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Brand Nigeria: Chiseling off the remnants of a locust meal

The minders of the Nigerian brand would certainly be silently celebrating the recent pronouncement of an arrest warrant on embattled United States President, Donald Trump for very queer reasons. Recall that just as umbrage was reaching its expected high decibel over the demolition of a building within the premises of her High Commission in Accra, Iranian government issued an arrest warrant on the POTUS 45 for what it called the assassination of one of its best intelligence chiefs, General Qassem Soleimani.

For the obviously confused leadership in Nigeria, this came as an unexpected gift that provided a psychological balancing and defence mechanism for Africa’s giant who got grime poured on its face by a country supposedly far lower in reckoning. It wouldn’t matter that Ghana reportedly eventually apologized for violating Nigeria’s territorial integrity. The damage had been done. And many Nigerians have been compelled by this shame to wander in benumbing nostalgia, biting their nails and wishing for the days when their country was black Africa’s strongest political and diplomatic force.

Granted the United States appears to have lost a lot of its strength as the leader of the free world over the past three and half years and also increasingly being distanced by many of its European allies, what with what is seen as the poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by President Donald Trump, Nigeria cannot find any justification for her regression in what is happening to the US. America may lose a bit of face, but its reputation as the world’s strongest nation may take many decades of sustained decadence to achieve. The thing is that Nigeria has not properly built a reputation for anything and even those that have happened upon us by the adornments of nature or by the certain convenient political accidents are being chiseled off by those hired to resplendently present the country in the global marketplace.

Anybody that has read Jeffery Archer’s collection of short stories, A Twist in the Tale would agree that the British author saw what is happening today in Nigeria, way back in 1988 when this particular book was published. In one of the stories, eponymously titled, Clean-sweep Ignatius, Archer tells the story of a character named, Ignatius Agarbi, who becomes the new Financial Minister of Nigeria. Agabi begins a sweep on corruption and makes a name for himself. He is extremely honest, even insisting that his family vacations be billed to himself and not to his ministry. He is entrusted by his President to find out how many Nigerians have stashed their bribes in Switzerland. He arrives at the Swiss Bank with a briefcase. Despite his greatest persuasion, the Swiss refuse to break their code of privacy. In the end, Ignatius places a gun to the head of the Swiss banker and threatens to kill him. Still the banker refuses to divulge any confidential information. Ignatius, who is actually extremely corrupt, was only checking to find out if the Swiss Banks would actually reveal the name of an account holder. Delighted with their secrecy, Ignatius invests nearly $5 million in cash which he has skimmed during his period as Finance Minister.

Jeffery Archer: He saw the future of Nigeria and told it in a story back in the 80s

Nothing typifies the country we are in than this work of fiction by a man who is on record to have followed the country’s journey as a young independent nation, through the Civil War years and anyone that is familiar with the story Ignatius Agarbi as told by Archer, would recoil in shame at what is currently playing out at the country’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), where its overall head is being recast in a role akin to that portrayed by Archer’s fictional Clean-sweep Ignatius.

As much as there has to be strict adherence to the Justinian principle in jurisprudence of “innocent until proven guilty”, the situation where the country’s Anti-corruption captain stands accused of corruption tells the story of a country irredeemably under corruption’s choke hold. President Muhammadu Buhari must be a very worried man at the moment. For five years, he protected Ibrahim Magu on the several occasions the Nigerian Senate wanted him removed. For a man that rode on the back of his reputation of zero tolerance for corruption, this must really be a sad moment.

As a country, Nigeria has become a missed opportunity, despite abundance of talent and resources. With oil in abundance, it has been impossible to build a reputation as an oil producer because in the true sense of the word, we have remained an extractive resource centre; a nation that generated top quality crude oil, sells it to other countries and then endure the folly of reimporting it in its various processed forms and byproducts. To build a reputation as a strong agro economy is also nowhere in the radar because we lost the plot when crude oil was found in the soil beneath the country’s farms. Because the leaders are incapable of managing success, the few industries built from the early inflows from agriculture and later, oil, fell through the leaky fingers of the nation’s leaders, mostly into private pockets. All efforts to position the country to maximise the benefits of its comparative advantages as a resource-rich nation have always fallen short, thanks to the insincerity of its minders.

