Until the APC-led Federal Government makes a conscious and deliberate effort to improve the lot of Nigerians by fulfilling their electoral promises and “gingering the swag” of Nigerians locally and internationally. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m talking about!
- By Emeka Oparah
Some people would wonder why anybody would bother about the image of Nigeria at a time majority of the people are groaning under the weight of economic hardship. I was almost feeling the same way, when I received a call from Ikem Okuhu, the restless and acutely brilliant CEO of BRANDish Magazine to join a panel to discuss the subject based on papers to be delivered at the second edition of BRANDish Meeting of Minds, by Lampe Omoyele, former MD of Nielsen and Bolaji Okusaga of The Quadrant Company, until the spirit of patriotism combined with the PR practitioner in me took over. Mindful of the pedigree of the two speakers, both of whom, by the way, are professional colleagues and personal friends, even if I didn’t know who my fellow panelists would be until I got to the venue, I had to read up for the task. One book that came in quite handy was “Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image” by Charles Fombrun, Founder & Chairman, Reputation Institute, USA, one of the authorities on the subject of Reputation. Though Fombrun wrote specifically about Corporate Organizations, his proposals are as relevant to countries and ideas as they are to the corporates he intended his treatise for.
One aspect of Fombrun’s thesis I committed to memory as I joined the BRANDish Magazine event was the part which said organizations with good reputation would 1). Have products and stock offerings that would entice more customers and command higher prices; 2). Have jobs that would lure more (high grade) applicants and generate more loyalty and productivity from employees; 3). Have more clout with suppliers – and pay lower prices for purchases and have more stable revenues; 4). Risk fewer crises-and when crises do occur, survival is with less financial loss. You could actually apply these same advantages to countries and it would read almost the same. Most definitely, countries with good reputation (at the very least) would be preferred investment and tourist destinations; would attract the best people working in government and would have a prosperous economy with happy citizens.
It is my considered opinion that the reputation of a country (or even an individual) does not exist in a void but within the gap between perception and reality. Put differently, the reputation of a country defines or determines how it is perceived. It is fallacious to externalize perception and or reputation. Like charity, it begins at home! So, there are five or so questions that need to be asked here. One, how do people perceive the president (think of Donald Trump, Muhammadu Buhari, Vladmir Putin and Theresa May)? Two, how do people perceive the country (think of Nigeria, Rwanda, United States, Iran and Britain)? Three, how do people see the economy of the country? Four, how do people perceive Nigerians, Indians, Americans, Britons, French and Indians)? Five, what globally relevant developments are occurring in the country? The answers to the questions will most definitely provide an easy-to-read barometer showing the reputation of any country. The United States is not looking very good right now, no thanks to the shenanigans of President Donald J. Trump. Nigeria’s bad reputation has been worsened not only by the poor economic performance but also the health condition of President Buhari, which, to my mind, had been grossly mismanaged.
So, Nigeria, which is my primary concern here is NOT looking good, and it is urgent and important something is done real quick to ameliorate the situation and get the country back into positive light. There is a lot of work to be done-at three key levels, as far as I am concerned, namely the Individual or citizen level, the community or group level and the state or government level.
The cliché, all hands must be on deck, comes in handy here. It is easy to externalize and blame someone else for the bad image or reputation of Nigeria, but the fact is that we are all guilty so long as we are Nigerians. We are directly or vicariously liable for the positive or negative perception of our country, depending on how high or low our influence or involvement in leadership (political, business and religious) is.
Individual: As individuals, citizens of Nigeria, we must represent our country well. We must espouse good ideals and demonstrate our pride in our country by not just saying but actually doing things that will enhance the perception of the country locally and internationally. It is not just about singing the national anthem and mouthing the pledge! Do we deliberately seek to speak positively about our country? Do we highlight the good aspects of our country and the people? Or do we call our fatherland a zoo and give prominence to negative developments? Are you one of those whose indecorous actions have led to the deliberate location of Boarding Gates to Nigeria at the furthermost parts of most international airports? Are you among the one million or so Advance Fee Fraudsters damaging the records of over 160 million other Nigerians? Are you one of those, whom Richard Branson talked about when he pulled out his Virgin Atlantic from the Virgin Nigeria transaction, keener in negotiating for free business class tickets for them and their families than getting a good deal for the country and the people? Are you among the dubious few who must ask for bribe while negotiating with foreign investors or make it difficult for foreigner to do business with us? There are over 20 million Nigerians on Facebook. Just imagine how much they can influence or change the Nigerian narrative if they elect to make only positive posts and comments about Nigeria, knowing full well that Facebook is a vital lens through which many Nigerians and non-Nigerians view the country! We can all decide to become ambassadors of Brand Nigeria or enemies of the state, and enemies of ourselves.
