Re-branding Nigeria: Beyond a Logo and a Slogan

by Joesph Uchea

Since assuming office as the Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili’s enthusiasm at rejuvenating Brand Nigeria has been upbeat and predictably infectious. The project has also featured prominently on editorial and opinion pages of some national dailies, just as many others have refused to comment on the issue for obvious reasons. By the quality and quantity of the discourse

that the project has generated, two things come through: first, people still believe in Nigeria and secondly, there is this general feeling that the Minister is going about this the wrong way; that being the case, many are afraid we might end up where the other projects before it did – in the dust bin of history!

In the first case, a logo and a slogan are just some of the physical manifestations of the essence of a brand; using the Iceberg concept, they form part of the tip (of the Iceberg) that is visible to the eyes, while beneath is “the real thing” (apologies to Coke) made up of values, attributes, the vision and mission of the brand etc. It is when all these have been distilled and passed through the funnel that the essence of the brand can now evolve. This is what we communicate to our publics. Branding just as the Minister has succinctly acknowledged is a life-long endeavour, but most importantly, it is a process and I am afraid we are not following it. For instance, there is no Brief!

In view of the foregoing, it is either that the Minister is being misled by a handful of people* who, I am afraid, do not have the foggiest idea how this works or she is being coerced by charlatans who want to seize the day and cash in on her fervour for the Project and make money for themselves while we are at it. This is because all the necessary inputs have not been considered, and all the fundamentals were not taken into account before calling for a logo and a slogan presentation. It is one of the major reasons all the initiatives before this one were dead on arrival.

Now to the real issues; I had the opportunity of sighting the Minister’s address which can pass for a Brief and it is instructive to note that nowhere in the speech was the word “Corruption” used! That to me, is a pointer to the fact that maybe, just maybe, the government is not sincere about this attempt at re-branding because insincerity has been the bane of previous efforts. How can any brief on re-branding Nigeria shy away from the fact that we are corrupt! By Jove! It’s like being a smoker; for as long as you don’t see anything wrong with the habit, you will never consider kicking it. It is called Denial in therapy.

So as long as we fail to confront the hydra-headed problem of corruption, no branding –especially, external can succeed. The only way the Minister will know if her crusade is on, is when she is on collision course with her fellow ministers, senators, house of representative members, governors and other public officers who have been found to be corrupt, prosecuted and expectedly, jailed. Until then, we have not really started and this is may just be another charade, no matter her denial that it is not.

To the Minister I wish to say that unlike the drug war fought on the streets of Onitsha and Kano where fake and unregistered drugs are impounded and burnt, the weapons, strategy, location and terms of engagement for this kind of war are different: this is a Perception war and the battlefield is the Mind. According Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book, Positioning: A Battle for Your Mind, there is a place in the mind of the consumer marked ‘loser’; once your ball gets in there, don’t bother to take the spot kick, just pick the ball, go to the centre circle and start a fresh game. Shamefully, that’s where we are at now in the eyes of the world.

The first in a series of critical success factors for a successful re-branding effort is that Leadership has to re-brand itself; for as long as the picture remains the same, no amount of changing or quality of frames can make any difference. Why change the uniform when you have not changed the mind of the man wearing it?! Or better still what does it matter if it is NEPA – Never Expect Power Always or NEP PLC- Never Expect Power- Please Light Candle? Problem Has (simply) Changed Name! Or is it PHCN?

If we must win this war, not only must we deal with corruption, we have to be seen to be dealing with it by the outside world. A situation where an indicted ex-Governor is fined a paltry N3.5millon (or thereabout) as fine for having looted his state’s treasury for eight consecutive years is not only laughable but unacceptable. In the words of Comrade Joseph Eva in a recent radio interview, the fine is not even enough to buy Valentine gift for the ex-governor’s girlfriend(s)! Let the Minister know that when the outside world says that Nigeria is corrupt, in real terms it is not the common man who can barely feed himself that is being referred to, no! It is our officials who interface with the outside world – politicians, soldiers – especially retired army generals and more especially ex-presidents- immigration services, the judiciary, the legislature, the presidency. Unfortunately, because these are the people that the world sees, it simply becomes a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole basket or better still, if you want to know how bad a fish is, smell the head. So in a nutshell, we must have the Will to deal with corruption if any re-branding effort is to succeed.

