The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, on Monday unveiled a new initiative to market Nigeria with the Re-branding Nigeria Campaign.
She also launched the competition for the logo and slogan for the campaign, drawing, in her words, from the experience of the past when the Nigerian flag was thrown open to Nigerians to design.
“This competition will be similar to the process that gave birth to the Nigerian flag which subsists till today. Submissions will close on February 23, 2009. At the end of the third week, in another public forum, President Umaru Musa Yar'adua will launch the re-branding Nigeria Project, unveil the logo and slogan, and announce the winners. We will also reward the three best entries for each category,” she said.
According to her, the need to re-brand Nigeria had become important because of the unfair way Nigerians have been perceived both locally and internationally.
She said: “Every black person involved in a criminal activity is first of all tagged a Nigerian, even before their identity is confirmed.
Some criminals from other African countries have even decided to be hiding their identity by claiming that they are Nigerians. This negative perception of Nigeria got so bad that a few years ago, palm oil exported from Ghana to UK was found to be contaminated with a carcinogenic coloring agent.
A red alert was quickly issued to all EU countries that this palm oil was exported from Nigeria.
“I got a letter from the British High Commissioner about this development, and when we investigated, the oil was found to have been exported from Ghana. I demanded an apology from the EU, which we got, but this goes to show how everything negative is linked to Nigeria because of the existing negative perception.
“To address this negative perception, we need to re-brand Nigeria, so that we as Nigerians will appreciate ourselves and our country, which will put us in a position to present ourselves positively to the outside world.”
According to her, the old Heart of Africa project and the new re-branding campaign are differentiated by the fact that the former was mainly overseas-oriented and less cost effective when compared to what Re-branding Nigeria campaign is designed for.
Akunyili added that the Heart of Africa project did not make a considerable impact that Nigeria needs.
“On the issue of why we are discontinuing the Heart of Africa project, we all know that the project has not made the impact we need for the kinds of challenges Nigerians are facing inside and outside the country. Heart of Africa could not fly for many reasons, but the two most important reasons are: one, the name is contentious; Malawi was first to use the Heart of Africa slogan, and many other African countries have laid claims to being the heart of Africa.
“Two, Heart of Africa was first launched overseas, and that automatically disconnected the ordinary Nigerian from this project, making it elitist. We therefore, decided to embark on a new branding project that will be home-grown, and planned in such a way that Nigerians will have ownership of the project. We are, however, not going to throw away the baby with the bath water. We will incorporate all the positive aspects of the Heart of Africa project and other past government initiatives,” she said.
On re-branding Nigeria despite all the multiple challenges on ground, Akunyili said it is more critical than any physical infrastructure “because it addresses a fundamental issue of how Nigeria is perceived as a country and how Nigerians are perceived as a people. This is fundamental to our national development”.
She continued: “I want to assure Nigerians that this is not a money-making venture. I have chosen the tedious option of evolving a home-grown branding which will involve all Nigerians.
In addition, we are making this project as cost-effective as possible by using local consultants and drawing mostly from Nigerians themselves. We also intend to get free publicity for our international audience through Nigerian private institutions.”
Speaking at the launch, Senate President David Mark urged all tiers of government to make themselves more credible by being courageously truthful with the messages that they display to the public at all times, adding that the way we all project Nigeria “is how we will be perceived globally”.
Mark said: “Unmindful of the successes and achievements of the country in the field of science, medicine, sports, peace- keeping, literature and the arts amongst others, negative stereotypes seem to be the focus.”
This, he said, is the reason behind examining and reappraisal of what or where the nation had gone wrong in the handling of its national affairs.