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Ned Nwoko, his mansion and vision for tourism in Nigeria

By Stanley Nkwazema,

I have always been fascinated with History of Arts.

From the road that leads you from Edo state to Delta in Southern Nigeria, there is a place called Udumuje Ugboko, it is an incredible view in geography and architecture. Situated at about 1000 feet above sea level, rich in wildlife with traditional settings infused with modernity, you only approach the entrance through a 9 Hole Golf course.  

The entrance into Ned Nwoko’s country home – Mount Delta

Listed as Mount Delta by the state Tourism Board among 21 accredited sites, aptly described as a haven of peace, mild climate in both harmattan and Rainy season, the 100 feet tower and the tropical jungle, the  tunnel, zoo that boasts of crocodiles, ostriches Horses Sea Eagles Porcupines Monkeys rabbits and other animals, Olympic size swimming pool, is a place to visit.

The mansion has over 20 rooms fit for the Kings, a combination of Arabian and Western designs spiced up with very rich African royalty. No wonder it took Moroccan builders three years to complete the ceiling designs and it will take an eagle eye to fault the finishing.

Interestingly, the man behind this is quiet and unassuming. He carries no air around him unlike the typical African Prince. Passionate about tourism and deep in culture, he comes from the Nwoko family that has produced protean, designer, architect and master builder Prof Demas Nwoko. Ned Munir Nwoko is embarking on a cultural revolution.

Little wonder the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation appointed him Chairman of Project Tourism, a committee saddled with the task of revolutionising the sector. In this interview, he takes Stanley Nkwazema down the rich cultural heritage and the quest to redirect the minds of Government in Tourism..

My life generally has been influenced by traditions, coming from my background as a member of a royal family. While growing up all you see around you are traditional activities. I have always been very fascinated with the history of arts and over time, I have come to realise that individually and collectively, we can help to sustain and promote our culture.

More importantly, I have also come to appreciate the fact that in most countries of the World, if not in all, people do appreciate the arts and cultures of others. As a matter of fact, there is no country in the World today even in Nigeria, where tourism is not principally linked to arts and culture of a people.

It has become the hub and most important source of earning for most countries. From Britain to France, Thailand, Brazil, US tourism has suddenly become the number one source of revenue.

Nigeria, we have come to the point where we need to harness all that we have. We are blessed with so many resources. I believe that I can in my own little way help to spearhead this inevitable revolution. It will happen, it has happened in other countries, we have all that it takes to make it a reality.

We just need to organise ourselves and sustain the tempo when it eventually becomes a reality. We can move from oil to tourism.

We   talk about agriculture; it is very important because we must feed. There are many countries it is the revenue earner. There re also many countries where tourism is the number one for that matter.
We can’t neglect any sector..

Government must pay equal attention it is paying to agriculture to tourism. The return will be forever and it will affect all segments. Tourism does not just start and end with some monuments or sites. There are many things that revolve around such facilities’ like roads: we have to upgrade our infrastructures, hotels and other things. To be candid there are many things we must do to create jobs wealth enormous goodwill.

Spearheading Project Tourism
I want to make it a success. We have just begun the journey. It is a very long journey and not a one stop affair or event. I foresee a lot of difficulties ahead of us but I want to see how we can overcome them and make a success out of it. To start with, we need support like the platform we have gotten from the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). With the partnership, the private sector will be fully involved. There will be a lot of awareness, which needs to be created.  All we can do now is to have the ideas and drive it to that point where every Nigeria will appreciate what we are doing.

Thinking ahead with family
I was not thinking ahead when I built my country home in Udumuje Ugboko. Over time, I have come to realise that there are many opportunities that can lead to such partnerships with the government. We do not need more than what we have now. I actually believe that there are enough monuments, sites that can help us  to get  the desired results. You know that when you look at this location (referring to Mount Ned Nwoko) Delta has listed it as a monument and published list of tourism sites. In that publication, there are 25 other sites. I feel that those 25 sites are probably not the only ones in Delta. But if there can be an effective partnership between the government and the owners of these locations, a lot can be achieved with effective coordination and management.

