• By: Ikem Okuhu

If information available to us is anything to go by, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, may have concluded plans to commence another nation marketing programme, otherwise loosely called “rebranding.” If this information proves to be true as it is most likely will, this will perhaps be the very first real action to be taken by the Minister since he was sworn into office less than a month ago. But it may also be the pointer to how Nigeria and Nigerian political leaders seem to not have learned from the sorry stories of yesterday.

It has been learnt that the Information Minister had already made up his mind on this. To give effect to it, he is said to have allegedly briefed Centrespread, a marketing communications agency powered by Kola Ayanwale. Centrespread, we learnt from the Ministry, has already commenced the “thinking” process on the strategies and planks to anchor the next Brand Nigeria initiative and will soon begin activations and engagements.

Lai Mohammed

Lai Mohammed:  Nation Marketing takes a lot more than sloganeering and making of claims

Centrespread was in pole position to get this job and is very likely to get many other jobs from this government. First, the leader of the agency is very close to the Minister. Again, having almost solely handled the campaign communications of the ruling All Progressives Congress in the last elections, expectations are that the agency will leverage that for even more “jobs” having delivered the Buhari-led APC government via its communications.

No one will begrudge Centrespread its fortune. As one of the biggest agencies in Nigeria, this company has over the years proved to deliver very strong campaigns. It still manages some of the biggest companies in Nigeria and is capable of any and every job it gets.

But this is not about Centrespread and its capacity. It is essentially not also about Lai Mohammed, who, in all respects, have done the good job of defending his party and working from a lowly position of being the spokesperson of a party with shaky roots in a few states to the one that defeated the incumbent and now forming a new government.

Dora Akunyili could not make the "Good People, Great Nation" proposition to work

Dora Akunyili as information Minister, could not make the “Good People, Great Nation” proposition to work

Lai as a person has become a real case study in political communication and opposition “positioning” in an environment where it was unheard of for the ruling party to lose elections, especially at the centre.

This is about the idea o rebranding Nigeria and the futility of it, which some people would have assumed that having come into power on the plank of a CHANGE mantra, Mohammed, and even the larger APC leadership at government and party levels should know a lot better than follow the failed paths of previous governments.

In anticipation of the direction this government will take, I had, some few months after the swearing-in of the Buhari-led government written an article on the nation marketing success story that has taken place in India, a country, many still refer to when discussing how unsuccessful Nigeria has chosen to become. India clearly began the journey of national rebirth with Nigeria, especially in the area of industrialization. But as Nigeria lagged, India progressed; while the auto assembly plants established by Nigeria closed, India, which began the same process with us was exporting its TATA brands and tricycles to Nigeria.

I wrote that article at the time I did because I suspected that whoever was going to be made the Information Minister will go for such easy wins designed for grandstanding rather than any realistically measurable results for the country and its citizens.

This article on India was not the first I have written on the various branding and rebranding efforts activated by various Nigerian governments. Matter of fact, it was back in 2005 that I wrote my very first article on this subject. It was then published in The Guardian under the headline, “The Futility of Rebranding Nigeria.”

In a paragraph in that particular article, I had stated clearly, with many examples that “Nigeria cannot be bad and blow a diversionary trumpet of virtue and think the world would be deceived. At the end of the day, the real “us” will reveal itself.”

The truth is that, 10 years after, the only thing that has changed about Nigeria is the Buhari government that most people have come to see as capable of Messianic redemption of the country. Otherwise, the country has been on a steady slide ever since, losing its position of respect in the world and involuntarily surrendering its leadership position in Africa to the likes of South Africa, Libya and very recently, Kenya and a few others.

Did "The Heart of Africa" work? No, is the answer.

Did “The Heart of Africa” work? No, is the answer.

Against these sour backdrops, I have consistently maintained that for any nation marketing effort to be successful, there are a number of firsts that must take place. These include:

  • Infrastructure revolution: I don’t know which tourist will want to visit anywhere where good road network is anathema. I doubt if our airports have changed much since the past 20 years. I cannot see a very serious investor that will not worry about the comatose electricity supply in the country while making capital destination decisions.
  • Corruption and bureaucracy: Nigeria, even with all the hardline positions of President Mohammadu Buhari against corruption is still ranking very high in all the indices of corruption. The battle before this government is to work to reduce is and even while the president is fighting, there is reasonable suspicion that corruption is already fighting a stiff battle of resistance. To get a file out of a ministry takes years and, of course, money. Civil servants have become rich, stupendously rich, just by sitting behind a desk. They slow down everything and will only work if and when money exchanges hands. The world knows this.
  • Education: Nigeria’s education system has become one of the worst in the world. Graduates of universities have been found to be incapable of reading. Most cannot function in corporate environments. Simple memo writing by those fortunate to get employment is rocket science and back in the universities, the lecturers are busy struggling to make quick money from students in apparent competition with the political class who have become rich by not working at all.
  • A divided nation still dividing: The challenge of religious extremism in the north, the recent agitation for an independent Biafra from Nigeria, the indigene-settler crises in many parts of the country is also at another end. There is also the increasing disconnect between citizens and government at various levels. How will anyone sell Nigeria to the outside world when he has not first sold Nigeria to Nigerians? Which company has been successful without first of all making its staff and internal stakeholders to first believe in its products and corporate value propositions? How can you seel what you do not believe in?
  • Industries and technology: Nigeria lives in a world in which it consumes everything but makes really nothing. The country has made some names in the music and movie industries of late, but that is where it ends. Even here, which of the technologies driving these two thriving markets does Nigeria own? There are very negligibly few factories in the country that are managing the wretched infrastructure to work. This is why even those in the country that have been able to manage through school with some acceptable education still cannot find jobs to do. The consequence? Rise in crime as they seek alternative means of sustenance.

