Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf: Building Tourism Legacy
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, Pharmacist and politician, is Commissioner for Tourism Arts and Culture, Lagos state.
Before her political appointment Uzamat was Managing Director and CEO of Musaroq Pharmaceutical, Beta Silver Crown Limited and Musaroq Nigeria Limited. She is a member of the Association of Ladies Pharmacists Society ( ALPS), National Association of Social Workers of Nigeria (NASOW) and Pharmacists Society of Nigeria.
Working with a Tourism Master Plan aimed at building a Lagos that is a great place to live and visit, the Hon. Commissioner speaks on achieving the tourism vision for the state, the proposed ‘Lagos Film City’, the need to harness talents of young creatives through LACI (Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative), the need for gender parity and equality, as well as life and style and sundry other issues.
Several efforts have been directed towards the development of tourism activities in Lagos State, and yet we can’t say so much has been achieved in the sector. Tell us more about the Tourism Master Plan and what you are doing differently?
Yes, there were several efforts, but as lofty and commendable as those efforts were, unavailability of a blueprint that guided the efforts over the years, has inadvertently created challenges for implementing the policies of the state government, including the stakeholders within this tourism sector. A move towards changing the narrative started in 2018, with the commission and development of a tourism master plan in January 2020.
The master plan is for us all and we have worked with key stakeholders, to review and update the master plan for a significantly different world, given the impact of COVID-19 on our industry. The master plan details a domestic tourism growth strategy for the ministry which will play a significant role in the creation of Lagos as a successful tourism destination. It will further transform Lagos into a major African tourism and entertainment hub by exploring and promoting the potentials that abound in the State, as well as integrating the thriving entertainment and arts industry as a viable platform to attract visitors and create jobs in Lagos state.
The master plan was prepared for a 15 to 20 year timeline of 2018 to 2038. It will be implemented in a way that aligns with other state development plans including, the Lagos State transport Master plan, which aims to integrate road rail water modes of transportation and Lagos State Development Plan, which aims to develop a culture of leisure, recreation and tourism among residents sustainable development of the costs coastlines for tourism and private sector driven tourism industry.
With the Tourism master plan in mind, what is your vision for the state and how do you intend achieving your set goals?
Our vision is to make Lagos a top urban tourism destination in Africa. This review presents how we can work together to achieve this vision based on the findings or recommendations in the comprehensive Lagos State Master Plan for 2018-2038. COVID-19 severely impacted our industry, with leisure and tourism activities grounded to ahalt. It is now time for recovery. Our vision to make Lagos a top-five urban tourism destination in Africa remains relevant, albeit, in a markedly different context from that of 2017.
You mentioned that COVID -19 impacted your industry severely, how were you able to sustain the industry at the time?
We came in during the pandemic which mostly affected the entertainment and tourism industries; there is no way you can talk of entertainment and be talking of social distancing. So, we had to find a way to sustain the industry. During the heat of the pandemic, Lagos State was the only state where entertainment thrived; we had virtual events in the state. Also, during that time we came up with an initiative called LACI (Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative). We believe Nigeria is blessed with talents and if we develop the capacity of the younger generation, if we support them, we can export our talents as a nation. So, we started by creating an enabling environment for these younger generations under LACI. We partnered with different reputable brands. One of them is Ebony life Academy, Del York Academy, Africa Film Academy and Temple Studio. We started LACI in late 2020 and as we speak, I am proud to say we have been able to train close to three thousand minds in the creative industry and some of the things that were made by this younger generation were premiered at the Toronto international film festival. We are happy with the results we are seeing with these younger generations and we believe in the near future they are the ones to bring back foreign exchange into the country, because we have the potential. That is why we are trying to ensure that we build their minds and capacity, to meet up with international standards.
After training, what is next for the youths under LACI (Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative)?
I am happy to inform you that we already have LACI alumni. They come together to form companies, do things together, ensuring that they are promoting each other’s work. One of them was a lead actor in the Nollywood movie, Blood Sisters. In addition, we have the Lagos Film Fund (non-interest government loan) that people have started accessing. Many of them have shown interest in film funds, and we are looking into their content. The committee working on the film fund, will definitely consider the graduates of LACI as part of the beneficiaries of the loan. They are already doing wonderful things on their own, and the government will continue to support them at all levels of their endeavour.
That brings us to the ‘Lagos Film City’ which is part of your administration’s strategy to boost tourism, should Nigerians be expectant?
