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Nigeria: Rebranding Campaign One Year After

Goddie Ofose

26 March 2010

Nigeria image bolster exercise might have kicked off in a right footing a year ago but some seemingly unfavourable incidents of the past few months and the eventual departure of its champion may have left another rebranding exercise in a limbo. Senior Correspondent, Goddie Ofose, weighs the consequences of abandoning the Good People, Great Nation campaign in relation with government policy inconsistency as a new Minister of Information and Communications is expected soon.

On March 17, 2009, the International Conference Centre, Abuja came alive as Nigerians witnessed an unprecedented milestone when ex-Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, assembled top government functionaries, business moguls, diplomatic corps members and media executives to unveil another exercise geared towards revamping our dwindling image among the comity of nations.

The event attracted the likes of ex-military head of State, General Yakubu Gowon as the chairman of the occasion, while Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, then vice president, represented his ailing boss, Umaru Yar'Adua flagged off the campaign.

Akunyili, the initiator of the project said: "The National Rebranding Project is a systematic response to address our image problem. This rebranding initiative draws heavily from the internal components of the previous image project, Heart of Africa and conceived as an internal process to address Nigeria's negative image. It is designed to be people centered through the paradigm shift: PPPP - Private, Public, and People's Partnership.

"This campaign is a holistic one and homegrown. It will seek to bring about attitudinal change, reorientation, revive our cultural values and to instill a renewed spirit of patriotism and hope in all Nigerians."

According to the minister, whose tenure in office ended with the dissolution of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) on March 17, exactly the same day the campaign was flagged off, "it is hoped that the slogan, Good People, Great Nation will help to inspire patriotism in us all as we collectively tackle the challenges ahead."

One year after, can we really say the campaign has had any impact in our national and individual life? While some are of the opinion that a year is too short a period to assess a national rebranding campaign, others believe rebuilding should have been a better nomenclature than rebranding.

In the ex-minister's last interactive session with brand journalists in Lagos sometime in November 2009, the former National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) czar recounted her ordeals as the champion of the campaign.

She said: "It's only a good product that can be sold. What is happening with rebranding is a question of struggling to market a product that is not very marketable and that is really posing a lot of problems."

Apart from Nigeria being not very marketable as the ex-minister said, skewed international media report and 'unpatriotic' attitude of a section of the Nigerian media toward the campaign posed greater threat than any other obstacle to achieving a necessary impact. "Unfortunately, the actions and inactions of a few of us and the skewed reportage by the international media have either tarnished our image, or misbranded this country and that is why we want to reclaim the lost glory by rebranding our image," she quipped.

Nigeria has suffered image setback within this rebranding exercise more than any other period in the life of this country. First, Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian youth, attempted to blow up himself and other 339 passengers in a Detroit-bound airline hence Nigeria inclusion in the U.S. terror list.

The politics of President Yar'Adua's ill-health has not helped the campaign either, a clear indication that the country is not ready to augment the campaign by marching word with action. The recurring crisis in Jos has left a sour taste in the mouth of the campaigners and indeed the country's image has moved several steps backward.

Recently, Nigeria also recorded the worst result in her senior secondary schools examination and perhaps the demolition of a man who qualifies Nigeria for South Africa 2010 world cup with replacement of another, who couldn't do same for his country, points to the fact that Nigeria, as a country, is a hard sell commodity.

On how the exercise has faired so far, Brigadier General Chris Olukolade of the Directorate of Army Public Relations said: "Rebranding Nigerian Campaign is a laudable initiative of the former Honourable Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili calling for attitudinal change."

He said change is difficult to accept. The Rebranding Nigerian Campaign is ongoing and needs continuous enlightenment to assimilate. Nigerians need to do the right things, believe in the system, trust their leadership and patronise the country to achieve the rebranding campaign.

"We were lucky and timely to have launched the Rebranding Nigeria Campaign when we did. We have not reached the mark yet but things have largely improved if you compare them with situations in the past. The Rebranding Nigeria project should not be seen as a Ministry of Information and Communications thing. What government did was to give us the required leadership direction. All sectors whether political, economic, social or religious need to imbibe the spirit positively. We are all interdependent as a nation. The whole gamut of life in a society, orbits around PR, which illuminates them to the world. No amount of promotions or advertising could sell a bad product."

Ikem Okuhu, a brand scholar does not hold the same opinion. He said the project should never have been undertaken in the first place. This is because Nigeria, as presently constituted is not a brand. A brand, contrary to what people believe, presupposes the existence of a product.

"It is when you have this promise that you can then begin to ascribe emotional qualities and associations that would give life to the product and then attract people."

