Weird

Nigerians abroad our worst enemy – Prof. Dora Akunyili

“Nigerians in the Diaspora are the worst when it comes to bad mouthing Nigeria. When you hear Nigerians overseas talk about Nigeria, you will weep for this country. I have asked a few of them if they have another country they can call their own.”

 

 Why would anyone re-brand Nigeria?

Thank you for the question. When people see that some products, for example, consumables or other ones are no longer popular, they re-formulate, re-package, re-brand and here we are talking about just a product. And if people re-package, re-brand such product so as to be more acceptable, one wonders why we cannot our country, Nigeria. Is our country not more important than any product? We know that Nigeria is not an enviable brand. If it is not and we need to do something about it, we need to systematically do something that can change the brand for the better. And there is no other thing that can change it for the better, no other name than to re-brand it.


In the case of Nigeria, when we say re-branding, it is not the ground slogan. We are talking about total re-orientation; from the ordinary Nigerians to groups, to communities, for us to imbibe a new spirit of patriotism, a new spirit of doing things right, a new spirit of abhorring corruption and following the rule of law and paying attention to details in whatever we do in this country. If we are working, we do our work well. If you are a leader, you lead well; if you are an ordinary citizen, be a good follower. In so doing, we are going to start changing the current situation where it appears there is some sort of confusion in the system where people behave anyhow. It will be good if we are able to get it right and re-enact our beautiful cultural values. Combination or re-orientation and bringing back our cultural values together would actually put us in a better light as citizens to project ourselves better to the outer world.


When we talk about this re-branding, it has to get hand in hand with government delivering to the person; that’s delivering democracy dividends. Democracy dividends are now becoming a very unacceptable cliché.

Well, government is doing its own bit for the people (and) at the same time fighting corruption. All these can actually come together to give us a new Nigeria that we all deserve – when the world sees that Nigeria is changing, the citizens are changing for the better, there is a re-orientation of people to behave better, there is cultural revival and government is doing its work, and citizens are becoming good followers. And with them professing positively, because right now we profess negatively. You need to hear a Nigerian talk down Nigeria, you will start wondering if he has another country. So, with these things, I believe we can come together to present us better to ourselves.


We have a basic problem of trust in this country; we don’t believe ourselves anymore in the country. A typical Nigerian does not believe in him or herself; does not believe in his fellow Nigerians, talk down on the country, on everybody and looks for every negative thing to talk about. We are not saying we don’t have negative stories that shouldn’t be told, no. What we are saying is that we should stress on the positive and play down on the negative, because a cup can be half full and a cup can be half empty; the same cup. One is saying something positive while the other is saying something negative. I prefer to say that Nigeria’s cup is half empty and we can work out to fill it. I’m too optimistic about this country. I believe in this country and I don’t want to lose hope or hear anybody say hope is lost. If hope is lost, why are we alive? I still want to feel my children have a country that they can call their own; a country, citizenship they can take to the bank. Right now you and I cannot take Nigerian citizenship to the bank; it’s not a good thing. Nobody is happy about it, and do we just fold our hands and continue crying and grudging or getting angry that there’s no light, no road?


What I feel as the chief image maker of this country is let us start to do what we can do on our own. As we are doing it, even our leaders will be watching to see that something is happening. After all, did we have extra roads when we had War Against Indiscipline (WAI)? We surprised ourselves the way Nigerians behaved. We were orderly, focused, (and) we had a deep sense of community. All in a period of few months, everybody got focused to behave better, to do things the right way. So, this re-branding is a necessity and if we don’t do it now, in future, the name Nigeria will be a liability to all of us because it is becoming a liability. People are skeptical.

What kind of misconceptions about re-branding Nigeria?

People, like you said, a lot of them have given up; they don’t even know where you have to start. We are now appealing to everyone not to give up, because giving up is not the answer. Giving up to what? Give up just to complain? We must be doing something as long as we are alive. What we are saying is very simple, its not rocket science. Let us believe in ourselves; that’s the first thing. Let us stop running down ourselves and our country. Let us change our behaviour and attitude. Let the leaders lead well and the followers follow well. And let us project ourselves positively, because if you talk negatively, you project negative energy, vice versa.


There are good beautiful places in this country; we have good and educated people in different callings. Why can’t we talk about them? Do you know Nigeria is a country where if somebody discovers something, Nigerians will be quick to say it’s not true? So, I feel that this re-branding is even more important than any physical infrastructure because it is critical and fundamental to our national development. If we have all the roads in Nigeria and we have 24-hour electricity supply, it’s fantastic, but it won’t make foreigners come into the country. They will still have it on their websites all over the world that Nigeria should not be visited because it’s not safe.


