Nation branding in nation building bolaji okusaga

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This article looks at routes to Nation branding using Nigeria as a case-study

This article looks at routes to Nation branding using Nigeria as a case-study

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  • 1. Nation Branding in Nation Building – Nigeria as Case-Study (Part One)By Bolaji Okusaga 1. Nigeria: Celebrating a Nation at One HundredIt all started with initial chase for slaves which were needed to power the agrarian economyof the New World around the 14th century and lasted for over four hundred years depletingAfrica of the energy required for growth, as able-bodied men were forcefully uprooted fromtheir ancestral homes and made to go through the harrowing experience of the passagethrough the Atlantic to the New World in chains and manacles, and the push for an end tothis inhuman practice which forced major traders in Agricultural produce in Europe to seekopportunities in Africa’s booming trade in Oil-Palm, Cocoa, Rubber, Ground-nuts and othercash crops, hence changing Europe’s strategy from slave raiding to colonial annexations ofterritories in Africa. From the annexation of Lagos as a Colony of England in 1805, to thesigning of various treaties with communities along the River Niger by the Royal NigerCompany, the Bismarck Conference of 1884 to 1885 where the balkanisation of Africaamong European powers like Britain, Germany, France, Portugal and Belgium was signed,sealed and delivered, to the decision by the British Colonial Authority to merge the Northernand Southern Protectorates together with the Colony of Lagos in 1914 giving rise to thenation Nigeria on January 01, 1914 under the leadership of Lord Fredrick Lugard, a nationwas created albeit the fact that it was without the consent of its various constituents butmore out of British economic interest. The fifty-six years that followed after the birth of thenation Nigeria would witness several struggles by the new and fledgling elite who hadbenefited from British education to seek to rein the leadership of this young nation from itscolonial over-lords. During this period, a lot of intrigues and sectional bias were introducedinto the struggle both from the British colonial masters and their cronies in an attempt tomaintain the status quo. This period also showed the evident cracks among the elites andthe divided interests inherent within their ranks, mainly playing out through the setting upof regional groups in order to attain power as the push for independence was beginning toachieve some results.Several constitutional conferences were convened in the build up to independence and byOctober 1960, the British departed, leaving Nigeria, though a country with huge potentialsbut deeply divided hence creating a blurred vision as to the path to greatness of thisstrategic nation – one with the largest black population on earth, resource rich, with a hugemarket and rich cultural diversity – all qualities of a nation that can take on the world.On January 01, 2014, Nigeria will be 100 years old as a nation but the pervasive questionremains: who are we and where are we heading? Granted, the celebrations may have
  • 2. different meanings to different people; what with some saying there is no cause forcelebration while others are saying that the celebration is not about accomplishments butthe enactment of a ritual. The first school opines that the celebration is a waste of scarceresources, or at best a way of siphoning money. This school of thought is of the opinion thatNigeria still totters among the committee of Nations and being a toddler at one hundred,the milestone should be spent taking stock and bemoaning the failed leadership that got usto this sorry-state. The second school sees the anniversary celebration more as anopportunity to celebrate our existence as a nation given all the rough paths we havetravelled as a nation in the last One hundred years. This school cites the two coup-d-tats of1966, the Nigerian Civil War and the periods of Military interregnums and failed attempts atdemocracy that dogged the last One hundred years while concluding that despite thesegreat socio-political tremors, it is a miracle that we are still together as a nation. This schoolenthuses that nations that went through less of these trauma have disintegrated or are stillat war. They cite Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, USSR, and Myanmar; and nearer home inAfrica: Somalia, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and a host ofothers. To them, the fact that our democracy, though shaky, with Legislators earning morethan the United States President and doing nothing rather than bicker over benefits, wedeserve to celebrate. The fact that our economy though failing, with banks not lending tothe productive sector, with the industrial sector almost comatose and the army of theunemployed rising by the day, we still must celebrate. Here, the significance of celebrationgoes beyond accomplishment, it is rather about our continued existence as a nation.The first school, which I call the school of reflection, takes a birds-eye view of what obtainsin other nations and the path nations have taken to greatness – sacrifice, knowledge,imagination, the will to act in the interest of the greater majority, the building of strongsystems rather than strong individuals and god-fathers, the prevalence of justice, equity andfair-play – and sees very few good examples in Nigeria. Borrowing from man’s existentialquest at conquering his environment, this school enthuses that Nigeria is off the mark aselectricity is about individual generators here and not about a process that works, water isplenty here but none good enough to drink; land is abundant here but not enough iscultivated to guarantee food security; and the roads are available but not good enough forsafe passage. This school therefore concludes that celebration should be aboutaccomplishments and not survival.The second school, which I nick-named the ritualistic school, sees more a need to decreeour greatness through role-playing as opposed to reality. Taking a cue from the early man’spenchant for rituals which seeks to conjure reality through stylised plays, as seasons andcycles come and go, while little or no explanation is given as to the reason for thedifference in seasons and cycles, and the celestial rather than the existential is appeasedand faith become more about inertia than action. To this group, everything falls or riseswithout human intervention but by a divine unction, akin to the big bang theory. This groupconcludes that the path to greatness is in celebration.
