Can we rebrand Nigeria without conquering mediocrity? By Martins Oloja

Late Professor Pius Adesanmi

In our country, the more we try to conclude complicated and inconclusive democratic matters including elections, the more inconclusive they seem. As we tried to conclude inconclusive gubernatorial matters at the weekend, the more complicated the inconclusive elections became everywhere. It came to pass at the weekend that the Osun state gubernatorial election held last year would still remain inconclusive – until the busiest Supreme Court in the world, (Nigeria’s) says so later. And so it is with Adamawa state’s governorship inconclusive election that the court has locked up to remain inconclusive. What is more inconclusive, Rivers state’s inconclusive election may mot be revisited until April when inconclusive counting may resume. Have you read Joseph Stalin’s classic that those who actually vote decide nothing; but those who count the votes matter more? There was also a sound of silence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal currently trying the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen at the weekend when it was clear that the embattled CJN doesn’t actually have a fat account as a section of the media actually attributed to him, no thanks to a desperate anti-corruption agency chief on a desperate mission to impress on his master, no matter whose reputation is damaged, after all. It appears that the damage may not be controllable anymore as that quasi-judicial operation may be concluded soon – and those who are afraid of Onnoghen as CJN can sleep well.

As we in the media and some senior men at the Nigerian Bar embark on some introspection about our ignoble role in the curious trials, persecution and humiliation of the suspended CJN Onnoghen, let’s move to conclude our discussion points on the enemy called mediocrity.

I would like to leave sycophancy alone here because that is a week enemy that a serious leader or manager can deal with seamlessly with a flash of brilliance on a good day. But mediocrity? As I once noted here, it is competing ruthlessly with corruption as a cankerworm in the polity. Retooling, reskilling and mind renewal are not issues you can decree into extinction as you can do to sycophants around you.

Our country, Nigeria celebrates mediocrity. As I have noted here several times even before the running series, even the trouble with President Buhari’s presidency is his comfort with mediocrity – from presidential bureaucracy through the executive council to even his kitchen cabinet. Doubtless, the president needs competent and good people around him to run this complex country. There have been unarguably too many incompetent and manner-less people in his presidency – and so they can’t help him to create values in the economy and at the same time unite and rebuild the broken country. He needs to headhunt this time good and competent people who possess social and executive intelligence to assist him in understanding and running this complex diversity called Nigeria.

‘Pius Adesanmi hated mediocrity’

While signing off on the conversation on ‘mediocrity’ last weekend, I promised some reminiscences on what the late Professor Pius Adesanmi said about the danger of mediocrity in Nigeria (in 2015). When that bad news broke the other day that a Nigeria’s significant brand ambassador in Canada, Professor Adesanmi was in that crashed Ethiopian airline, I recalled immediately the scholar’s seminal take on mediocrity. That was in 2015 at the Pastor Poju Oyemade’s Platform. That was also the first time I had seen him on Channels Television. This was how I did a contextual reporting of the 2015 event in an article titled, ‘Mediocrity everywhere you go’ here on April 16, 2016:

‘Another public enemy that is secretly competing with corruption that has mindlessly crippled us is MEDIOCRITY. We all encounter it everywhere we go in Nigeria but we all endure it and shrug our shoulders and await a miracle to eradicate it. It is a social danger, a cankerworm we must deal with if we must smell development. On Tuesday April 2, 2013, I published as a lead story in this newspaper ‘Mediocrity overtakes Graft, wrecks Nigeria’. The story received some rave reviews.

I recall that it was a colleague, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, editor of Thisday that first hailed the story describing mediocrity as our major challenge that has tentacles everywhere we go. The source of that story was an article by a Lagos-based Dutch journalist and writer, Femke van Zeiji, fondly called Funke. Her article on “mediocrity” that was trending then online had gone so viral that I considered it newsworthy. The irresistible opening paragraph of the article reads:

‘I used to think corruption was Nigeria’s biggest problem, but I’m starting to doubt that. Every time I probe into one of the many issues this country is encountering, at the core I find the same phenomenon: the widespread celebration of mediocrity. Un-rebuked underachievement seems to be the rule in all facets of society. A governor building a single road during his tenure is revered like the next Messiah; an averagely talented author who writes a colourless book gets sponsored to represent Nigerian literature overseas; and a young woman with no secretarial skills to speak of gets promoted to the oga’s office faster than any of her properly trained colleagues…’

