My understanding of what the Nigeria image project is trying to do is that it aims to correct all the negative impressions people in the western countries have about Nigeria and Nigerians, with a view to attracting and also increasing investor confidence in the Nigerian economy, the project also wishes to create an enabling business environment for Nigerian and foreign entrepreneurs, more so in today's Nigeria where there is an ever present need to look for other revenue sources apart from oil, as Nigerians know, oil has now become a curse rather than a blessing although previous and present regimes will disagree because they have become the sole beneficiaries of oil revenues as their foreign bank accounts and ostentatious life styles will attest to this, the arguments about the impact of the discovery of oil on Nigerians is better left to the likes of Prof. Pat utomi and the several others who have written outstanding pieces on the subject.
Before we begin to ask ourselves why it has taken the previous as well as the present government this long to get this simplest of ideas together, let us remember that in life it is better to be late than never, today is the tomorrow we hoped for yesterday. I am also convinced of the greatness our country can attain any time I think about the abundance of talents as well as the natural resources that richly abound in Nigeria. I am sure we all have heard on several forum what a rich nation Nigeria is, how blessed we are or should be, how enterprising our people are and so on, have you also not wondered why flights going into Nigeria are filled with mostly males and females of asian and European origins, while the flights out of Nigeria are full of Nigerians ‘on the run' or in search of greener pastures, My conclusion from that therefore is that there must be something in our country that the in-bound expatriates are seeing which we, the outbound Nigerians are not seeing, my other conclusion is that probably those in power must be deriving some kind of joy when they see the great suffering in the land. How else can you justify or explain thee Nigerian situation? A land so rich yet so poor, a people so blessed yet cursed. So much starvation in the midst of plenty.
While applauding the conceptualisation of the project, I will also like to point out some of the issues that may work against its success, firstly is the most important issue of not involving Nigerians at home and in Diaspora with the project, by this I mean that the ministry of information as well as the Obasanjo government have not tried to sell the project, and by this I mean selling Nigeria to Nigerians, that way we can sell Nigeria to the world in a concentric cultural diameter manner.
To be able to sell Nigeria to Nigerians, the government must be able to carry Nigerians along, and also operate an open access government rather than the kitchen cabinet style that have characterised successive Nigerian governments, Nigerians will love to be able to see what their government is doing or is not doing, also Nigerians will like to be convinced of the genuineness of electoral promises, the transparency in awarding government contracts, the uses to which tax revenues are being put, strategic plans to revolutionise the educational, health, transport as well as other sectors. Also Nigerians would like to see heavy investments in social systems and infrastructures particularly in improving existing road networks and also building new ones, the federal, state and local governments should all be singing with one voice and dancing to the same tunes, a visit to any of the local government areas will show that the people whose job it is to bring development closer to the people have only succeeded in bringing development to their personal houses in the village while also improving their bank account balances. I don't see that any of these has been done or is being done and so in launching the project, Chief Chikelu may have brewed for himself a recipe for failure.
Only a patriotic people can sell their countries to others, I marvel every time I encounter an American, the love they have for their country just sips through from every pore in their skin, are we surprised about this? America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, a land of opportunities where lots of Nigerians as well as people from other countries have made good, without having to work in the oil industry despite the fact that America ranks amongst the top oil rich nations in the world. Americans love their country because their country loves and provides for them, does Nigeria love Nigerians and provide for Nigerians?
Can Nigerians be expected to be fully patriotic and sell Nigeria to the rest of the world? As you watched Francis obikwelu coast home to second place in Portugal colours during the men's 100 meters final at the Athens Olympics, what kind of emotions swept through you? Sadness? Joy? For me, I felt both, joy for Nigerian born Francis and sadness for Nigeria at the loss of another talent as a result of government's mediocrity in sports management and also neglect of its people, what a loss? What a shame? And so daily we continue to lose Nigerian nurses, doctors, lectures and other professionals to other countries of the world where there talent will be best nurtured and rewarded. What better stage to sell Nigeria to the world than at the Olympics stage but as is usual with our country, we always fail to seize the opportunities of the moment, just as we are currently doing with the Iraq war oil windfall, didn't we do the same in 1991? The same old story.
No paid- for advertisements in any international medium can earn Nigeria mileage in terms of image as the type it could have earned for free if our athletes had been supported and encouraged to excel at the recently concluded Athens Olympics. I am sure that many other Nigerian athletes are thinking of defecting to the greener sides as well just like Francis obikwelu, do you blame them?
So would the rest of the world want to hear about our religious and fuel riots? Or about our vicious armed robbers? I am not forgetting our world famous traffic jams, corruption that is endemic in the land, the potholes on water logged streets, the NEPA issue, the beautiful sights of beggars on the streets, the corpses littered on the highways, the ‘suffering and smiling' Nigerians sleeping under oshodi or ikeja bridge? I am also not forgetting the 419 scourge, how many Nigerians have lost genuine and promising business deals with European and American companies as a result of their potential business partners receiving one of such out of this world business proposals from the 419 people who now appear to be operating from every country of the world? One could go on and on. The government of Nigeria needs to put its house in order first before carrying out such massive campaign of inviting visitors and genuine investors to Nigeria, we all know that we do not invite people to our homes for a feast without first cleaning up our house.
The project team plans to place series of advertisements using famous Nigerians in some international newspapers, this is fine and good but such one- off actions, not sustained or supported by facts on the ground will not achieve any purposes in the long term, such actions only amount to whitewashing in public relations terms and the resultant consequences to Nigeria's image will be huge. While not begrudging the Nigerians that have been selected to be featured in the adverts, I want to also say that I can not see how a Philip Emeagwali or Akeem Olajuwon testimonial on the pages of the New York Times or the Financial times will convince any businessman to come to Nigeria to invest, they will be asking themselves the question," if Nigeria is as good as you claim, then what are you doing in our country?" I will be interested to find out how many Nigerians have signed on to do such testimonials.
I read somewhere that money sent home to Nigeria by Nigerians in Diaspora in 2003 alone was over 3 billion dollars ($3b), this is only an estimate of money that were sent home through the official channels of western union, bank transfer etc, by the time we add the figures of money sent home through the unofficial channels of ‘accompany' and ‘mallam bureau de changes', the figures will show what a huge impact diasporas can actually make in Nigeria's development if they can be convinced to come back home to invest, Nigerians in Diaspora can only come back home to invest if the government can provide the right enabling environment, through providing adequate security for life and property and also providing basic amenities. Part of the reasons why MTN and the other GSM operators in Nigeria charge Nigerians so high for the use of their service is as a result of the extra costs they incur by operating in Nigeria, such as kickbacks for government officials, money for the provision of security to guard their power generators and other equipments which the government should have been providing, these telecommunications companies allege that they wouldn't normally incur such costs in other countries, we still recall the Two hundred and fourteen million dollars ($214m) fiasco involving the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and Communication Investments Ltd (CIL) now GLOBACOM, during the 2001 GSM license auction, and most recently the ECONET/VODACOM/VMOBILE experience, such stories do not inspire investor confidence.
While not sounding the doomsday alarm for the Honourable minister's project, I only hope he realise what a huge task he has set for himself, and in my little corner of the globe where I ply my trade as a Nigerian in Diaspora, I will continue to stand tall and hold my head high as a proud Nigerian, and anytime my colleagues come to me with their usual queries regarding a negative news story about Nigeria, I will continue to do my best to highlight also the positives about Nigeria, hopefully my fellow sojourners or brothers and sisters in Diaspora all over the world will do the same, as they say every little helps and goes a long way.