Brand Nigeria @ 54: Hope Amidst Uneasy Calm

Nation-brands are at the heart of how nations are rated or perceived by others. The brand capital of a country otherwise known as ‘soft power’ is the sum total of how it is perceived in the comity of nations in terms of governance, culture, its people and investment appeal. This usually rubs off on how much a country can attract tourism and foreign investment.

In the last few decades, Nigeria, like most developing nations has been hobbled by negative labels; struggling economy, poor governance, corruption, insecurity, hunger and diseases. The ethnic suspicion and rivalries which dated back to the colonial days have ensured that each of the over 250 ethnic nationalities see themselves more as disparate groups than as a nation. The sectional bias which was encouraged and fueled by the British for the protection of the Crown interest has left the country without national identity and collective purpose, 54 years after independence.

The consequence is that Nigeria is a country with no identifiable face or personable attributes that its citizens can associate or identified with. Politics and religion have been used by politicians to widen the chasm, offering Nigerians no sense of oneness of purpose beside sharing the officially adopted lingua franca, English language.

Some scholars have factored the Nigeria problem in brand identity crisis. According to a communication scholar and lecturer at the Pan African University, Prof Emevwo Biakolo,   a brand identity has been problematic for Nigeria over the years. “Acountry where one feel alienated in a state which he has contributed in no small measure calls for introspective awareness plan,” he said.

A sociologist, Dr deep Mirani identified the problem in the shift in cultural values. “They (Nigerians) left their traditional tuft and started smuggling in so many other anti-social activities which brought down a lot of bad impacts on the country. It is the great change in the attitude of people, attitude of the country and thereafter, the country has not been the same again,” said the Indian lecturer-turned-businessman.

According to Mirani, developing countries which have made developmental strides like Japan, Malaysia and China did so because they retained their traditional values while embracing modernity.

The international community has kept at defining Nigeria and Nigerians in negative light in the face of failure of successive leadership to re-direct the country on the part of nationhood.

A brand expert and MD of DP Partnership, Odun Fadoju identified impunity, corruption and leadership failure as the key challenges undermining Brand Nigeria.

“Laws are made but never to be obeyed by the very people who made the laws. We have leaders who are not futuristic. We have leaders who never think of how Nigeria should be in the next 25 years to come. We have rich people whom the law cannot question the sources of their wealth. We have leaders who do not have deliberate blue print actions for the nation because such leaders just find themselves in position of authority overnight. We have leaders who are in position of authority not on merit but because they come from certain regions, tribes or clans.”

Admittedly, worried by the poor international image of the country, Nigerian government has made some efforts at nation-branding. Most visible of such projects was the 2009 launch of Heart of Africa project spearheaded by the former Honourable Minister of Information, Dr. Chukwuemeka Chikelu who was the first concerted effort at image-laundering for the country.

Late Prof Dora Akunyili took over from him and gave it her best with the Rebrand Nigeria project. She employed branding professionals in the design of the campaign with the slogan, ‘Good people, Great nation.’ Akunyili sought to build the nation’s brand equity by stressing the collective responsibility of Nigerians in and out of government to work towards enhancing the nation’s image. It was an onerous task which was widely criticized by a some sections of Nigerians who dismissed the project as window-dressing. Akunyili at some point had to acknowledge the difficulty in selling a bad product.

“It is only a good product that we can sell. What is happening with Rebranding Nigeria project is the question of struggling to market a product that is not very marketable. It poses its own very big problem,” confessed late Prof Dora Akunyili in 2009 over difficulty of the rebranding effort in achieving the desired goals during her stint as the Minister of Information.

Last year, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism launched another campaign aimed at selling Nigeria as a tourist destination. However, brand experts said rather than build on the previous campaigns, the new campaign is at variance with the goal of the previous ones. They argued that brand-building are consistent concerted efforts at enhancing image or perception of a product or brand.

Take the South African example: Although on the Africa continent, South Africa has been able to break away from the international smear on anything African by the rest of the world and has a good nation-brand with its brand South Africa project launched in 2000. The country has through consistent efforts build an attractive image in the international community. 10 years on, the country was able to amass so much goodwill that it rating soared and it was able to win hosting right to the world cup in 2010. Other developing countries have worked successfully at building their national brand image. Eg: India through the Incredible India campaign.

Although it is not yet uhuru for Brand Nigeria, some Nigerians and brand experts are still positive that though country has not been able to rise above the myriad of socio-economic challenges, it holds great promise at making success at improving its lot.

“At 54, Brand Nigeria continues to trudge along the paths of self-actualisation and economic survival in spite of all the known ills brought about by failure in accountability, basic infrastructure, vision and leadership. Thanks mainly to the efforts that continue to be made by the committed few over the years coupled with the inevitable effects of the dynamics and momentum of world economics, my prognosis still point to a great future,” noted Funmi Onabolu, the MD, Bates Cosse, an advertising agency.

Fadoju, is also of the view that Brand Nigeria has not fared badly in the last 54 years.

“Although much expectations are expected, the fact that Brand Nigeria survives a civil war, ethnic/tribal based break-up request, ethnic jingoists, religious wars, and of recent, terrorism, speaks much of how Brand Nigeria has fared. Brand Nigeria in the 60s, 70s and early 80s foreign policies indeed put Nrand Nigeria into global recognitions. Brand Nigeria’s consistent ‘war’ against apartheid policies in Rhodesia, South Africa, Mozambique, etc are plus for Brand Nigeria.

“Of course, Brand Nigeria non-alignment policy during the ‘cold war’ should not be forgotten so easily. The economic boom of 1970s with the emergent of ‘ black gold’ was a catalyst to economic development, though not well managed. Brand Nigeria has also produced and still producing world’s acclaimed academic giants and nobel prize winner,” he noted.

For movie producer, Fred Amata, Nigerian has made some progress. “54 is many years for a human being but it is just a drop of water in the ocean for a nation. Despite our challenges and circumstance of our birth, I think Nigeria is moving forward pointedly and I hope, moving forward, we remain one indivisible nation,” Amata said.

Experts believe all Nigeria needs is good leadership and collective responsibility to chart a new course that would put Nigeria on the global map.

A brand expert, Bola Okusaga, argued that for Nigeria to make progress, there must be collective agreement to work for common good, irrespective of religious or cultural pluralities.

“All it takes is sincerity, a good sense of history and the will to work together for common good,” he added.

Onabolu argued that, “This brand can achieve its true great potentials on the global stage in a relatively short time if strong leadership with a consistency in vision, strategic focus, transparency, discipline and drive is allowed to thrive in the centre.” Onabolu noted that the committed involvement of all , most especially the middle class, in supporting the right calibre of people to hold public office in the country is imperative. He also urged the education of the masses who he noted are ‘pressured by poverty to ‘excuse’ the manipulations of bad, inept people.’

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