The Nigerian Image Project

by Femi Olawole

I was about sending an article with the above title on Sunday, July 25, 2004 but had to discard it after reading two articles in the Op-ed page of the Guardian online. Nothing could have underscored the desire to comment on the proposed Nigerian image project as these two articles. This was more so as they were written by two “ogbologbo” columnists.

In his article titled “Encounter with the Information Minister”, Dr. Reuben Abati was (even without meaning to) able to vindicate some of us that ours is not a hopeless nation after all. For instance, our nation has now reached a stage where a whole cabinet minister (Emeka Chikelu) deemed it fit to arrive at an official function much earlier than scheduled.

This surely was a strange but welcome phenomenon at a time when the “African Time” malady has been elevated to connote an air of importance among ordinary Nigerians at home and abroad. And the wife of this same humble public official was reportedly denied a visa by a foreign embassy because she showed up as an ordinary Nigerian. Definitely, the situation would have been different if the lady had appeared at the embassy with the toga of a minister’s wife.

It was quite commendable that Abati could admit the unfairness in his earlier article on the same minister. In the said article, the minister’s person was ripped and ridiculed all because of the proposed image project. And talking of the project, the columnist has since confirmed that it is not just another government propaganda or “image laundering”. Rather, it is expected to be a private sector-driven effort that aims to remind the whole world that ours is a growing nation that already has produced a Nobel laureate, statesmen, diplomats, scientists, artists etc.

Abati’s article could have been titled “The Confession of a Cynic”. This is in view of the fact that it took a personal encounter with his victim, the indefatigable minister, to convince a public-oriented professional such as Abati that our nation is evolving and not developmentally dormant. But do we all (100 million Nigerians) have to meet personally with every one of our public officials to believe that they mean well for the nation?

While Dr. Abati was graceful enough to make a public revelation of his redemption from the abyss of cynicism, the same thing cannot be said of another group of Nigerians who thrives on incorrigible cynicism. In this group is Sonala Olumhense whose article titled “Patriotism, Dead or Alive” appeared on the same page as that of Abati’s.

That article was nothing more than an exercise in literary platitudes. It was filled with the same old litany of woes, teeth gnashing and pent-up fury. Nowhere did the columnist see anything good to write home about his country. And, even though he felt the president and the other public officials were not steering the ship of State properly, he never bothered to proffer alternative leadership or management strategies. It was vintage arm chair criticism.

Prowling the pages of national newspapers and the internet are the likes of Olumhense with a mission to rally the rest of us with their rabid nay sayings that are borne out of personal failures, frustrations and furies. They latch on to the moribund dusk of the past with no hope for a glorious dawn. And they are so consumed with such a chronic pessimism as to become pathetically blind to the emerging new Nigeria. To them, our nation is eternally doomed.

Authors of negative commentaries will often pretend to forget that the problems of our nation did not start in 1999 but dates back to the period before some of them were even born. In the same vein, they keep expecting someone else to remind them that our nation no longer operates a unitary system of government.

In his entire article, not even once did Olumhense found it necessary to demand for an account of stewardship from the governor of Edo, his home Sate. The contributory roles (good or bad) of Federal legislators of Edo State origin to the current political, economic and social state of our nation were of no concern to him. The columnist did not even appear to be interested in the performance of the chairman and councilors in his local government area. Rather, he would like the nation’s myriad of problems at Federal, State and local government levels to be tackled by Obasanjo. Yet, even if the president were a hybrid of the biblical King Solomon and the mythical Atlas, he would still have to operate in conformity with the Federal system.

And there is this irritating habit of selective glorification of public officials. Olumhense, for instance, singled out Akunyili of NAFDAC and Rufai of FCT for special accolades. While these individuals deserve the accolades, they are however just two out of the new crop of wonderful public officials that our nation is now blessed. Unlike in the past, the new breed of technocrats has genuine and dedicated interests in serving their fatherland.

