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FTAN, NTDC commit to tourism promotion

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The Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN) and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) have pledged commitment to the promotion and marketing of Nigeria tourism, this was disclosed during a meeting between the two organisations in Abuja recently.

The Director General of NTDC, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker: “We need to start within our domain, focusing on consumption of our assets, promotion and development of domestic tourism, which will create multiple effects on job creation and poverty alleviation.”

He emphasised that “tourism identity would go a long way to project the country positively but first, it must begin with us,” even as he stressed the need to package Nigeria for tourists within and outside the country while describing music, entertainment, fashion, cuisines and religion as part of good tourism assets the country is endowed with.

Folarin-Coker further said the intention of his administration to launch a campaign that would encourage people to “tour Nigeria, buy Nigeria, grow Nigeria,” which according to him, will propel tourism development in Nigeria.

On its part, the President of FTAN, Tomi Akingbogun, expressed the willingness of the federation to work with the government in the promotion of the tourism, saying, “FTAN is always willing and ready to contribute the development of the Nigeria’s tourism industry, to improve the lots of the nation and her great people.”

Akingbogun said the federation represented the voice of all tourism practitioners in Nigeria, and that it had discussed ways to stimulate tourism development through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. “We are focused more on transformation of domestic tourism in making Abuja a foremost tourism destination,” he said, describing Abuja as model for national development which would be replicated in other states.

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Travel and Tourism

CHEF ERIC MEKWUYE: Cookery has become glamourous in Nigeria

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Chef Eric Mekwuye, acting chief executive officer of HoReCaBB Mentors (HM), sojourn in the culinary world spans over two decades and has within the period earned a number of stripes. He speaks with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on his trajectory and current engagement with producing the next generation of Nigerian hospitality personnel and business moguls

 

 

The Beginning

His early childhood was spent in his Anioma region of Delta State where he had his primary school education and then Lagos State, which became a home to him later in years. After his secondary school education, the young Mekwuye decided to work in a restaurant while waiting to gain admission into the university to study Law, the profession of his childhood fantasies.

But his short stint at FBG Foods changed the course of his life. Today, Mekwuye is neither a lawyer nor jurist but rather he is one of Nigeria’s most revered chefs, known across the country and the world, with many accolades to his name. ‘‘I am a chef by profession,’’ he proudly says of himself. Disclosing that ‘‘I studied Catering and Hotel Management at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State and I also studied Hospitality Management at the Atlantic International University, Hawaii, Honololu, USA.’’ The journey into the culinary world by Mekwuye, who is an elated fellow of the Professional Chefs Association of Nigeria, among others, he reveals was by happenstance. ‘‘It was accidental.

After my secondary school while waiting to past through JAMB and get into the university I decided to take up a part time job in a restaurant. Just maybe for one or two months and then I am out but I found myself hooked. ‘‘I was actually supposed to be a lawyer. I was very determined at becoming a lawyer.’’

But when he decided to make the switch, he was not under any pressure as his parents were thankfully indifferent to the sudden change of course by their son. ‘‘My parents were indifferent to whatever I wanted to studied,’’ he says as he recalls why he has to settle for his new found love.

‘‘Going to the restaurant to have less than two months experience changed everything. ‘‘I began to love it, I began to love the environment, the fact that people come unhappy but they leave very happy and I began to compare and contrast and before you know it I was hooked.

‘‘My parents were fine with my decision. In fact, when my father visited Lagos and I made certain pastries for him, he was looking at me and looking at the pastries. Then he drew me closer, gave me a hug and then gave me his blessings. That was it. ‘‘For my mother, it was nice and for everybody in the family it was nice and that is how it has been.’’ He left the job after awhile for his degree programme and towards the end of his studies, he returned to restaurant job.

Destined for the top

‘‘Towards the end of my studies I went back to my restaurant job and interestingly, the job prepared me for things I never imagined would be possible. And that was the fact that something happened.’’ From the outset, he distinguished himself as someone exceptionally passionate and committed to the job with uncanny integrity.

He recalls the incident that almost shattered his world but which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it later opened the door to a new vista for him. For his integrity on the job then as a supervisor, a colleague who felt threatened by this trumped up charges against him for which he was exonerated after investigation but deployed to a different department for his safety.