  • 3. 2. Taking a Shot at Nationhood - One hundred years AfterWhile the school of reflection and the school of rituals are at each other’s throat regardingNigeria’s 100th anniversary, the nation Nigeria must yet prepare for the future and inpreparing for the future use the opportunity of the 100th anniversary to begin to repositionour nation by rising up to the challenges of building a modern nation state, one which isaudacious in its quest at greatness and competitive within the committee of Nations.The second question then is what path are we taking in our second attempt at nationbuilding? Because in One hundred years of our existence, the world has moved on from theagrarian age that precipitated the exportation of slaves to the new world from Africa, theindustrial age which led to the signing of treaties which ceded authorities of our erstwhiletraditional institutions to the British Colonial powers, to the age of Crude Oil which camejust before our independence , to the information age which came in the wake ofglobalisation, I am therefore asking this question against the background of a constantlychanging global order. What this implies is that our strategy starting out needs to alsochange in alignment with what is happening around us. This is where knowledge comes in.We need to observe global trends and ask questions as to our place in it. We need todevelop our educational system and make it more oriented to our development needs asopposed to being just about certification. This is where imagination comes in, as withoutconception, there can be no accomplishments. This reminds me of the space-race. Startingwith the United States and Soviet Union in the 100’s, with each acquiring the knowledgerequired at conquering the space and putting their imagination to work, it did not take longfor success to come. Today, every ambitious nation has caught the space bug with eacheither sending men into the orbit or launching a satellite. Today, the world is differentbecause of this out-of-the-world knowledge and imagination. So where does this leave ourown dear Nigeria?Indeed, I have heard people say it will take centuries for us to catch up with the developedworld, but my response is always that it does not take time, it takes will; the will to get onthe road, the will to get our hands dirty, the will to act! But what defines will, if notimagination, what defines imagination, if not knowledge?Let’s look at the Asian Tigers, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and the others in comparison withNigeria. In 1960, we were all classified as third world nations but by the 1980’s the tide hadstarted to turn what with the designation changing to emerging nations for the Asian Tigersand Nigeria still keeping the tag “third world”. By the 1990’s the Asian nations had taken thepath of sustainable growth and were in fact, almost at par with the developed world on theprosperity index and today, the talk is no more about the Asian Tigers but about Brazil,Russia, India and China – what has been rightly termed the BRIC states. Even with thecurrent global recession, these states are still recording quarter-on-quarter growth and arefast catching up with the so-called developed world. What these examples point to is that itdoes not take centuries to catch-up, it takes a virile strategy based on knowledge andimagination and above all it takes collective will.
  • 4. 3. Collective Agreement - The Path to Nation BuildingA friend once said to me that the path to greatness is arduous when a nation emergesoutside of the consent of its constituent societies. The friend goes further to reveal thatbefore 1776 there was an American society with affinity and engagements although underBritish rule unlike the Nigerian situation where a nation was decreed based on Britishadministrative convenience rather than the agreement of the constituent societies. Heenthuses that it was the collective agreement of the American society acting under theleadership of George Washington that led to the defeat of the British overlords and theadoption of a collectively created constitution in the quest at having an immutable union. Inthe Nigerian situation, there was first a Nigerian nation before attempts at forging aNigerian society, hence the constant bickering about federal character and fights over thesharing of the national cake as opposed to a collective agreement at baking a bigger andbetter cake as was the case in the American context. Although critics are quick to point outthat despite the collective resolve at forging a nation in the American context, there was anear succession by the Agrarian South from the Union leading to the war with the IndustrialNorth in what was known as the American Civil war from 1861 to 1865. Critics went furtherto assert that if this can happen about a hundred years after agreeing to come together,then Nigeria may be on the right path to nationhood. The risk at taking this standpoint isthat it is always easy to cite the wrong examples. Back to my friends point, nations rise togreatness on the platform of a collective agreement. Again critics will point to diversity ofcultures and religion, in the Nigerian context, as being the bane behind the failure of acollective agreement citing more homogeneous settings like China where a collectiveagreement was easy and national cohesion and development had moved apace. Again thisappears a wrong thesis as culturally heterogeneous communities too had also forged acollective agreement which has survived the test of time. America being a good example,the United Kingdom being another and under the current world order we see a furtherboost for diversity as a platform for progress in the coming together of disparate states toform the European Union with a single monetary union in mainland Europe. Back to myfriend’s assertion that for progress to happen, societies in coming together to forge anation, must have a collective agreement and this collective agreement can happen under ahomogeneous or heterogeneous cultural and religious setting. All it takes is sincerity ofpurpose, a good sense of history and the will to agree to work together for the commongood. What this essentially means is that in the Nigerian situation, development andprogress can come through despite the heterogeneity but the constituent societies must,outside the whims and caprice of Lord Lugard, Sarah Shaw and their British masters, forge acollective agreement which will chart a way forward for a bigger and a better union. 4. International Relations under a Competitive Global OrderHaving done a comparative study of the emergence of nations, there is a need to look at therelationship of nations and the route for development under a competitive context and this
