Rebranding Nigeria: Which Nigeria?

Samuel Huntington, a renowned American political scientist set out to understand why there was political disorder in developing countries particularly Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. He titled the seminal work, “Political Development and Political Decay”. Huntington’s argument is that the litany of political problems, which plagued Africa then-ethnic strife, coups, mass riots and violence, were possible because governments in those countries do not govern. Wherever governments do not govern, there is a vacuum of power; multiple centers of competing powers emerge; and the society reclines into crisis. What then occurs, Huntington concludes, is not political development but political decay.
Nigeria today is the quintessential of a country where the government does not govern. Not in the sense of not having a government, Nigeria does; not in the sense of the government not having authority, the government does. But in Nigeria presently, there is authority without responsibility. Political power and governance lack public morality and public purpose, hence, there are dissociations of authority from accountability and governance from the public goodwill.
When this occurs, what happens is that the government does not govern as it does not connect with the daily lives of the people or improve their lot. There may not be violence or disorder in Nigeria as Huntington averred, but the society is filled with discontent, frustration, despair, and blighted hopes by the people. The government simply does not govern. Nigeria is undoubtedly a potentially great country, but potentiality can simply be a dream, a false image, which if conscious efforts are not taken, would never manifest.
Rebranding Nigeria, which the current information Minister, Dora Akunyili seeks to pursue must be seen from this lenses. Where the government does not govern, what do you rebrand? Is it the disgruntled citizens, our dilapidated infrastructure, the incidence of high level or grand corruption in public life, or our ‘yahoo yahoo boys’ (who are mostly products and victims of our environment) who harass and defraud people through the Internet? The image laundering of a country, which should constitute part of its foreign policy, must logically flow from its domestic success and reordering. A country confronted with imminent state failure would surely be wasting its scarce resources on laundering a non-existing image.
Before Dora Akunyili launches her rebranding revue, some sight seeing trips in the country may be useful to her. Madam Akunyili should visit and drive through two major gateways to Nigeria-the Murtala Mohammed International airport and the Seme Border both in Lagos. She can do both in a stretch on a single trip. Madam Akunyili should take a late night flight from Abuja to Lagos, and drive straight from the airport through Oshodi -Apapa expressway down to Mile-2-Badagry expressway (all federal roads) on to Seme Border, she would be greeted with two things- utter darkness on those bumpy roads (about 100 Kilometers or more with no street lights), and the sight of uniformed men and women (police, customs, immigration, and touts working for them etc) all shamelessly collecting bribes. If she is lucky on arrival at the airport, the luggage conveyor belt may be working for her to collect her bags after one hour; otherwise, it may take two to three hours to do so under intense heat. Will a visitor/tourist be amused at those sights? Will a rebranded Nigeria through propaganda change the situation?
Also, Madam Akunyili should take a trip to neighbourhoods in Oshodi, Sabo Gari in Kano or Enugu, and request for pipe borne water to drink from her fellow citizens. At best, if they generous, they are likely to give her ‘pure water’ in cellophane bags, as the taps have all dried up. Does Dora Akunyili know that Nigeria’s poverty rate has increased from 46% in 1996 to 76% in 2008 according to latest United Nations estimates? Where governments do not govern, the lives of people count for little or nothing at all.
In 1994, the World Bank conducted a study on the infrastructure cost of doing business for the manufacturing sector in three countries- Nigeria, Indonesia and Thailand. In all the three countries, public services of electricity and water were grossly inefficient and manufacturing firms had to develop substitutes for both services. In 1990, the rate of substitution by private firms for power supply was 92%, 66%, and 6% in Nigeria, Indonesia and Thailand respectively; while that of water was 44%, 60%, and 24% for Nigeria, Indonesia and Thailand. Today, both Thailand and Indonesia have made remarkable progress in addressing their water and energy problems. Nigeria regresses on the two counts. A country where the government does not govern!
The best information Minister Obasanjo ever had- Chikelu attempted what Dora Akunyili is trying to do now. The young man, polite, cautious and always sober tried to rebrand Nigeria through another expensive image laundry show abroad (“The Heart of Africa Project”). The peak of it was the funny but unimpressionistic advertisement on CNN in which Obasanjo himself appeared welcoming people to “Nigeria- the heartbeat of Africa”. What heartbeat? The heartbeat of election rigging, third term chicanery, or criminal misuse of state resources for a power sector that never generated electricity for the people? Obasanjo’s tomfoolery did not deceive anyone, his unfortunate propaganda fell by the way side, the way it should!
Dora Akunyili should be modest and focused on her mandate. She would do the regime she is serving and the nation some good if she serve as a good information transmission belt and feedback mechanism between the government and the people. She should endeavour to open the government to the people by regularly conveying to them actions, policies and activities being undertaken by the federal government, and collect honest feedback from the people to her benefactor-the Yar ‘adua regime, on those activities of government. She may also initiate an objective but regular opinion survey on the perception of the federal government by the people, which could serve as a tool of gauging the progress of government, refining its policies and be responsible to the people.
Further, in order to assist the government to govern, and govern well, Dora Akunyili may support and campaign for the “Freedom of Information” bill. Armed with a freedom of information law, the civil society and the media may be more effective in exposing corrupt public officials and promoting transparency in the country.
What requires rebranding, no, reinventing in Nigeria is not the country’s image but its leadership. It is the leadership that has continuously embarrassed the people and the nation. It is a toxic leadership that poisons the society and the environment. A leadership that subverts the general will, steals the vote and voice of its citizens, kills, maims and devalues the lives of the people it is supposed to cater for, and suspends itself above society is a leadership that needs reinventing or a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, Dora Akunyili is part and parcel of that leadership!

* Adejumobi, an African Governance Expert lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.