Adebo Onabowale is a Business Strategy Consultant with over 24 years’ experience in banking, consulting, technology, telecommunications, auditing and outsourcing services industries’ across Nigeria, West Africa and Europe. In this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, she shares the motivation behind ‘Mindshift Advocacy for Development Initiative’, being championed by her. Excerpts:
As a passionate believer in Brand Nigeria Project, how do you assess the brand now?
Like you rightly observed I am very passionate about Nigeria and I think every Nigerian should be. But are we? Right now, most Nigerians are struggling to be proud of Nigeria. Most Nigerians think that there is nothing to be proud of about Nigeria. For this reason, they become cynical about everything Nigerian. As a result, the passion for patriotism has dwindled in majority of us. Most people are desperately searching for means to leave Nigeria to other supposedly more promising environments. We are aware of the influx of Nigerians to some embassies such as the US, UK, and even South Africa, in spite of the famed xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other Africans in that country. Somehow, you may not blame these people. Most of them feel that Nigeria has failed them. The political class has failed them. The government has failed them. So, some are hurting and are looking for way out to evade what they foresee as a predicament. To them, Nigeria does not hold any promise for their future. So, I can say that currently, Nigeria does not command a positive perception, respect or emotions amongst her internal stakeholders and also her external stakeholders.
Responding to your question more concisely, I would say that Nigeria should evoke positive emotions in people’s hearts and minds, such that elicits patriotism. For Nigeria to be valuable to Nigerians, the country should offer a permanent, trustworthy, relevant, promise with real meaning to the Nigerian. What promise does Nigeria permanently hold out to all Nigerians irrespective of their status in life, their station in life, their tribes, tongue, ethnicity or educational level? Can you tell me? Most importantly, a brand is an asset that we invest in and nurture over time. Tell me, how much do we invest in Nigeria – her people, for instance? How do we nurture brand Nigeria? Can a disenchanted people nurture the brand? The fact on ground is that Nigeria does not offer sufficient positive experiences to both Nigerians and to the international community. But, in spite of all these I subscribe that we all get involved and engaged in ensuring that Nigeria becomes what it ought to be for the good of all. So, that is why I solicit for everyone to be involved in building our great Nation.
Are there standard indices for the measurement of a nation brand such as Nigeria?
Yes, there are established brand barometers respected by professionals and practitioners in nation branding against which you can benchmark our country Nigeria. First let us realise that a strong brand whether of product, institution, organization or nation must hold a strong positive and permanent promise to her both internal and external stakeholders. In the case of Nigeria the Citizens are the internal stakeholders, and then the international community constitutes the external stakeholders. There are key yardsticks for measurement, but let me identify a few. One key yardstick is governance. At various occasions both the internal and the external publics of Nigeria have expressed deep dissatisfaction about governance in Nigeria; and the specific issues of corruption, issues of competence, fairness, transparency, rule of law, and others have been major concerns. How a country rates on these issues creates a certain kind of perception in the minds of the people. Another index is People. What is the quality of our people in terms of standard of living, level of education, innovativeness, creativity and others? When you go through the nation brand index you discover that Brand Nigeria is not where she is supposed to be. All of these affect the reputation of the brand and how she is perceived.
In the last couple of years, government has made attempts to rebrand Nigeria, what would be your views to all these attempts?
I feel a lot of commendable efforts have been made but I will describe them as efforts basically to clean up the image of Nigeria. Yes, we have been trying to change the mindsets and attitudes with programs like the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) that was implemented between 1983 and 1985. It made some impact because of the fear, harassment and coercion involved. It is a shame that we had to wait to be pushed and flogged like animals to behave properly in public. Then came MAMSER, but because Nigerians did not trust their governments and leaders due to perceived lack of transparency, the program was not as successful. The lack of citizen buy-in also contributed to the failure. For all hands to be on deck there must be a buy-in from all citizens, of all ages and all social classes. The country belongs to all of us. For every nation brand to succeed, there must be a clear vision. The heart of Africa campaign in 2004 was basically directed at the external audience and awareness was poor. There was also the one handled by Late Dora Akunyili- good people, great country. Now there is the current one tagged change begins with you.
What were those specific factors that made these campaigns not to succeed?