  • 5. brings to fore the question of Nation branding and its efficacy in the quest at nation buildingunder the current world order.It is truism that with the advent of globalisation, the world is becoming smaller, what withtechnology such as the internet bridging the distance with international policies such astrade liberalisation also creating access to erstwhile closed markets and creating a platformfor trade and tourism on a global as opposed to a local platform. With these newdevelopments, pundits have predicted the eventual death of the nation-state as we know ittoday, what with the battle for control going beyond the local context to a global scale. Alook at the recent battle of the United Emirate and Saudi authorities with Research inMotion, the makers of BlackBerry, puts this new dynamics in proper context. Today,countries compete for control not just through military strength but through the possessionof competitive brands which seek to dominate the scene globally. As these brands, be theyphysical products or intangible ideas and notions travel the globe; the originating stategrows in economic and social status and gradually captures the global imagination. Startingwith Coca-Cola’s involvement in America’s military expedition during the Second World Warand the subsequent global domination of the brand, other brands have also crossedinternational boundaries taking their national platform with them. Over time, the strengthof nations gradually started to move beyond military prowess as the United States whichorchestrated this order grew in strength, erstwhile competitors who were initially ignorantof this silent economic war gradually waned in global influence and economic strength.Today, the path to nation building as become more complex as the quest for globalcompetitiveness be it in trade, technology, tourism and other competitive advantage hasincreasingly become an issue. Nation states which fail to understand this new dynamics runthe risk of failure under the new world-order. The current Chinese scramble for Africa is avirile example of this new reality. The Chinese having woken-up to the reality of the neworder are voraciously taking stakes in Africa’s Agriculture and extractive industries in orderto support their domestic productive base in the quest at domestic growth and globalcompetiveness. Today, nation building has gone beyond forging collective agreements, itdemands the building and expansion of national institutions such as road, houses, hospitals,sports facilities, hospitals, political, legislative and judicial systems which can only happenwith a strong economy. The last Olympics in China and the recent world cup competitionwhich was hosted by South Africa is a big example of this new reality. Nations having builtinternal systems can advance their local agendas by aspiring to and attaining globalrelevance. This is because, in today’s reality, two dominant forces are driving the worldtoward a converging commonality, and these forces are globalisation and technology. Theseforces have radically redefined international relations and bringing to bear their influenceon global trade, tourism and sports and far from these, these forces are affecting the waywe see national economies, communication, transport, and travel. It has made erstwhileinaccessible nations and poor countries eager for development, domestic cohesion andgiven birth to the idea of global competitiveness. This has resulted in a new commercialreality - the emergence of global markets for standardised consumer products on apreviously unimagined scale or magnitude. Nations aligned to this new reality, benefit fromenormous economies of scale in production, distribution and marketing of their outputs inreturn for national cohesion and sustainable progress and prosperity for the greatermajority of people within their local boundaries. By the benefits of stressing globalcompetitiveness in nation building, these Nations benefits from the scale and scope
  • 6. advantage which the new global order confers as these Nations using their national brand,are able to decimate competitors that still live in the disabling grip of the old hypothesis ofhow the world works.From the fore-going, it is evident that Nigeria and Africa are at the current sorry levelsdevelopment because of a lack of understanding of the current global realities and whatthat means for local product brands and other intangible brand assets which can beleveraged for global competitiveness and by implication, help quicken the pace of economicand social developments which will consequently impact nation-building.Nigeria – The Quest at Nation Branding a. Unconscious Positioning – “Giant of Africa”Nigeria by her population size, diversity, natural resource and positioning in the black worldis strategically primed to assume leadership status with the right internal focus andalignment. However following the political crisis of the early sixties and the period ofmilitary interregnum and failed democracy that followed, there was disarticulation ofobjective and action in the quest at nation building as successive governments worked incontra-distinction to what existed before them and given the endemic corruption andwastages