That statement alone has nullified any good we might have had on ground. We are going to get some comfort with electricity and good road network but when we have the whole world portraying us as criminals and as a country where nothing works, we are unsafe; a country where you are killed before leaving the airport. So, what social amenities we put on ground will not actually impress anyone outside. We may benefit from it but it won’t get us out of the woods. What will get us out of the woods is as we are working on these infrastructural facilities, we also start making conscious efforts to change our behavior. I keep emphasizing it, because if we don’t change our behaviour and we are re-branding, it will be like re-packaging a product without changing the content. So, the content is us, the re-packaging is the totality of the re-branding.


You wonder why? All other countries keep re-branding themselves and the re-branding we are talking about is a continuous process, not something we start today and finish next week and is over. It can last for another 30 years; the longer it lasts, the better it gets. Angola for instance is just out of war, 21 years war and is still suffering from abject poverty with their re-branding. No matter how bad things are inside Angola, basically they have told the world they believe in themselves. Look at even Israel, they have been in war of struggling to have their nation state, yet they are re-branding. The ambassador of Israel came to my office to show me the document of their re-branding process.


Do you know that South Africa has more criminal record than Nigeria? In South Africa, it’s difficult to walk on the street with your bag without clutching it. But South Africa has re-branded and is still re-branding. Did they say without the crime, they will not re-brand? There are so many challenges in South Africa; some of them are even shameful to talk about. This is a place where a Vice President would tell the world he slept with a prostitute. If they have gone so low, I imagine that Nigeria is even better than them because I don’t see a Nigerian President or Vice-President making such a statement. They are as low as that but they are re-branding.


From the airports in India, you start seeing clubs; but it is incredible Indian. This is the picture that is presented to the world. It is their perfection that is reality, perfection is everything; India is saying they are incredible and when you watch your television set you think what you see in India is India. Indians are still killing their baby girls, still terminating pregnancies because they are girls; people starve in their villages, people pick food in the streets in India. The type of poverty I saw in India, I have never seen in all my life; yet it is incredible India. Go to the U.S. where a little boy will pick up a gun and shoot children in the classrooms, shoot teachers. In God they trust; they still feel very proud of themselves. I wouldn’t have known there are places like the kind of dungeons I saw there.


That brings me to our media. We should be reporting responsively as much as possible. These people wouldn’t have shown us those places if not for (Hurricane) Katrina. There was no way they could hide it because it couldn’t show part of the hurricane and not show those parts. And that was where people lived, in God’s own country. Look at South America; we have the drug barons even taking their government to ransom. But they are still the tourist destination because of the way they present themselves. So, we in Nigeria, no matter the challenges, should simultaneously re-present ourselves better.


Do you know that all over the world, when you visit a book shop, airport, you see pictures from China, South Africa, Kenya and other countries, but you can never see picture of anything on Nigeria, not one. Don’t we have the Yankari (Games Reserve), tourist centres all over this country? Don’t we have waterfalls and so on? There are lots of these re-branded countries being shown on CNN where you just see hills, mountains and grass; we have so many of them here. I want us to start telling our stories by ourselves. It can work but it is only a matter of time. We have had enough, been run down enough and also run ourselves down enough. People don’t even give us benefit of doubt. Go to some airports and see what is happening to Nigerians, then you know that this re-branding is critical. We are asked to stand aside, treated like common criminals. People hide their green passports. How long shall we do that?

There’s so much to do but what is the starting point?

We have been branded so many times in the past; the last was Heart of Africa. We have not recorded the desired success, so we decided to do things in a different way. The starting point of doing it differently was to get it to the people. We make it home-grown, get Nigerians involved, have ownership of the branding. I now reason, how do we make Nigerians have ownership of the branding? Let the branding be their own, so, they can brand it. This is because I have seen Nigerians in my work with NAFDAC. It happened with war against fake drugs. Every Nigerian became a NAFDAC staff in one way or the other. Nigerians took that fight over and there was no hiding place for the fake drug perpetrators. That was what informed the competition we had in February, in which we had the Nigerian peoples’ forum.


