“The image of our country has been battered at home and abroad; more by our own mishandling and mismanagement than by anything else” – President Olusegun Obasanjo
President Olusegun Obasanjo made the admission above at the launching of the “Nigerian Image Project” at the Presidential Villa, Abuja where he approved the earmarking of over N600 million for the purpose of promoting the nation’s image at home and abroad.
The project which was initiated and organized by the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu, is timely. One hopes that the government and captains of industry, who are involved would pursue the execution of the programme with all seriousness and determination. The new initiative of the young and ebullient Minister of Information will also correct the impression that in the last one year, he has only excelled in tactical and cautious appearance in the defence of government policy to avoid reckless pronouncement and unwarranted controversy.
The Minister who represented President Obasanjo at the last All African Public Relations Conference organized by Federation of African Public Relations Association (FAPRA) with the theme “Africa, Good Governance and the Challenges of Public Relations,” might have been impressed and motivated by the quality of papers and recommendations on how the African nation could redeem its sullied global image.
The one-week international conference hosted by Nigeria was well attended and sponsored by more than 20 big corporate organizations. The packaging, which was spearheaded by a Nigerian and Secretary-General of the body, Mallam Kabir Dangogo, was not only about speeches, perfect arrangement and coordination of the event but practical solutions were also proffered to enhance the most populous black nation’s image. It was a forum that all elements of PR were implemented that drew wide commendation by local and foreign media.
It was clear to all that much of the country’s progress and achievements have been beclouded and damaged by sheer weight of bad publicity and erroneous impression by the acts and actions of few individuals, corporate organizations and public officers whose activities have wrecked havoc on our reputation as the largest black nation in the world. By the launching of Nigerian Image Project one should ask: what does the country intend to achieve? how will it be accomplished? what are the parameters for the execution and how credible are those involved in its implementation?
The problem of image building of a country like Nigeria, just like any other African country, is a very arduous task if it is intended to only attract the attention of foreign media. What make news from Africa, including Nigeria in foreign broadcast stations and print media are gory tales of war, hunger, disease, communal clashes and endemic corruption. The same media devote more time and space to promoting their entertainers, sportsmen and women as heroes and models to be adored.
It is not deniable that a lot of vices have continuously bedeviled the level of our progress. It easy to mention over-reported corruption, insecurity, fraudulent practices (419), human and drug trafficking, money laundry, degeneration of moral and ethical values, indiscipline, violent crimes, incessant labour strike, political rascality, communal and ethical crises, disrespect to the rule of law, shameful judicial pronouncements, and non-challant attitude to public opinion. Though some of these are purely exaggerated. It was unanimously agreed at the FAPRA conference that since public relations examines pitfalls and proffer practical solutions, African governments should institute measures to counter all negative factors that impede the flow of investments into the continent before selling itself to the outside world. Like bad products no amount of marketing strategies, advertising and publicity expended in promoting appalling programmes and policies can yield desired fruits. The country must therefore genuinely assess its problems and critically face and examine the ills in the society and eradicate them, so that Nigerian would develop passion for their country for the global community to have the same for us.
It must be admitted that the Federal Government has taken appropriate step to checkmate the cankerworms through the establishment of relevant agencies like ICPC, EFCC, NAFDAC and NDLEA. There still exist few scenarios involving members of high class, which make the international community especially the media not to take us serious. They wonder about scams perpetrated by public officers through inflated contracts, assassination of high caliber personalities and our annual rating amongst the most corrupt nations in the world. These activities of undesirable elements, according to the Minister of Information are perpetrated by less than one percent of the populace.
It is noted that Africans seem to generally have negative image of their continent due to past failures of their leaders to solve their countries problems. In projecting Nigeria’s image, the militating problems should be addressed and corrected through political will and collective efforts of stakeholders. There should be a reorientation of the citizens towards attitudinal changethat would raise them from hopelessness to hope and pride enough to tame the crave to jet out for greener pastures. Religious and community leaders can be involved in the sensitization campaign against materialism and intolerance while promoting spiritual, ethical and moral values. Our movie industry that is widely recognized as instrument of change can always play outstanding role in the reorientation and promotion of our enviable culture and achievements.
