Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Re-branding Image Nigeria

The Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili recently said that the Federal Government has abandoned the Heart of Africa project. The Minister noted that government took the decision because the project was ‘failure’.

As some might be aware, the Heart of Africa was an image laundering project conceived by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to give the nation a better perception at home and abroad.

In her words she noted that “Heart of Africa was first launched overseas and that automatically disconnected the ordinary Nigerian from this project, making it look elitist. We, therefore, decided to embark on a new branding project that will be home grown”.

It is not surprising that the project was a failure. During the Obasanjo regime, I remember seeing posters aimed at painting Nigeria in a good light, all over the streets of London. There was a huge scepticism about the project as it failed to address the fundamental problems in the country but instead only lined the pockets of government employed spin doctors. Foreign public relations experts and govt officials led by the Former Minister Frank Nweke, embarked on jamboree trips overseas all in the name of ‘spin’.

Having said all that the most unfortunate thing is that we still haven’t learnt our lesson, as this govt also wants to embark on the same fruitless journey. It is common knowledge that Nigeria’s image overseas is as bad as it can get. In fact, I tell people that people back home need to travel overseas to appreciate how Nigeria’s image has been badly dented over the years. I know people who hold dual nationality and will never travel on a Nigerian passport. I have met genuine Nigerian businessmen living overseas, who are struggling because no one will engage with them in any transaction because they are Nigerians.

While I agree that Nigeria’s image needs to be‘re-branded’ at some stage, I do think at this point, it is like putting the cart before the horse. The govt should be focussing on developing the nation’s economy and putting in development fundamentals.

It saddened my heart when I read Prof. Akunyili’s comments that ”……re-branding Nigeria was more critical than any physical infrastructure because it would address the fundamental issue of how the country and its citizenry were perceived and treated”. Does it really matter how the western world perceives us, if we have a vibrant economy? In the 1970’s, when the nation economy was good, Nigerians were treated like kings on the streets of London , because the ‘oyinbo’ man knew we had money in our pockets. My question then is, did we embark on image laundering then?

The point is, if you make yourself relevant in the globalised economy, perception is a non issue. And I will note that China is a typical example. Despite all the allegations of human right abuse in China, the western world recognises China’s place in the global economy.

May be someone needs to advise Prof. Akunyili that the nation is bigger than NAFDAC. It is not just about running enlightenment campaigns on fake drugs. I believe all her hard work in NAFDAC would have been eroded if all she did was raising awareness about fake drugs without actually dealing with the root cause (ie. manufacturers/importers).

Unless the govt lives up to its social and economic responsibility by creating jobs, providing infrastructure, improving security of lives etc, image laundering is a waste of time. As they say “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”.

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