‘Nigeria’s water tourism potential remains untapped’

APRIL 4, 2021

Ferguson Uzomah is the Chief Executive Officer/Commodore of the Jabi Boat Club in Abuja, a recreation hub for residents and tourists. In this interview with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, he speaks on the untapped goldmine which water recreation offers. Excerpts:

Foray in the industry

I’ve lived in Abuja almost 25 years since my youth service.  After my first degree in Project management at the University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and second degree in Finance, I’ve spent 18 years in the banking industry and in 2011 set up a project management consultancy firm called QPMC Consultants. I later branched out to face tourism because a greater part of my early life was full of adventure and local travels. There’s no part of the north, south, west or east that I don’t have an idea of. First of all I grew up in Lagos so the water, beach life started from there. Leisure I feel is a way to balance life. You must have time to relax. And so this gave me an idea of setting up the Jabi Boat club. In the last four years it has done well, we have surpassed what we targeted to achieve over the years and there’s a lot  more things that the country as a whole in terms of tourism potentials has to offer particularly in the water areas  in the south.

Unfortunately, the north doesn’t have so much and I guess taking off our business ideas from Abuja is a good decision. We want to be first in wherever we find ourselves and want to be driven by amazing locations to endear people to come. It’s one thing to have a beautiful location, but its better when you have it with wonderful experience. We have been able to achieve that at the Jabi Boat Club and we believe that there are more locations untapped.

Fired to expand the shore of Nigeria, Asaba, Delta State is our next location, and we’ve signed with the government for about 15 years. It’s an experience, even better than what we have here in Abuja. The location which is a river-Niger water front is more ideal and best suited for the project.  You can view he river Niger bridge right from our location in Asaba. Government is more involved in terms of providing infrastructure and partnership. And we believe that Nigeria has a population that is choked with young, vibrant people with energy and great thinkers and innovators.  We believe that those opportunities are what we are going to tap into. We believe that tourism is yet untapped. A lot of collaboration needs to really happen between government, investors and the private sector.

Making boat business a viable venture

There was no marine life in the north up until we set up the Jabi Boat Club with Jet Ski’s, Kayaki’s. Those are things you see in in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar, and Warri. Even though the lake is artificial and a small one, you can enjoy yourself without travelling out of the state to enjoy yourself.  Abuja people embraced it. As a matter of fact we have guests who come from out of town. To have weekend on a boat cruise, jet ski and kayaking. When we started we didn’t expect the rush, but after a while, those who thought boating was expensive, decided to have a one-off experience and then enjoy our delicious cuisine made available for people. But right now, it’s in the increase, the expectations are there, whilst the numbers are on the rise. We are proud to say that this is the first of its kind in the whole of northern Nigeria.

Interesting changes in the marina business in the last four years

I wouldn’t want to compare the marine life here to what you see in Lagos. It’s like comparing a swimming pool to a river. You can’t compare because the lake is in the city centre. It’s growing but a lot need to be done in protecting the environment. The lake is not taken care of. We spend more than a quarter of our revenue to maintain the good ecosystem. The government needs to show some presence in terms of maintenance. The UNDP, Ministry of environment all need to come to our aid. The Jabi Lake is small but needs attention. I am positive that innovation time, government will bring in possible investors to create healthy balance and competition.

How the pandemic is impacting on the business

Business is better post- Covid. With restrictions being lifted, we’re gradually started picking. When economy opened we had to come up with price-sensitive products. Patronage has been on the rise even without having to stage musical events or bring in Nigerian artistes with international reputation. Our publicity was on the rise and appreciating our location, but when Covid-19 came, we had to stop. We hope that one day we’ll resume. We’ve had to host Femi Kuti, Falz, Tuface Idibia,Duncan Mighty, Mayorkun and Teni. It can only get better.

Current trends of the boating industry in Nigeria

Boating is an expensive venture. To do a jet ski for thirty minutes for 20,000 is cheap. And that’s why we have said to ourselves, we might not make money from our boating section, but we can make up from the other products that we offer. Boating is new in this environment.  You can derive more leisure and pleasure from boating in Calabar, Delta region, Port Harcourt, Lagos because you can go into the high sea, lagoon, but fir here I don’t see any future significant growth unless the government gets involved in tournaments that can attract the whole world in areas like Jet Skying, Boating, rowing, canoeing. The lake is big enough to entertain any of the tournaments. And with that we can invite bating associations across the country. The opportunities are there as much as there are in Lagos, its just sitting to put heads together and come up with the right product for the right event.

How to achieve the untapped tourism potential in Nigeria

The government understands but at the same time, the same government is not doing much to get ready for business. Look at Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and Seychelles-these are smaller countries getting it right. A lot of factors affect us here.  I grew up in Lagos knowing that we made two road trips in a year. I looked forward to these roads trips during Easter and Christmas when my father would drive us to the village and we would spend a week or two. Now, no one would want to go on a road trip for a holiday when bandits are everywhere. Security is a major issue and downfall of tourism. There is no safe place. These are things the government needs to take care of for certain industries to thrive.

The role of the government and the private sector in the scheme of things

Doing business in this clime is not for the faint heart, government in its wisdom has continued to support. But what is the impact of the support in population of over 200 million. If they need to create an impact, then the support must be huge. My plea is that government should support more. We are hoping that Asaba would be funded by one of the interventions of government. We are hoping that the international bodies are able to support us through funding, in improving environmental sustainability. The value chain in the tourism sector is amazing, but government needs to do more especially in the areas of funding and cheaper interest rates. Government needs to develop products and tourism-specific funding and interventions.

SOURCE: THE NATION

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