Nigeria As Destination Brand: How Far, How Well | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigeria As Destination Brand: How Far, How Well

Posted: Oct 6, 2015 at 12:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The country, no doubt, has suffered battered image in recent time, most especially due to the alleged corruption and many other social vices, which both locally and internationally have become synonymous with the name, Nigeria. In this special report, second of five parts, Sylvester Enoghase, Oladunjoye Phillip, Emma Okwuke, Abel Orukpe, Olamide Bakare and Judith Eshemitan, examine the efforts of previous administrations at rebranding the country, as well as the seemingly  hands of friendship being offered to the country since President Muhammadu Buhari took over the leadership of the country.

Using Entertainment As Repositioning Tool

A Information and Communications Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili, pushed the ‘Rebrand Nigeria’ project with zeal and vigour, a hand of partnership has been extended to stakeholders in the film industry popularly known as Nollywood.

The late minister who interacted with the motion picture industry as she sought to find out what filmmakers could offer the nation, especially in the on-going search for better image perception.

But the meeting provided both parties a rare opportunity not only to know each other better but a moment of sober reappraisals for two agents of image making for the country.

If the minister thought she would just lay her script on the table and expect Nollywood to act it out, she had another thing coming. Rather, it turned out a time of learning some of the intricate and confusing issues that make the industry thick. But the professor of Pharmacy is not new to surprises; in fact, she was ready for the image making industry’s tale of woes. It’s a tale of flagging fame requiring urgent attention to avert the collapse threatening the industry.

The Late Prof. Akunyili went to Nollywood to enlist its support in rebranding Nigeria. Instead, Nollywood enlisted her to tackle its seemingly intractable problems, which do not seem obvious to the outsider. Forgetting to don her Ankara for which she is famous, Prof. Akunyili said she opted for a Western designed dress like the stars she had come to meet. And she looked like one in her shimmering beige gown with black frills.

She told the gathering that Nollywood was arguably Nigeria’s cultural ambassador and that she was an avid follower of the industry, which she said changed the entertainment tastes of Nigerians for foreign films. “As far as I’m concerned, Nollywood is the biggest,” she declared to the cheering admiration of industry buffs. “The impact of Nollywood is felt and appreciated. You project Nigeria’s cultural life to the world. Nollywood remains one of Nigeria’s major employers of labour, even for the physically challenged.

“With the advent of Nollywood, Nigerians stopped going to see Indian films. You successfully brought the theatre to the homes of Nigerians”

The minister therefore sought the cooperation of the film industry to change the negative image the nation now has, arguing that Nigerians were responsible for the country’s current bad image. “Negative perception about Nigeria is generated by Nigerians because we don’t believe in ourselves, even in the press,” she charged. “If nothing is done, the image we have as a country of 419-ers, where nothing works, failing leadership, it becomes a liability. The most systematic way is to re-brand, to tell our story and prevent others from telling it the way they want to tell it.” She was therefore counting on the great spirit of volunteerism Nigerians always displayed in enlisting Nollywood for Nigeria’s re-branding effort.

Akunyili argued that it was Nigeria’s inability to tell its story properly that had affected it negatively and that it was the reason why Nigerian citizens often suffered in foreign lands. She said the fall of Apartheid in South Africa was due largely because of the financial sacrifices Nigerian citizens made as workers’ salaries were deducted at source to help fight that evil regime. Regrettably, the minister said, many South Africans do not know this otherwise they would not have engaged in xenophobic attacks against Nigerians a few months ago while protesting against foreigners in their country.

Nigeria’s inability to tell its story correctly, the minister further said, was threatening to rubbish its historic role in the establishment of ECOMOG force that worked to end the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Lamentably, she stated that the United Nations was wrongfully appropriating Nigeria’s supreme role even as the country sacrificed men and materials for the peace that now reigns in those two countries. Most worrying to the minister was the lack of respect shown to Nigerians in those countries, which it rescued from their wars of self-destruct. Again, she stated that Nigeria’s Technical Corps was working hard to assist other African nations to develop but that it was hardly reported or acknowledged unlike what foreign media do to such events around the world.