A few years ago, Ghana and even Zimbabwe had higher experience scores than Nigeria in FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index, a report that had Nigeria tally an abysmally low country experience score of just above 10 percent. In fact, of all the countries reflected in the audit, Nigeria had the lowest country experience score. FutureBrand based its audit on six criteria, namely; the value systems, which measures the moral fibre of the society; quality of life, which captured the depth of infrastructure and access to affordable healthcare and welfare; good for business, which assessed the transparency in government processes and level of corruption; the tourism potentials, which was an omnibus subhead for destination marketing, city cleanliness, transport and social infrastructure and security, heritage and culture, which is used to measure the strength, originality and uniqueness of culture and national pride and then what was termed, “Made In”, used to measure the capacity of the country in question for manufacturing and value added, especially export-oriented manufacturing.

Magu: stories surrounding him brings to mind, Archer’s Clean Sweep Ignatius

If you are a Nigerian, even a Nigerian in government, and you are given the Nigerian script to mark in an examination asking these six questions, would you score the country any decent marks? In the deluge of calls for national pride, the only set of people pretending that there are pegs the country could hang its torn coats along the global hallway are those benefitting from the current disgraceful state. You do not love a country just because you are her citizen; you love her because there are certain benefits you either derive or hope to derive. They could be benefits of quality education, security for life and property, enhanced opportunities for dreams realization and strong heritage. A nation is n different from social clubs; once you do not find yourself an your interests in the value propositions of the association, retaining your membership makes little or no meaning.

This is the chief reason many Nigerians are desperately leaving the country. Statistics from United Nations sources state that Nigeria’s migrant stock had been on a frighteningly steady increase since the dawn of democracy in 1999, casting a gloomy shadow on the presumed freedoms and opportunities that civil rule ostensibly offers. Between 2000 to 2005, for instance, it was reported that the country’s migrant stock rose by 32,82 percent. The stat rose to 41,99 percent between 2005 to 2010 and for the period, 2010 to 2015, it stood at 30,32 percent. The stats here captured only legal migrants and those that were granted refugee status and does not reflect the thousands, if not millions that have been living illegally in many countries. There are a great many that have remained in the country for lack of options and opportunities and these are what should worry anyone remotely or closely connected to the country.

Although similar or related cases have been witnessed in many countries across the globe, the rising cases of centrifugal nationalism in Nigeria can be directly traced to a fractured faith in the country as an institution. In most informal conversations, more than 70 percent of Nigerians would rather keep a personal distance from public institutions and government, preferring instead to refer to them as “Your President, Your Governor, Your National Assembly.” There are no personal connections.

This is a fallout of the transactional attitude of political and, increasingly, traditional leaders. Everybody treats the country like a stream that needs no deliberate care and attention for the water which everyone fetches and drinks to recycle. But the truth is that you can overstretch a stretch, foul its source and/or do other things that either slows the water flow or compromise its cleanness. Nigeria has been unlucky in its history, having only people whose definition of social and economic wellness begins and ends with persona comforts.

Fr years, the country had been divided into two totally different groups. The first set is made up of the political elite and their business collaborators while the second includes the rest of the country. But with the COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world, there has been some relative blurring of the line. International travel ban occasioned by the need to contain the virus ensured that everyone began to use the same

Everybody treats the country like a stream that needs no deliberate care and attention for the water which everyone fetches and drinks to recycle.

hospitals once again and if things continue the way they are, everyone would attend the same schools in the near future.

This has created the need for a sincere re-visitation of previously halfhearted conversations on enhancing the Nigerian brand, or, if I will speak a lot more professionally; creating a brand out of Nigeria. Previous works in this area have been driven chiefly by commercial interests of officials and ignorance. It is impossible to brand a product that does not exist. Using FutureBrand’s index earlier referenced in this article, Nigeria has not qualified to be a brand by any standard.

I gave a detailed explanation of what makes for successful nation branding in Chapter 11 of my recently published book, PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths and I am going to repeat some of the positions I took in that work. First, I identified nine compulsory ingredients of a brand, namely; It must have an Identity, Someone must Own it, It must comply to certain Standards, it must be Focused to solve given problems, it must be Consistency in its Promises and deliverables, it must be Distinguishable and has to have a defined Purpose as well as proffer Solution to identifiable problems.

