Penkelemesi and the rebranding of Nigeria

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 22 Mar 2009
ON the eve of the unveiling ceremony of the logo and slogan of Nigeria’s rebranding campaign, Prof. Dora Akunyili lost her phone to thieves. Guess where? Sheraton Hotels, Abuja!

One of her senior aides had kept two phones (including Akunyili’s) on the dining table. About two or three other people were sitting around the same table. At a point, the man went to pick something within the vicinity. A few minutes after, he was back. But to his greatest surprise, both the phones and those dining with him had disappeared.

On the day of the launching proper, it was a member of the rebranding committee, Prof. Isawa Elaigwu, that came fuming. At the entrance of the venue of the ceremony, the man lost his phone to pickpockets. Having been “debranded” on a rebranding day, he felt sad. But he still summoned courage to make a speech. He urged Nigerians to change their attitude.

Another aide to Akunyili lost his phone the same period to thieves. He told me the minister was working with an anti-mobile phone company to block all stolen phones to make them unusable to thieves.

I pity this hard-working woman. When I told her the other day that she had emaciated, she concurred, saying her current job as Minister of Information seemed more challenging than what she did at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.

It ought to be, naturally. Or can it ever be easy for someone who has taken it upon herself to market a bad product?

One thing I admire her for is the passion she puts into whatever she does. Her zeal and dedication to duty brought limelight to NAFDAC and sent jitters down the spines of fake drug barons. It is that same passion that she is bringing to bear on her new pet project.

Nigeria: Good people. Great nation! That’s our brand new slogan. It sounds good. No doubt, there are many good people in Nigeria. There have been instances where taxi drivers who are Nigerians returned huge sums of money to people who forgot them in their cars. Many Nigerians go out of their way to help people who are in need, especially foreigners.

No doubt, Nigeria is a great country. A country that has produced such personalities as Professors Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and many good scientists and computer wizards like Philip Emeagwali, cannot but be great. Our population and interventions in African and world conflict zones stand us out as a great nation too.

But then, we need to address the peculiar messes surrounding our existence first. And this is where Honourable Adegoke Adelabu of blessed memory comes in. He was reputed to have made the statement “peculiar mess” in his political days. It was his illiterate admirers that reportedly turned the phrase to penkelemesi.

I must thank his grandson, Yinka Adelabu, who reminded me that March 25 would be the 51st year memorial of his grandfather. He flattered me by saying he knew my mighty mind could present the worth and weight of the facts of his life.

In my search for this “worth and weight,” I glanced through the man’s work: Africa in Ebullition. In this book, I found the essence of our rebranding campaign.

Here is a sample: “Truth can only come from within. We must allow the light of the soul to shine on the uncharted universe around us if we are not to get lost in the sea of differing standards and variable values. Moreover a man must be utterly convinced of his own goodness (though none else need believe him) before he can go on pouring out the silent musings and secret wishes of his heart.”

Essentially, Adelabu exhorted us in the quotation above to examine our conscience, clean our interior first so that our beauty will not just be on the outside. In other words, if 7-UP, for instance, is telling us “the difference is clear,” but inside its drink is a big cockroach, no amount of slogan will clear the bad image the phenomenon will give the company. In the same token, if Zain mobile communications decides to change its name to Econet without giving quality service to customers, the rebranding will not work. It will be like somebody who has body odour but decides to spray himself with perfume to attract attention.

For this rebranding exercise to make meaningful impact, Nigerians generally must resolve to change their attitude, their value system. The President of the country must attend to state functions with dispatch. He must rule with sincerity and love for all. The governors must provide essential infrastructure and other things that make life worth living for their people. The local government chairmen, the legislators, judges and whoever is in government must do their work efficiently and effectively.

Other citizens, on their part, must endeavour to carry out their civic responsibilities. If you are a bricklayer, there is no point stealing some bags of cement you are meant to work with. If you are an auto mechanic, make sure you use the original engine oil your customer has bought for you to service his car. If you are a chief executive, make sure you pay your workers a living wage. If you are a pickpocket, the law will not be merciful to you when caught.

As we continue to chant good people, great nation, I wish to leave you with the words of Adelabu on Nigeria: “Nigeria is dearer to my heart. She is my mother, the author of my beginning. It is only in her timely freedom that the unbroken line from Adam, of which I am just a link, can be kept unbroken. If I sit idly by, whilst her ship of state is sunk by the enemy, I, and all other passengers, will go down to the bottom of the sea with her. If my child dies and I live long enough I may bear another. If my mother dies I shall go through life a wandering orphan.”

Dear Dora, I wish you luck!

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