The campaign to rebrand Nigeria, she noted, was not about slogan – Good People, Great Nation – but about attitudinal change among Nigerians to be patriotic and have pride in themselves, saying that Nigerians must learn to live up to that name. “We have to believe,” Prof. Akunyili declared.

Nigeria, the former NAFDAC boss told the gathering of Nollywood stars, Nigeria had so many positive things that could be showcased, starting with the Nollywood stars whom she said she could brag about as extending the frontiers of the nation’s culture as well as natural sites and institutions. “Why talk only about failures?” she asked. “Fortunately, Nigeria has many unique selling points; it has scored many firsts. We should bring these to the notice of Nigerians and foreigners alike.”

She argued that if Nigeria was as bad as it was being portrayed, why then did foreigners refuse to go after staying in the country for a while but instead, going as far as marrying Nigerians as wives. Yet she said it was the same people that joined in condemning the country because Nigerians themselves spoke badly about their countries. “We are saying no with this rebranding mission,” she said.

With this background explicitly made, the minister therefore asked Nollywood on board the rebranding campaign even as she acknowledged the contributions of the father of the industry such as Chiefs Herbert Ogunde, Eddie Ugbomah, Ola Balogun among others. She declared, “We need Nollywood on board. You are critical to this campaign. Almost everybody is watching you; you can project the image of this country. You can show negative things positively, constructively. Through the content of your films and videos, you’ll project Nigeria positively to show the world that we’re ‘Good people, great nation’. To tell our great stories, we need Nollywood. You’re one of our best icons and brands; speak to our country about this campaign. If you show Nigeria as a failed state or a country of 419s, that’s how the world would see Nigeria and Nigerians.”

As if prepared for what was to come from practitioners in the industry, the minister said there was a need to invest in the talents in the industry to make it viable, especially in the areas of scripting to make the stories better. “This entertainment behemoth is under-funded,” she declared. “We are talking to the World Bank; we will bring succour to the industry. In the months ahead, we will see the virtue of believing in ourselves; the rebranding is more for ordinary Nigerians.”

In response, star actress Joke Silver partly read a prepared address from stakeholders in the industry to the minister. She thanked her for believing that the industry possessed talents that could play a role in the task of rebranding Nigeria and stated its cooperation. Presenting the concluding part of the speech, president of Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Bond Emeruah, said an improved Nollywood could play a part in a rebranded Nigeria but not the way it currently stood as a shadow of its former self.

Though successive governments had recognised Nollywood, he noted, they were not able to take the needs of the industry to the desired level, especially the failure in presenting the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) bill to the National Assembly for passage into law for over two years now.

Emeruah reminded the minister, given her antecedents, of the challenges of an unregulated industry, arguing that the MOPICON bill “when passed, is the lynchpin, the impetus for rebranding Nollywood, an industry at your disposal to rebrand our great and beloved country, Nigeria.”

In effect, for Nollywood to play its part in the rebranding mission, which the minister had come to solicit, the minister had to help to rebrand the industry, which was in dire need of repositioning itself.

DGN President enumerated other problems facing the industry. These were the lack of a National Film Development Fund, the Nigerian Film Policy and the Film Village. The co-director of “Mortal Inheritance’ said the film fund was of more immediate and direct bearing on proceedings regarding Nigeria’s rebranding via the Nollywood way as the minister was canvassing. He also noted that the new distribution framework being proposed by the censor’s board needed being reassessed for effectiveness.

Concluding, he stated, “We hold a solemn conviction that Nollywood with its robust quality of writers, producers, directors, cinematographers and creative designers, whose works around the world show hope for our nation will surely create a fresh new window through which the world will see and believe in Nigeria.”

However, it was at the interactive session that Minister Akunyili got a dose of what she probably took for granted as the problems of the industry. First to fire the salvo was eminent director, Amaka Igwe. She was so clinical in her submission that whatever else that was said became an elaboration of her view. She pointedly told the minister that for Nollywood to partner with her in the rebranding project, it had to be a negotiated one with both parties mutually benefiting. Nollywood, the bulky director charged, was being plagued by piracy, a scourge that the minister must help the industry to deal with if any rebranding partnership was to work.