‘‘When it happened I prayed to God saying ‘it can’t be what I am trying to please you with and my conscience that you will allow to hit me. You are going to prove who you are!’ And God did a miracle I can’t explain how it came about and till now I still tell my family that I can’t explain it,’’ he says of the incident.

He was not very happy about this new twist but following the counsel of some highly respected people he accept-ed the move as he settled into the new posting. The new department, though less glamorous for young minds, but actually exposed him to amazingly new skills and world, which later propelled him to new heights.

‘‘But in terms of the skills it was amazing. Over a year in that department someone I knew approached me and asked me if I would like to join their company. They needed someone with my sort of skills to join their team.” That was how he moved over to Just Food West Africa, where he spent 10 years. Following his achievements within few months, he got two official cars and the appurtenances of office befitting his status. While there he successfully launched and managed over three new product brands with different recipes and market channels, designed and equipped industrial and demo kitchens. He propelled the company to greater heights, winning different awards and honours for the company and himself in the process.

He left the company as the West Africa’s sales manager, in charge of both Nigeria and Ghana. For his unrivalled accomplishments, he discloses that the company did something unusual when he resigned. They held a befitting send forth party for him despite the fact that he resigned of his own volition. ‘‘It’s difficult to forget the company because typically when you resign there is nothing for you no matter how many years you spent. But in my case I was paid off and they held a send forth party for me and in the company’s history, I was the first and only person to have enjoyed that rare honour,’’ reminiscences Mekwuye.

In retrospect, he speaks glowingly of his one decade stint at Just Food, which according to him, gave him so much satisfaction and international exposure he so much valued. However, on the flip side, he has to endure a lot of pressures in order to keep what looks like a ‘Cinderella tale’ afloat. ‘‘It gave me that exposure and opportunity, which internationally speaking I so much valued. Of course, it took so much from me because the pressure was so much but I endured it.’’ One wondered why he had to throw in the towel just when he was riding high on the job? ‘‘I was tired, I was there for 10 years and it wasn’t getting exciting anymore. I got to the peak of where I knew I could get in that company,’’ he says to you with no feeling of regrets.

Blazing new frontiers

‘‘I had the opportunity to buy into a company because I loved what they were doing. A premix company, I have always had passion and drive for change in the industry and I can’t explain it. ‘‘From day one I fell in love with the job I have had the passion of how we can change the face of this industry? One of the things I can’t stand with restaurant people is inconsistency of product quality, inconsistency of standard generally speaking and even profit. ‘‘I find out that if it is a fast casual or quick service restaurant where you don’t have the chef to be necessarily creative you need to have almost everything premix and that way you are sure of the consistency of the product,’’

he says of what motivated him to the next line of career push. ‘‘In one of my previous employments, the job required that I have to develop certain of this premix products to do what I do and when I had the opportunity to fuse with this company it was exciting for me,’’ so with this new venture, Mekwuye felt at home doing what he knew best and comfortable with.

‘‘I also went to my other passion, the passion to teach people, the people are what make the industry and what make the job is training and so I founded Ho- ReCaBB Mentors (HM). ‘‘I started it in my house. I realised what I needed was to demonstrate that we can. HoReCaBB Mentors started as an instructional training and consulting company.

‘‘To God’s glory the industry accepted what we have to offer and God did it we signed up relationship for the sole representation of professional certification of Global Food Institute at the State University of New York in West Africa.’’ he says. Now, we have metamorphosed into a training, consulting, owners and operators of West Africa’s first ever privately owned state-of-the-art hotel school, the Hospitality Business School,Lagos.

A tortuous but rewarding journey

Coming this far, he says it has been a tortuous journey: ‘‘The journey has been with sleepless nights and sometimes with tears. I am privileged to be one of those persons who see silver line in any situation that I find myself. It hasn’t been that this is what I have chosen to do, it is just the grace of God. However, ‘‘it has been interesting and fun because life is a function of how you chose to see it.

If I want to actually see it from a pessimistic point of view I will say it has been challenging but also fun but if I want to look at it from the way I chose to see life I will say it has been interesting ‘‘First it was not a deliberate choice but immediately I entered, in less than two weeks, I told myself that this is where I wanted to be. ‘’

A chef is many things combined

Chef Mekwuye decries the wrong notion people have about chefs, insisting that chefs are among the most widely read people and are everything combined: ‘‘People see those in the industry as those who not well schooled or they chose this profession because they can’t study engineering or chemistry and the likes but interestingly a chef is a great chemist because you must know how those food chemicals react to each other and be well guided in their uses.

