by Femi Akomolafe
"DAILY, Nigerians groan under the most inexcusable hardship as the government of President Yar'Adua appears not only unprepared to do something about the grotesque suffering, but more important, also lacks the orientation that confronts social crises. In the context of this, any "rebranding" project will be a total waste of resources by a dull, dour and uninspiring government, lacking not in agenda, but totally deficient in the quality of mind that accomplishes set agenda. It is an embarrassment that such a government would seek this gratuitous wastage of public resources as Akunyili's pet-project."
—Nigerian Tribune, March 11, 2009.
(Swans - May 4, 2009) On Tuesday, March 17, 2009, Nigeria's Ministry of Information and Communication unveiled the logo and slogan for a project dubbed "Rebranding Nigeria." A nation-wide competition organized for both the slogan and the logo was won by a 30-year-old engineer with the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Chike Obika. The slogan was: "Good People, Great Nation." The great irony here is that PHCN is the behemoth electricity company that cannot generate and distribute enough power for the nation.
Like most things Nigerian, the occasion was full of excessive pomp and pageantry. The president, Yar'Adua, was represented by his deputy who delivered a rousing speech exhorting his compatriots: "There is no doubt that suffocating negative attitudes constitute a grave obstacle to the attainment of our developmental objectives. It is therefore vital that we frontally, and in a structured manner, face up to the challenge of negative attitudes and negative perception to our national regeneration efforts. We need to present an optimistic outlook, renew the national spirit, and reinvigorate our faith in Nigeria and this is the essence of this campaign."
Yar'Adua frowned at those who perceived the "Nigerian Brand" as being synonymous with all things negative, "with the result that some people have come to believe that it is impossible to reverse this mindset. As a people, we cannot, and we must not allow this perception to persist unchecked and un-addressed."
At the end of the event I met and chatted with the director at the Ministry of Information and Communication.
What a flawlessly delivered great speech! And what a nice slogan: "Good people, great nation," very catchy.
Ah, my brother, I'm glad that you liked it. Unlike many of our people who cannot see a good thing even when it hits them in the face.
And the logo, my God! The panel really had good eyes for the best. It was a graphic design triumph!
Yeah, that was part of the totality of the objectives. We have to position the country in a perfectly holistic framework devoid of the extant cynicism and prejudices.
Ummh. Big grammar! Director, you go kill man with these your big, big grammar! [a Nigerian expression]
Seriously, my brother, it's time we Nigerians wean ourselves from all those self-destructive negativisms. We are certainly no angels, but we can hold ourselves against anybody. You see, part of the problem is that our people have become so cynical that they no longer appreciate anything the government is doing for them.
Oh, what has the government been doing for them?
What do you mean? Take this rebranding for example. Why should it be only government that's concerned about the image of the country? It should be the collective responsibility of every Nigerian to defend the integrity of the nation.
Integrity, umh! Is that not too heavy a word to use in the context of Nigeria?
What do you mean?
I mean that the words Nigeria and integrity are not something people will use in the same context. No one I know thinks of Nigeria and thinks integrity.
You see, that exactly is part of the problem. Government is doing its best to refurbish the image of the country and we have killjoys like you pouring scorn on our efforts. Why are you rubbishing something you've just so effusively praised?
Director, I am sorry that you feel that way. I just happen to think that no amount of refurbishing will make a heap of rubbish look attractive...
Are you calling Nigeria a heap of rubbish?
I am saying no such thing, if only you will allow me to land, as they say in Nigeria. Instead of the government wasting serious money on a useless venture like this rebranding nonsense, it should have invested its effort in tackling the myriad problems we see all around us.
Yeah, yeah, you talk as though there is a country in the world that hasn't got its fair share of problems, eh?
I am talking no such nonsense. Of course every country has its own peculiar problem; the difference is that whilst other countries are doing their best to address their problems, Nigeria appears to be without leaders who have a clue about what it takes to govern. None of Nigeria's problems is being addressed, that's the big problem, Mr. Director. Nigeria is a defective -- sorry -- a failed state, that does not even provide ANYTHING for its citizens. Take water for instance. Nigerians go through life without knowing what pipe-borne water tastes like. Take corruption -- the country consistently topped the league table of corrupt nations. We do not even need any table; we all see corruption around us. It's pervasive. It has become a culture. Where in Nigeria do you see accountability; where do you see transparency? Where in Nigeria do you see a leader that gives a damn about the ordinary people? Where in this country do you see any leader with a vision, even an idea, about how to move the country forward? Nigerians can read and they can write: They know that their country produces about two million barrels of oil a day, so they know that some incomes are coming into the national account. Their main question is where are all the monies going? Nigerians hear that billions of naira have been voted for road building and rehabilitation, yet they cannot see any good road around. They continue to die needlessly from the death traps we call roads around here. Nigerians know that their power company also receives billions of naira in budgetary allocations, yet they don't have electricity. About the only thing they see are overcompensated ministers and their mouthpieces tooling around town in expensive jeeps mouthing useless slogans. No one eats slogans, Mr. Director.