Other areas where Nollywood needed assistance, she said, were in film distribution network, “no bank is listening to us; there’s a Bank of Industry; what is it doing? Use your power to make SME funds available to us.”

Echoing Igwe on the piracy plague, Zack Orji told the minister that movies were not being produced in Nollywwod right now because of piracy. “Piracy is an affront to the effort being made to rebrand Nigeria,” he charged. “Alaba is the headquarter of piracy. They are so organized in their illegitimacy, our livelihood is being threatened.” He also lamented the inability to get government involved in producing movies, especially those requiring the use of airports and the police. Zik Zulu Okafor charged Akunyili to give Alaba the Onitsha drug market treatment as NAFDAC boss shut the market and insisted on compliance with the sale of usable drugs not fake. Zeb Ejiro pointed out the problem of electricity power in the country while Peace Fiberesima-Anyiam bemoaned the lack of government support for the different film festivals in the country.

In response, the minister said she felt distressed at the issues raised by practitioners as plaguing Nollywood. “Without Nollywood how can we rebrand?” She moaned. “We will force Custom Service to do its work. In this era, we’ll have to do something to reduce piracy; we want something different, something positive about piracy in the few months ahead.” The minister also pinpointed the absence of a council in the industry to enforce discipline as its greatest problem. She declared, “I see it (MOPICON) as an emergency. I intend to pursue it with all vigour. You are not speaking with one voice; there are too many groups, no unity.”

She therefore charged practitioners to set up a committee of five or six to work closely with her to push the MOPICON bill to the National Assembly for passage. She promised to liaise with the Inspector General of Police to make police props available for filmmakers so as to avoid negative portrayal of the force.

On funding, Prof. Akunyili said she would work with Nollywood to help practitioners assess all available fund opportunities starting from the Central Bank, the World Bank, SMEs saying, “we can ask corporate Nigeria to sponsor our films”.

Earlier in his welcome address, National Film and Video Censors Board DG, Emeka Mba, stated that there was not a doubt what Nollywood had done for Africa. He further stated that Nollywood represented the greatest force of goodwill for the country and that he was happy that he had a minister who recognised the vital force that Nollywood represented as its films were seen all over the world.

He stated, “It’s not how powerful you are but how powerful your voice is, how powerful you are heard. We have traveled to every corner of this earth and our voices are being heard. We’re meeting with the minister to engage her and tell her those voices. Our movies are seen in Brazil and they reignite the passion in them to come back home. And, we have done it without government support. Perhaps, things need to change.”

Bilateral Relationship As Brand Building Initiative

Head of Research at Brand South Africa, Dr Petrus de Kock had stated that the country is initiating a new relationship with Nigeria with a view to strengthen its brand.

As a brand, South Africa has enjoyed global patronage. For many years, its leadership in African market remains unchallenged. Among other things, the country has strong commercial base, attractive tourism and good infrastructure that can make even the super power countries catch cold out of envy.

But the story is fast changing; many countries out there are struggling to get part of the market share.

But rather than leaving things to chance, South Africa is responding very well to the current challenges.  To this end, government has tasked ‘Brand South Africa,’ a government agency, to market and promote South Africa as a business destination for visitors within and outside Africa. According to the Research Manager of the agency, Dr. Petrus de Kock, Brand South Africa is currently working extensively with the department of international relations to do a lot of communication both domestically and internationally and understand how best to appeal to patrons.

The research manager, who was in Nigeria recently as part of the organisation’s strategies to maintain good ties with other African countries, said in the past year, the agency had started designing a special Africa focus programme for the organisation.

Speaking on his mission in Nigeria, he said: “The purpose of my visit to Nigeria is that as African state, we really need to find ways of expanding our relationship, be it in business, culture and other areas. So the research is here to inform you of our operation, look at the opportunities and challenges that we need to deal with if we want to expand the relationship.

