, and we are also the most populous country in Africa. One in every seven black people in the world is a Nigerian. Our population is our greatest asset. Therefore, we have many good things going for us. Nigeria has a very young population, which constitutes about 65%, therefore our future couldn't possibly be anything but bright. Tourism is a private-sector activity, and one of the most important aspects of our strategy is to partner with the private sector. We have to work together to develop the tourism value chain, which affects and touches every sector in the country. Tourism involves everything from power to transport, manufacturing, agriculture, retail, and SME growth. We want to develop the tourism sector through PPP and turn tourism into an asset. We should see tourism sites as real estate investments. Opportunities for investment in tourism exist all around the country. For example, Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State is breathtakingly picturesque; it only needs investments in terms of infrastructural support like road access and hotels.

What incentives do you offer foreign investors looking to invest in the Nigerian tourism sector?

We offer many incentives such as a 120% tax holiday for the first five years for investors who want to come into the country and for the next five years there is a 50% discount. We will also offer repatriation solutions, and President Buhari is focused on resolving the issue of repatriation of investment proceeds for foreign investors as well as diversifying the economy. We expect the Central Bank will stabilize the situation and solve this glitch. Foreigners no longer require an expatriate quota to work; we will have expatriate work permits, which will make it easier for foreigners to come and work here. What is really in play here is an ongoing process of liberalization and enhancement of the tourism sector for Nigerian investors and foreigners alike.

How much does tourism contribute to the Nigerian economy and how do you think it will evolve?

Globally, tourism contributes 10% to GDP. In Gambia, tourism contributes as high as 17.7%, Kenya 11%, South Africa 9.8%, Mexico 14.8%, and Cuba recently shot up to 11.2% in anticipation of the embargo lift. In Nigeria, the sector's contribution is just below 5%; however, the Buhari government is determined, with its multifaceted push for corporate governance and the fight against corruption, to create an enhanced and enabling environment for businesses to thrive. In this light, we expect to attract long-term investments and to push the levels of tourism to contribute more and more to the economy. We have a population of 180 million; if just 20 million people spent a per capita income of USD2,000 on domestic travelling and tourism in Nigeria, we would have a tourism market worth USD4 billion. We want to work closely with the private sector and do PPP projects. We also want to work very closely with our state governments and all the traditional rulers, Emirs in the North, the Obas in the West, and the Obis in the East, who are the custodians of cultural heritage. All of our local communities are tourism stakeholders and, working together, we can develop our rich tourism potential, generate employment, reduce crime, reduce internal migration to cities, and create greater integration throughout the country, as well as the cultural benefits; tourism isn't just about leisure. It is crucial for the economy and boosting the standard of living across Nigeria.

What are the biggest tourism success stories in Nigeria?

Nollywood is one of our biggest success stories. Our musicians are internationally renowned. Religious tourism is developed as well. The cultural tourism sector is huge and medical tourism is growing fast, too. In the North, we have Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital for medical tourism. In Lagos State, we have Reddington Hospital with which we have an MoU for medical tourism, while in Ondo State we have the state-of-the-art Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostic and a Trauma Center and a few others in Lagos. In the East we have a highly professional hospital in Enugu called Memphys Medical. We have two world heritage sites in Adamawa State, including the Sukur UNESCO stone compilation in the North, and in the South we have the Osun Osogbo Groove. Business tourism and the business sector in general is also highly developed in Nigeria, with some of the world's largest companies and brands having offices here, including the world's biggest banks, which have been here for decades. Property investment is also excellent right now in Nigeria. We are also English speakers here, and Commonwealth members. So Nigeria has a lot going for it, in addition to its huge tourism potential.