Opinion

Chris Tion: Brand Nigeria, The Costs of Corruption And Terror

My earliest knowledge of terror was gotten from a rather unexpected place; in the church. As a teenager in a catholic school I attended mass everyday and during the Prayer of the Faithful we were urged to pray for victims of violent conflicts. Our principal Rev Fr Angus Frasier then took his time to drum home the horrors of these conflicts and why we should be prayerful and thankful. Particularly I remember his stories about Northern Ireland where the ethno-nationalist conflict claimed thousands of lives as well as the bloody civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka. I also remembered him asking us to pray for Nicaragua where the US backed Contra militia was waging war against the Sandinista led government and also the victims of the then unending civil war in Lebanon.

Even though real-time images of the violence in these places weren’t readily available to me (those were pre-CNN days) our principal’s vivid descriptions meant I could still see in my mind’s eye the atrocities and pain these victims of terror had to endure. I lived in mortal fear of these countries.

Fast forward to 2014; Nigeria is under the throes of an orgy of violence. Boko Haram is waging a deadly war against Nigeria’s government and people with thousands brutally killed. “Unknown gunmen” murder people almost on a daily basis; only days ago over 200 people were killed in Sanga Local Government of Kaduna State. In the north central states of Nasarawa, Benue, and Plateau thousands have been killed and yet more displaced due to incessant clashes between armed pastoralists and farmers. In the southern parts of the country not a week goes without reports of kidnappings or other acts of brazen criminality. Now imagine what all of these portends for Nigeria’s image in the eyes of a world connected more than ever before; a world where images of events in one place are beamed to millions of viewers around the globe in microseconds. Imagine just what sort of reputation Nigeria has right now before the rest of the world. Whatever your imagination tells you equals to the brand equity of Nigeria.

 

Communications specialists refer to brand equity as “a brand’s power derived from the goodwill and name recognition that it has earned over time, which translates into higher sales volume and higher profit margins against competing brands.” What has Nigeria as a brand been recognized for over time? Save for the first few years after independence, Nigeria has always hung on a precipice; military coups, a bloody civil war; religious uprisings and several fatal riots have meant that we are always in the news for reasons not so pleasant. Along side these tumultuous activities is the ever-present garb of corruption our governments and businesses have been shrouded in, a decaying infrastructure, and a comatose industrial sector.

Perhaps it was with the knowledge of all of these negative brand touch-points that the Yar’adua administration through its Information ministry under the late Prof Dora Akunyili attempted a rebranding campaign, which unfortunately was dead on arrival. Those involved must have conceived the rebranding campaign out of a genuine concern; to help bring Nigeria out of the image quagmire is was submerged in. However they got it wrong from the get-go; in attempting to launder the negative image we have garnered over time they choose to gloss over the deep rot in the system and instead choose to inundate us with jingles, posters and a beautiful pay-off. Charles O’Tudor a Principal Consultant, ADSTRAT BMC summed up what was wrong with that effort with these words;

We talk about rebranding a country where corruption still holds sway in all segments of our individual and corporate beings. We talk about rebranding when the most basic amenities of life continue to elude government’s delivery capabilities. Is it not funny how we want to rebrand Nigeria when citizens of our country cannot walk the streets safe and secure from hoodlums and sometimes even the law enforcement agents that ought to protect them?

And of course it all came to naught. Today all that is remaining of their efforts are relics of its sensational graphics designs and beautiful pay-off lines stored on the hard drives of university dons and other academics for scholarship on how not to rebrand.

However we must credit them with recognizing the need to do something in the face of disaster because unlike that administration, the successive government sees nothing wrong with our image and therefore has jettisoned the rebranding effort. And what is the result? Brand Nigeria is left lurching in a drunken stupor groping in an abysmal abyss.

As if the blow of corruption and its sidekick advance-fee fraud didn’t damage Nigeria’s image enough the simmering cauldron of extremism in the north burst forth and unleashed Boko Haram upon us.  Today it is painful to see a country where, a 2011 survey of more than 65 countries by the UK’s New Scientist Magazine suggested, the happiest people in the world live; cannot be a destination for anyone other than soldiers of fortune (that is, mercenaries or foreign image managers hired to launder the image of a government whose credibility is all but gone and a floundering opposition seeking relevance).