We have acquired 100 hectares of land at Ejirin, Epe, for the building of Lagos Film City. The perimeter fencing of that land is ongoing. Recently, we were in Washington DC to meet with the investors that will be coming to Nigeria, to ensure the development of that project. We are not just working; we are working and ensuring we give the best to Lagos State. When we talk about building Lagos Film City, we have to study the failure of Tinapa first because immediately after the administration that built Tinapa left, the next one did not do as much as they needed to do with that national asset. When you have that kind of problem, any investor coming on board will find it difficult to invest in such a thing; for fear that it will go moribund. But on our own side, anything that the Lagos State government is doing, we will give it to the right people; people who have the understanding, the knowledge and the passion to run it well. That is what has been sustaining all our assets and projects that we did in the past.
What is the most challenging aspect of being the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture?
Everything in life has its own downtime. The worst period of my job was during the pandemic, when people that had the passion to work could not do what they are passionate about. Many people lost hope during the period of the pandemic, they were not sure of the future and how to possibly get back on their feet again. That was one of the bad times for me as Commissioner.
That is one, number two is when our people know the right thing and they choose to do the wrong thing, and keep blaming the government for the wrong that is happening in the society. We as regulators, we want to know our citizens who are in business. We want to know the numbers. Just come and register your business and your premises with the ministry. Most times we have to go and get enforcement for people to just do mere registration. I do not know why it is difficult for us. There is no other place in the world that you will be in a business without government oversight. But here in Nigeria, especially here in Lagos, they are so recalcitrant.
Gender parity and equality is still something we are dealing with in Nigeria. Are you pressured to deliver because you are a woman?
I see myself as a human being before gender. I do not see myself as less-privileged because I am a woman. I can meet up with anybody on any stage, anywhere. I tell people, the reason why we position men ahead is because of their masculine strength when there is war. Anything outside that, we are all human beings and we are equal.
You seemed like someone who supports equal rights for women, does that make you a feminist? Is there someone or an event in your life as a teenager that informed this?
I am not a feminist. I believe every human being deserves equal rights, as much as I abhor all forms of abuse, I also advocate for equality in all issues, take gender-based violence for instance, the culprit must not always be women. Men and boys also face some form of abuse in society. Secondly, I don’t believe that there should be a particular job or position meant specifically for a certain gender. I strongly believe that what a man can do, a woman can also do. We are all one. We are not in any competition with men. I respect men the same way I deserve to be respected too.
However, it is sad that we find ourselves in a world where the strength of women is underrated and not recognized. This is where I call on women not to see themselves as less privileged. Women should begin to correct this wrong impression by showcasing their potential in nation-building and family growth. They should go out and become meaningful people with their skills. Women have more potential to multi-task than men. Times are changing, the narrative that women are only meant to become housewives and stay-at-home mothers is beginning to change, and I am impressed about that. Today, women are wives, mothers, CEOs, MDs, senators and so on. It is a step in the right direction.
What is your advice for young girls out there, who look up to people like you for inspiration in life?
We are putting so much focus on the girl child, leaving the boy child behind. I think the focus should be on the both genders because, when we focus more on women, it is still the men that will molest and assault these women on the streets and when they get married to them. So, this is my position on gender-based violence.
So what do you say parents or guardians should do in that regard?
From the families, the boy child and girl child should be taught the moral values of respect and regard. Both genders should be treated equally. I always say that gender equality must begin from the family before it can be greatly achieved in the society because most people who indulge in violence come from homes. We are protecting the girl child from being molested, but what teaching and upbringing are we giving to the boy child? This is why I lay so much emphasis on equal treatment in the family. You treat the boy child with so much respect and dignity and treat the girl child with utmost disdain. Tomorrow the boy child grows up with the mentality that women should be disrespected and treated as objects. You treat the girl child with so much love and care, and treat the boy child with so much negligence. Tomorrow, the boy child grows up to see the girl child as a threat. He becomes vindictive and tries to vent his lack of love on the girl. This kind of upbringing is totally wrong and this is why we have so much gender-based violence in society and families. It is obviously a sign of bad parenting. Government should also help to curb the increasing rate of domestic violence in homes and society by adequately taking over responsibility for homeless children roaming the streets. However, young girls should remain focused, they should set goals and targets and do not allow themselves to be molested.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
One of my legacies is LACI (Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative), which I am very proud about. There was nothing like LACI before I came on board; an initiative that will train the young generation. I was Commissioner for youths. Anything that will improve their livelihood, I key into it, the same thing with Mr. Governor. He is a man that positions youths at the center of his administration.