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Nation branding in nation building bolaji okusaga

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Nation branding in nation building bolaji okusaga

  1. 1. Nation Branding in Nation Building – Nigeria as Case-Study (Part One) By Bolaji Okusaga 1. Nigeria: Celebrating a Nation at One Hundred It all started with initial chase for slaves which were needed to power the agrarian economy of the New World around the 14th century and lasted for over four hundred years depleting Africa of the energy required for growth, as able-bodied men were forcefully uprooted from their ancestral homes and made to go through the harrowing experience of the passage through the Atlantic to the New World in chains and manacles, and the push for an end to this inhuman practice which forced major traders in Agricultural produce in Europe to seek opportunities in Africa’s booming trade in Oil-Palm, Cocoa, Rubber, Ground-nuts and other cash crops, hence changing Europe’s strategy from slave raiding to colonial annexations of territories in Africa. From the annexation of Lagos as a Colony of England in 1805, to the signing of various treaties with communities along the River Niger by the Royal Niger Company, the Bismarck Conference of 1884 to 1885 where the balkanisation of Africa among 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 Northern and Southern Protectorates together with the Colony of Lagos in 1914 giving rise to the nation Nigeria on January 01, 1914 under the leadership of Lord Fredrick Lugard, a nation was created albeit the fact that it was without the consent of its various constituents but more out of British economic interest. The fifty-six years that followed after the birth of the nation Nigeria would witness several struggles by the new and fledgling elite who had benefited from British education to seek to rein the leadership of this young nation from its colonial over-lords. During this period, a lot of intrigues and sectional bias were introduced into the struggle both from the British colonial masters and their cronies in an attempt to maintain the status quo. This period also showed the evident cracks among the elites and the divided interests inherent within their ranks, mainly playing out through the setting up of regional groups in order to attain power as the push for independence was beginning to achieve some results. Several constitutional conferences were convened in the build up to independence and by October 1960, the British departed, leaving Nigeria, though a country with huge potentials but deeply divided hence creating a blurred vision as to the path to greatness of this strategic nation – one with the largest black population on earth, resource rich, with a huge market 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 question remains: who are we and where are we heading? Granted, the celebrations may have
  2. 2. different meanings to different people; what with some saying there is no cause for celebration while others are saying that the celebration is not about accomplishments but the enactment of a ritual. The first school opines that the celebration is a waste of scarce resources, or at best a way of siphoning money. This school of thought is of the opinion that Nigeria 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 us to this sorry-state. The second school sees the anniversary celebration more as an opportunity to celebrate our existence as a nation given all the rough paths we have travelled as a nation in the last One hundred years. This school cites the two coup-d-tats of 1966, the Nigerian Civil War and the periods of Military interregnums and failed attempts at democracy that dogged the last One hundred years while concluding that despite these great socio-political tremors, it is a miracle that we are still together as a nation. This school enthuses that nations that went through less of these trauma have disintegrated or are still at war. They cite Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, USSR, and Myanmar; and nearer home in Africa: Somalia, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and a host of others. To them, the fact that our democracy, though shaky, with Legislators earning more than the United States President and doing nothing rather than bicker over benefits, we deserve to celebrate. The fact that our economy though failing, with banks not lending to the productive sector, with the industrial sector almost comatose and the army of the unemployed rising by the day, we still must celebrate. Here, the significance of celebration goes 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 obtains in 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 strong systems rather than strong individuals and god-fathers, the prevalence of justice, equity and fair-play – and sees very few good examples in Nigeria. Borrowing from man’s existential quest at conquering his environment, this school enthuses that Nigeria is off the mark as electricity is about individual generators here and not about a process that works, water is plenty here but none good enough to drink; land is abundant here but not enough is cultivated to guarantee food security; and the roads are available but not good enough for safe passage. This school therefore concludes that celebration should be about accomplishments and not survival. The second school, which I nick-named the ritualistic school, sees more a need to decree our greatness through role-playing as opposed to reality. Taking a cue from the early man’s penchant for rituals which seeks to conjure reality through stylised plays, as seasons and cycles come and go, while little or no explanation is given as to the reason for the difference in seasons and cycles, and the celestial rather than the existential is appeased and faith become more about inertia than action. To this group, everything falls or rises without human intervention but by a divine unction, akin to the big bang theory. This group concludes that the path to greatness is in celebration.