That's sheer blasphemy! Are you not aware that the government has set up three agencies to fight corruption? Are you not aware that some state governors and some ministers have been jailed? Are you not aware that an Inspector General of Police was arrested, prosecuted, and jailed? These things happened here in Nigeria, but no one gives us kudos for the positive things. We only get knocks on the heads for the bad things.
I am very much aware of the efforts of some of the agencies to fight corruption, but that was before the present regime came into power. All those positive things you mentioned happened in the previous regime. What I, and the rest of the world, know is that all the anticorruption gains of the previous administration have been totally negated by the actions of the present government. I give you one specific example: the most efficient of the anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), has had its wings clipped. The EFCC won international laurels for its fight against corruption, but what we had was the present government coming into power and expending lots of efforts, energies, and resources to remove its effective chairman, Mallam Ribadu, who today resides in exile in England. The man was demoted, he had assassins trail him, he was shot at, and was finally dismissed from the police force. That doesn't give the impression of a country that's seriously fighting corruption. A good product hardly needs much sloganeering to sell itself. Nigeria is a bad case of a very odious product, and until you guys in positions of power get your act together and start acting with some decency, no one is going to take you seriously. How on earth could anyone even think of rebranding a nation where the simplest of civic exercises like conducting a national census and conducting elections have become major productions and are occasions for mini civil wars? Take that you're the joke we call national assembly here as another example.
What's wrong with our legislature?
The question ought to be what's not wrong with your legislature. You have about 500 legislators who have managed to collar 4.5% of the national budget! And you're asking me what's wrong with your legislature! Nigerian MPs receive better pay and emolument than their American counterparts. That, however, hasn't stopped them from looting the national kitty. The last time I checked on them, they were busy debating animal rights in a country where the vast majority of the citizens live in conditions unfit for animals in some lands. They were busy debating how animals should be accorded decent transportation and this in a country where the vast majority of citizens are travelling in overcrowded, antiquated molues [the name given to transport buses in Nigeria] and okadas [Nigerian jargon for motorcycles]! Three presidents of the Senate were removed on corruption charges and today, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is currently embroiled in a car-deal scandal. He was almost lynched by his colleagues for demanding that they pay back two million naira they scandalously allocated themselves to celebrate a Moslem festival. Sorry, Director, I simply find your rebranding such a pathetic waste of time and money. Get the priorities right first and your country would sell itself. Stop asking the impossible from your citizens. No honest Nigerian will believe your pathetically empty slogan of "Good people, Great Nation." There is too much corruption to call Nigerians good people and there's nothing to suggest to anyone that Nigeria is a great nation. It is time you people in the corridor of power stop living in cuckoo land.
I see here a lot of criticism, none of it constructive. The government is doing its utmost best, but people like you are doing your best to torpedo its efforts.
Get out of here! The utmost of the government is apparently not enough. Maybe we are just tired of being fed with a plethora of useless sloganeering. How many such initiatives have governments force-fed us over the years: 'Operation Feed the Nation,' 'Green Revolution,' 'Vision 2020,' 'Heart of Africa,' to mention but a few. Oh, the president, on assumption of office, also launched a 'Seven-Point Agenda.' All those useless schemes were also announced with fanfare, but what happened to them? Give us electricity, water, adequate security, good roads, telephones, and we shall become the best advertisement for rebranding Nigeria. If visitors come to our shore and see healthy, well-fed, well-housed, well-educated Nigerians living in a secure environment, they will go away with a favorable impression of Nigeria. But as it is, they come to a country that cannot distribute its premier product: petroleum. They see a country in perpetual darkness due to lack of electricity. They see a country where a few elite are living obscenely lavish lifestyles whilst the majority of the citizens are confined in roach-infested, mosquito-overwhelmed ghost towns -- ghettos within ghettos. They see a nation held hostage by armed robbers. They see a nation where absolutely nothing works. Of course, they will go away with the impression of the country as one hell hole on earth, which Nigeria actually is.
Your crude analyses are both pathetic and deplorable. Nigeria has its share of problems but that doesn't call for the type of gratuitous put-down you're peddling.
I love my country as much as anyone else. I just do not believe in "my country, right or wrong." As a wit once put it, "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels."
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