Since the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Akunyili announced her ministry’s intentions and commitment to revamping the national rebranding campaign begun by Chukwuemeka Chikelu, former Minister of Information during the Olusegun Obasanjo government, a lot has been written in the press, and debated on the internet, TV and Radio concerning the pros, cons and timing of such a national image campaign. Some of these debates bother on the presumed cost of such a campaign with the debaters wondering if the federal government could not channel the funds meant for the rebranding campaign to other areas requiring urgent attention.
With due regards to the opinions of those who have argued strongly against such a campaign, in the context of today’s realities, the question should no longer be whether Nigeria should initiate or resuscitate a national branding campaign but rather how should such a campaign be managed to achieve maximum impact and avoid repeating some of the mistakes experienced with the Heart of Africa campaign. Prof. Isawa Elaigwu, a member of the Committee on National Rebranding placed the issue in context while giving reasons for accepting his nomination to be a member of the 22-man committee which was inaugurated by the Minister of Information and Communications on Friday, March 6th 2009; "What is the alternative to not re-branding?" If one may add here, can we as a nation continue to drown in shame as a result of the various labels which have gained popular currency and which are now used to describe Brand Nigeria and her people? Should we walk about without a sense of national pride and let others define how we see ourselves and relate with one another? Are we only a nation of scammers and corrupt people? Is there nothing good about our country and people worth celebrating? Is it not about time we start telling our own stories and defining our essence as a people? A well managed nation branding campaign like the one being proposed by the Ministry of Information and Communications will help provide answers to some of these questions raised here and even do more, helping to reposition our national image, rekindle the passion and spirit of patriotism in us and make us believe more in the beauty that lies in us, and in our country despite the challenges we may be facing today.
Several scholars have written extensively on the concept of nation branding including Simon Anholt who theorised on the country of origin effect and the impact it could have on national economics. Mr. Anholt who is the world’s leading authority on the subject believes that part of the challenges the developing world is facing today beside poor governance and weak infrastructure is the issue of weak national brands and identities, this he says reduces their attraction in the international community and places them in low positions as potential brides in the competition for tourism and investment dollars.
Randall Frost (2004) also makes a strong case for nation branding campaigns when he remarked thus; "There's no arguing that the image we have of another country says a lot about how we view it as a tourist destination, a place to invest or a source of consumer goods."
There is therefore an understanding within Anholt’s and Frost’s views that nation branding goes beyond fancy logo designs and slogans or insertion of ads in the media. This has also been validated by Prof. (Mrs.) Akunyili who remarked at the Rebranding Committee inauguration of a move towards multi-agency (MDAs) collaboration to ensure that the issues which Nigerians have raised and which they maintain erode the national brand image are tackled.
Perhaps some of those arguing against a national rebranding exercise may have found some comfort in the words of the American, William Drenttel (2004) who had argued against the concept of nation branding in his essay My Country is not a Brand; "Even nations have become brands… The symbol for a country should not be created by branding experts. When the vocabulary of a nation's foreign policy is the vocabulary of branding, then it is, in fact, selling Uncle Ben's Rice. This transaction, with the vocabulary of the supermarket counter, is not how I envision my country (America) speaking to the rest of the world."
However, adopting such a simplistic view of nation branding as opined by Drenttel hardly does justice to the wider benefits and fails to take into considerations other factors including good governance and public diplomacy which make up enabling factors that may lead to the success of any nation branding campaign. Before we dismiss the current project, it is important to explore even though in some small measure what the concept of Nation, Place or Destination branding is, who it is for? Which nation, place or region has done it in the past? What are the benefits? How much does it cost? Who should fund it and is a nation or region better off without running such a campaign?
As a member of the global community of nations, Nigeria as a country should in addition to meeting the local needs and aspirations of her citizens seek to align some of its thinking, processes and activities to global best practices. In this era of globalisation, technology has made it possible for individuals, countries and nations to tell their own stories, to be visible, to be seen and to be heard. People in branding will tell you that in national economics, image is everything. That the whole world is flocking to China today to buy various goods and services does not necessarily mean that Chinese made products are better or cheaper than those made in other parts of the world. The shoes made in China being bought today by the rest of the world and by Nigerians in particular could easily have been shoes made in Aba, but unfortunately for Aba shoe makers, no one has bothered to work with them to up their game and processes, or to promote their services and products more or polish their act a bit and help place their wares on an international pedestal.
Instead of inviting the world to come to Ariaria market Aba to buy shoes and other goods made in Aba, we deride such and call them ‘Aba made’, or ‘Ibo made’, all negative terms which knock down entrepreneurial spirit rather than nurture talent.