Sadly, even as they single out Akunyili and Rufai for special anointing, these cynics will do so only in the process of pouring venomous tirades on Obasanjo. One therefore often wonders where the critics place their sense of logic.

One fundamental aspect of a great leadership skill is the ability to identify and select the right human materials with whom to achieve a set of tasks. Simply put, if Obasanjo in his capacity as the president, was not smart enough to assemble such a dynamic and brilliant team of Rufai, Akunyili, Nuhu Ribadu, Emeka Chikelu, Remi Oyo, Okonjo-Iweala etc etc, how many Nigerians would ever have heard of their existence?

The huge task of showcasing the human, mineral and natural resources that abound in our nation under the image project will have to contend seriously with the negative activities of the Nigerian cynics. They are few in number but mean “business”, so much that some of them have practically turned themselves into agents of the often prejudiced American State department. The situation is so terrible that on one particular Nigerian-oriented web site, headlines of national newspapers are not only daily parroted but also distorted with fake riders all in a bid to negatively mis-inform unsuspecting fellow Nigerians in the diasporas.

It is therefore imperative for the image project to expand its target audience to include this group of glass-dwelling Nigerians whose past time is stone throwing. These cynics need be told that they are like a bunch of blood-sucking ticks whose intention to destroy a dog will unwittingly lead to their deaths.

They also need to know that drug pushers, 419ers, international prostitutes, fake drugs producers, book pirates, armed robbers, anarchists, treasury looters and several others who are giving our nation a bad name are not from the moon. They are from the Sates, local governments, communities and even families of some of those who daily wage wars of attritions against their nation and public officials.

Ironically, many of these cynics will always claim that they see nothing good in Nigeria because of their “love” for the nation. Wow! Even if that is the case and since charity begins at home, it will really do our nation a lot of good if they can begin directing their probing, searchlights at their backyards for a change. A little sanitization of their immediate environments will go a long way in curing our nation of the many ills that plague it.

The message of the minister of information to all the armchair critics out there can be summarized thus: They do not have a monopoly of concern for the current state of our nation. Hear the minister: “I am as concerned as you are. We are all in this together… If we are all cynical, nothing is ever going to change. If we want to change this country, then all of us must make a contribution…”

In addition to the minister’s admonition, all of us (100 million Nigerians) do not have to be given government appointments, contracts and some other patronage to make a contribution. The future gains of our individual contributions lie in the great, wonderful nation that will soon arise from the present dispensation.

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Sonala Olumhense April 10, 2005 - 5:13 am

Mr. Oluwole accuses me of “a chronic pessimism as to become pathetically blind to the emerging new Nigeria,” and of “rabid nay sayings that are borne out of personal failures, frustrations and furies.” Although he and I partly share the same Yaba/Ebute Metta background, I do not think he knows me that well, or has read my work that faitfhfully. While we are all products of our history, I urge him to be a little more conscious that not all of us are preoccupied with an ethnic agenda.

Ochi Ogbuaku II April 10, 2005 - 1:07 am

We lack INSPIRING, VISIONARY LEADERSHIP. My heart bleeds profusely when I have to give up my admission for someone else because of a senseless “quota system”, when in our universities, our undergrads have to pay N15k for just a bed space! Can we honestly say that there is a GOVT at home? Imagine the contradiction – the govt earmarking 600 million naira to “revamp Nigeria’s image abroad”?. It’s ludicrous, absolutely atrocious!

Dapo Osewa April 9, 2005 - 12:15 pm

Hey! How could you have supported a govt of Obasanjo spending money to showcase a never-existing image? This is all rubbish. I suppose you must have beeen out of Nigeria for so long, in the physical and as well as in the realm of reason to think, writers such as Sonala Olumhense ideas, particularly in this particular piece were borne out of Personal failure…oh, that was a boring and absolutely incorrect article. I never read anything so ‘unnigerian’ lately!


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