The next thing to do is to collectively determine or re-define our set values that will drive us to the next level. As it stands, there is so much emphasis on crass materialism and the rot has eaten so deeply into our social fabric something has to be done urgently to set the agenda for the next generation, otherwise, it is doomed!

The implication of the current shift in values are obvious and all around us- prostitution, yahoo-yahoo, yahoo+ (whatever that means), ritual killings and other vices that people engage in for the sake of Money (to move with the Joneses) and it’s corollary, Power. In the not-too-distant past, children were told that a good name is better than silver and gold, but these days, parents pay for ‘mercenaries’ to write their children’s examination, and in very extreme cases, buy results so that they can get into school! The result: graduates who can’t string simple tenses in English without my stomach churning! As if that’s not bad enough, technology has made matters worse as the only letters most parents ever read from their children are text messages!

The mantra now is ‘get the money first; we can always launder the name’. And you cannot blame those who subscribe to that school of thought because nothing has happened to our leaders who were caught and prosecuted. At worst they have had their wrists slapped instead of being jailed and disgraced for diverting public funds to frivolous personal uses! When we are lucky to get one behind bars, he is sooner released to a warm welcome and possibly, a chieftaincy title or honourary degree to boot or both. That is how badly corrupted we have become.

I also beg to differ with Minister on the ‘God-fearing’ descriptor she used for the average Nigerian; “Church-going”, yes; “God-fearing”, no! The reason for this is not far-fetched: the religious leaders who are supposed to serve as the conscience of the society have since sold out at the expense of their gullible congregations who have been so battered and bruised by the drudgery of daily living. The only consolation for them is the prosperity teaching of the shepherds who, no doubt, have a good understanding of Karl Max’s submission that “Religion is the opium of the people”. Whatever happened to Salvation, Righteousness, (genuine) Fear of God, Life hereafter and other tenets that religions ideally should hold dear.

If our leaders were God-fearing, they would have realized long ago that the position of leadership they hold is a privilege and primarily, their job description is leadership through service. Like Chinamanda Adichie opined in a recent TV interview, without any attempt to belittle his laudable achievements so far, it is the decay in the system that’s making the likes of Governor Fashola appear like stars; another place, another time the man is simply doing his job!.

I can assure the Minister that once these basic fundamentals have been agreed, our leaders spiritual and ‘temporary’ have a change of heart, and things start to work the way they should (water, light, road and food and functional health services – not necessarily in that order) it’s the visitors to our country that will sell us to the outside world! Have you not noticed how it is Nigerians that sell Ghana?! I am yet to see one advert or commercial selling Ghana, it’s the people who visit that do it on their behalf – and mostly, Nigerians too! It’s called Word-of-Mouth and it works! But then again are we ready to do what Ghana did to get to where they are today?

Lastly, it was disheartening to note that Mr. President was not physically present at the Minister’s briefing; his absence might have sent a wrong signal to those who are watching: that there is no buy-in and the kind of Executive commitment one would expect for a project of this magnitude. Let the President know that while Dora may be the Chief Responsibility Officer for Nigeria’s image, Yar’Adua is the Custodian and Epitome of the Brand. So if, for instance, Nigeria is a dirty country, Yar’Adua is dirty and if Nigeria is a corrupt country, Yar’Adua is…..exactly!

For the sake of Dora, her commitment, her passion, her tenacity, her pedigree and her antecedents, I hope this baby is not dead on arrival. God forbid!

Joe Uchea, a passionate Nigerian, writes from Lagos

* as at the time of this article, the Minister had put in place a Committee headed by Pete Edochie, a nollywod actor! Te! He!