Nigeria and the United States have had strong ties over the years. Both share the same history as colonies of Britain, therefore both countries have common language heritage i.e English. Even though subtly documented as Slave Coast, Nigeria is historically assumed to have the largest number of slave descendants in the US. Both countries therefore have the largest concentration of black people in the world.
Aside from being trading partners with oil taking the centre stage, on religion, America was a leading influence in the spread of Christianity in Nigeria out of which also evolved the great spread in education through their various mission schools.
The greatest bond between the two countries though hardly a source of reference is in the slave trade of which historians believe had its hub in Nigeria. The towns of Badagry, Calabar and Arochukwu are example of the great slave trading ports where hundreds of thousands of slaves were shipped to the new world. The result is the large population of African Americans of at least 40 million being descendants of slaves with almost all who never knew their roots.
Apart from US, they are also domiciled in the Caribbean in countries such as Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Haiti and in Brazil among others.
A handful of African Americans make occasional visits to West Africa particularly to Ghana, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria out of personal curiosity without any prompting but as a result of their desire to trace their roots. Some have done that successfully while several others had no headway because there is no evidence of their roots.
The good news however, is that there is now light at the end of the tunnel following the road-show undertaken across four states in the US recently by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation led by Otunba Olusegun Runsewe. It has raised the prospect of a massive home coming, increased tourist traffic and business opportunities from African Americans. One may also ask why? It is simply the miracle of science which discovered the process of knowing your roots through the DNA test. A revelation during the road-show indicated that 70% of African Americans who had undergone DNA testing have their gene traced to Nigeria. The Executive Vice President of The Africa Channel, a popular Television organization in the US, Mr. Mark Walton first revealed the finding in Los Angeles after a presentation by Otunba Runsewe, Mr. Walton whose revelation was later re-echoed by several organizations including tour operators, policy makers on Africa Affairs and travel trade executive said that DNA testing is now engaging the attention of African Americans who are desirous in finding and knowing their root. According to Walton, "many African Americans who had gone for the DNA were not only shocked to know their results synchronized well with the Nigerian gene, they were happy that they have their root in Nigeria, Africa's largest black country with huge resources waiting to be tapped".
He cited the case of an unnamed Senator whose DNA gave his gene as having his root in Nigeria while several congressmen and individuals were believed to have followed the Senator's footstep by discovering their root traced to West Africa particularly to Nigeria.
With the craze for DNA testing, Mr. Jim Holden, President of the American Travel Association said requests for information on Nigeria by African Americans have been on the increase. Tour Operators are upbeat about the development which they believe would bring more out bound but inquisitive and adventurous tourists to Nigeria. Expectedly, they are targeting wealthy African Americans, church groups, students, researchers and scholars as well as diasporas Nigerians who they say would do a door to door marketing of Nigeria.
Tour Operators under the ageis of American Travel Association, Destination Marketing Association International led by Michael Gabrisch, All Africa, whose president is Reed Kramer promised a repackaging of Nigeria for the looming boom in tourist traffic. There are 100,000 individuals and Associations in his company's network to help market Nigeria.
Strong commitment of support also came from the 600 strong-members of National Tour Association whose leadership headed by Stephen B. Richer eagerly wanted Nigeria be an affiliate member. The association would soon come to Nigeria to train 20 Nigeria based Tour Operators through NTDC facilitation.
In this great effort at attracting tourists into Nigeria another platform which looks like a master stroke is sports tourism with Golfing as the springboard. Officials at the World Famous PGA with its headquarters in Saw-grass in Florida were pleasantly surprised to learn that golfing is a now an emerging sport in Nigeria. They had thought that only South Africans play Golf on the continent. However, in a surprise move after a long meeting, the PGA said it would train Nigerian golf pros as soon as possible, conduct a clinic in Nigeria to spike interest in the country while Otunba Runsewe was announced a member of Trustee of PGA.
On the delegation's visit, the PGA officials described it as historic being the first of such visit from sub Saharan Africa just followed a Chinese team which has sought the help of the organization. Nigeria also has a friend in the historic city of Annapolis Maryland whose Mayor Mr. Joshua Cohen volunteered to help Nigeria in its image building crusade.
Nigeria is well known in the Press Circles in the US largely for the negative. However, the Los Angeles Times through its Travel editor Catherine Hamm and the editor-in-chief of Washington based - the Diplomat, Victor Shiblie are now poised to help chart a new direction in the perception of Nigeria by the US public. Mr. Shiblie said he was always fascinated by Nigeria especially the dynamism of its people.
Otunba Runsewe, harping on the need for capacity building in the tourism sub sector, got the nod for the training of at least 20 tour operators in Nigeria by American experts. The Los Angeles based African Travel has even accepted to market Nigeria as an alternative destination to Safari of East and Southern Africa but suggested that Nollywood films should show-case Nigeria environment more to stimulate interest on Nigeria. A similar suggestion was advanced by Los Angeles based AEG company whose officials offered to help raise the bar in Nigerian music and entertainment.
Nigeria is ever ready for the anticipated influx of tourists from US and even the Caribbean. Apart from eco-tourism including our fauna and flora, Nigeria has the strongest position as having the authentic African culture which is evident in our dynamism as a people. It is seen in our dresses, our dances, our food and generally our way of life which make us the most hospitable and pleasant people in Africa.
As Otunba Runsewe told the American marketers, Nigeria is blessed in diverse tourism offerings which may stir a relocation craze to Nigeria by some of them. They will see the Obudu Ranch Resort, the Mambilla Plateau, Okomu National Park, Yankari, our festivals, Argungu Fishing festival, the Durbar in the North,various local festivals, Slave route, Badagry Slave Markets and Point of no Return near Badagry, the Arochukwu Long Juju Cave, the world's largest Church Auditorium, beautiful coast line, gastronomical offerings and many more.
Security challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria. Inspite of an obvious insecurity, countries such as Mexico, Nicaragua, South Africa, Philippines are still attracting droves of tourists each year. Why not Nigeria, the situation would soon reverse itself.
The author is the Director of Information, NTDC Abuja.