I feel compelled to write this rejoinder in response to the recent interview by our erstwhile anti-fake drug czar and Nigeria’s current mouthpiece. Her recent interview titled: “Nigerians abroad are our worst enemy”, leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth. While her attempts at exploiting the principles of marketing strategy in giving a shape and function to her recent appointment is quite understandable, it behoves of one to observe that dignity and circumspection were thrown overboard in her unbridled attempt to justify her current political appointment. It is quite clear that Madam Minister would have by now realised that her zeal at attempting to re-brand a bad product like Nigeria cannot fetch her same amount of accolades like she got for her war on fake drugs. The first problem is that Dora Akunyili made a wrong decision in accepting the stained and irrelevant post of Nigeria’s information minister. The second problem obviously stemmed from the first. In her heart of hearts, Madam Minister realised the error of her decision. The next attempt is now to attempt to put a meaning to the appointment, that way her conscience could be atoned, and who knows, critics may be proved wrong. Her first attempt at rectification turns out to be a disaster, right from the drawing board. There is no way an odious, rotten, rat-infested product can be re-branded. There are too many things wrong with the fumbling edifice called Nigeria for any attempt at re-branding to succeed. This is the message Mrs Akunyili has to absorb before too many billions are wasted in the typical Nigerian fashion.
On why anyone would want to re-brand a country like Nigeria, Dora, for the sake of those yet to read the interview, summed up her views thus:
• Re-branding is a socio-cultural re-orientation with efforts on the part of the government. From Dora’s viewpoint, however, it behoves on the suffering citizenry to initiate these changes and then for the government to respond.
• Nigerians are a people lacking in trust. There is an appalling lack of trust amongst Nigerians and towards the country.
• Nigerians should learn to stress the positives and play down the negatives. In her words: “We are not saying we don’t have negative stories that shouldn’t be told, no. What we are saying is that we should stress on the positive and play down on the negative, because a cup can be half full and a cup can be half empty; the same cup. One is saying something positive while the other is saying something negative. I prefer to say that Nigeria’s cup is half empty and we can work out to fill it. I’m too optimistic about this country.”
• Dora is too optimistic about Nigeria and believes in Nigeria. She does not want to lose hope and does not want anyone to express such mundane sentiments. Again, in her words: “If hope is lost, why are we alive? I still want to feel my children have a country that they can call their own; a country, citizenship they can take to the bank. Right now you and I cannot take Nigerian citizenship to the bank; it’s not a good thing.”
It is pertinent to attempt to respond to the posers raised by our enthusiastic information Minister. It is amazing that despite the lofty objectives of Dora, she failed to realise that her views are flawed by the very fact that a genuine attempt to re-brand Nigeria would automatically cost her the lofty position she presently occupies. A good old African adage says that when the head is bad or wobbly, it is natural to expect that the rest of the body would not be perfect. Thus, in attempting a solution, common sense dictates that amelioration starts from the head. However, in trying to circumvent a dangerous truth, Dora Akunyili decided to turn the truth on its head. Focussing her programme at effecting changes from the grassroots is mischievous and dishonest. Mrs Akunyili made references to the WAI (War Against Indiscipline) era of the duo of Buhari and Idiagbon. She, extolled the surprising degree of discipline and social order demonstrated by Nigerians. She, however, failed to accept the obvious facts that the successes of that era stemmed from the no-nonsense attitude of the then leaders and by inference, government. Same qualities are lacking in today’s Nigeria. Nigeria as presently constituted is a country of vagabonds where crass indiscipline is the order of the day at the institution of governance.
It is completely doubtful if careful circumvention of that glaring truth, in an attempt to protect a lofty position, would lead an insincere programme to success. Trust and hope in a country and amongst citizens stem from the demonstration of humane, caring and responsive governance, committed to uplifting its citizens. A situation where abject poverty resides with millions of Nigerians cannot raise hope, neither can it infuse trust. A situation where a government is completely dislocated from the citizens cannot infuse patriotism or hope or trust. It is foolhardy to harp on the principle of sweeping negatives under the carpet. It is equally unexpected of an academician of the calibre of Dora Akunyili. A problem swept under the carpet would rear its ugly head later. Such problems are better tackled. It is perhaps right for Dora Akunyili to express her unreserved optimism in Nigeria. Who else would not, having been favoured to be a participant in the corrupt corridor of power? And talking about leaving the legacy of Nigeria to her children is like taking us on a dubious ride. In the first place, it is doubtful if her children are resident in the country? These are not meant to be personal attacks, but a re-statement of facts. Our leaders preach all sorts of nonsense to evoke a jaded patriotism in the people while their children are junketing in the capitals of the western world.