At the FAPRA Conference, the PR practitioners in Africa warned over the rush in designing actions and communication programmes without adequate environmental scanning. For the project to be successful it should not be a copy-copy theoretical thesis but proactive analysis of issues and events for the sustainability of good governance. The Nigerian Image Project should therefore, decide on the message – truthful and honest message that promote our ingenuity, creativity, hospitality and conducive environment.
Nigeria has never lacked good speakers, script and copywriters who can deliver the message but the channel may be another serious challenge. Sometimes our failure to attract foreign media attention is due to our nonchalant attitude to effective public relations strategies through research, planning and media identification. Recently our information attaches abroad were withdrawn on an excuse that our diplomats can use diplomacy to inform and educate the international community. The implications of such unprofessional incursion to specialized assignments do not augur well to a nation seeking favourable image. The way a medical doctor cannot take over the job of an engineer and that of an accountant with a carpenter and vice versa so also is the job of information officer not to be assigned to a foreign officer. In fact in the communiqué issued at the end of the FAPRA Conference, Governments in Africa were criticized for not being imaginative, innovative and proactive in their diplomatic efforts to protect and project the image of their countries. It advised that the governments and their public relations professionals should adopt the public diplomacy strategy in projecting their country’s image abroad as opposed to the traditional government-to-government diplomacy.
As the Chief Spokesperson of the government, the eloquent and intelligent Minister of Information needs to coordinate information flow of related agencies, so that a single and consistent message is disseminated to all stakeholders in and outside the country. This according to some speakers at the FAPRA Summit is to avoid conflict with multiplicity of agencies and spokespersons who often express divergent views on issues that further confuse potential investors. The Ministry of Information has never and should not be a silent organ on government programmes and policies. Since Chief Chikelu has succeeded in reorganizing and motivating the staff of the Ministry for optimum service delivery, he should assign responsibility to competent and qualified officers on merit devoid of parochial considerations. If Nigeria must blow its trumpet in more civilized manner, as others are busy blowing theirs, it needs to conform to international standards in order to attract foreign investment.
Since foreign media hardly give the country positive coverage, the involvement of captains of corporate organizations in the Nigerian Image Project is a positive initiative that could yield more dividends. In Nigeria corporate organizations have the best manpower in reputation management through training and retraining of their workforce and the use of latest technology to reach the large communities. Through their websites they proactively gather and disseminate information. Our local broadcast stations such as AIT, Channels Television, Minaj and NTA can be encouraged and supported to break the jinx and compete in the global media scene just as the Al-Jazeera and Arabiya stations that promote the Arab World and remain irresistible and reliable media sources for acclaimed international channels.
If the country’s major objective is to woo foreign investors, the policy makers must deemphasize bandying about political and economic rhetoric, technical jargons and bloated slogans but work assiduously on creating conducive economic environment, political stability and hospitality. Though globalization is described as openness to the world market and world best practice, Mr. Peter Walker at FAPRA conference pointed out that it is performance that gets a nation respect not rhetoric in public arena. The country must study its attitude and that of other nation and see how to blend them together.
In summary, for the Nigerian Image Project to be successful there is need for it to have a clear cut mission statement, time-bound execution, stages for actualization and necessary feed back as it progresses. Effective use of professional lobbyists and all the elements of integrated marketing communications are desirable. More emphasis should be laid on pride in our culture, products and people. Our traditional attire of flowing gown and caftan are beautiful brand that have for years distinguished our nation as lover of culture.
For the success of the new image project, involving public and private sectors participation, the initiators must heed the advice of FABRA in its communiqué, that there is need for planned, focused and sustained efforts at creating, maintaining and sustaining cordial relationship within and outside the government. Regular evaluations of public opinion, attitudes and perception of all stakeholders are necessary for proper plan of action to address them.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Guardian July30, Nigerian Tribune Aug4, ThisDay Aug5, New Nigerian Aug9, Daily Champion Aug9, Daily Trust Aug10, 2004.