Every Nigerian ought to see the ‘Rebrand Nigeria’ logo. It is brilliant piece of work. Unfortunately, for all its creativity, the Rebrand Nigeria symbol is the only decent thing about rebranding Nigeria. The uncomfortable truth is that Nigeria is a dirty country; we cannot clean it by telling people that it is clean. That amounts to falsehood.
Everyone ought to know that when you cook, the first thing you do is find a clean pot. Nobody other than a crazy man cooks in a dirty pot, as Information and Communications Minister Dora Akunyili is fighting hard to accomplish.
Let me put it in another way. If your body is dirty, you restore yourself to cleanliness by washing it. Now, if you are so dirty that you stink, your body will broadcast that terrible fact, and your choice of friends will no longer be up to you. You do not resolve this situation by bragging to everyone that people in your family are handsome and funny.
Similarly, we all know someone whose breath is offensive. When he approaches, we want to throw the windows open. We find excuses to leave for some other location. Our attention is taken hostage by the certainty that that person will compromise the air quality in a moment. Our feelings are not changed if the person starts a campaign that reads: “Great Heart, Amazing Parents.” In fact, what often happens is that unless he also brushes his teeth, his odour erects a barrier between him and us.
For three decades, I have called for a true rebranding of our nation. That is my responsibility as a patriotic Nigerian. But truly rebranding Nigeria is not a matter for semantics. It is not a matter of fancy symbols and catchy phrases. It is not a matter of speeches and conferences and launchings and advertising.
To rebrand Nigeria, we must choose the option of action over the lure of cheap propaganda. The realities can always unhinge the promise of cheap propaganda. Unless we understand this, we are simply laundering our image, a cure that is worse than the ailment because it draws attention to what you are trying so desperately to clean.
This is where our Information and Communications Minister is sitting on the branch of a very tall tree. Her rebranding has chosen the message: “Good People, Great Nation.”
This sounds good, but it addresses the wrong issue. To begin with, Nigeria is in no way a great nation. That claim is deceptive. A nation where armed robbers can take over an entire commercial district at lunchtime and rob undisturbed for hours is not great, it is a shame and a disgrace. A nation where people die in the hundreds every week: in road accidents, collapsing buildings, at football matches, and no government official even takes notice, is not great, it is a shame and a disgrace. A nation where dead people are allowed to rot on the side of major highways is not great, it is a shame and a disgrace. A nation where the best and the brightest have no chance unless they go abroad to win opportunity or recognition is not great, it is a shame and a disgrace.
Good people? I have never doubted that Nigerians are good. What I also know, without a doubt, is that we are a good people increasingly turned bad by bad leaders, bad policies and the absence of opportunity.
Who is a bad leader? PresidentYar’Adua,for one. A man who finds no fault throwing the doors of State House open to indicted governors wants to sell me a “rebranding” philosophy? A man whose detailed health record is known throughout the world, but refuses to tell his nation the truth even when it cannot take one step while he is in bed? A man who, knowing how badly- conducted and deeply-rigged elections have wrecked the image of Nigeria, insists on the same flawed Electoral Commission wants to sell me a “rebranding” solution?
Bad leadership: Yar’Adua claims to believe in good governance, the rule of law, and fighting corruption. But—among others—his Attorney-General , his Inspector-General of Police, his Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Chairman of his political party, the Governor of the Central Bank, all have corruption allegations hanging around their necks. When he looks around his inner council, Yar’Adua must feel like Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, yet he wants to rebrand Nigeria? For whom?
In almost every other country on earth, each of these officials would have resigned or been fired. But in Yar’Adua’s Nigeria, they do not even have to be bothered with a single question about the allegations against them. Our standards of right and wrong and the quality of our respect for ourselves and our country are so low that people dismiss the most debilitating stories as “mere allegations.” In Yar’Adua’s Nigeria, character has no value; it is a myth.
Let me be clear: I completely agree that we rebrand. But this can only be meaningful as part of a broader assault on the things that brought us our bad image in the first place. Amongst them are the arrogance and perfidy of government officials who convert official funds into their own pockets; fail to implement projects and policies, rig elections, and lie at every opportunity.
It is these failures that have resulted in our high unemployment, lack of (or crumbling) infrastructure, human insecurity, and Advance Fee Fraud. Unless Mrs. Akunyili admits there is a correlation between these factors, her rebranding is no better than 419, or the Heart of Africa she has abandoned.
But if she admits of a correlation, we have a basis for speaking of a rebranding. This means that as we tell the world how good we really are, we are doing something honest about the blatant corruption that is easier to monitor in Berlin and London and New York than Abuja. As a public speaker, for instance, I should not be expected to lie about the fact that Yar’Adua’s government covers up corruption cases. One example Mrs. Akunyili should teach me to answer, for instance, is that of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of our Vice-President, whose money-laundering cases are being hidden by Yar’Adua and Mr. Jonathan.
Now, the most vibrant tool against corruption is the discouragement of impunity. But under Yar’Adua’s watch, impunity is what has grown the most. Within and around his government, allegations of corruption and duplicity are flying around every day. What is more astounding is that there is no allegation so bizarre or compelling that the president has stopped to demand an explanation, let alone an investigation or a resignation. That is the very manure on which graft feasts. You can’t rebrand that.
From her experience at the NAFDAC, Mrs. Akunyili knows you cannot chart a new path unless you pull the past out by the roots. The rules must be clear, and there can be no exceptions. To rebrand Nigeria without pulling out those roots is again to deceive Nigeria and leave it worse off than before the dollar bills began to fly.
Let government offices and officers set and implement new standards of patriotism, accountability, achievement and motivation. How do Nigerian workers raise their productivity if they lack potable water, or have to come to work in rumpled clothes because there is no electricity to iron them?
I wonder if Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, on one of his many visits to New York, has taken a visit to the Consular Section in Nigeria House. How do you rebrand our dirty, unorganized premises? Are there many tourists or businessmen who insist on coming to Abuja after one visit to that restroom?
No, Mrs. Akunyili, propaganda is not enough.
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