The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) on Wednesday elected the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed as Vice President, Africa at its ongoing 22nd General Assembly in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of Southwest China.
Lai Mohammed, who led Nigeria’s delegation to the General Assembly, assumed the seat on behalf of the country, for the next two years.
Cape Verde was also elected alongside Nigeria as Vice President, Africa, of the global body charged with the responsibility of ensuring sustainable tourism development.
The 22nd biannual session of the UNWTO being attended by more than 1,300 delegates from 75 countries also elected Colombia and Mexico to represent the continent of America at the General Assembly.
Romania and Switzerland were elected as representative of Europe while Iraq was elected from Middle East and Srilanka from South Asia continent on the Assembly
All the elections to the seats were done by acclamation by delegates as agreed by the General Assembly.
The Chairman of the UNWTO Executive Council, Li Jinzao, who conducted the elections and the General Assembly said that the body suspended Rule 43 of its Statutes which stipulates secret balloting for the elections.
Mr. Jinzao is the Chairman, Chinese National Tourism Administration, the host of the UNWTO 22nd General Assembly.
Reacting to his election, Mohammed said that the last time Nigeria occupied the position of UNWTO Vice Presidency was 20 years ago, 1997, and it was a great honour to the country and him.
“I feel quite honoured and humbled to be called upon to serve as the Vice President of the General Assembly of the UNWTO and it is a very big honour to Nigeria.
“It has proven one thing that in the last two years, the administration has succeeded in pushing tourism and creative industry as a whole from the back burner to the front burner, from the side issue to the main issue
“This has also been noticed by the global community and I feel highly gratified about it,” he said.
The minister said that the position would propel him to do more in the development of the nation’s tourism and creative industry
“When you are recognised on a global stage like this, it encourages and spurs you to do more.
“One thought he was doing this out of sheer commitment but not knowing that he was being noticed globally and this is what I think it is impressive about this.
“My contributions to UNWTO at various events held in Cote d’ Ivoire, Madrid and Ethiopia have been borne out of conviction that, this is the way to go.
“But I was quite surprised when I got a call that I was being nominated to serve Africa as a Vice President of this General Assembly.
“What that means is that you are squarely in the saddle of driving the global agenda for tourism for the next two years,” he said.
Mr. Mohammed said that he would leverage on the new position to positively affect tourism in Nigeria.
He said: “With this new appointment, you will begin to look at yourself not just as a Nigerian citizen but as a World citizen and it means that a lot more will be expected from you.
“You cannot be serving as a Vice President of the UNWTO General Assembly and allow tourism and creative industry to lag behind in your country because it will be like, physician heals thyself first.
“It also gives one a closer access to the world tourism organisation and the way it works and it will be a good leverage for Nigeria”.
The outgoing Secretary General of UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, congratulated the new executives of the Organisation and enjoined them to work towards bringing more members to the fold.
He noted that tourism had recorded successive growth in the last six years and the new leaders should leverage on the development.
The election of the new Secretary-General of the global tourism body is expected to be ratified by the Executive Council before the end of the five-day General Assembly.
It will be recalled that the Conference of Africa Ministers of Tourism under the aegis of UNWTO Commission for Africa (CAF) had ratified Nigeria’s bid to host the CAF 61st meeting in Abuja from June 4 to June 6 next year.