Kicking Project Tourism
We can do all at the same time. There is no contradiction or conflict and certainly they are in different sectors of tourism. We can manage all at the same time. We can hit the road running with the four. This is it. Like in those days they will say you want to finish training one child before you start with the other.

You know the consequences of that singular action that by the time you are through with the first one, the other is too old to go to school. We have the manpower, we have the resources and we the drive to get things going.

We are talking about the project proper which has to do with Host family scheme, Global road show, the culture village and the Grand Tourism Award. For the award we want to use it to promote growth and development of tourism, attract investment, participation and expansion of the tourism industry in Nigeria as key economic sector and foreign revenue spinner.

For the host family scheme the committee wants to promote tourism by capturing and satisfying specific tourism interest and feeling at home even when not at home. What we intend doing for the global road show is to highlight the tourism assets of the country where manufacturers, businessmen hoteliers’, airlines transporters entrepreneurs will showcase their tourism related products.

We will elicit the support of notable Nollywood stars and sports’ celebrities from Nigeria and agencies of Government will be offered the opportunity to showcase their products. It will be rotated among states in Nigeria, countries in Europe the Americas and Asia.

The cultural village to me holds equally an interesting package. The Project tourism which has respectable personalities in the Civil Service, media and business have been brainstorming on the different projects  and wants to use the cultural village  to identify  and establish one acknowledged hub of culture tourism.

The centre will build on already established/existing monuments, arts, sites as one culture village in every state across the country. The village or city to be selected for the project must currently have natural and acknowledged monuments and historical sites. It must also be safe and accessible to encourage growth using cultural contents.

The Passion
 People usually are very inquisitive and also want to know. People want to travel, see different things from what they are used to. Often, they are not aware of such things. This is where the media must come out strongly to support this tourism revolution. We need the media to publicise what we are doing. We need to develop domestic tourism first.

We need Nigerians to know what we have and what they have and be able to appreciate it. For instance in my place, how many people are aware of its existence? So we need to help Government and government also need to help the private sector in a symbiotic relationship.

It has to work. There must be well thought out Government policy /policies that could drive these projects. For example, in every state, we expect the Ministry of Education to look at the possibility of including tourism in theory curriculum and then ensuring that apart from the theoretical aspects of it, there are practical visits and demonstration of what tourism is all about.

This will entail schools visiting tourism site, location. There must be education of how Nigerians should be able to appreciate what we have. We can begin to do this from the primary schools, inculcating it into our kids, the idea that it is not only in France that they have to go and Eiffel tower, London Bridge in London, Mausoleum in Italy or Disney World in Florida or the Taj Mahal in India Or the Pyramids in Egypt.

Through the development of curriculum of what we desire, school kids will travel from place to place within and outside the states. The schools will have to provide vehicle and make adequate security arrangements’ for such visits.

My House as a Tourism Haven
People come here every day. Nigerians still do not understand that they have to pay for such things but it does not matter. We are still experimenting, encouraging people and trying to create the awareness.
Sometimes we even have to give people money to come here, but we cannot do that forever.

By the time the Government makes it a policy that school kids must go to particular sites as part their curriculum and pay for the upkeep of those places and help to develop other locations, or encourage private sectors to develop their own, you will  see things happen.

It is not every time they go to locations that they must go back same time. The transporters must be involved, hotels, cooks and all of that. It is a dynamic process that once it starts, it will keep going on.

Encouraging my family
My children when they come to Nigeria do not want to be in Abuja or in Lagos because they love our tradition, culture and what they see here. They spend more time in the village when they come from UK.

Even my children who are in Abuja prefer to be in Udumuje Ugboko than the Federal capital territory. We have a responsibility as adults to let and encourage our children to appreciate our culture and traditions.