  3. 3. 2. Taking a Shot at Nationhood - One hundred years After While the school of reflection and the school of rituals are at each other’s throat regarding Nigeria’s 100th anniversary, the nation Nigeria must yet prepare for the future and in preparing for the future use the opportunity of the 100th anniversary to begin to reposition our nation by rising up to the challenges of building a modern nation state, one which is audacious 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 nation building? Because in One hundred years of our existence, the world has moved on from the agrarian age that precipitated the exportation of slaves to the new world from Africa, the industrial age which led to the signing of treaties which ceded authorities of our erstwhile traditional institutions to the British Colonial powers, to the age of Crude Oil which came just before our independence , to the information age which came in the wake of globalisation, I am therefore asking this question against the background of a constantly changing global order. What this implies is that our strategy starting out needs to also change 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 to develop our educational system and make it more oriented to our development needs as opposed to being just about certification. This is where imagination comes in, as without conception, there can be no accomplishments. This reminds me of the space-race. Starting with the United States and Soviet Union in the 100’s, with each acquiring the knowledge required at conquering the space and putting their imagination to work, it did not take long for success to come. Today, every ambitious nation has caught the space bug with each either sending men into the orbit or launching a satellite. Today, the world is different because of this out-of-the-world knowledge and imagination. So where does this leave our own dear Nigeria? Indeed, I have heard people say it will take centuries for us to catch up with the developed world, but my response is always that it does not take time, it takes will; the will to get on the road, the will to get our hands dirty, the will to act! But what defines will, if not imagination, what defines imagination, if not knowledge? Let’s look at the Asian Tigers, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and the others in comparison with Nigeria. In 1960, we were all classified as third world nations but by the 1980’s the tide had started to turn what with the designation changing to emerging nations for the Asian Tigers and Nigeria still keeping the tag “third world”. By the 1990’s the Asian nations had taken the path of sustainable growth and were in fact, almost at par with the developed world on the prosperity 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 the current global recession, these states are still recording quarter-on-quarter growth and are fast catching up with the so-called developed world. What these examples point to is that it does not take centuries to catch-up, it takes a virile strategy based on knowledge and imagination and above all it takes collective will.
  4. 4. 3. Collective Agreement - The Path to Nation Building A friend once said to me that the path to greatness is arduous when a nation emerges outside of the consent of its constituent societies. The friend goes further to reveal that before 1776 there was an American society with affinity and engagements although under British rule unlike the Nigerian situation where a nation was decreed based on British administrative convenience rather than the agreement of the constituent societies. He enthuses that it was the collective agreement of the American society acting under the leadership of George Washington that led to the defeat of the British overlords and the adoption of a collectively created constitution in the quest at having an immutable union. In the Nigerian situation, there was first a Nigerian nation before attempts at forging a Nigerian society, hence the constant bickering about federal character and fights over the sharing of the national cake as opposed to a collective agreement at baking a bigger and better cake as was the case in the American context. Although critics are quick to point out that despite the collective resolve at forging a nation in the American context, there was a near succession by the Agrarian South from the Union leading to the war with the Industrial North in what was known as the American Civil war from 1861 to 1865. Critics went further to 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 is that it is always easy to cite the wrong examples. Back to my friends point, nations rise to greatness on the platform of a collective agreement. Again critics will point to diversity of cultures and religion, in the Nigerian context, as being the bane behind the failure of a collective agreement citing more homogeneous settings like China where a collective agreement was easy and national cohesion and development had moved apace. Again this appears a wrong thesis as culturally heterogeneous communities too had also forged a collective 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 further boost for diversity as a platform for progress in the coming together of disparate states to form the European Union with a single monetary union in mainland Europe. Back to my friend’s assertion that for progress to happen, societies in coming together to forge a nation, must have a collective agreement and this collective agreement can happen under a homogeneous or heterogeneous cultural and religious setting. All it takes is sincerity of purpose, a good sense of history and the will to agree to work together for the common good. What this essentially means is that in the Nigerian situation, development and progress 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 a collective agreement which will chart a way forward for a bigger and a better union. 4. International Relations under a Competitive Global Order Having done a comparative study of the emergence of nations, there is a need to look at the relationship of nations and the route for development under a competitive context and this