I don’t believe in public/private partnership. It’s an internationally accepted arrangement but I believe in the public/private people’s policies because we are talking about the people who are the majority. So, if we have public/private people’s partnership and Nigerian people bring this logo and slogan through a competition, it becomes their own and automatically becomes their own and gives them the ownership. And if they believe in it, it will sink into our conscience. It will fire us up; not the logo and slogan that will re-brand us. There’s something that we all can hold on to. The American can die holding up his national flag instead of giving it up. Let us equally hold something. Yes, we want something different that we can boast of.

How do we hand over this passion to a hungry man? How does it go with hunger and how does hunger work with patriotism?

You see, whether we are hungry or not, we still have to do what we should do. I told you the kind of hunger and poverty I saw in India. Despite this, they still tell the world they are incredible Indians. They haven’t said or talked about those Indians picking rubbish in the streets. I’m not saying I would feel comfortable for people living in hunger, no. I’m saying poverty is something that never can be eradicated but we can work on it to ensure that people have the basic necessities. I will feel happier if everybody around me is comfortable and feeding well. But we are living in an imperfect world, it may never really happen the way we really wanted it. But as Nigerians will say, let’s move on. The Ministry of Agriculture is doing its own bit of making sure we produce enough food.


The point I’m making is that if we want to get everything right before we start re-branding, it means we will never re-brand. Why is it that other countries did not wait until they get everything right before they started re-branding? Why is Angola re-branding with all the ruins of war and poverty? It is because they know that the way the world perceives them is critical to their even surviving from the ruins of war. If people start feeling comfortable with Nigerians, there will be an influx of businessmen and women that would like to come and do business here. If they come, that’s how our growth will start booming and the seven-point agenda will start getting attention.

It means there must be change both in our leaders and the following. How are we going to get our leaders; the governors, the ministers to do exactly what would make the people think that there is a change?

You see, everybody has a conscience. Even criminals have conscience. That’s why they have to smoke marijuana and take alcohol before they go to rob. They know if they don’t take those things, their conscience will not allow them operate the way they would have wanted. So, the ministers, the leaders we are talking about are also watching what is going on on this re-branding. If we as Nigerians agree and key into this project, the corrupt and bad people that are denting us will have unsettled conscience.

This thing is going to be a movement. I want it to move from campaign to movement. If we continue talking about it and we mean it, before you know it, it will be on the lips of everybody that we must change. We need to present ourselves better, just like (the) fake drugs (campaign). At a time, in the last few years, awareness became so high about anti-fake drugs. This re-branding is even a war fighting corruption because we are now going to be talking about everything. What we want to do is to start having meetings with the mini-stakeholders in the states.


When we travel to a state like Bauchi, the House of Assembly members in Bauchi and the National Assembly members will go with us. All those representatives of the people will stand by me and tell their people what they are doing for them in government. While I’m telling them about what government is doing for that state, the people from that state would also tell their people individually, because the Ministers are representing that state, the Senators are also representing them. They should tell the people what they are doing for them. So it’s a way of being accountable to your people. In that mini-stakeholders meeting, we would also be able to get from those people what they feel about government. So, there would be feedback on both sides.

Don’t we expect some kind of resistance, putting Ministers, Reps and Senators on the spot?

Well, if anybody resists, it is easy. Even without me saying a word, the people from that state would know that their son or daughter does not want to come and give account of himself. We don’t expect a gang-up in the leadership sector. When I’m doing some thing, I can be single-minded when I know that I’m doing the right thing. In this case, I’m sure that what we are doing is correct. We want to be able to reach out to the people. We want to be talking with the people; we don’t want the communication that has opened to ever die. It has opened; even this criticism, support and all that are healthy. So, if you we to a state and the Minister or Senator from that state has nothing to tell them than just message, let the grassroots people tell us what to tell the government. It’s going to involve many things. It is holistic; it’s not just one thing. You cannot say it is an attitudinal change or say it is providing infrastructural facilities or say it’s just the way we present ourselves. It is inter-connected but we can easily synchronize everything and work towards evolving a new Nigeria, a new image for ourselves.

You have said this thing is going to take 30 years or more?

No, we are not giving ourselves time limit but it’s an on-going thing. Re-branding is a continuous process.

What is the Nigeria of your dream? How do you see the education sector or health system, considering where we are coming from? What are we set out to change and what do we expect as results?