‘‘In the Chefing world, if you are not also a well organised person, your restaurant will be in disarray. Guests would come and your team would be running helter, scatter and so a chef is also a good engineer because he must be able to engineer his menu; an architect because he must know how to design and arrange his kitchen and know the materials to source for.

To continue to remain relevant in the profession, Mekwuye takes it upon himself to horn his skills and capacity by seeking for certification all around the world almost on a yearly basis, as he reveals that: ‘‘Since I fell in love with this profession, I have done over 14 different certifications, excluding seminars and conferences cutting across and I am looking for more. What I do is that every year there is one professional development course that I go for to be refreshed and abreast with developments.’’

A most glamourous profession

Given the fact that many Nigerian chefs have been able to hold their own and with professionals in other fields abandoning their first love and taking to the culinary world, he admits that it has become a most glamourous profession in Nigeria now as many practicing chefs command respect from both the high and low.

‘‘It has become a glamourous profession right now as people are very proud to introduce themselves as chefs. People from other professions are now in it, some call themselves foodies and start creating recipes. ‘‘A lot of them have been pulling out coming to culinary, patisserie schools to learn and now bring in those experiences that they have in their previous professions and are very proud to introduce themselves as lawyers turned chefs for instance.

‘‘The reality is that people in the industry are taking pride in what they do. For instance, part of the uniform I put on to work is my chef jacket. At least three days a week I wear my chef jacket, fully branded and so when I come to your office or walking down the street, you say that is a chef! ‘‘You see the way I brand myself you won’t take me for one of those cooks you used to know.

You can’t ask people to respect you when you don’t have self confident and self pride for who you are and what you do. ‘‘I am a man still in my middle age. The drive is very, very simple. We inherited an industry that was not respected but we must leave an industry for the next generation that they will be so pride of.’’

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WORLD PANGOLIN DAY: Pangolin is the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world

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Today, global attention would be shifted to eco-tourism with particular focus on Pangolin, one of the rare and endangered species that is going extinct, as the World Pangolin Day 2018 is celebrated by environmentalists and various conservation groups across the world. It is the seventh edition of the yearly global celebration. In Nigeria, the Pangolin Conservation Working Group coordinated by Dr. Olajumoke Abimbola Morenikeji, an Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan, is holding a celebration to mark the day at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) at Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State. The theme of the one day celebration is, ‘Meet the pangolin,’ with the Executive Director of Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria, Dr. Shola Adepoju, as guest speaker. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the Chief host while Dr. Morenikeji, is the host of the celebration. Dr. Morenikeji, who is also the President of Nigerian Association of Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Parks (NAZAP) and until recently was the Director of the University of Ibadan Zoological Garden, and now the Chairperson, Committee on Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Foundation (OOPL) Wildlife Park, speaks on the Pangolin Conservation Working Group, the celebration and sundry issues relating to eco-tourism.

 

What is the Pangolin Conservation Working Group about?

Pangolin Conservation Working Group Nigeria (PCWGN) is a group that is concerned about the conservation of the animal called Pangolin. When I was the director at the University of Ibadan Zoo, I discovered that the Pangolins could not be kept and raised in captivity. Every time we got a Pangolin, we tried our best to nurture it, but it still died. I became so concerned about the animal.

What then did you discover about the animal?

I discovered that generally and globally, these scaly, defenseless mammals are very difficult to raise in captivity because they are very used to their natural environment. The scales on their bodies are made of keratin like our finger nails. They are also limited in the sense that they are not prolific breeders, they give birth to one when they eventually find a mate as they are not social animals. They are very voracious, eating ants and termites. One Pangolin will eat about 70 million insects in a year including crop pests. How do you meet up with that kind of demand?

At what point did you then decide to take action in terms of protecting or drawing attention to them?

Due to my interest in the animal, I encouraged one of our zoo curators to undertake his Masters project on the Pangolin. He got information that he could come for some Pangolins in a remote village in Ondo State. However, on getting there he discovered that they had been sold. It opened our eyes to the danger the animal is facing and we decided to do something about it. It was gladdening that after this episode a number of wildlife enthusiasts came to me also to discuss the Pangolin and in the year 2016 we celebrated the World Pangolin Day for the first time in the University of Ibadan.