These campaigns were basically driven by governments with the intention to change the society. They also assume that they understand what the people wanted, and how to get the people to change their attitudes or lifestyles. But, you know, these strategies are paternal and mechanistic – where the leader sees himself as the ‘father of the nation.’ Leaders believe that the citizens understand their vision and what they want to achieve, even though these citizens are not carried along. Most of our leaders believe that without applying force of coercion on the people, the people will not know what to do. This way of thinking is lineal, parochial and teleological. It does not give room for the involvement of the people in how their lives should be run. There is little or no engagement between the Government and the Governed enough for those in Government to understand the needs of the people, how their minds are working as well as their aspirations. They assume that they know. For instance, Nigeria has a youthful population and we believe those below thirty-five constitute the largest proportion of our population. The youths have a different mindset from the adults. To what extent does government interact with them, or even understand them. What the government needs to do more to is to understand how various age groups think, their perception of the country, their expectations and grouses with Government, so that we can motivate them to buy into the ideals of the Nigerian nation.
You are part of this group working towards the mind shift of Nigerians. What motivated you to be part of this laudable project to develop Nigeria?
The group is called Mindshift Advocacy for Development Initiative. Mindshift is set to do a new thing in Nigeria by approaching the Nigerian problem from a different perspective. We believe that Nigerians, both leaders and the led need a different orientation to be able to break the clutter. I am involved because of the passion I have to mold young minds in Nigeria. Nigeria has a youthful population, so targeting this group to effect that desired change, to me, is quite reasonable and that is my ultimate aspiration for now. I strongly believe that changing our collective mindset will grow Nigeria
What are those goals you and your team hope to achieve with this new initiative?
We want to build a new Nigeria where things are done properly; where discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity and gender is decisively eliminated; where the values of true love, openness and sincerity are entrenched in the hearts of our people. We know that to achieve this, we must conquer our minds and point to the positive direction. So we are focusing on re-molding mindsets to be more positive, progressive and productive and eliminate the pervasive negative mindsets. I strongly believe Nigerians must grow new mindsets to entrench development for a better future.
Let me assume that you would be very passionate and particular about influencing the mindset of our mothers, the girl child and the entire womenfolk. Is there any special edge in focusing on this special group?
I believe in the popular saying – “build a woman, build a community”. It is the mothers that are closer to the under thirties that make up over sixty percent of Nigeria’s population. So, efforts in this area will yield great impact. Women are always consistent and passionate about anything they believe in. So my involvement will create a lot of impact as I look forward to pushing aggressively within this special segment.
Nigerians are used to projects like this in the past but they subsequently fizzle out. How would you ensure that you retain that staying power to mobilize people in this Mindshift Advocacy campaign?
There are many reasons why this usually happens, especially in this country. One is lack of focus. The second is inconsistency. The Bible says, where there is no vision, the people perish. We have seen in this country so many initiatives that do not even have clear focus and vision. Another issue is the motives behind those activities. Were those projects really created for the common good or some hidden agenda driving them? If there is clear agenda and vision driving the initiative, and there is consistency in driving that focus with a tested strategy, it will definitely make giant strides. I will not say that it will be a walk over but it will really see the light of the day as we make a lot of sacrifice. The differences in this project and those ones that fell by the way side are in some of these parameters stated. Another fact is that we are not interested in self-glory. We are following the path of convergence, collective involvement and collaboration with as many people and groups as would believe in it. We will not pretend that we know everything and we will not shy away from seeking for help where we can get them. We will not wallow in that mindset of possessiveness but we would open our arms to invite all like-minded people to identify with us and work together with us. With this we believe this idea will not be a flash in the pan.
You have spoken extensively about shifting the minds of Nigerians. Where was this mind and where are you shifting it to? What is the purpose behind this?
The position of our mind could be known exactly through one thing we don’t like to do so much in this part of the world. That is research. Issue-based research will give a lot of understanding and insight to the things we want to achieve. Without doubt there have been a lot of efforts at tackling our mindset problem. The poor understanding of issues has been a major reason for this failure. The Ibibio man, Tiv, Yoruba, Fulani and Igbo men have different views about Nigeria. What we notice is that we have been trying to work with a “one cap fits all” solution. There is need for deep research into what each group feels. It is after we know our positions that we can build a consensus. Any other approach will be like building a castle in the air. The second challenge is that even when there have been some efforts, they have not been inclusive. So, all stakeholders are not carried along. When a consensus is built, we can then collectively shift base.