“If Nigeria dissolves into the ocean today, what do you think the international world would miss?” Sounds puzzling and somewhat embarrassing to answer? Your response to this poser may be right or wrong, depending on how passionate you are about Nigeria and your honest perception of the country as an active yet currently less-respected member of the international community.
The seemingly confusing question was posed to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a leading Information and Communications Technology training firm based in Ikeja, Lagos, by one of his American friends during a business trip to the United States recently.
According to the company’s Chief Executive, who is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; University of Witwatersrand, South Africa; Lagos Business School; and IMD, a leading business school in Europe, during a media chat with this writer, he confessed that he simply drew a blank, as he felt embarrassed about what exactly he should tell his friend on what the world would miss if, Nigeria, the fondly called “most populous Black nation” and “Giant of Africa” should slide into the Atlantic ocean today.
Racking his brain about how to tackle the unexpected poser thrown at him, the company executive revealed that he was damn shamefacedly speechless on the spot. He disclosed that he actually, was torn between two extremes, whether to answer his American friend’s question, that the global community, peradventure, would miss Nigerian Oil, huge population, corruption in high places, youth-oriented cybercrime (Yahoo Yahoo syndrome), reputation for bad governance, 419, election rigging, money-laundering, illegal immigration, biting poverty, maternal mortality, decaying public infrastructure, or keeping mute without a word in response at all.
More so, one believes his was only an instance among several other cases involving which specific area(s) of life Nigeria effortlessly, earns the reputation and respect of other players in the international system. Many Nigerians who have travelled far and wide across the globe in recent years do relive tales of woe as regards shabby treatment and outright persecution in some cases by the immigration officials at certain points of entry into a number of countries.
Nonetheless, there is no individual or group that can dispute the world-class, impactful, and constructive contributions of Nigerians, young and old, male or female, in several areas of human endeavour to the advancement of humanity thus far. Mention outstanding human contributions to the fields of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Sciences, Medicine, Entertainment, Arts and Culture, Finance, and Scholarship in the international system today, one cannot but feel delighted at hearing or reading about sterling feats being accomplished by such worthy Nigerian ambassadors both at home and abroad.
But then, do all these unique achievements overshadow the vile things few Nigerians have continued to do either deliberately or otherwise to soil the image of the country in the eyes of the world? No. Rather, most members of the international world prefer to dwell on the negative traits being exhibited by these few unpatriotic Nigerians, by labelling the nation with all sorts of misnomers. Whoever is still in doubt about the urgency of the need to put our house in order as a nation and do something about the way the world perceives Nigeria and Nigerians should endeavour to read or listen to the deliberate, slanted reportage of Nigerian socio-political life in the foreign media, including online news platforms and discussion fora.
There is, therefore, no doubt that Nigeria actually needs what is known as country branding, put differently as “Nigeria Rebranding Project”, a programme initiated by Prof. Dora Akunyili, OFR, Honourable Minister for Information and Communications. This becomes necessary, at least against the backdrop of the global distaste against Nigerians, as instigated by the highly embarrassing and controversial movie, District 9, released in 2009, which was later banned by the Nigerian authorities.
Cheerless to recall though, pundits have said the movie was simply a metaphor for the supposed crass ineptitude manifesting in a life of want, scarcity, inflation, corruption, mixed blessings, darkness, horrible financial lending terms for businesses, dodging kidnappers, among other warped thematic preoccupations of the film producers.
Even long before the unfortunate and utterly unprecedented incident, involving a young Nigerian, 23-year-old Faruq Abdulmutallab, son of the immediate past Chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria Plc, who attempted to blow up an American airline, Delta in Detroit, United States December 25, 2009, the country’s reputation, comparatively, was at its low ebb, despite that many Nigerians have helped, and still do to create a better world on different continents of the world.
The potentially destructive incident jolted certain Nigerians, who hitherto had probably thought there was no need for any rebranding efforts by the present Administration to the reality that the country had received yet, an impactful bash on its battered image in the eyes of the world. Since there purportedly, was no clear-cut official response on suicide bombing attempt from the Federal Government, largely induced by absence of late President Yar’Adua, who incidentally travelled to Saudi Arabia on a medical trip, moments after the incident was broached to the global community, before the country could actually comprehend the enormity of the crisis in its hands, the United States instantaneously, gave Nigeria a damned verdict by adding it to the unenviable list of terrorist nations to be closely monitored and placed under surveillance at all times.
It, therefore, would be an understatement to say that Nigeria currently needs to redeem its image and consequently boost its national profile in the comity of nations, particularly because of the many benefits attached to doing so.