But it was never meant to be this way. Nigeria had several opportunities and advance warnings to put its house in order. It never just took heed. The latest was when the repressive junta of General Sani Abacha ended with his demise and a rare magnanimity from a greedy military saw power seeded to civilians; there was renewed hope for the much-vaunted giant of Africa. It felt like the time had finally arrived when we would achieve our fabled potential and maybe hold our heads high in the comity of nations. But the elixir wasn’t portent enough, so it seems. Therefore shortly after a new democratic era begun we relapsed to our primordial enclaves where our atavistic instincts reign supreme, and the rest as they say is history.

The spiraling violence has come at a very high cost to Brand Nigeria. The government has been unable to keep the brand promises it statutorily gives the people. Promises like the provision of basic infrastructure and a guarantee of security of lives and property have eluded the government. Rawlings Akonbede Udama describes the effects of this violence thus:

…it has pushed further the polarization of the fragile political unity and pushed up the existing suspicion and distrust between the ‘north and south’. It has also jeopardized the basic human rights and civil liberties of the citizens. Equally, it has threatened the desperate attempt to industrialize and the existing socio-cultural tranquility has been hampered

Even when the government managed to achieve a rear positive public relations feat with its “successful” (at a staggering cost as schools and public offices were shut for 3 days) hosting of the World Economic Forum for Africa, it never reaped the rewards as bombings and most notoriously, the infamous Chibok abduction has obliterated whatever gains it achieved.

Previously brand Nigeria was riling under the burden of being a corrupt nation mired in criminal activities especially the infamous advance fee fraud (419); terrorism and a spike in deadly violence has shifted the paradigm. I am sure many Nigerians would prefer our earlier toga to this appalling garb of a near failed state.  Halima Abubakar Aliyu of the University of Maiduguri succinctly captures this when she says:

With the state of the nation now, one may not be considered to be totally wrong to say that terrorism and violent crimes have given Nigeria and Nigerians more bad labels in three years than corruption has done in the 51 years of nationhood.

In all of these, the only positive lie in the fact that a good number of the problems that have plagued Nigeria as a brand are internal. All the issues that have driven us to ignominy as a nation are self-inflicted; we are responsible for the corruption, the social and political injustice, ethnocentrism and the impunity of those in authority. These are the factors that have got us taking one step forward and many steps backward. They are responsible for all that is negative about Nigeria. The solution therefore as simple as it sounds it isn’t far fetched, it is right within us. However, it is a choice we have to consciously make.

 

We have to work toward rescuing Nigeria and giving its brand a pride of place among nations. A docile citizenry ready to lap up all the propaganda churned out by the principal architects of our predicament; government (corruption) and terrorists (violence) cannot prevail. We are used to self-help; we provide our basic needs, water and electricity so I propose we start helping ourselves against these twin ills. Terrorists trade in fear; if we are afraid then we have already died a thousand deaths. Let’s do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. Lets fight against corruption in high and low places. For so long we have looked at ourselves through the ethno-religious prism handed to us by those against us, lets drop it and grab the chance to dignity and freedom.

On September 14, 2001 Time magazine published a black-bordered special issue on the September 11 attacks and its staff writer Nancy Gibbs opened the cover story with these now famous lines;

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can’t be safe.

The terrorists that carried out the attacks on America assumed that it was defined by its wealth as symbolized by its great edifices, which they struck.

They were wrong.

Today the twin evils of corruption and terror have maimed our cathedral; our spirit of togetherness is frustrated, our sense of security has disappeared, our commonwealth is depleting. The very last vestige of our nationhood that indomitable will is slowing ebbing away. We cannot allow it to go. Corrupt officials embezzle funds meant for us and use same to oppress us. The terrorists think that by bombing our places of worship they will pit us against each other. They believe that by attacking our malls, football viewing centres and other places were we congregate to express the strength in our diversity they will divide us.

But they can’t. They can only succeed if we succumb.

On 25th June after the bomb went off at Emab Mall, Abuja, we defiled them. Ordinary people rushed to the scene before the emergency services arrived, and rescued several of the injured even at the risk of losing their lives. In Kala/Balge local government area, of Borno State scores of youths repelled a Boko Haram attack killing dozens of the terrorists in the process. We can defeat this scourge. We have to. We cannot hide our heads in the sand. Remember a teenager in a catholic school in a land far, far, away might be praying for us and wondering what the hell is wrong with Nigerians.

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Chris Tion tweets @xristion

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