My story is just one of many stories that are in line with what happened when Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communication protested that Sony Incorporation should pulls its advertising that portrays negative images of Nigerians.
In her case, a Vanguard article quoted the Minister as saying that Nigerians will never be treated as criminals again. As she accepted apologies from Sony Incorporation, the Minister said that, “We need the international community to increasingly alter its unwholesome impression and treatment of Nigerians, and never shall we be treated like criminals again by asking us to step aside at airports for interrogation as if we are all criminals.” She was referring to the showdown with Sony Incorporation over a particular advertisement that supposedly damaged the image of Nigerians abroad. The Sony commercial asked a prospective buyer of Playstation 3 not to believe everything he reads on the Internet; otherwise, he would be a Nigerian millionaire by now.
While I commend the honorable Minster for her efforts, it is still important to point out that such superficial rebranding does not solve the problem of world’s perception of Nigerians as criminals. At the heart of the matter lie more important questions: Are Nigerians criminals as charged by the international community? If they are, why are Nigerians prone to crime? It is only in answering these questions that any reasonable effort to stop Nigerians from being detained at airports for interrogation can be accomplished. Let me make an effort to deal with these questions; I will deal with the latter question in a more in-depth manner than the former.
The reason why I veered away from the first question is because it is not as important to dwell on discovering whether Nigerians are criminals as it is to examine why this is the case. Why are some Nigerians prone to crime?
Some Nigerians are prone to crime because no real opportunities exist for younger Nigerians to pursue their dreams. What is happening in Nigeria with the rampant kidnappings that have kept even the Nigerian Diasporas from coming home is common knowledge to the international community. It is almost like when you talk about crime and Nigeria; you are exclusively talking about Nigerians outside the political gang. Regardless of the fact that political crimes paint the worst international image of Nigeria.
I wonder why many Nigerians like the honorable Minister think that 419 is the only crime that gives Nigerians a negative image abroad. The fact that our public officials have millions of dollars in foreign banks is certainly more damaging. We have had good chances to start rebranding. The last U-17 world cup presented a great opportunity for Nigeria to take a profound step; instead, it was plagued by scandals right from the onset. The nation was not saved from embarrassment as some countries waited endlessly at the airport because no protocol officials were on hand to receive them.
But beyond these bandage approach to rebranding; Nigerian’s image will change when our government gives younger Nigerians opportunities to survive in their own country. The fact that the honorable Minister concluded that the negative perception of Nigerians has changed just because of one incident with Sony Incorporation questions the depth and accuracy of her decisions as a public official.
If that is how she wants to lower the bar, let me give the honorable Minister one more thing to fight for on behalf of Nigerians abroad. Nigerians coming home from the United States are only required to carry 50 pounds in each of their luggage bags as opposed to 70 and 75 pounds for people going to other parts of the world like Asia and Europe. How about that?
Another incident where I had to exercise self-restraint before calling the honorable Minister to task was when she talked about Nigeria’s nine-point slump in TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Her remarks on the issue were all to the point. She showed the type of dedication that will eventually bring Nigeria out of from the abyss of corruption. However, she sounded confused about the perimeters used by TI. According to the Vanguard newspapers, “She revealed that the government is ignorant of the perimeters used in the assessment.”
On the surface, it seems like the Minister is right. For the government to make amends and move up in the index, it needs to know the perimeters used in the assessment. But here is the problem: None of the 180 nations surveyed consciously worked according to the criteria used in the assessment. To work strictly according to those criteria set by Transparency International will be passing the exam of corruption without understanding the subject matter.
The subject matter is Nigerians; the criteria are the welfare of the Nigerian people. How have they been living in the past few years or at least since the last CPI was published? Are Nigerians better off than they were a year ago? Is the government on course to building an egalitarian society? Is the principle of equal justice for all citizens operational in Nigeria? Is there accountability at every level of government; not just accountability to EFCC or any other government bureaucracy set up for that purpose, but accountability to the Nigerian people? Does the government at every level represent the will of the Nigerian people?
It looks to me that these questions should already exist in the consciousness of any nation or government looking to advance the cause of its people. Incidentally, they are the same criteria that will elevate Nigeria when the next rating comes around in November of next year. What all countries that are rated high have in common is that their citizens fair better than Nigerians when these questions are put on the table. They are just basic obligations that a government owes its citizens even without there being the criteria for corruption ratings. My somber advice to the Minister and any other government official, who like her is worried about this slump, is to seek first the kingdom of Nigerians and every other thing will be added unto it.
I would most respectfully advise the honorable Minister to consider the welfare of Nigerians before the criteria used to rate corruption. Whatever the criteria, I am pretty sure it all boils down to the welfare of Nigerians. As a start the minister’s office should publish to the world what internal data shows about the welfare of Nigerians since she took office.
Madam Minister why do you keep getting it wrong? Do we have cause to worry about the depth of your decisions as Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communication?