Community: The unfortunate incident at St. Phillip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, Anambra State, Nigeria, captures the very essence of this aspect of my thesis regarding the role of the community in the development and sustenance of a positive reputation for Nigeria. Everyone appears complicit in the Ozubulu issue, if the reports are anything to go by. A young man with no clear and certain source of wealth has built churches, roads and bridges and banks, paid salaries to the elderly and widowed, wined and dined with top politicians including the Governor of his state and hobnobbed with the clergy including the bishop of his home diocese. Yet, it was he whom they came for when they slaughtered innocent worshippers during an early morning Mass! Away from Ozubulu, it is a known fact that some leading politicians and government officials are known criminals, but they represent or superintend over us, as the case may be. Many of them are celebrated, garlanded and recognised by the church and traditional institutions with titles and accolades. Highly educated and accomplished professionals and honest business men and women are no longer role models but instead known criminals masquerading as politicians and tycoons are! Our churches and traditional institutions must return to First Principles. They must reclaim their traditional roles as moral compasses, which the young and the old use to navigate the vagaries and temptations that dog our daily lives-and, therefore, shape our character and actions.
We cannot discountenance the significant influence of religion, culture and tradition in shaping the morals of a people. And there you have it, my dear friends. Isn’t it therefore, regrettable and most unfortunate that our religious and traditional institutions have rather than promote morality elected to preach prosperity! So, the violent pursuit of fame and fortune now defines who we are. Drugs, 419 (Advance Fee Fraud) and ritual killings combine with terrorism to define the good people of Nigeria. The religious and traditional institutions have their work cut out for them. They had better get on with it with sincere earnestness.
The State: Every country should be led by her best people. Is Nigeria led by her best? Is our President the best we can have? Are the Ministers and other government officials our best feet forward? Do our leaders, both business and political, represent the best or are they emblematic of the wrong things about us as a people? Most successful nations have had the benefit of visionary, intelligent, focused leaderships, men and women who have selflessly put themselves forward to serve. Can we say same for Nigeria? It goes without saying that when people with the right competencies are in leadership positions that serious-minded effort is made to position or re-position or brand or re-brand a country. I have seen, heard of and experienced two major branding campaigns by India in recent times-Incredible India and Make in India. I also saw the wonderful Malaysia, Truly Asia Campaign. I saw one by Azerbaijan. Nigeria has made three or so poor attempts, which failed woefully. “Good People, Great Nation” was a great effort made by bad people! Guess what? Charity begins at home, ladies and gentlemen, as you all may know. We cannot conveniently sell a white-painted sepulchre. No way!
Therefore, at the individual, community and national level, the re-orientation must begin. The media, which I have deliberately left out of the three-step loop, must rise to the occasion. They can choose to be like the US media under Donald Trump, highlighting all that is wrong or become weapons of patriotic positive commentary to change the narratives about the country. The jury is still out on how well the media have helped to build or destroy the reputation of Nigeria. My view is not flattering of the media, and that’s the much I’m willing to say on this occasion. Nigerians in the diaspora must be co-opted into this campaign to rebuild and revamp Nigeria’s reputation. The benefits, as enumerated by Charles Fumbron are manifold. Additionally, Nigerians will be held in higher esteem and treated with less disrespect and national pride would soar. Nothing will change or improve about Nigeria’s reputation, however, until the APC-led Federal Government makes a conscious and deliberate effort to improve the lot of Nigerians by fulfilling their electoral promises and “gingering the swag” of Nigerians locally and internationally. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m talking about!
Oparah, a communications practitioner, writes from Lagos.