“We want to get a better understanding of how we are perceived as a brand. It is like any other brand, it is important to constantly do a health check on how you are perceived by the people. As strategic level and our government strategies, department of international relations, department of trade and industry and several other government entities are looking very deeply into our African strategy as a country. In order to make that succeed, we need to know where the opportunities and challenges are. Our economic survival in the long term depends on how we link into the African market. Our economy still has a lot of dynamism and we have a saturated market in many sectors and so our investors have to look for opportunities in the continent and that is part of the logic why we are embarking on this drive.”

Coming from academic background, de Kock seems to know the necessary steps to take to explore the various target markets.  He expressed his concern over the cat and mouse relationship that exists among African countries and called for more understanding and strong bilateral relationship.

“We talk of African integration but then we don’t do the hard work which is to understand the obstacles that prevent us as Africans to get Visas, understand one another and to get more exposure into opportunities in each other’s markets. So what we need to do is basically build mutual understanding. If you look at the level of inter African trade, it has improved. If you look at how dynamic the Nigerian economy is, you see there’s much opportunity to create interaction. So I think we need to get a better understanding of each other’s market and society. Based on that, we can move forward.”

He described the bilateral relationship that existed between Nigeria and South Africans in the past as enough reason why the two countries should collaborate well for mutual benefits. Specifically, the university teacher made reference to the support the African National Party, (ANP), got from Nigeria during the liberation struggle.

“I think the support Nigeria gave to the ANP during the liberation struggle is a very important untold story. Based on that history, some South African companies have come into Nigeria, some of them successful and some didn’t for some reasons. I would say at the business level there’s a strong relationship. I think what we face currently is a challenge in both environment in terms of creating a mutual understanding of who we are as Nigerians and who are we as South Africans and our intentions of working with each other.”

Of course, the research manager also pointed out that the country has alluring infrastructure that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any other countries of the world. This, according to him, is top among the powers of the brand.

“Our infrastructure in the country is incredible and it’s a proof point of what we can do and offer for trade and visits. Other elements of the brand is a diversified economy with a range of opportunities; most sophisticated electronic and car manufacturing and stable power. So, South Africa has huge economic capabilities. As we speak, there are lots of Nigerians in South African universities. So the basis of our brand comes from the infrastructure we offer and also the skill that we have in our economy and the diversified nature of the economy.”

On strategies currently being put in place to market the brand to other African nations, he pointed out that the ongoing visit is part of the strategies.

“We conceive the visit to the African countries as a step.  Through it we are sharing with our brothers and sisters in Africa the content of the special African programmes the agency formulated to inform Africans to understand the market.

“I was in Kenya three weeks ago doing the same thing. We know there’s development in most African markets; Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, so we have to be informed about what is happening in those economies and markets. I have spoken with some people in Nollywood to understand how to create an industry that will facilitate interaction and assistance with our Nigerian counterparts.” Speaking about his understanding of the Nigerian brand, he said: “I would say the personality of Nigeria brand is bold…I see Nigerian people as bold. I come from an academic background and I have worked with a lot of Nigerians and I have witnessed the capacity of Nigerians to engage and be analytical at the very high level. So what I see of the Nigerian market are people that are engaging and very open and very dynamic.”

With the influx of people into places like Dubai and other beautiful cities of the world, does South-Africa see that as a threat? Reacting to this question, the research manager didn’t mince words in pointing out first and foremost that the global market is competitive. He added that as a result of the current situation in the world, people think twice before they travel, spend their money and invest.

“So I think we will always be in competition but the challenge is how you become more clever at marketing your nation and reaching your audience to get people interested in Nigeria or South Africa.”

He described South Africa as a country with multiple tourism offerings and called on other African nations to come and have a bite.  “We love to say we’ve gotten the world in one country. We’ve got tropical rain forest, we’ve got the best beaches in the world and in terms of infrastructure, I think it’s a big traveling experience; when you travel by road, by air, by rail or whatever form in South Africa and in terms of cost, it’s quite competitive as well. In term of experience, you can be in the biggest cities where we have the best amenities and world class environment. Some tourists can have a variety of experience; they can go for the stream adventure, the mountains and also go to Johannesburg and enjoy the scene of a big city. So that diversity provides a great experience.

