‘Change Begins With Me’ Campaign: Will Brand Nigeria Ever Get It right?
By Tunji Faleye
To a large extent, corruption and indiscipline are the twin evil agents of poor governance and under-development that have frustrated every effort to move Nigeria to higher levels. They defied all efforts in the past and had become entrenched in both public and private sectors of the Nigerian economy.
Worried by the trend, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to tackle them head-on as part of his election campaign and a populace already wearied by the debilitating effect of corruption on the affairs of the country gladly gave him their votes in the presidential election last year.
In fulfilment of the promise, the President recently launched a re-orientation campaign tagged: ‘Change Begins with Me’ as part of his government’s strategy to channel a new path for the country.
‘Change Begins With Me’ was conceived by the Federal Ministry of Information, Culture and National Orientation to raise the standard of ethics among Nigerians. The campaign seeks to enhance economic and social progress of Nigerians as well as augment personal behaviour and conduct of citizens.
Apart from scoring low points in all the indices used to rank countries in terms of human development and ease of doing business over the years, the perception of Nigeria in the comity of nations has been a negative one for far too long. This has hampered various efforts aimed at attracting foreign direct investments into the economy.
Recognising these as the bane of the country’s underdevelopment, President Buhari took the bold decision of conceptualising a programme to re-orientate the focus of Nigerians away from unethical behaviour and indiscipline. His government’s onslaught against corruption, as part of this re-orientation, is unprecedented.
According to President Buhari, “Before you ask ‘where is the change they promised us,’ you must first ask ‘what have I done to be part of the change for the greater good of the society.’ If you have not seen the change in you, you cannot see it in others or even the larger society.”
Efforts At Rebranding Nigeria
The Change Begins With Me campaign is not the first effort by the government to rebrand Nigeria. Previous efforts by successive governments to rebrand the country failed one after the other. Past interventions which include Ethical Revolution, Green Revolution, War Against Indiscipline (WAI), Heart of Africa and, most recently, Good People Great Nation initiative under late Professor Dora Akunyili-led Ministry of Information and Communications all failed to achieve their objectives, perhaps because they were driven by advertising only.
Interestingly, under the Alhaji Lai Mohammed-led Ministry of Information, the Change Begins With Me campaign has also been generating a flurry of controversies among marketing professionals, PR consultants, and patriotic Nigerians alike.
Regrettably, the campaign has hit its first hurdle in the form of an accusation of plagiarism raised by Akin Fadeyi, a media consultant. Fadeyi is claiming that the ‘Change Begins With Me’ concept as unfolded by the government is a replica of a proposal he (Fadeyi) submitted to the office of Alhaji Lai Mohammed in 2015 – an allegation that the minister vehemently denied.
While the dust raised by Fadeyi was still raging, the campaign got hit by a second hurdle when observers effectively established that part of the speech delivered by President Buhari on the day that the campaign was launched was lifted from a speech delivered by United States President Barack Obama in 2008.
Bolaji Abimbola, Managing Director of Indigo Limited, a frontline public relations company in the country, remarked that the government started the campaign at a wrong time.
“The only thing I will say about this campaign is the timing. The timing is wrong because it is not in the priority of Nigerians considering the situation of the economy. They should have delayed the campaign till when the time will ripe for it, especially when the economy has recovered from the current crisis.
“Also when you talk about Change Begins With Me, it should not only be in rhetoric but in action, like Mr. President putting some of the aircraft in his fleet up for sale. Beyond that, we also have to do away with our attitude of waste. For instance, as bad as the economy is, Nigeria went to the United Nations with a large delegation. ‘Change Begins With Me’ must start from the leadership. They should be at the forefront of the campaign by setting good examples to show their seriousness towards the campaign.
“They also have to cut their salaries and allowances to demonstrate their seriousness on the campaign. We have said it times without number that the system of National Assembly we are operating is not sustainable. ‘Change Begins With Me’ must start from the top. If the officials at federal, state and local government levels can live modestly without buying armoured cars that will cost a fortune, the citizens will follow.”
Abimbola believes that Change Begins With Me is going to fail like other branding campaigns before it. According to him, “until we begin to do the right thing and put the round peg in a round hole, we cannot get it right. Rebranding a country is beyond rhetoric. It is beyond any advertising campaign. It is a serious business.”
Speaking on the exclusion of marketing professionals from the Change Begin With Me campaign, Kelechi Nwosu, former President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) who has been part of the effort to ensure that the government entrusts its communications and national advocacy projects in the hands of advertising professionals felt disappointed that the association’s request has again been ignored.
In a recent interview with an industry magazine, Nwosu lamented that the association played no part in the Change Begins With Me campaign and expressed disappointment that the Federal Government snubbed the association despite overtures made to Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, from the outset of his appointment on the need to work closely with marketing professionals.
Why Rebranding Campaigns Fail
It should surprise no one that experts in the branding business have concluded that the Change Begins With Me campaign will also fail like past efforts. Given their pedigree and considering that they have dissected all past branding efforts during various brainstorming sessions in seminars and workshops, the observations of these marketing professionals cannot be ignored. To some of them, government should know that branding is not a one-off campaign, but a continuous exercise where every individual, organization and other stakeholders must contribute.
Dr. Sam Amadi, former Chairman of National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), while speaking with Brand Communicator at the EXMAN AGM in Abuja recently noted that the government’s efforts at branding Nigeria will continue to fail as long as people placed in charge of the effort do not adopt appropriate communication strategies that will deliver the policy.
Amadi added that most of the time, originators of the policy failed to carry along their subordinates and those who will implement the policy; hence it failed to bring any tangible result. He said, “to have a successful policy there must be consideration of the dynamics of the society which will dictate the marketing strategy.”
In order to implement a successful branding campaign for the country, marketing professionals and other stakeholders have said the government must understand the campaign must start from the top. They contend that government officials must first see their roles as servants who will serve the people meritoriously. Also, they should execute the business of governance with transparency and selflessness in ways that are capable of attracting the support of all Nigerians.