In summary, a sincere attempt at re-branding Nigeria can only commence first with political and structural restructuring of the country. It is a task beyond Akunyili, as it practically involves all Nigerians, including those in the Diaspora whom Dora finds it so easy to castigate. It is bound to be a momentous project akin to a socio-political revolution. This is because the country is so rotten that a mere superficial brushing (as Dora currently attempts) would not effect a meaningful solution. A successful re-branding must start at the helm of governance, in that Nigeria must decide on the type of political leadership she wants, nay, the type of political structure that she really requires. A fact that is glaring but much denied is that present arrangement is a forced one, one of convenience that is being actively exploited by mediocre and charlatans. This is a major reason why the dividends of governance has continued to elude the people, rather ending up in the private pockets of the clowns who continually flock the corridors of power.
Mrs Akunyili spoke of her pains at the monumental shame Nigeria has become to the rest of the world. This is the shame that warrants the comments and sentiments on the part of Nigerians in the Diaspora that she perceived as running the country down. She cited examples of countries like Angola, South Africa, Israel and India that are constantly re-branding despite their problems. Fair enough. But in such countries, something that cannot be faulted is the level of the commitments of the various governments to their peoples. This is perhaps the crux of the matter, the secret of the success of their unpublicised re-branding. India may have an alarming, yet beautifully hidden level of pove
rty, South Africa may have a frightening crime rate, something that the citizens do not lack is a government that is awake and willing to confront these social menaces. This is a quality lacking in the entity called Nigeria. It is not sufficient to evoke sentiments in a bid to sell a flawed project. Telling us about the successes of other climes would not ameliorate hunger, joblessness, dearth of portable water (despite the abundance of nature in this regard), perpetually insufficient and almost non-existent energy supply (despite the world of options available in generating regular electricity), the death traps we called roads, the epileptic telecommunication systems, frightening lack of social security for the citizenry, our Neolithic medical infrastructures and a host of others.
Mrs Akunyili, do I really care if India has a lot of poverty and is yet more internationally accepted than Nigeria, if my child still remains jobless five years after graduating from a University where my life investment was spent on the hope of creating a future for him? Mrs Akunyili, would you expect me to smile and say all is well with a country that has perpetually failed to provide the most basic of provisions for me to feel alive like a human being? These are questions for you to ponder on before continuing on your sanctimonious sermons from the mount on the need to accept a decayed and ignoble enterprise called Nigeria.
If you may know, and indeed, if you care to know, dear Mrs Akunyili, Nigeria has brought pains, sorrows and sadness to her children. I write with a heart laden with sorrow and grief. I lament at the failure of a giant that promised so much at the onset. This was not the Nigeria envisaged by our founding fathers. This irony is a spectacle best observed but a misery to participate in. Nigerians are hungry, Dora. Nigerians are jobless. Nigerians are suffering! Pray, nature cannot be fairer to us than this. What have we done with the abundance of nature. What happened to the billions generated from nature-endowed blessings? Why is there so much poverty and suffering in the land? Why is Nigeria cursed with leaders who are best consigned to footnotes of history? Why have we been perpetually at the mercies of imbeciles and charlatans? Men who endowed the definition of manhood with shame and pains. Charlatans who deserved nothing but the gallows.
Dora, it is perhaps best for you to ponder on these and sit down to redefine the concept of re-branding which you are trying to propagate on very flawed basis. In the marketing world, you can only re-brand a product that has been re-engineered and redesigned and one that has something new to offer. The Nigeria you are trying to re-brand is the same old, stale news where poverty is the order of the day and political megalomania the art of governance. This would definitely be a hard brand to sell. Trying to put a stale wine in a new bottle is an exercise in futility. Thus, this current attempting at befuddling the populace and international community is bound to end in unmitigated failure with other billions down the drain. Mrs Akunyili, you are better warned to desist from engraving your name in the book of ignominy!