In the next five to ten years, de Kock said he would love to see a lot happening in terms of relationship between his country and Nigeria. “I would love to see easier movement of people; this will facilitate trade and interaction. International relations revolve around your big companies but I think it would build opportunity for small and medium enterprises contacts between the countries. What we want to see more is maybe government involvement in facilitating contacts between these countries. There are Nigerians in South Africa and there are South Africans here, so I think the opportunity is to try and expand it. So I would like to see the volume of trade increase, the flow of people increase and the cultural contact because we have infuse that to create some of the perceptions of South African here and Nigeria in south Africa. I think we really need to get a balance and there must be trust.”

Going by this step, it is hope that Nigeria will seize the opportunity by adopting a model of collaboaration particularly with developed economies.

Place of Public Relations In Nation Building

At a recent event organised in honour of the new president of National Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Dr. Rotimi Oladele,, by the Lagos chapter of the institute, stakeholders including a former minister of information, Chief Alex Akinyele, had called for collaboration between PR practitioners and major actors at both private and public sectors.

Akinyele urged all stakeholders to join hands in building the nation’s reputation, noting that only a conscious effort in this direction could boost confidence in the nation’s economy.

He said unless every top players in the private and public sectors work together in building a good image for the country, the needed development expected in the economy may be elusive.

According to him: “All hands must be on deck to ensure that Nigeria earn a good name and this can only be made possible if stakeholders such as NIPR, the media and individuals see the need to work hand in hand. We all have a prominent role to play in the actualisation of this dream, that is, a dream of a better Nigeria. Once this is achieved, it will translate to an increasing level of confidence among investors thereby leading to economic growth”.

Speaking about destination branding, Dr. Oladele made reference to countries such as India, UK, U.S.A, South Africa and other advanced economies that have succeeded in attracting businesses and tourists to their countries as a result of carefully managed place branding programs, supported by fairly stable political, social and economic environments.

A former vice chairman of the Lagos chapter, Mr. Kunle Ogedengbe who commented on the imperative on nation building and the role of PR said the profession will be more prosperous if it attracts the needed support from the public sector.

According to Ogedengbe, “There is still a big gap in the appreciation of public relations in Nigeria, especially among the people in government. While I so much believe that the current leadership in the NIPR will go a long way in repositioning the institute, my fear for PR practice lies in the fact that the profession is not attracting the necessary support in terms of patronage from government at various levels,”

PRCAN President, Chido Nwakanma, said his association settled for the theme of the lecture titled “Consultative Governance” because democracy is a consultative governance process that involves identifying, aggregating and implementing programmes that meet the needs of the citizenry.

He submitted that part of the problem with the nation’s democracy is the lack of application of public relations to governance; hence the disconnect between citizens and government.

“As Nigeria walks towards another transition and change of government, PRCAN calls on actors in the political process to be more circumspect and professional in their communication. These times call for careful deployment of language. We should not just be heard but to communicate higher values that enrich, inform and persuade other parties to our points of view and contribute to national cohesion”, he said.

Earlier, chairman of the occasion, Prof. Emevwo Biakolo, had commended the association for the timing and theme of discussion. He also tasked stakeholders in the polity to begin engaging the public through proper policy communication, which he said would promote democratic culture and trust between the leaders and the led

The former Governor of Ekiti state who was the guest lecturer at the event, Governor Fayemi noted that when the concept of policy communications is applied to governance, it often evokes the imagery of government sloganeering and the dark arts of state propaganda. He argued that its challenge in the deepening of the nation’s democracy is that of enhancing the grasp of the public mood by political leaders.

The governor also pointed out that it entails building capacity to shape public opinion and mould the consensus required for successful policy implementation.

He said: “It is about winning hearts and minds – a vital but much understated aspect of policy-making on our shores. Many Nigerians cannot take ownership of policies, even those which are manifestly beneficial to them, because they are alienated from the policy making process. For all the grandeur and fanfare with which they are launched, development plans often lack buy-in or legitimacy at the grassroots.”

Citing the federal government’s removal of the subsidy on fuel at the beginning of the year 2012 as an example, he said the decision led to nationwide protests that paralysed socio-economic activities and resulted in huge economic losses, adding that the vociferous opposition to the subsidy removal was down to a number of factors.

