Despite COVID-19, we’ve made giant strides in tourism,

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By Tosin Ajirire

The Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs Uzamat Akinbile-Yusuf, has rolled out her achievements in office, saying these wouldn’t have been possible if Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu didn’t include the creative sector in the T.H.E.M.E.S agenda of his administration.

Expressing her gratitude to Sanwo-Olu for the opportunity given her to lead the ministry over the last three years, the commissioner said, “The entertainment, arts and tourism sector in Lagos State isn’t standing alone, but it’s part of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s T.H.E.M.E.S agenda that follows the roadmap for the continued growth of the state. In close to four years, we haven’t worked in isolation. You can’t talk about tourism without discussing security and transportation amongst other things, so we collaborated with other agencies and ministries to achieve all these feats.”

At a roundtable discussion with media executives in Lagos on Tuesday September 20, 2022, the commissioner narrated how Governor Sanwo-Olu came into office and was immediately faced with the challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We came into office and the pandemic struck. But despite its effects, we have been able to sustain the industry even as our ministry operated in the (tourism, arts and culture) sector that has been majorly hit by the pandemic. However, we held a virtual concert despite the pandemic just to prove that we can’t be held back as entertainment, tourism, arts and culture will continue to thrive in our economy,” she stated.

Akinbile-Yusuf explained further how Governor Sanwo-Olu approved the establishment of a COVID-19 Pandemic Review Committee to assess the impact of the pandemic on the tourism sector in Lagos State.

According to her, veteran actress, Joke Silva chaired the committee and the sum of N1 billion was recommended and approved as a single-digit soft loan to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the tourism and entertainment sector in the state. Aside this, a 50 per cent rebate on registration and renewal fees for hospitality and tourism establishments were given in 2020.

“After the pandemic, Governor Sanwo-Olu released N1 billion to ensure that the sector, through the support of our ministry, returns to life after the pandemic. So, we have continued to engage stakeholders in the industries because we believe the tourism, arts, culture and entertainment sectors are private-driven. We also ensured proper regulation of the sectors because of our firm belief that tourism, arts, culture and entertainment are our oil, which we can export and leverage to boost our economy in Lagos State.

“We created Lagos State Creative Industry Initiative and under this body, we decided to leverage on capacity building for youths, because Governor Sanwo-Olu believes so much in the youths, as the number of youths in Lagos can never be over-emphasized. We also believe that if we develop the younger generation, we can export more talent, hence our partnership with different reputable stakeholders and industry practitioners that include EbonyLife Academy, Del-York Academy, Africa Film Academy, and Temple Studio.

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“As of September 2022, we have trained close to 3,000 youths in the creative industry and those trained in filmmaking had some of their films premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival; and with our resolution to ensure we support all these youths in their different endeavours, we believe that they will contribute immensely to the GDP of Lagos State and Nigeria in general,” Akinbile-Yusuf disclosed.

Speaking about the Lagos State tourism master plan launched in 2021, the commissioner said it’s aimed at developing tourism as a sustainable mechanism that contributes to the quality of life of the average Lagosians, and ultimately makes Lagos the preferred destination in Africa.

“The master plan that was available before our administration came was not properly presented, hence we had to go back to the drawing board to make it suitable and fit into the overall master plan of the administration. At my first stakeholders’ meeting, the previous master plan was rejected, so we had to go back to the drawing board to ensure it aligns with the administration’s plan as well as the stakeholders’ suggestions in ensuring we achieve success,” she revealed.

Other groundbreaking achievements recorded by the trained pharmacist included the Cultural Village in Alimosho and Lagos Film City located in Ejinrin, Epe.

“While Governor Sanwo-Olu has approved a six-acre land for the project, the ministry has done the video, 3D visualization, architectural design, floor and roof plan, as well as the aerial video of land mass for the development of Lagos Cultural Village in Alimosho. In the same vein, the state government entered into a PPP arrangement to develop the Lagos Film City, including committing 100 hectares of land at the proposed project site located at Ejirin in Epe, Lagos State.

“We are making frantic efforts to benchmark Lagos State with tourism destinations in other countries and not other states in Nigeria. Although, this might take a while to attain, I am bold to say that the journey has already started. In the next few years, with the implementation of this master plan, Lagos would be one of the top five tourism destinations in Africa. We are open to investors partnering with the ministry, to establish a vibrant and innovative tourism destination as well as achieve a greater Lagos,” the commissioner affirmed.

However, for all these feats, including booking a stake in the World Guinness Record for laying the largest cupcakes mosaic in global history, to the establishment of a special interest-free loan for filmmakers tagged: ‘Lagos Film Fund’, refurbishing and commissioning the Glover Hall Theatre, and erecting John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, Akinbile-Yusuf concluded that Sanwo-Olu deserves all the accolades.

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