Many wildlife enthusiasts came and we had Oyo State government in attendance. Since the inauguration of the PCWGN in 2016, we have extensively created awareness on Pangolin conservation in Oyo State and beyond by celebrating the World Pangolin Day two years in a row. A lot of school children have been thoroughly educated on the Pangolin and its conservation. We have worked with hunters associations and Law Enforcement Agencies in the drive to conserve Pangolins. We have also been involved in the tagging and releasing of rescued Pangolins into protected forest areas.

The PCWGN collaborated with NESREA and Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe to produce fliers that will create increased awareness and draw attention to the laws protecting Pangolins in Nigeria. The United States Consulate in Nigeria, the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF), Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have all been very supportive.

What were some of the interesting discoveries you made about the animal?

The need to actively and aggressively conserve the Pangolin stems from the fact that it is the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world. This is due to the increasing demand for their meat, which is eaten as a delicious dish in some parts of the world; and their scales and other body parts which are used in many traditional medicines.

Their blood, their scales, and the fetuses are all used in traditional medicine. This high demand is driving unsustainable levels of poaching and illegal trade. There are eight different species of Pangolin and we have four of those species in Africa. The ones in Asia are totally hunted down and are endangered. So the focus is now on Africa to supply the Asian demand for the animal. People that eat them in China believe eating them will give them good health. God never makes mistakes.

There is a need for ecosystem balance. The moment there is over hunting, over exploitation and destruction in the ecosystem, an imbalance is created. As we carry out all these negative activities, the human race might one day also go into extinction. Exporting of Pangolins is causing so much embarrassment to Nigeria because the consignments are not discovered at the Nigerian border most of the time but at borders of other countries where they are shipped to. It makes one wonder what is happening to the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.

I can remember that it was reported in vanguard newspaper of 17th December 2015 that Singapore Customs intercepted an air shipment of illegal ivory and Pangolin scales in boxes labelled ‘’synthetic wigs from Nigeria”. The scales were worth an estimated 1.3 million Singapore dollars.

The shipment was from Lagos. In another report by CCTV in 2016, Chinese customs seized over three tonnes of Pangolin scales in the country’s biggest-ever smuggling case involving the animal parts. These scales mixed with a container of wood products were imported from Nigeria and it was estimated that up to 7,500 of the creatures could have been killed.

What then happens to the Pangolins that the group receives from the hunters?

When the hunters bring Pangolins, we release them back to the wild because we cannot put them in captivity. We have released some into protected forests in Oyo, Ogun and Imo states. We have some that are already breeding. If we can make them breed, this will increase their population.

Has there been any form of scientific research?

We have ongoing research to understand Pangolin behaviour and ecology.

How much of awareness have you created through your activities?

We have been able to create awareness in Oyo State and its environs. We are moving away from Oyo State and going to Ogun State this year to hold the World Pangolin Day celebration as part of our campaign efforts. We have been talking to the hunters there and they are very happy to receive us.

We have been talking to the law enforcement agencies over there too and they are very ready to welcome us. We have 30 schools that have already registered for the programme, and the venue of the programme is the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Auditorium. Every third Saturday of February is earmarked for the Pangolin Day. We want to raise awareness by educating people and making the adults of tomorrow who are the youths of today love their environment.

Who are the target audience and personalities expected at the event?

The Chief host is former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has magnanimously allowed us to use the auditorium of his Presidential Library. We are expecting delegates from the US embassy, government parastatals, the law enforcement agencies, wildlife sanctuaries, hunters associations, academia and secondary/ primary schools. Wildlife enthusiasts are cordially invited.

What is your observation on wildlife conservation in the country?

The culture of wildlife management, preservation and conservation is very poor in the country. This is sad. There is a need for the country to pay more attention to its environment which includes the wildlife population. Conservation goals and objectives in the country’s national policy ought to be given more attention as concerned NGOs continue to implore and support the government in integrating them.

The problems confronting successful conservation of wild population in Nigeria stem from two reasons; the continuous destruction and loss of wildlife habitat as a result of the ever increasing human population/ activities, and the rampant and unrestricted hunting and poaching. Existing game laws in the country should be amended and better enforced to discourage hunting and poaching.

