Katrina And Nigeria’s Image


Uche Nworah



Nigeria is currently in the process of re-branding her image, the Nigerian government has given the Federal Ministry of Information the task of doing that, and have also empowered the ministry with an initial sum of N600 million ($4 million) to execute the project.


In their traditional civil service wisdom, the Ministry have been going about the implementation of the project (formerly the Nigeria Image project, but now renamed the Heart of Africa project) the best way they can. Till date, one can easily count on his or her fingers what the project coordinators have done so far. A professional branding agency (Alder Consulting) has been engaged, although it is not yet clear what brief the consultancy received, what targets were set and how they actually intend to re-brand Nigeria and make it an investor’s paradise.


The branding consultancy recently published what it called 10 Facts about the Heart of Africa project in Nigeria’s major newspapers; it has also produced an informational CD about the project, a logo has also been designed.


Obviously, the advertisement about Nigeria currently showing on CNN is part of the project implementation; it does not seem however that the branding consultancy in question, owned by Leke Adler has anything to do with the advertisement in question. Why do I think so? Well, my experience in the Nigerian advertising industry tells me that Alder Consulting can do much better, unless they have succumbed to a higher authority and have endorsed the scheduling of the embarrassing ads in CNN, if that is the case, then the agency is seriously putting the reputation it has built for itself in danger.               


I have read quite a few uncomplimentary things about the CNN advertisements as well; the Nigerian Guardian newspaper editorial of Sunday, September 11, 2005 qualified it as a theatrical portrayal of Nigeria, a gaudy advert and a cacophony of incongruence.


Several other writers and observers have also written about the heartbeat advertisements which are fast turning into a debacle and farce for Nigeria on CNN, Eziuche Ubani in his This Day opinion column of August 18th 2005 asks the question Who did this to Nigeria?, he quotes a presidency source to state that the CNN advertisements are costing Nigeria about N130 million ($1 million). Any surprise? Not really, the only surprise will be if there will be anything left of the N600 million Heart of Africa project budget before the end of the year. The big question remains what Nigeria and Nigerians have gained so far, from the CNN media campaign. Not minding what the Federal Ministry of Information will claim and the figures/statistics they will eventually cook up to justify the money spent so far, Nigeria is not any different from what it is before the campaign started, our image is also not any whiter, cleaner or better from the embarrassing CNN advertisements. We haven’t yet put our house in order, so as to leverage on any mileage we may gain from a well orchestrated international media campaign.


Have the ad minds in Alder Consulting compromised themselves in all these? Well, that will depend on if they had solely written the script which President Olusegun Obasanjo acted out in the CNN advertisements, the gist however is that the agency’s original concept and script was doctored by those ‘gatekeepers’ at Aso Rock, the boot lickers who thought they were doing the president and Nigerians a favour by suggesting that he appeared in the commercials, in the mould of a GQ model to issue a most unwelcome message in his usual tone of voice and thick accent, with the president’s ‘welcome to Nigeria’ testimonial, you now begin to wonder where the Agbani Daregos, Oluchi Onweagbas, Femi Okes, Akeem Olajuwons, Jay-Jay Okochas, Philip Emeagwalis, Shirley Basseys, Sophie Okonedos, Sade Adus and the Emeka Okafors are, all successful Nigerians with strong international and recognisable faces. Has the Federal Ministry of Information and Alder Consulting tried reaching out to these people to enlist them as they originally proposed? We don’t know.


What has Hurricane Katrina got to do with Nigeria’s image? A lot I will say, especially if you consider that economic diplomacy has been the main focus of

President Obasanjo’s government. How did they not think of getting in on the donors list right from the beginning? What are the names of poor countries like Latvia, Cuba, Honduras etc doing on the list when that of the self-styled giant and heartbeat of Africa (Nigeria) is not on the list, where are the proceeds from Nigeria’s excess crude oil sales? That obviously would have come in handy here, what were those economic think - tanks, and diplomatic egg-heads doing? Didn’t they know that a token contribution into the Hurricane Katrina fund will gain Nigeria some great mileage, today and forever? That each time donors list are mentioned or read, that Nigeria’s name will be well represented? What is Nigeria doing, when its contemporary – Venezuela is donating 1 million barrels of gasoline, $5 million in cash, water purification plants, canned food and water.


Whatever happened to the phrase, be your bother’s keeper? What if Nigeria was to suffer one major disaster (yes, it is possible), where does it think that help will come from? Or does the government not know that Nigeria is also a risk country? Signs abound all over the country; there is the Lagos bar-beach problem, with the constant overflows and flooding of surrounding Victoria Island areas, also there are the different oil producing communities whose resources are being depleted and their environment polluted, classic examples of ecological disasters waiting to happen, so what if something major and serious happens in Nigeria? Will Nigeria cry out to America for assistance? Will America be condemned by Nigeria if it doesn’t respond?


Nigeria obviously has got a lot to learn from Slovenia, yes, Slovenia. The country which used to be regarded as part of the former Yugoslavia was generally regarded by outsiders as backward; they have however, within a short time turned around their image, uniquely positioning themselves as a sought-after destination for investment in Eastern Europe. How did they do it? They listened to the advice of branding consultants and stopped boasting about  their achievements – through advertisements and public relations – and started to pursue policies that would demonstrate their success in a more tangible way, so what else did Slovenia do? They began behaving like a wealthy country by giving aid to other parts of the old Yugoslavia, this attracted for them lots of positive, and free media coverage, thus gaining them lots of image mileage which they would never have been prepared to pay for. In nation branding, paid-for media advertisements are just like throwing money away. Simon Anholt, a man who knows more about this area and one of the world’s leading experts in nation branding advises that countries like Nigeria should pursue ‘policy-based branding’ just like Slovenia, according to him, ‘people have strong prejudices about places, the only way you are going to change that is to prove to them that they are wrong. You have to do stuff’ he concludes. And that (doing stuffs) for sure, Nigeria is not doing with these CNN advertisements when it could easily have gotten in on the bandwagon with the Katrina fund. To quote Gary Silverman of the Financial Times, ‘Good works could be good fun and the rest of the world would be spared another tedious round of governmental bragging, countries, states and regions have been doing that forever’.


Hopefully the new man in charge at the Federal Ministry of Information, Mr. Frank Nweke and the appointed brand consultants, Alder will try and do the right thing.


Uche Nworah is a freelance writer and branding scholar, he teaches advertising at the London Metropolitan University. uchenworah@yahoo.com