The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, may not be wearing his usual smile because the new attitudinal campaign launched a little over a month ago by the president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been portrayed a ‘joke’ by Aso Rock.
The campaign tagged “Change begins with me” is said to be an offshoot of the “War against Indiscipline” programme of Buhari’s administration in 1984. According to the government’s statement, it is designed by the National Orientation Agency under the Federal Ministry of Information and aims at instilling discipline in Nigerians and promoting patriotism.
Since it was launched, the new initiative has courted more controversy than any other image cleansing or rebranding campaign initiated by past governments.
The campaign ostensibly to address the attitudinal deficiency of Nigerians appears to have taken a floppy path comparably to the Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) programme launched in 1987 by Ibrahim Babangida’s administration.
Though the project is seen as a rebranding scheme in some quarters, Lai Mohammed has vehemently rebutted such perception. President Buhari, during the launch in Abuja, appealed to Nigerians not to see change merely in terms of economic and social progress but in terms of personal behaviour “on how we conduct ourselves, engage our neigbhours, friends and generally how we relate with the larger society in a positive and definitive way and manner that promotes our common good and common destiny, change at home, change in the work place, change at traffic junction, change at traffic lights, etc.”
While admonishing Nigerians to shun lawlessness, the president urged the citizens to embrace values such as honesty and integrity. Notwithstanding the purpose and intent of the project, the launch was tainted by criticism from Nigerians who said the project has “no soul of its own” because key points of the president’s launch speech derived from or were plagiarised from United States’ President Barrack Obama’s November 4, 2008 victory speech in Chicago. Thus, from the onset, the “Change begins with me” campaign was enmeshed in controversy and criticism which have refused to abate.
Previous rebranding efforts
It is on record that in time past, Nigeria has tried to reposition itself positively through campaigns, which unfortunately left a sore taste in the mouth and led to massive drain of national funds. The first concerted effort was in 1983 when President Buhari was then military head of state.
Called the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), it tried to create communication backed by action and political will from the government to shore up Nigeria’s image and attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
The campaign was cut short by the dethronement of Buhari’s regime by Ibrahim Babaginda, who institutionalised the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the midwife of MAMSER.
MAMSER added nothing to the image of the country and it was rested because of criticism.
In 1999, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration floated another rebranding exercise, which was launched by former Information and National Orientation Minister, Chukwuemeka Chikelu.
Tagged “Heart of Africa”, it was dead on arrival as another African country faulted the campaign theme which that country had already adopted.
Several efforts at reviving the campaign suffered defeat as Abuja abandoned the project half way despite the millions of naira invested.
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua embarked on what remained the most expensive brand Nigeria campaign to date, headed by late former Information Minister, Dora Akunyili.
The “Good People, Great Nation” campaign became very controversial and little was achieved despite massive publicity.
Change as campaign thrust
“The change begins with me” campaign is believed to be Lai Mohammed’s brainchild, and does not want to kick it out of the window despite other numerous beautiful ideas thrown at him.
Apart from some recent developments that have undermined the campaign, the initiative has been strongly criticised by many because it still portrays the government as being outside of the government.
Many people believe that the campaign should take another dimension rather than riding on the change platform. The primary goal of any campaign is to drive engagement and the use of change is not inclusive.
The party in power rode on the change mantra to power, therefore, members of other political parties whose slogan weren’t change may not see a buy-in.
The managing director of Towncrier, Mr. Kayode Olagesin, said “Although there is a need for value reorientation by Nigerians, there is a disconnect, in that, a leadership that promised change is not in a good position asking the citizens to change. It appears an abdication of responsibility. Nigerians expect that the government will drive the change and they will follow. Nigeria needs to “Change for the better” is a more acceptable message as this can be shared by both leaders and citizens alike. It does not carry a moral baggage”.
The Change ‘Not in My Country’
On September 29 this year, the “Change begins with me” campaign suffered yet another setback after being caught in the web of plagiarism in the president’s speech that launched the campaign. In a letter by Akin Fadeyi’s counsel, the copyright infringement of ‘Not in My Country” was alleged.
The letter titled “Alleged Copyright Infringement of Akin Fadeyi’s “Not In My Country” Anti-Corruption Campaign by The “Change Begins With Me” Project-Mr. Fadeyi’s Silence So Far And His Stance On The Issues”, said “the ‘Not In My Country’ project has been the subject of a heated media exchange over allegations of copyright infringement and counter-allegations of blackmail between some actors and other concerned citizens who were privy to the ‘Not in My Country’ anti-corruption campaign project and the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
Fadeyi through his lawyers, said that ‘Change Begins with Me’ has several elements of “Not in My Country’ anti-corruption campaign that was unveiled in July this year. According to experts, the copyright infringement allegation may have cast doubt over the initiative, therefore, it might lack the social engagement element to really impact.