  5. 5. brings to fore the question of Nation branding and its efficacy in the quest at nation building under the current world order. It is truism that with the advent of globalisation, the world is becoming smaller, what with technology such as the internet bridging the distance with international policies such as trade liberalisation also creating access to erstwhile closed markets and creating a platform for trade and tourism on a global as opposed to a local platform. With these new developments, pundits have predicted the eventual death of the nation-state as we know it today, what with the battle for control going beyond the local context to a global scale. A look at the recent battle of the United Emirate and Saudi authorities with Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry, puts this new dynamics in proper context. Today, countries compete for control not just through military strength but through the possession of competitive brands which seek to dominate the scene globally. As these brands, be they physical products or intangible ideas and notions travel the globe; the originating state grows in economic and social status and gradually captures the global imagination. Starting with Coca-Cola’s involvement in America’s military expedition during the Second World War and the subsequent global domination of the brand, other brands have also crossed international boundaries taking their national platform with them. Over time, the strength of nations gradually started to move beyond military prowess as the United States which orchestrated this order grew in strength, erstwhile competitors who were initially ignorant of 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 global competitiveness be it in trade, technology, tourism and other competitive advantage has increasingly become an issue. Nation states which fail to understand this new dynamics run the risk of failure under the new world-order. The current Chinese scramble for Africa is a virile example of this new reality. The Chinese having woken-up to the reality of the new order are voraciously taking stakes in Africa’s Agriculture and extractive industries in order to support their domestic productive base in the quest at domestic growth and global competiveness. Today, nation building has gone beyond forging collective agreements, it demands the building and expansion of national institutions such as road, houses, hospitals, sports facilities, hospitals, political, legislative and judicial systems which can only happen with a strong economy. The last Olympics in China and the recent world cup competition which was hosted by South Africa is a big example of this new reality. Nations having built internal systems can advance their local agendas by aspiring to and attaining global relevance. This is because, in today’s reality, two dominant forces are driving the world toward a converging commonality, and these forces are globalisation and technology. These forces have radically redefined international relations and bringing to bear their influence on global trade, tourism and sports and far from these, these forces are affecting the way we see national economies, communication, transport, and travel. It has made erstwhile inaccessible nations and poor countries eager for development, domestic cohesion and given birth to the idea of global competitiveness. This has resulted in a new commercial reality - the emergence of global markets for standardised consumer products on a previously unimagined scale or magnitude. Nations aligned to this new reality, benefit from enormous economies of scale in production, distribution and marketing of their outputs in return for national cohesion and sustainable progress and prosperity for the greater majority of people within their local boundaries. By the benefits of stressing global competitiveness in nation building, these Nations benefits from the scale and scope
  6. 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 of how the world works. From the fore-going, it is evident that Nigeria and Africa are at the current sorry levels development because of a lack of understanding of the current global realities and what that means for local product brands and other intangible brand assets which can be leveraged for global competitiveness and by implication, help quicken the pace of economic and 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 world is strategically primed to assume leadership status with the right internal focus and alignment. However following the political crisis of the early sixties and the period of military interregnum and failed democracy that followed, there was disarticulation of objective and action in the quest at nation building as successive governments worked in contra-distinction to what existed before them and given the endemic corruption and wastages that came in its wake, it was difficult to focus on the task of national rebirth and