Nigeria of my dream is a situation where people will start believing in themselves and in their country. People will shed that doubt. People will learn to nurture Nigeria as a baby; will believe in Nigeria so much that they would never think of running down this country; a country and a future where everybody will be telling people our own story and start reporting the positives in this country and the negatives being reported responsibly. A country where our leaders will know their job, that the position of leadership is so sacred that when we don’t do what we are supposed to do for our followers, it’s actually a sin. Also where followers make themselves amenable to be led (and) become good citizens. A Nigeria where our children will hold their passports in the airport and nobody will humiliate them, I hope it will happen in our life-time. We keep working; I’m optimistic and I refuse to be deterred. I’m very hopeful and I pray that people will bear the strength with me, because if we lose the chance of re-branding Nigeria today, we may never muster the courage anymore and it means we are handing to our children a country, like I said before, they cannot take to the bank.

You mentioned something like WAI. Are we going to have uniformed people who will enforce some changes and new attitudes?

No, we don’t believe in that, because during the War Against Indiscipline, we didn’t have anybody in the street pushing us to stand on the queue. It’s a matter of we Nigerians keying into what you ask them to do and believing in it. Remember that even though it was a military era, the military people did not stand around to make us stand on queues. People on their own started standing on queues. But when you throw away anything in the street, people shout WAI and you pick it. That’s why I said we surprised ourselves. We saw a new Nigeria, orderly people, more responsive, having sense of community, (and) focused. I don’t remember anybody waking us in Enugu then.


I believe this movement will get to a point where even little children in Nigeria will be saying we are good people, this is a great nation. And as good people, we should try to behave better, and realizing how great this nation is, do everything to retain the greatness. That is the spirit. It’s like a spiritual revival. Maybe I’m getting too ambitious about it but I’m confident. We have no reason not to believe in ourselves because we are intelligent people.


So the question is, what is really wrong with us? We have put ourselves down for so long that we are getting stuck in it; outsiders are putting us down. It’s like you start calling a child a stupid child. After so many years, the child will be feeling really stupid. I think we have gotten to that point. But we are not stupid, criminals or fraudsters and our country is a beautiful country. The challenges, I believe by the grace of God will be addressed by various private establishments and even the public sector. I said we are going to do this thing differently because we are not hoping on government funding. We are looking at sourcing money from the private sector and from good-spirited Nigerians. We also will publish what we spent two times a year to the last kobo.


Nigerians are great people, great volunteering spirit. We (have) had our re-branding campaign flag-off. Bongos Ikwue and Idris Abdulkareem came and performed free. They are supposed to be paid millions but each of them called and volunteered to come. I wanted to call Onyeka Onwenu to come, but she had already volunteered to come perform for free. It’s just that the committee had accepted that these people would come. They felt bringing in a third musician may not fit into the programme because of time. That tells you the kind of people we have in this country. We are not saying it for saying sake but because Nigerians are good people.

What are you doing about Nigerians in the Diaspora and what they have brought to the image of the country?

It’s not just the name they brought on the country. Nigerians in the Diaspora are the worst when it comes to bad mouthing Nigeria. When you hear Nigerians overseas talk about Nigeria, you will weep for this country. I have asked a few of them if they have another country they can call their own. They don’t know that each time they talk down the country, they are diminishing themselves and running down the ordinary Nigerian. They also forget that every Nigerian in Diaspora is an ambassador. We have over 17 million Nigerians in the Diaspora. In fact, in this re-branding committee, we have one representative of the Diaspora and are prepared to have a second person. We need them to be represented. Imagine 17 million people out of our population in Nigeria! It is a significant percentage. Some Nigerians in Diaspora have brought us bad names but some of them have done very well. Doctor Nelson lives in Abuja and as soon as he announced his discovery, Nigerians went on air. Newspapers said he was lying. Because we don’t believe that anything good can come out from here.

As Nigerians are saying he is lying, an American company had signed an MoU with him. At a time when we should be joyful that our brother had discovered something, we were saying it’s not possible because diabetes has no cure. Many years ago, do we have drugs like antibiotic? Its gradually we are getting cure for certain things in this country. Drug that is for the cure of sickle cell was developed and formulated by NIPRID in conjunction with a company from Nigeria. I never saw it in any newspaper. If an American had developed the cure for sickle cell, which is marketed today, it would have been on CNN from morning till night. If Doctor Nelson were to be an American or Ghanaian, it would also have been on CNN. Why would CNN pick it when Nigerians came out to say he was lying? This is a man that had his PhD. and competed with foreigners in foreign land. So, why would you say he cannot discover something? It’s all about the image problem and the way we are perceived here.
 
excerpt from Sunday Sun 
 

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