Most Nigerians presented with these very simple ingredients for the identification of the Nigerian brand in a blind test will very likely fail. Nation brands are not built on rhetoric. They are built by track record and experiences. They are constructed deliberately with each building block carefully chosen for a predetermined purpose. And while every country is free to choose its value proposition(s) based mainly on social and economic interests and perhaps political and aspirations, the World Economic Forum has provided a standard metric to assist countries determined to be competitive to define their pathways to progress. Known as the 12 Pillars of Competitiveness, they include;

  1. Institutions: The quality of institutions has a strong bearing on competitiveness and growth. It influences investment decisions and the organization of production and plays a key role in the ways in which societies distribute the benefits and bear the costs of development strategies and policies.
  2. Infrastructure: Extensive and efficient infrastructure is critical for ensuring the effective functioning of the economy, as it is an important factor determining the location of economic activity and the kinds of activities or sectors that can develop in a particular economy.
  3. Macroeconomic environment: The stability of the macroeconomic environment is important for business and, therefore, is important for the overall competitiveness of a country. Although it is certainly true that macroeconomic stability alone cannot increase the productivity of a nation, it is also recognized that macroeconomic disarray harms the economy.
  4. Health and primary education: A healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness and productivity. Workers who are ill cannot function to their potential and will be less productive. Poor health leads to significant costs to business, as sick workers are often absent or operate at lower levels of efficiency. Investment in the provision of health services is thus critical for clear economic, as well as moral, considerations.
  5. Higher education and training: Quality higher education and training is crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products. In particular, today’s globalizing economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers who are able to adapt rapidly to their changing environment and the evolving needs of the production system. This pillar measures secondary and tertiary enrollment rates as well as the quality of education as evaluated by the business community. The extent of staff training is also taken into consideration because of the importance of vocational and continuous on-the-job training—which is neglected in many economies—for ensuring a constant upgrading of workers’ skills.
  6. Goods market efficiency: Countries with efficient goods markets are well positioned to produce the right mix of products and services given their particular supply-and-demand conditions, as well as to ensure that these goods can be most effectively traded in the economy. Healthy market competition, both domestic and foreign, is important in driving market efficiency and thus business productivity, by ensuring that the most efficient firms, producing goods demanded by the market, are those that thrive.
  7. Labor market efficiency: The efficiency and flexibility of the labor market are critical for ensuring that workers are allocated to their most efficient use in the economy and provided with incentives to give their best effort in their jobs. Labor markets must therefore have the flexibility to shift workers from one economic activity to another rapidly and at low cost, and to allow for wage fluctuations without much social disruption.
  8. Financial market development: The recent financial crisis has highlighted the central role of a sound and well-functioning financial sector for economic activities. An efficient financial sector allocates the resources saved by a nation’s citizens, as well as those entering the economy from abroad, to their most productive uses.
  9. Technological readiness: In today’s globalized world, technology has increasingly become an important element for firms to compete and prosper. The technological readiness pillar measures the agility with which an economy adopts existing technologies to enhance the productivity of its industries, with specific emphasis on its capacity to fully leverage information and communication technologies (ICT) in daily activities and production processes for increased efficiency and competitiveness.
  10. Market size: The size of the market affects productivity since large markets allow firms to exploit economies of scale.
  11. Business sophistication: Business sophistication is conducive to higher efficiency in the production of goods and services. This leads, in turn, to increased productivity, thus enhancing a nation’s competitiveness. Business sophistication concerns the quality of a country’s overall business networks as well as the quality of individual firms’ operations and strategies.
  12. Innovation: The final pillar of competitiveness is technological innovation. Although substantial gains can be obtained by improving institutions, building infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability, or improving human capital, all these factors eventually seem to run into diminishing returns.

I do not know any Nigerian that could say the country ticks any of the 12 boxes above, apart from the 10th box, which talks about market size. But even then, what is the importance of a vast market when you cannot meet its utility needs? As Africa’s most populous nation, the sprawling Nigerian market has favoured more foreigners than its citizens. There is absolutely nothing the country can be said to be self-sufficient in. A lot of the things abundantly available in the country are still imported and it does not look like there is any sincerity in government’s economic development rhetoric.

Nigeria’s condition can easily be likened to a plank in the hands of a bad carpenter, who, daily continues to chisel off the wood ostensibly to reshape it but neither finds a befitting shape for the wood nor stops chiseling.

Nigeria’s condition can easily be likened to a plank in the hands of a bad carpenter, who, daily continues to chisel off the wood ostensibly to reshape it but neither finds a befitting shape for the wood nor stops chiseling. Whatever constitutes the brand assets for the country erodes on a daily basis. The more pretensions towards righting the many wrongs, the more wrongs manifest. Globally, Nigeria is looked upon as the haven for geographical “Hushpuppi”, a nation that scams others as it also scams herself. As a government that rode into office on the anticorruption vehicle, stories emanating from many of its officials, including the recent one allegedly involving the EFCC Chairman, have continued to painfully present the name of the country as irredeemable. The world will not take us seriously and only rogue and shadowy interests would wish to do business with us.

Jeffery Archer was right. There is no better moniker for this country than “Clean Sweep Ignatius.”


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

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