“It is true that the subject of fuel subsidy has long been a sensitive issue certain to elicit combative reactions from organised labour and the broader civil society. While it is certain that there are those who will probably never agree in principle with the elimination of subsidies, there was also a sense that the federal government did not sufficiently engage the public on the issue,” he said.

He pointed out that the Minister of Finance/Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, once admitted that there was a trust deficit between the public and the government, which was causing the former to doubt the latter’s avowed good intentions on the issue.

The state governor also called on government at various levels to always endeavour to communicate their plans and policies to the people and treat them as critical stakeholders in the success of such policies. Citing different instances where effective communications of policy direction by his administration had led to the success of such policies and where poor communication had led to rejection of some policies, he said it was important for government to sharpen its communications skills and also make use of experts in the field.

He added that public opinion and confidence serve as the lifeblood of healthy democratic governance while it is the task of political elites to take the pulse of the public, and develop the instincts and aspirations of the electorate into a political and public policy agenda.

Using Ekiti as an example, the Governor said his administration had sought to bring the participatory ethos of consultation and consensus to bear upon governance by organising frequent town hall meetings to give account of stewardship while also getting their input into the budgetary process in the State.

Various Positions

The climax of the event was the debate generated by the lecture. Though he didn’t entirely disagree with Fayemi’s position, the president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mr. Femi Adesina, said it was high time communication moved from speech to dialogue. According to him, “Governance in Nigeria has always been speech and speeches; we must move up and start engagement through dialogue to promote a participatory democracy.”

APCON Chairman, Mr. Lolu Akinwumi, said the problem had never been about having a good policy in place but poor implementation. He cited the recent rebranding exercise embarked upon under Prof. Dora Akunyili as Minister of Information and Communication, where he (Akinwumi) served as committee secretary, as a good example of paper plan that was not properly pursued.

For the Secretary General of African Public Relations Association, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, Nigeria and Nigerians have all that it takes to succeed but continue to lag behind because of little or no engagement of professionals to manage communications in a way that the public would be well connected.

With a new leadership in NIPR, there is hope that things will change for better but the question nobody has been able to answer is whether government will begin to engage professionals in conceptualisation and implementation of policies.

Tourism As A Selling Point

At a recent event, President of NIPR, Rotimi Oladele, represented by his special assistant on media, Grace Achum, who recognised tourism or destination branding as a sector that will propel Nigeria’s economy, said, “there is no other force to drive tourism as major revenue earner than the media. As partners in the economic development drive, I encourage you to try more and the best will be the result.”

For many years, according to Femi Adesina, Nigerians have spoken much on the economic diversification but all resolutions ended up on the shelves, saying with dwindling international oil prices, the days of reckoning had come.

Adesina said tourism should be a veritable alternative to oil, citing countries like Israel, Australia and UAE, which had no natural resources but had survived on tourism. According to him, Australia alone makes about $7.6 billion on tourism annually. But in Nigeria, he said the potential lie fallow.

He warned that “Nigeria cannot continually depend on oil, otherwise the country will be declared a solvent nation soon,” saying that all hands must be on deck to ensure that tourism became a major revenue earner for the country.

To make tourism a major economic earner, he advised government to formulate national strategy to reposition Nigeria as tourism destination, and called on government to ensure security, adequate infrastructure, health and political stability as necessary factor that will drive tourism.

Jimi Awosika, represented by Sam Osunsoko, associate director at Insight, who looked at promotion of tourism from multi-dimensional media perspective, said traditional advertising cannot effectively position tourism or any brand.

Citing Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, Jimi said though a country could have natural resources, but there was nothing wrong in diversifying the economy, saying ‘’Kenya earns about $900 million a year from tourism with coffee still the highest earner.’’

He said in branding, differentiation was very significant in destination branding.  In his speech earlier, the president of Brand writers, Goddie Ofose, said ‘’as nation drives FDIs, the capital must find leisure to work effectively as those who invest in the economy assess the economy in all ramifications before investing.’’

He said without destination branding, branding a nation would be difficult, as the responsibility of brand journalists was to identify those niches that would promote the country and highlight them and constructively criticise impediments to national branding.