On the imperative need to take the Nigeria Re-branding Project serious by a broad spectrum of the Nigerian society while highlighting its crucial importance in achieving Vision 20-2020, a concerned Nigerian, of recent, expressed his feeling this way: “If we remain the way we are today, we will not make it. Unfortunately, right now we don’t even believe in ourselves. And how can you become one of the 20 biggest economies when you don’t have that belief in your country?”
He further contented that Nigerians have not even been able to define themselves to the world, in that leading media platforms in the Western world tend to talk or write about the country with horrible descriptions “as if all Nigerians are mere brutes living in jungles.”
“Most of the time people define us to the world the way they want it. We have not strategically used any platform in the past to tell the world those positive things that Nigeria has been doing and is still doing,” he retorted.
Granted that Nigeria, in 2004, had attempted to launder its image, starting from foreign lands, but the effort resulted in marginal or no success, as it was supposed to have been disappointingly executed. Some had alleged that the project at the time was deployed as a conduit pipe for diverting public funds into private pockets.
However, bearing in mind the eternal truth inherent in the aphorism that “Charity begins at home”, the current endeavour kicked off by Dora Akunyili-led Ministry of Information and Communications seems to be different at least in a significant way. The chief anchor of the programme had pointedly declared thus: “We rather believe that we should tackle the problem from within rather than from outside.”
For instance, in “The Afri
ca Report”, published by starafrica.com, in July 2009, it was contended that Nigeria has not strategically used any platform in the past to tell the world those positive things that Nigeria has been doing and is still doing. “Or are there not outstanding things happening here that we can showcase to the world?” the report queries. One believes there are! That is why the report emphatically, urges Nigeria “to tell the world what we have here in Nigeria, or generally positive stories about Nigeria that can command an international audience and responsibly manage our negatives.”
It’s instructive that Nigerians should not just relax and assume that if they try at all, things won’t work as expected; it only means silence, some say, is acquiescence to how the nation is perceived and addressed by outsiders. Realistically, based on previous similar experiences, any attempt at re-branding Nigeria, ordinarily, cannot but receive some measure of criticisms, but the fact still remains that if the citizenry continue to listen such people who have continued to say “Nigerians are criminals, fraudsters, 419ers, a country where nothing works, election riggers, and cybercriminals”, among other derogatory appellations, and do nothing to restore our national dignity, pride, and good, age-long value system, it means that we have accepted it all the same.
While recognising the fact that certain players in Corporate Nigeria are already indentifying with the Re-branding Nigeria Project, truth still be told, that all other stakeholders in the Nigerian enterprise ought to be involved in the crusade to re-orientate Nigerians in this regard.
Aside from the Ministry of Information and Communications as the initiator of the re-branding project and its major media organs, other key Government agencies, departments and parastatals which should take the lead in ensuring the needed re-branding awareness programmes are created, planned and executed accordingly include the National Orientation Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs among others.
And, if we deliberately, work together as a nation towards shoring up our national image and profile, what else do we stand to gain? Very many benefits, of course. Apart from gaining improved international goodwill, experts believe that for companies, the figures become even higher, often running into hundreds of millions of Dollars or Pounds. Potential investors as well would be encouraged to invest in Nigeria. Just as they would be assured of the security of their investments, the rate of returns will soar, as against the frustrating factors compelling a number of foreign investors to relocate to neighbouring nations to continue in business in recent times.
It is an incontestable fact that investors’ decisions invariably, will continue to be influenced by a combination of the political, social and economic stability of a country in question. Nigeria is not an exception. Even in terms of achieving a marked boost in tourism investment in any country, Randall Frost (2004) supported this reality when he wrote that “there’s no arguing that the image we have of another country says a lot about how we view it as a tourist destination, a place to invest or a source of consumer goods.”
Comparing it with such concepts as products and services branding, country branding, according to Uche Nworah in his article, “Nigeria as a Brand”, is the “process whereby a country actively seeks to create a unique and competitive identity for itself, with the aim of positioning the country internally and internationally as a good destination for trade, tourism and investments.”
In this regard, countries such as South Africa on our continent among others, Nworah maintains, have already succeeded in attracting businesses and tourists to their countries as a result of carefully managed country branding programmes.
Similarly, for other Nigerians as individuals, groups, and professional associations, everyone is encouraged to do his or her best: if you are a teacher, teach well; as a commissioner, commission well; as an accountant, account well; as a governor, govern well; as a learner, learn well; and as a leader, lead well, and whatever it is that you do, just do it well to the best of your ability. Why? This is because we will all benefit when we do things right, but it begins with you.
On the whole, according to Seo Ogbonmwan, in a piece published in Nigerian Tribune, he posited: “Saying the truth means sincerity or constancy of action, character and utterance and, such truth bearers deserve our respect…. They should stand firm, because a man’s life consists, not of the abundance of his earthly possessions, but by what he/she has positively contributed to society.”