Stiffer penalties should be meted out to offenders, while park rangers must be trained and well equipped to cope with modern challenges of poaching. So many zoos and parks in the country are in bad shape due to lack of funding by the government. Our national parks are also not attaining their full potential. If these facilities are well taken care of, they can apart from animal conservation, bring in a lot of funds for the country through tourism.

What is your message to the Federal Government regarding this project?

I want the Federal Government to support the PCWGN and wildlife management and conservation through zoos and parks. I want our governments at all levels to be conscious of the wildlife in the country. I want them to know that the wildlife of a country is an asset to it. They should be aware of the inherent benefits in wildlife conservation.

A country like Kenya depends on wildlife tourism. Tourism is the second largest sector of Kenya’s economy. Wildlife managed by Kenya Wildlife Service forms the backbone of the tourism industry, since most visitors come first and foremost to view wildlife. Nigeria has so many beautiful indigenous animals that people will travel down to see if the sector is well managed. I think it is imperative that Nigeria take more decisive action and rise up to the challenge of conserving its wild fauna resources if there will be a future where its children will live in harmony with nature.

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THE AFRICAN GARDEN LODGE: Naturally fitted for discerning guests

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The African Garden Lodge located on 418, Omofade Crescent, Omole Estate, Phase 1, Ikeja, is one of the well – apportioned hotels in Lagos. It comes with enchanting and unique features with naturally pleasing ambience. Welcoming and exuding airy and breezy garden – like enclave, the lodge presents picturesque scenery of a warm and inviting home with all the elements and amenities that make for a fulfilling time exploring this luxuriating setting, which is about 20 minutes drive from the airport, Ikeja, in place. According to the lodge management, IT caters for both business and leisure travellers as well as the local residents with distinct taste and sight on exploring the best of hospitality.

With this in view, the management spares no expense at fitting the lodge with a blend of most modern and sophisticated facilities. All stylishly set against the rich and colourful background of African perfect scenery. Two most basic elements that distinguish the lodge as any visitor would easily find out are the natural appeal as exemplified by the green and luscious garden exuding pleasant setting and feel, especially in its bloom.

The other is the obvious African element that bids you welcome the moment you walk through the door of the lodge. It is rich in African art motifs and cultural elements that are colourfully represented in the various enticing arts works, ranging from paintings to sculptural pieces that adorn the lodge. In terms of facilities and service offer, a guest would be fascinated by the upscale nature of its facilities and the professionalism as well as the personal touch that are reflected in the service culture of the lodge staff. Ensuring that the guests leave with the right impression, fulfilled and ready to visit again appeared to be the operating motive here.

The lodge boasts a number of rooms, all elegantly fitted and furnished with the best hospitality gadgets for the comfort of the guests, located in two wings known as Executive and African Garden. The room types include Standard, African King and Queen to Royal suites, with unique and common facilities that include comfy bed flat TV with multiple satellite channels, en suite bathroom with freshly minted toiletries, safe box and ward room. While for diners, it features a wide array of spots to savour the best of African, with rare Nigerian local delicacies and continent dishes, as the lodge caters for both local and international visitors, who over the years have come to see the lodge as a serene, secured and well – catered home away from home.

Some of these spots include: The Garden Bar, which is dedicated for in – house guests and their visitors, with rich offers daily; Mama’s Place comes with peaceful ambience and rich taste while Yusuf’s VIP Lounge, offers colourful and inviting setting amid variety of well – stocked drinks and menus. Each of this spots are actually distinguished by their unique setting and service on offer as well as the experiences that guests savour from their patronage.

If you are the type that enjoys live cooking station, you would certainly be enthralled by the liveliness and the rich natural pull of the lodge with such offers as live fish from the fresh catfish pond otherwise known as ‘point and kill’ in the local parlance, pepper soups, charcoal grille giant tiger prawns, barbecue turkey wings from the grill, with drinks of your choice while the mood is serenaded by cool jazz music from the music box.

The all – day restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Other facilities and services include: Free Wi Fi, parking space, 24 hours room service and power supply, air pick up, laundry/dry cleaning service, car hire, free newspaper, salon, storage room and snooker table among other facilities for guest relaxation. On the entertainment front, you can count on the lodge to explore to your fill as its offers spots for birthday and beer parties and a number of private events. It also hosts conferences, seminars and workshops.

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