Okuhu continued: "Look at Nigeria, would you say we have met this simple metric", adding that "the answer is no. Nigeria is like an unbaked bread and I am sure no one can buy bread when the dough is yet unbaked. Look at all the countries that are branding. They have reasonable got their politics right, they have been able to establish nationhood that is the important first step. Nigeria is a killing field where life is shorter, more brutish and nastier than it was during the era of Thomas Hobbes. We are always in the global news for all the wrong reasons. We have a President that is prostrate and a government that defends falsehood. Nigeria is the only country where corruption is glorified more than religion."

For Gbenga X Adebija, CEO, Ashton & Layton and one of the best communications and branding experts, the entire project should not have come up at all. It is not a national priority and is a colossal waste of time and resources.

"The rebranding campaign has clearly not lived up to expectations, although in fairness, timelines are too short to record any meaningful gains, especially against the backdrop of the innumerable and multi-dimensional problems the proponents of the rebranding campaign are up against.

"On one hand there is an initiative to rebrand Nigeria, while on several other fronts, there is a lamentable erosion of whatever repository of goodwill the country has among stakeholder publics due to the negative impact of unfortunate socio-economic and political characteristics of our national identity."

Experts who spoke to Saturday Independent said the challenges that have bedeviled Nigeria over the same period cannot make the effort to rebrand a very successful one. In the first place, said Abimbola Daramola, CEO of The Bridge Concept, "I do not think the brand Nigeria has been properly differentiated enough to make it easy for an articulate approach, because rebranding goes beyond appearances of the then Minister of Information at different fora and handing out brooches, umbrellas, mugs, etc. The essence of giving our nation a new and real outlook goes beyond sloganeering, and this is where appropriate diagnosis come in. For instance, in an attempt to rebrand, the focus should also incorporate systemic initiatives that will naturally evoke comments that will convey that we are rebranding. I honestly do not think that has been efficiently handled, I would have thought that some of our institutions will be taken as clear places to hit home the concept of rebranding."

He said, for instance, "if the Nigeria Police gets more efficient in the discharge of their constitutional roles that will count for more than all the appearances of the Minister of Information on national television. If our election reflects more sanity, it will lend more credence to rebranding than the entire jingle on radio, as simple as the issue of managing Mr. President's trip and stay out there and the eventual return will make more sense. Lately, the Jos scenarios, Abdulmutallab, etc. are obvious issues that will rub negatively on this effort."

Also counting against the effort of the government on rebranding exercise is the rebranding nomenclature instead of rebuilding. According to Muyiwa Akintunde, executive director, Marketing Mix Limited, "The project was doomed right from the onset with no stakeholder buy-in. With huge infrastructural challenge, what Nigeria desperately requires first is rebuilding. First, rebuilding ensures that the basic needs are addressed and restores hope in the country."

Okuhu stated that "what we should do is first and foremost, focus on nation building, infrastructure development, elimination of official stealing, weaving of the different cultures and people into a unit and then we can begin to rebrand. I tell you, if we get this right, we need not even spend money on rebranding. Tell me, how much did Ghana spend on rebranding? The answer is nothing. But they spent resources and time rebuilding a battered nation and this success attracted the world. Nigeria has the potentials, more than most advanced countries. The moment we get our leadership and politics right, we automatically become a brand and the world would come. For now, sorry, we are just not there."

A position Ms. Clara Okoro, producer and presenter of Brand World TV disagrees with. She said: "How many people are always interested in the semantics, so many, but they leave out the actual problems, it only takes a brave person to stick out their neck and integrity. Now, let them argue out what rebuilding is, and you would see so many who would rise up against it."

In contrast with opinions above Maurice Ukpong, Chief Executive Officer, Wundemann Nigeria stated that "Rebranding or rebuilding is mere semantics. What we need is not play with words but action. Action they say speaks louder than words. Let's do what is right in this country and that is the only way we can brand Nigeria positively. Egyptian President; Hosni Mubarak went to Germany and fell sick, he immediately transmitted power to his Prime Minister and the whole world knew about it. Information about the President going in for Gal bladder surgery was on all international news media. In our own case, what happened?" He quizzed.

Today, the champion of a new Nigeria image is no more in government, whether she would come back or not is not debatable. But one thing is certain; the next minister of information would want to pursue a new course just like Heart of Africa, Ethical Revolution, Rail Revolution, MAMSA, War Against Indiscipline (WAI) and other government initiatives were jettisoned for the much maligned Good People Great Nation initiative.

According to Adebija, usually, once the initiator leaves office, the project dies.

There has been fear that the government has embarked on another white elephant project with quantum of resources in terms of human capacity, finances and ultimately time wasted on the project that has brought Nigeria and its citizenry nothing but pains.

If President Yar'Adua, who flagged off the campaign a year ago can also contribute by running it aground, then who else would embark on revamping Nigeria blip image and drive it to a logical conclusion.

Copyright © 2010 Daily Independent. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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