Mike Omeri, the Director-General of National Orientation Agency, NOA, in this interview, speaks on how he ventured into roasted meat business, popularly called suya, to earn a living and why he does not have investments outside Nigeria.
How do you see tourism in Nigeria?
I am attending, for the first time, a gathering of the Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria. The future of tourism is very, very green. It is green in the sense that there is renewed government interest and the practitioners have kept faith over the years. The fact that you see this number coming to sit to discuss the way forward shows that there is private sector commitment and so, with the posture of government and what it is currently doing to ensure that the atmosphere, the environment, is conducive, is attractive, Nigeria will be a natural tourism destination in West Africa.
What efforts is the National Orientation Agency making to promote tourism in Nigeria?
We have various agencies to handle specific aspects of government policies and programmes. However, we have situated our roles because tourism is a platform for orientation as well as culture. So, we use their platform to promote the positive side of our country, the values of our country and that is why the tourism industry must also have positive attitudes driving it. Without good attitudes, without values, no matter the infrastructure provided, it will not attract patronage.
So, the NOA will work with them; we have developed a patriotism and ethics programme to enhance the capacity of the tourism staff and owners in their disposition to handling clients and guests in the management of their offices.
So, once we collaborate with them, we will implement this strategy first within our local level or they can go to the institution we have partnership with, University of Abuja. We are also discussing with the University of Ibadan to implement this patriotism education to orientate workers in the sector to understand that, apart from earning a living, they are responsible for promoting the image of our country as workers or patrons or even as owners of the places of tourism.
Why do you always try to create awareness on patriotism?
I am lucky, but I am doing my passion, even in public service. Loving Nigeria is an indisputable fact. As you see me, I do not have any investments, outside Nigeria. I don’t even want to have a second building outside where I live not to talk of abroad. I believe this is the destination, this is Nigeria and that when we tap our resources, our energies and intelligence and all of those things our country, we can develop, we can be the best.
How did you develop the passion?
At childhood, from the attitude of my parents, they are late now. My father was a policeman and served outside his locality and was travelling from one place to the other. First, he kept telling us that we must love our country, we must be generous and respectful to elders and even our peers and that our country is first. I remember each time he had to travel, Nigeria Police were majorly the people sent out at that time to enforce peace in West Africa, they were in Congo and, on his return, he would display medals he had brought. He was not talking about himself but about how he and fellow police officers projected Nigeria, how they were inspired about the colours of Nigeria and this continued to influence our lives as we were growing up, the need to look for alternatives within every situation. There are challenges and in every difficulty, there are opportunities; so, I try to look for the opportunities instead of sitting down, complaining, criticising, abusing. Without being immodest, orientation is my passion and I am lucky to be in public service and living my passion.
Some people think preaching patriotism to Nigerians with our diverse ethnic backgrounds is a hard sell. How do you do it?
I have heard this comment even from the elite and I say they are the problem; anybody who tells me that is the problem. It shouldn’t be difficult if all of us believe that we have a country that needs all of us; it shouldn’t be difficult if we cultivate the habit of doing the right things; it shouldn’t be difficult if we believe we don’t any other country than Nigeria and that it needs us and we must stand for it all times, in whatever we do, I have two degrees and didn’t feel that I should depend on anybody, I believe there is a place for me to make it in Nigeria and so I look for opportunities within the structures and it has paid off for me.
How did you come about selling suya with two degrees?
That was in 1992 or 1993, I was working with an international NGO and there were issues that didn’t agree with my conscience. So I gave it up and I said I could do any other work and what was available was to sell suya.
With two degrees, how did you go about it?
I established a place called Geshu in Jos and recruited some persons to work with me. We would go to the market with N5,000 to purchase all the items we needed and roast the meat. Then, in the evening, we start selling to customers. The business sustained me for the period that I had no job. It was from there that a former administrator of Plateau State, Col. Maina, who became Senator Mohammed Maina, appointed me press secretary and newspapers were awash with the story that ‘mai-suya’ had been appointed press secretary. In all honesty, many people didn’t know I even went to school because I was selling suya. From my background, I didn’t have reason to do that. My father was a police officer, nine of us-children-had gone to school, working and we were doing very well but I needed to be my own person.
Was it because you were in need or you wanted to do something?
I wanted to work. I shouldn’t be idle because my family, friends were providing for me. I believed I should look inward to survive.
How much were you making a day, and was it enough to take care of your problems?
At the start of the suya business, we invested N5,000 and we were making between N2,500 and N5,000 a day which was more than my salary of N1,000 a month at that time and, because of the way we operated, the media helped me. Coming from that constituency, the media made the opening ceremony so glamorous as if we were bringing a different kind of suya from heaven.
So people were anxious to come and see what it was, so what we did was to package it in a manner that you come, you choose what you want; If it was a la carte, you stand there, it’s done for you. We also introduced other services; so that while you wait for your suya, you patronise other services.