We would gladly spend thousands of pounds or dollars to fly to the islands of Malta or Barbados for a week’s holidays when we could have been lying in the serene beaches of Azumini in Abia state or even the tropical beaches of La Campan Tropicana in Lagos for a fraction of that cost. Instead of agreeing to meet our business partners or lovers at exotic locations abroad, an act that only contributes to the growth of the GDP of other nations, why don’t we schedule such meetings and invite our foreign partners instead to Nigeria to local destinations in Nigeria such as Obudu, Shere etc to help boost the local economy. Are we consciously telling our friends and associates who are non-Nigerians that we have beautiful tourist sites in Nigeria or are we still consumed with the self-defeating stories bothering on corruption, armed robbers, power outages etc. Should life stop for Nigeria and Nigerians just because we are still grappling with challenging social issues? Don’t other countries have their own challenges and have they stopped marketing themselves to the outside world waiting until all is right before they throw open their national borders to visitors?
In this Obama age of ‘Can do’ attitude, what better time for Nigerians to rekindle their passion for nation than now, or should our ‘Yes, we can’ expressions stop only in our thoughts? What about the doing part? If we must take the Obama philosophy forward, then we must all put on our ‘self-belief’ garments and resolve to march on as a proud and patriotic people. We need not have waited for Prof. (Mrs.) Akunyili to remind us of the need to reposition our thoughts. This should have been something that we should all have begun on an individual or family level extending to our places of work etc; Prof. Akunyili’s message would have only served as a reminder.
It is difficult to tell if it was the message from John F. Kennedy to Americans to think not only of what their country can do for them, but also to think about what they can do for their country that has driven Americans to such high level of patriotism. It is such now that the average American despite whatever issues he or she may have with the American government concerning governance never lets that come in the way of their patriotism. They sing their anthem with pride and the expression ‘I’m an American’ once uttered by an American serves as a call to duty for country, also reminding them of their proud heritage.
No one nation should see itself as an island. Therefore, Nigeria as a country should embrace the concepts of place or destination branding. We must actively seek to market our country as a favourite destination for tourism, trade and investments. We must tell our own stories and seek to shape the agenda of both local and international media, if we don’t, then we should not complain when the media, particularly the international media only showcase the negatives about us.
Germany rode on the back of successfully hosting the 2006 World Cup to launch a national rebranding exercise which was aimed at uniting Germans and restoring back self – belief which has been battered by long years of self-pity and international derision over Nazi crimes.
The governments of the United Kingdom, U.S.A, Greece, Turkey, Australia and South Africa have variously launched successful national image campaigns. Even towns and regions have been known to run own campaigns, a good model closer home is the Cross River state government example which provides a good template for others states in Nigeria to adopt.
While the costs of running such campaigns may be huge, however they are easily scalable and the campaigns could be adopted in line with available budget. This will lead to the achievement of quick wins. In one of her speeches, Prof. Akunyili had informed that the present initiative will rely somewhat on Public Private Peoples Participation (PPPP). According to her; "My team and I know that we cannot successfully re-brand Nigeria without the support and buy-in of Nigerians. A new thinking under this initiative is the Private, Public, Peoples', Partnership, PPPP, under which the people are joint stakeholders."
There are indeed opportunities to get the private sector involved since they will be beneficiaries of the investment dollars being targeted. While speaking at a CNN interview in June 2008, Dr. (Mrs.) Cecilia Ibru, Group MD/CEO of Oceanic Bank had indicated the willingness of the private sector to contribute to a common fund from which an initiative like this could be funded. She had passionately argued that if Nigeria wins through such a campaign, then the corporates win too.
While the argument of potential waste of resources in the management of the rebranding campaign funds may have some merits given past experiences, there are still ways resources could be maximised. The process has already begun with the composition of the national rebranding committee which is made up of representatives from the civil society, professional associations and trade groups, Nigerians in diaspora and other qualified experts. One expects that Nigerians will embrace this project and continue to support the work of the committee by sharing ideas with them and taking the message of the project to all corners of Nigeria.
According to Sunday Dare, Senior Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Communications and a member of the technical committee of the rebranding project, "Nigerians have demonstrated support for this exercise through the thousands of entries received by the ministry during the call for logo and slogan submissions". He reminded that this was in line with the Honourable minister’s promise to make this a people –driven campaign. Mr. Dare also said that the committee which comprises of notable Nigerians and professionals such as Pete Edochie, Lolu Akinwumi, Hilda Dokubo, Prof. Ikechukwu Nwosu, Dr Tony Iredia, Julia Oku – Jacks, Alhaji Garbi Bello Kankarofi and many more are committed to supporting the ministry to formulate strategies which if implemented will give the image of our beloved country Nigeria a new lease of life.
Nworah, a blogger wrote from Abuja.