I thought that was a profound construct by a foreigner on the new competitor. After the publication and reviews in 2013, there were calls here and there that it was a good article, a blueprint for productive success. But again, not even the national orientation agency operatives considered it as a subject to be pursued as a public policy. The issue of celebration of mediocrity did not receive any attention again until October 2015 in Abuja when a Nigerian Professor of English, Pius Adesanmi who heads an African Centre in a University in Canada, addressed it at the annual symposium, The Platform by Pastor Poju Oyemade’s Covenant Christian Centre. The man who said he was missing mediocrity, a trait he took away from Nigeria’s work culture when he got to Canada noted angrily that Nigerians should rise up against the spirit of mediocrity that has held us hostage in the most populous black nation on earth. Again, the morning after The Platform, no one remembered the scourge again. That was how I began to follow the scholar and one of Nigeria’ authentic brand ambassadors in North America. It is still incredible that the man died while the campaign to restructure Nigeria remains inconclusive. May his good soul rest in peace!

Can we re-brand Nigeria where mediocrity is king?

The very resourceful University of Lagos Mass Communication Alumni Association (UMCAA) threatened to answer the question last Thursday through its 2019 Distinguished Lecture Series titled, ‘Brand Nigeria: Ignite’. The keynote speaker, Akin Oyebode, a retired Law Professor of the University of Lagos who modified the title to read, ‘Re-branding Nigeria: A Quixotic Task?’ spoke to the organic theme anyway. The professor of international law and jurisprudence said the first time he appreciated the essence of brand equity was the time the authorities in Abuja proposed to rename the iconic University of Lagos after Moshood Abiola as Moshood Abiola University – from UNILAG to MAU. He disclosed that a Nigerian doctoral student had in Oxford University, U.K told him then while participating in a conference at the University (Oxford) that if they succeeded in changing the University of Lagos UNILAG to ‘MAU’ they would have ruined his own reputation (brand) from the University of Lagos where his first class degree in Political Science had earned him a direct entry for doctoral degree in Oxford. Professor Oyebode said the student then asked him to tell the authorities of the University of Lagos to reject the blighter and brand destroyer called MAU. The rest is history as the President Jonathan administration dropped the idea when the University administration and the alumni power won the day.

I was part of a three-man discussion panel for the Oyebode’s keynote at the event chaired by Sir Steve Bamidele Omojafor last Thursday at the main hall of the University. The two others are Oluyinka Esan, UMCAA member, former lecturer Mass Communication Department, Unilag and now associate professor, Media Studies at the University College, Winchester, U.K and Odion Aleobua, also UMCAA member and a Marketing Communications expert, founder and CEO, MODION, formerly of OANDO and Forte Oil.

Professor Oyebode’s seminal paper underscores the fact that as a nation-state, Nigeria could use ‘considerable re-configuration, re-ordering or rebranding, especially on account of the country’s bad press internationally and gruesome image as the habitat of the world’s ugly Nigerian’.So, What’s To Be Done?

The Professor says ‘the question of whether or not the Nigerian brand should ignite is neither here nor there’. He is of the opinion that though some brand managers may find some opportunities, in this regard, he suggests that Nigeria should de-emphasize efforts to ingratiate all those who harbour distaste, if not, in fact, hatred for this country and black people everywhere. ‘Of course, there is a felt need to alter our mind-set but not at the behest of the holier-than-thou do-gooders from the western world’ he argues.

Dr. Esan says ‘no matter how dire Nigeria is, there are ample stories, which should help the nation generate soft power as has been done before’. According to her, media and communication are key to this construct and some should be identified. She suggests to the authorities and people to consider nation branding through productivity. ‘with tangible prospects of profit, we might just be able to attract and sustain interest.

For Odion, if we must re-brand Nigeria, we must treat Brand Nigeria as a consumer brand. According to him, we must align with the understanding that a ‘Brand is a promise’ and the logos and slogans are mere creative expressions of the promise’. In the main, he suggests that to develop the product like consumer brands, the country must invest heavily in research and development (R&D). He says Apple Corporation is estimated to have spent $14.7 billion on R&D in 2018 and almost 50% of Nigeria’s 2018 Annual Budget of $29.8 billion.

For me, Nigeria is still a hard sell partly because its leaders de-market the country with pronouncements on corruption and insurgency. So the only brand equity we have stems from corruption and insecurity, as Boko Haram has a brand equity – associated with Nigeria. The president himself goes to the United Nations to tell the world about the brand – corruption. He does not tell us how to fix critical infrastructure such as the national shame called Apapa Ports – located in the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos, centre of mediocrity renamed excellence. That is why we need to get all of us to sit down to develop a strategy to ignite the Re-branding Nigeria, the brand the black people of the world have been waiting for.

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