Fifty years after independence, Nigeria occupies the unenviable position of one of the most poorly managed country brands in the world. It is an indisputable fact that the country scores very inadequately in most country brands facets, particularly in governance and transparency. Consequently, successive administrations have been working to sketch up a country image management programme. The latest effort at beautifying the image of the country is the rebranding programme of the current Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili.
It is pertinent to state that image management as a phrase and paradigm, found its way to the Information Ministry less than a decade ago when Chief Emeka Chikelu superintended over the Ministry. Media relations, advertising, engagement with foreign publics etc were all parts of Chikelu’s Heart of Africa programme. However, Professor Akunyili is of the belief that the Heart of Africa programme was too foreign focused hence her decision to redesign and rechristen the programme.
Commendable as the various efforts at rebranding the country may have been, the undeniable truth is that they have yielded very lean harvest. It therefore becomes obvious that there is something fundamentally wrong in the approaches that have so far been adopted to build an appealing image for the country. Focus has so far been on projecting the strengths of the country and on the need for attitudinal changes. But the targets of the communication do not believe the messages because in the words of Stephen R. Covey,”it is character that communicates most eloquently”. It doesn’t matter if our leaders share a powerful vision in the rebranding programme, if they are not leaders who people will follow, the vision will never be realized. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself.
To properly lay a solid foundation for where I am going to, I will once again quote Covey extensively, “if I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique”
To rephrase the words of Ralph Emerson, what Nigerian leaders are, shouts so loudly in the ears of ordinary Nigerians and members of the international community that they cannot hear what the various rebranding programmes have been saying. According to Calvin Coolidge, a former President of the United States of America, “Character is the only secure foundation of the state”, this is what the vast majority of our political leaders lack. The situation really became very bad during and after our series of military interregnums.
Therefore if we are to achieve a dramatic enhancement in the image of the country, the target of the rebranding campaigns has to first of all shift to our political leaders. They must first of all rebrand themselves before talking of rebranding the country. If our political leaders must lift us up, they must be on a higher ground. There has to been a paradigm shift in the way they see the country.
The ultimate goal of any branding or rebranding campaign is to win the trust of the people. The Nigerian masses (and even members of the international community) do not trust their leaders. That is why most government projects including the rebranding programme of the present administration are contemptuously seen as conduits for siphoning public funds into private pockets.
That is also why Jon Gordon’s saying that, “People follow the leader first and the leader’s vision second” is so true. Unless people have the confidence in the leader’s character and his ability to successfully lead the way people will not follow. Our political leaders have to give necessary attention to their character and competence so that people will have the confidence to follow. It’s this that will create the trust, “the force that connects people to their leaders and their vision”, which inspires the commitment to take action.
But why is it that Nigerians do not trust their leaders? Through their various actions and inactions, Nigerian political leaders send the message that they do not believe in Nigeria. They behave like plunderers. When they steal, they do not even invest the money in Nigeria. A further demonstration that they do not believe in the viability of the country.
In the words of Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye “Virtually every Nigerian knows and strongly believes that any day Nigeria is able to make up its mind to end its obscene and ruinous romance with the stubborn monster called “Corruption”, this country will automatically witness the kind of prosperity no one had thought was possible in these parts. Just imagine the amount of public funds being stolen and squandered daily under various guises by too many public officers and their accomplices, and the great transformation that would happen to public infrastructure and the lives of the citizenry if this organized banditry can at least be reduced by fifty percent”
For any rebranding project to be successful, the war against corruption must be truthfully waged and won. Our political leaders must lead by example. But they cannot lead by example if there is no fundamental shift in how they see the country.
The pertinent question now is, how do we bring about the paradigm shift? We can start with a summit of all major political leaders. At the summit, the leaders have to be honest to themselves that they have messed up. They also have to agree on basic rules of engagement with the Nigerian state. They have to agree that they will not send their children to schools abroad; they have to agree that they will not seek medical treatment for themselves and their family members outside the country. They need to agree that any of them that have houses outside the country should sell the houses. They need to concur to upgrade the basic infrastructure of the country.
Some may argue against the success of the summit but no body can underestimate the potency of paradigm shift in changing attitudes and behaviour. Nigerian leaders must believe and demonstrate that they are first of all Nigerians. They must start competing for political power on the basis of what they can do to move the country forward and not on the basis of ethnic or regional groups. In the words of Thoreau, “for every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root” “we can achieve quantum improvements in our lives as we quit hacking at the leaves of attitude and behaviour and get to work on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behaviours flow”.
If the primary target of the rebranding campaign has to shift to our political leaders, it therefore means that it has to be championed not by a Minister but by the President of the country because he is the most senior political office holder.
This country’s most precious asset ought to be its name. A good name will profit every segment of the society. The President has the duty to mind and conscientiously look after the image of the country
In taking charge of the rebranding campaign, our President like Abraham Lincoln should be able to say, "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me."
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