Politics and Tourism.
Government policies are always going be political to that extent. Government should be properly guided when formulating policies. This is why Government should take decisions without bias but objective in their reasoning because it affects all. Of course, i believe every politician wants to leave a landmark.

There are very few politicians who are hopeless to the extent that they can’t appreciate what it takes to create jobs, propagate culture and encourage a sector that is waiting to be woken up.This tourism sector is waiting to be woken up. People out there don’t know much about Nigeria. This country has a lot to gain from the tourism sector.

My Vision, the Mission.
Simply put, to see a well developed, well organised, very efficient transport, communication system and secure environment that will encourage local and international tourism. It will be my dream come true if culture overtakes oil as the number one revenue earner.

If it happens, everybody from the highest to the bottom will be involved in tourism unlike oil where those who are involved are the privileged few and could be counted as an infinitesimal part of over 170 million Nigerians.

In tourism everybody will benefit from the drivers to the cleaners, stewards, cooks, gardeners, almost everybody. It is an affair that will directly or indirectly get you involved on the platform. There is nobody that will be left out of it because even if you are not the one providing the facility you will use it.

Who is Prince Ned Munir Nwoke?
I am a prince of Udumuje in Delta state. I am a lawyer, businessman and was a member of the House of Representatives for four years. Honestly, my being abroad in no way affected my appreciation of our rich culture and tradition; it will also not negatively affect my children.

I think that it has enhanced my appreciation of our deep cultural heritage. It has also increased my appreciation of my culture because I have seen how they have promoted and preserved theirs. Over the years, I have seen how their high sense of adventure to go to places like Peru, Brazil, and Thailand India etc.

In the United Kingdom for instance every year, peoples’ lives evolve around holidays. They do not go on holidays to shop like we do. They go with their slippers and shorts.

They fly economy class booked well ahead that sometimes you begin to wonder if the seats were over discounted. They plan ahead. nobody or very few fly business class. They want to discover places, they have a very high sense of adventure, and they want to climb mountains, valleys, diving, abseiling and go into caves and discover monuments.

They have other things but they want something different. Every year they go to such places, they spend foreign currencies and that is what makes those countries thick. That is where they derive huge revenue from. We must also develop and imbibe the culture of tourism within us.

Tourism in Nigeria should not just end with people going to ‘point and kill’ places or going to wine bars. I am talking about real holiday with family. For instance, I want the President of the country to spearhead this drive.

The President cannot wake up and say he is going on holiday in UK and the United States of America. The president can go to Obudu Cattle Ranch, Mambila Plateau where you have the highest point in Nigeria or even come to Mount Delta.

He can invite his colleagues from other countries to join him on such visits to be able to appreciate and publicise such locations. He can do these with three or four holidays, choosing different locations. Tourism is not also limited to sightseeing. . There is also medical tourism, sports etc.  We can develop man sectors.

The last time the President went o the UK for medical treatment i was baffled with such visit because the impression most Nigerians have is that he will lead by example. I thought he will tell members of his Government to live by example that nobody including himself should go abroad for medical treatment because we have all that it takes in Nigeria.

We have the manpower for ENT, specialist, virtually every area of medicine. But we don’t have the facilities. The best doctors from Nigeria are the ones doing wonders in the UK, US, Middle East and other European countries.

You can prove me wrong. The major problem is the facilities’. This is what the President should do to encourage our experts to be competitive in the World to the extent that citizens of other countries will come here for treatment. Who told you that cardiothoracic surgeries, brain and other major surgeries and transplants are not done here?

We have the manpower. Everybody goes to India, Dubai , UK USA , but there is no magic to what happens there. What we lack is diagnostic facilities to start with.

I can tell you that the President’s trip to the UK when he went there to treat the Ear infection, with the cost of the visit the aircraft, hotels and other medical costs, the money for such visit would have been invested in buying the most modern equipment and installing them at the National Hospital Abuja.

I am sure we have more than 200 ENT specialists in Nigeria. We just need to think deeply and help to develop that sector. Government policies can drive it and leadership is what it takes.

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