A conceptual gap still exists in the understanding of the principles and practices of place branding amongst Nigeria's many state and local government officials. Despite the efforts at the center to promote this novel concept that has been described by branding professionals as one of the fastest growing knowledge sectors in global branding and marketing, it appears that place branding is largely only linked and associated with the various activities embarked upon by the federal government, aimed at improving Nigeria's image in the international community, and to position her as a good destination for tourism and investment in sub-saharan Africa.
Since the Nigerian government launched the Nigeria Image Project in 2004, which was subsequently re-branded The Heart of Africa Project, not much has been seen from the respective local and state governments in the direction of formulating strategies to attract foreign investors and tourists to their various towns, villages and states. This overwhelming notion that place branding rests with the center amounts to defeatist and faulty logic because according to Tom Traynor & Ro Breehl 'every place does have some distinction, some reason to live there, work there, vacation there, rather than some other place' . They also argue that finding that 'true compelling claim of distinction' can be hard work which lots of tourism boards, city councils, business improvement districts aren't prepared for, 'preferring instead to move directly to (inevitably drab) advertising execution'. This line of least resistance
appears to be the one towed by Nigeria's state and local government officials.
There are many benefits to states and local governments who make conscious efforts to market their regions both to internal and external stakeholders. If the governments in these states and local governments can institute sound fiscal policies and invest in infrastructures, the job of selling their places becomes easier. The starting point would be the development of a branding framework and strategy encompassing their distinctive cultural, tourism, human capital, economic, educational and personality assets. The second stage would be the implementation of the strategy by appointed marketing communication professionals working closely with the commissioners of information and strategy; the local governments could also do a similar thing by appointing qualified supervising councillors to head the information and communication units of the local governments.
The respective state governors and local government chairmen having recognized the strategic importance of managing their brand assets could also set up small committees headed by marketing communication professionals, to coordinate their various place branding efforts. Appointing non-professionals to such positions purely on political grounds is actually counter –productive and could undermine their prospects of reaping the benefits of economic development which strategic place branding may attract.
Donald Duke, the saxophone playing governor of Cross River state provides a good model for other states and local governments in Nigeria to copy. He has consciously pursued a policy of shying away from controversy since he became the governor of the state. This has helped ensure that his reputation remains quite intact as he has not been named or mentioned in any media report, nor by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as one of the corrupt governors. This is quite encouraging as the same can not be said about his colleagues.
Governor Duke's admirers cut across different age groups and gender, not only because of his boyish looks, social savvy and bespoke fashion sense but also because he is one of the few governors that have actually implemented programs that have directly impacted on the lives of his people . He has gone a step further with his Tinapa project (Africa's premier business resort); a project which when completed would put his state and Nigeria on the map of world tourism. The state government has also set up well-designed and maintained websites – http://www.tinapa.com and [http://www.crossriverstate.com] which serves as its windows to the world. The calabar and Cross River brands have steadily improved as strong Nigerian brands during Governor Duke's stay at the government house.
Nigeria's many states and local governments should indeed take advantage of emerging technologies such as the internet and incorporate them as governance tools, many do not yet have functioning websites, and for some that do, their sites lack the professional touch that would help enhance their overall brand image.
Another state which recently impressed is Kwara state. Kudos to the state governor, Bukola Saraki who has managed to attract sacked Zimbabwean farmers to the state, and have kept faith with them despite the criticisms his government received over the move. Some of the criticisms were rather unfair and seemed ill-informed as the potential economic benefits to the state and her citizens were obviously overlooked by the critics. The Kwara state government recently scored another PR coup which would help project the image of the state further; it successfully exploited the opportunity of the ThisDay music festival and invited the star attraction Jay-Z to Kwara state to commission some government projects. During his visit to the state, Jay-Z was honored by the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari and also had a road named after him – Shawn "Jay – Z" Carter Road.
It is indeed a positive thing for the state to have Jay-Z dressed up in native aso oke attire riding the traditional horse during his turbanning ceremony. Such images beamed across the world are actually priceless and could help to project the Kwara state brand further. However for this PR coup to actually impact on the economy of the state, the Kwara state government must also complement its efforts with good governance.