Undoubtedly, this crucial Federal Government’s project which seeks to encourage individual change in the citizenry in the hope of a holistic national change kicked-off dogged with debate and controversy.
Assessing the campaign
The Heart of Africa, Good People Great Nation and a few others have been subjected to this kind of test in the past. Obviously, they have all failed the test. A little over a month after launch, “Change Begins with Me” is heading that direction.
According to the managing director of Towncriers, the campaign carries a moral baggage, which could have been avoided by its proponents.
Experts said assessing the “Change Begins with Me” campaign in less than two months may not be fair. However, they say the reason the campaign has failed to resonate with Nigerians is that it was ill-timed and based on wrong insight.
Olagesin said “I believe it is based on a wrong insight and the timing was wrong, hence, it has not been well received by Nigerians.
“Nigeria needs a message that will galvanise people now and inspire them to be the change they want. So, I do feel that what we need to be communicating is CHANGE FOR THE BETTER in every aspect of our national life. That change is expected to manifest in our political structures and processes, economic policies and outcomes as well as our daily interactions. We all need to change for the better”.
One month is rather too early to do an objective assessment, said Kayode Muyiwa, a brand management specialist. “But the campaign has raise quite a bit of controversy, much of it, needless”, he says.
Many have argued that change should begin with the government rather than the people. “I find this argument insipid. When government says “change begins with me”, it means those in government have already made that commitment. After all, they didn’t say “change begins with you”.
Another expert said the campaign remains a slogan, which is yet to connect with the target groups, who are constrained by the harsh economic climate.
“Attitudinal changes in the positive direction are desirable but they ought to be done in a manner that shows that the leadership genuinely empathises with the people”, said public relations practitioner, Muyiwa Akintunde.
Not building on previous campaigns
One very common element in the nation’s reorientation campaigns is that each government tried to do its own thing. From the days of MAMSER to the Good People Great Nation, there is always the tendency for successive government to launch a new campaign.
Whether the government could have rework the previous rebranding campaign rather than launching a new one, Olagesin said that the earlier campaign was just sloganeering as it was not driven by insight.
Everyone generally agrees that Nigeria and Nigerians need to change, so a message hinged on change is actually a good insight but the way it is couched is very important.
Muyiwa believes that the former campaign was silly. The current theme is much better. I wrote in my book, The Seven Dimensions of Branding, that you don’t become a great nation by proclaiming it, but by doing great things.
“What was the result of that campaign?”, asked Akonte Ekine, a communication practitioner. “Was there an evaluation that shows it got value and public acceptance, as well as building the right mind-set among the populace? It is difficult to draw a conclusion on a campaign we didn’t hear the result of effort”.
However, there are good elements of that campaign, in the sense of projecting the positive side of the country and its people.
To impact on our reorientation campaign, Akintunde stated that “We may have to re-examine that and similar country marketing campaigns and execute them in line with present realities”.
Yes Change begins with me but government first
This seems to be the feedback the government received after the campaign was launched. Prior to the launch of the campaign, Creative advertising practitioners have alleged neglect. While the minister made some concerted effort to parley other stakeholders, the segment very critical to the conceptualization and implementation of any campaign was ignored.
In the new campaign, government insists on following the due process but it is gathered the Ministry of Information did not follow the pitch process before awarding the contract to Centrespread.
Some of the critical elements of the campaign basically from concept level were said to have been handled by a firm from South Africa, a clear departure from the government’s position on encouraging local content.
Is the campaign ill-timed?
Most projects failed because of wrong timing and time is essential to any project or campaign. For instance, Good People, Great Nation was adjudged to be good theme campaign to market a nation, but experts opposed it because it was ill-timed. Ill-timed in the sense that as at the time the campaign was launched, the nation was struggling with elementary issues that ‘great’ nations do not face.
Speaking on the timing of the new project, the managing director of USP Brand Management Company said that a nation’s campaign can be launched at all times. “It’s about branding, which is a process rather than a project. You never stop the process, or else the brand begins to die a slow death”.
“A nation is a working campaign in progress. From the heads of government through policies, nations are embarking on campaigns to build respect and mutual reputation of the citizens. That is why an America soldier will want to die to save another American; that is a campaign to the people to know that they have a caring and concern government”, said Ekine.
But what is important is that the campaign must derive from the people who should ultimately own it.