positioning. However, in the earlier epoch, following the discovery of oil in commercial quantity and the end of the civil war, Nigeria enjoyed a period of economic boom which positioned her on the sub-region as a big brother and buoyed by her then foreign policy which made Africa the centre-piece of her focus, it was easily branded the “giant of Africa” to the end that it concentrated on this extrinsic advantage at the expense of her intrinsic value. To this end it readily offered assistance to brother African nations at the expense of her internal development challenges. Expressions of this course are her support for the liberation movements in South Africa in the 1970’s and her support for peace keeping efforts in Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Further to this was the Nigerian Technical Aid programme where educated Nigerians in highly required fields were drafted to educationally disadvantaged nations in need of skilled manpower in medicine, engineering, teaching and other crucial areas. This programme initiated by the Nigerian government was in support of the need for technical cooperation among African Countries using Nigerian experts with the aim of promoting development as well as institutional strengthening in Africa. Given these initiatives, the Nigerian nation brand built huge equity as a result of her unconscious positioning as Afro-centric, caring and friendl
  7. 7. b. The Search for Inbound Investment – The Heart of Africa Following the restoration of democracy and the drive for economic and political revival following years of military dictatorship that made Nigeria a pariah state, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, embarked on extensive foreign trips in search of economic partnerships and inbound investments. However, given the new world order which placed a premium on good infrastructure, democracy, the absence of corrupt public institutions and open government as well as other competitive advantages in deciding economic partnerships and investment options on the globe, Nigeria made very little advances in the drive 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 of positioning for economic benefits led to the emergence of the Nigeria image programme in 2004 under the direction of the then minister of information, Chukwuemeka Chikelu saw the emergence of the “Heart of Africa” project which has as its key thrust the need to project 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 across the world. With the exit of Chukwuemeka Chikelu came Frank Nweke (Junior) who adopted this platform and sought through the various road-shows which he carried out across Europe and 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 as President of Nigeria, he could not consolidate on the work he had started before the coming of a new President, Umaru Yar’adua. Yar’Adua and the Quiet Push for Russian and Sino-Nigerian Friendship as Basis for International Positioning The 2007 Presidential election came with wide local and international condemnation especially from Europe and America and, as a result of this, the new President could not advance Nigeria’s economic interest with the West given the credibility problem which came with his election and seeking a way out of this interregnum, he pushed for stronger ties with Russia and China, while pushing for policies which gave increasing economic stakes his new found partners at the expense of the west. To this end Gasprom, a Russian Company moved to secure the Trans-Sahara Gas project ahead of British Gas which was hitherto a front-runner. China also pushed for bigger stakes in the Nigerian upstream Petroleum sector and the push to have the Petroleum Industry Bill passed into law met with stiff resistance from European and American owned Multinational Oil Corporations such as Shell, Agip, Mobil and Chevron, as it was seen as a surreptitious way of ceding great stakes to China. The Yar’Adua years, though short, saw a redefinition of brand Nigeria and with it came a new selling proposition and a new brand association. Nigeria sought under Yar’Adua to dilute her old legacy and chart a new cause away from it old Western masters as
  8. 8. Yar’Adua also built stronger ties with the Middle-East while the West remained a distant influence. At the local front, things proceeded at a slow pace and the need to have a rallying point around which the average Nigeria could take pride was missing until the emergence of Professor Dora Akunyili (a Pharmacist) as Minister of Information. Dora Akunyili and Her Move to Re-Write History – Enter the Nigeria Good People, Great Nation Project With Dora Akunyili’s entrance came the “Nigeria Good People, Great Nation” brand identity project 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-out positioning as opposed the Heart of Africa project which had an outside looking in perspective. On the communication side, the Good People, Great Nation project suffered from a paucity of idea in terms how to drive a clear-headed communication of what the project seeks to achieve and aside from a few internal road-shows, the project scale was far too little for it to have been effective. This was so, given the fact that unlike the Heart of Africa project which had Presidential endorsement, the Good People, Great Nation project did not have open Presidential endorsement as Yar’Adua maintained a quiet distance from the project through-out the life-span of his Presidency. Bolaji Okusaga is a Lagos Based Public Relations Practitioner.

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