Back to India

Make in India: A nation marketing programme based on reality you can experience; a promise you can measure its fulfillment.

Make in India: A nation marketing programme based on reality you can experience; a promise you can measure its fulfillment.

I must have to generously refer to my earlier article here on how India went about (and is still going about) its nation marketing campaign because it offers a perfect example of how the process of positioning and repositioning a nation should be carried out.

Even before we begin to discuss this example, mention must be made of China and how it became one of the most important destinations of capital, commerce and tourism in the world.

Prior to the end of the cold war, China was more or less a pariah nation as far as the West was concerned. Each time China was mentioned, people were indoctrinated by such Western concepts as “undemocratic,” “Iron Curtain,” “Human rights abuse,” etc. But as the world sat at conferences and loved and hated, China sat down, built infrastructure, trained its people, created a huge market the world could not resist and then provided a hub for relatively cheaper labour that capital so much love.

At the end, China, even without making loud noises about how it wants the world to see it, became the beautiful bride of deep pockets. America and Europe exported most of their manufacturing to this country and today, China is about to begin the supply of power to the United Kingdom.

But beyond its strong and consistent foreign policy and subtle marketing, China has not been seen to have activated any nation branding campaign with deliberate intent to woo anyone or group.

Now in the case of India, this vast subcontinent, like many other countries, is beset with a whole lot of issues. Poverty is in India. In fact it can be said that the worst discriminatory regime the world has till date is an Indian. The Indian caste system is so harsh, so strong that we often hear of women being raped as punishment for offences committed by their parents. We hear people being forced to marry dogs and goats as punishment for certain offences or in fulfillment of certain rites.

But India, these days is not known majorly for all these. The country has become a centre of Information Technology, engineering and manufacturing. What India did was sit back, train its people, give them the best in education, build the right infrastructure and make the right policies to enable growth and development in its industries.

Very recently, the country launched a marketing campaign that it themed “Make In India.” In conventional parlance, this is not what people are used to. We hear of “Made in China,” Made in Great Britain,” Made in the Republic of Korea,” Made in Germany,” et cetera.

But understanding how successful China was by subtly luring the world to relocate their manufacturing to the country, India also wants the world to know that they can “make” their products in India without making them lose national pride. In other words, India is saying, “come here and make your products and still claim you made it, if that will suit your national and corporate ego.

To have come this far, India, as noted earlier, had the right infrastructure in place. It had industrial centres with competence and capacity for various kinds and levels of manufacturing.

The point must be made here that it was only when India had built these structures and had also created the right labour that is confronted the world with this pitch.

And that is how it is in all of marketing. You cannot brand a product you have not made. And when I say brand here, I am talking, not about giving a name to products and services as most would readily think. I am talking about infusing propositions, promises, attributes and experiences in a product or service.

As I have often said, nation marketing is even more complicated than product marketing because of the diverse stakeholders, multiple experience platforms and its generally experiential nature. You must have aggregated these and found them to be unique and worthy propositions before you present them to the world. You cannot lie about it because people experience the country on multiple channels everyday everywhere.

Way forward?

For me the best thing the Information Minister should do right now is lie very low on nation marketing. I am not being cynical but this is not the time it will work. There is nothing on ground to make that happen. Things are so damaged, morals are so low, Nigeria is so regressed branding this time will, like in the previous experiments, be sinkholes into which government threw our money and resources.

In case he is being deceived, like most governments in the past were, the CHANGE mantra upon which this government came to power cannot even qualify for a nation marketing anchor. In fact any value proposition Centrespread sells to government will even run contrary to the letters of the CHANGE mantra.

CHANGE, here is not a proposition we can work with. In the context of the APC campaign mantra, change is a process of rebirth, recovery and redemption. This means that we cannot even afford to tell the world that we are in the process of change. India was in the process of same change for many years before it decided to announce its promise to the world  – a promise they can see, experience and ultimately invest in.

It is only when “change” happens and we all here in Nigeria can see it, that Lai can make his nation branding count. Anything outside of this is politics and patronage. And when the country is ready, the rebranding process is not something the Information Ministry picks and manages. There are critical stakeholders in the process. The Ministry of interior is critical to it; the Foreign Affairs Ministry is important; the Ministry of Commerce and Trade, Tourism are also as important, if not even more important than the Information Ministry. These other stakeholders, working with private sector groups like the Chambers of Commerce are those who will create what eventually the Ministry of Information will sell.

That is how it should work.



Leave a Comment