that came in its wake, it was difficult to focus on the task of national rebirth andpositioning.However, in the earlier epoch, following the discovery of oil in commercial quantity and theend of the civil war, Nigeria enjoyed a period of economic boom which positioned her onthe sub-region as a big brother and buoyed by her then foreign policy which made Africa thecentre-piece of her focus, it was easily branded the “giant of Africa” to the end that itconcentrated on this extrinsic advantage at the expense of her intrinsic value. To this end itreadily offered assistance to brother African nations at the expense of her internaldevelopment challenges. Expressions of this course are her support for the liberationmovements in South Africa in the 1970’s and her support for peace keeping efforts inCongo, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Further to this was the Nigerian Technical Aidprogramme where educated Nigerians in highly required fields were drafted toeducationally disadvantaged nations in need of skilled manpower in medicine, engineering,teaching and other crucial areas. This programme initiated by the Nigerian government wasin support of the need for technical cooperation among African Countries using Nigerianexperts with the aim of promoting development as well as institutional strengthening inAfrica.Given these initiatives, the Nigerian nation brand built huge equity as a result of herunconscious positioning as Afro-centric, caring and friendl
  • 7. b. The Search for Inbound Investment – The Heart of AfricaFollowing the restoration of democracy and the drive for economic and political revivalfollowing years of military dictatorship that made Nigeria a pariah state, the government ofPresident Olusegun Obasanjo, embarked on extensive foreign trips in search of economicpartnerships and inbound investments. However, given the new world order which placed apremium on good infrastructure, democracy, the absence of corrupt public institutions andopen government as well as other competitive advantages in deciding economicpartnerships and investment options on the globe, Nigeria made very little advances in thedrive for foreign direct investment. This precipitated a need for a new national positioning.The quest for a new brand image, one that is deliberately orchestrated with the intention ofpositioning for economic benefits led to the emergence of the Nigeria image programme in2004 under the direction of the then minister of information, Chukwuemeka Chikelu sawthe emergence of the “Heart of Africa” project which has as its key thrust the need toproject corporate brand Nigeria and by so doing sell our unique selling point to the world.The project was intended to be sold through a 360 degrees communication approach acrossthe world.With the exit of Chukwuemeka Chikelu came Frank Nweke (Junior) who adopted thisplatform and sought through the various road-shows which he carried out across Europeand America, preserve the original idea while underscoring it with Economic diplomacy.But given the fact that Frank Nweke came at the second half of Obasanjo’s second term asPresident of Nigeria, he could not consolidate on the work he had started before the comingof a new President, Umaru Yar’adua.Yar’Adua and the Quiet Push for Russian and Sino-Nigerian Friendship as Basis forInternational PositioningThe 2007 Presidential election came with wide local and international condemnationespecially from Europe and America and, as a result of this, the new President could notadvance Nigeria’s economic interest with the West given the credibility problem whichcame with his election and seeking a way out of this interregnum, he pushed for strongerties with Russia and China, while pushing for policies which gave increasing economic stakeshis new found partners at the expense of the west. To this end Gasprom, a RussianCompany moved to secure the Trans-Sahara Gas project ahead of British Gas which washitherto a front-runner. China also pushed for bigger stakes in the Nigerian upstreamPetroleum sector and the push to have the Petroleum Industry Bill passed into law met withstiff resistance from European and American owned Multinational Oil Corporations such asShell, Agip, Mobil and Chevron, as it was seen as a surreptitious way of ceding great stakesto China. The Yar’Adua years, though short, saw a redefinition of brand Nigeria and with itcame a new selling proposition and a new brand association. Nigeria sought under Yar’Aduato dilute her old legacy and chart a new cause away from it old Western masters as
  • 8. Yar’Adua also built stronger ties with the Middle-East while the West remained a distantinfluence. At the local front, things proceeded at a slow pace and the need to have a rallyingpoint around which the average Nigeria could take pride was missing until the emergence ofProfessor Dora Akunyili (a Pharmacist) as Minister of Information.Dora Akunyili and Her Move to Re-Write History – Enter the Nigeria Good People, GreatNation ProjectWith Dora Akunyili’s entrance came the “Nigeria Good People, Great Nation” brand identityproject the project which effectively put paid to the Heart of Africa project.In terms of positioning, the Good People, Great Nation project sought to have an inside-outpositioning as opposed the Heart of Africa project which had an outside looking inperspective.On the communication side, the Good People, Great Nation project suffered from a paucityof idea in terms how to drive a clear-headed communication of what the project seeks toachieve and aside from a few internal road-shows, the project scale was far too little for it tohave been effective. This was so, given the fact that unlike the Heart of Africa project whichhad Presidential endorsement, the Good People, Great Nation project did not have openPresidential endorsement as Yar’Adua maintained a quiet distance from the projectthrough-out the life-span of his Presidency.Bolaji Okusaga is a Lagos Based Public Relations Practitioner.