Abuja, Nigeria's capital city has also done well in this regard and seems to be enjoying a new lease of life, conscious efforts by the federal capital territory (FCT) minister Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and his team to sanitise the city appears to be paying off, some of these efforts though have come at a heavy price such as homelessness for the residents of the houses demolished during the various rounds of demolition exercises in the city. Residents however appreciate the changing face of Abuja and the various recreation parks now available for their use. The FCT minister has embarked on policies to change the face of the city which sometimes appeared controversial. His ban on Okada (commercial motorcycles), importation of London cabs and vigorous pursuit and implementation of the Abuja master plan has led to the demolition of illegal structures in and around the city, and has in so doing reclaimed back lands which have now been transformed into parks for the enjoyment of city residents and visitors. Nigeria's capital city has also consolidated efforts at re-branding its image through music, art, tourism and business. The annual Abuja carnival modelled after the Rio de Janerio carnival, Abuja Rocks @ 30 (an entertainment package to celebrate the city's 30 years and strengthen the consciousness of unity in Nigeria) and the proposed Abuja tower are some of the efforts aimed at repositioning Abuja as a good destination, such efforts would also help to stretch the Abuja brand further.
States such as Anambra state have a lot to do to improve their brand image which has been negatively undermined by the activities of indigenous politicians such as Chris Ubah and Emeka Offor before him. The current governor Peter Obi with his private sector background and experience appears to be the right man for the job but his slow start has continued to attract the criticisms of Anambra state indigenes whose patience are now running out. With all the material and human resources that abound in the state, including the extra advantage of being the home state of some famous Nigerians such as Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chinua Achebe, Phillip Emeagwali, Arthur Ekwensi, Prof. Charles Soludo, Emeka Anyaoku, Prof. (Mrs) Oby Ezekwesili etc.
Anambra state should indeed be more than it is at the moment. Worryingly, the state government appears not to be quite in sync with current perceptions and concepts in place branding. The only reported effort at rebranding Anambra state was the changing of the state's slogan from Anambra – Home for all to Anambra – Home for all good people. Surely the state can do better. Part of the problems with the Anambra brand is the general perception that its citizens are mainly interested in commercial pursuits as against intellectual engagements, the state also continues to suffer from the huge burden of the political class, most recently the state legislators have initiated the process of impeaching Mr. Peter Obi thus fuelling further instability, riots and demonstrations in the state. It's about time that Anambra state, a potential economic and regional tiger wakes up and starts to harness her true potentials for the benefits of her indigenes. Historical sites such as the Ogbunike cave, Agulu lake, Igwe Osita Agwuna's Obu Ofor Nri palace, Ochanja main market etc should be actively positioned as business and tourist attractions. Also with the rise in interest in Igbo culture and history, packaged and guided tours to the towns in Nri kingdom (the acclaimed cradle of Igbo civilization and ancestral home of Ndigbo) could also help in extending the Anambra brand worldwide. The latter approach is favored by Chikodi Anunobi, author of the book Nri Warriors of Peace. According to him 'The story of Nri dynasty sums up the story of Ndigbo, and so anybody wishing to know more about Ndigbo and their history is better off visiting Nri towns'.
The Lagos, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom state governments have repeatedly failed to capitalise on the rich natural resources abundant in their states, they have also not fully exploited the huge presence of foreign nationals in their states who are active in the oil and gas industry , these expatriates could easily serve as unofficial goodwill ambassadors of these states to their respective home countries and help them to attract additional foreign direct investments in other sectors. Despite the huge revenues these states earn as oil producing states and the blessings of Mother Nature which has richly endowed them with oceans, rivers, fertile farmlands and crude oil, infrastructural development has not been top on the agenda of the respective governments thus making it difficult to leverage on their natural brand assets to successfully brand their cities and states as Nigeria's favorite destinations for tourism and business.
The unrest and spate of kidnappings in the Niger Delta region by organizations such as MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta People) have also further eroded the brand images of the affected states. If President Obasanjo's various economic reforms begin to pay off, and the a true atmosphere of competition emerges in the Nigerian socio-economic terrain, these states may find themselves being left out in the scramble for enabling investment climates, as both potential investors and human capital may chose only those cities and states that have positively positioned their brands and effectively communicated their place brand assets.
It is in the interest of the federal government of Nigeria to actively involve the states and local governments in this new drive to re-brand Nigeria, state and local government officials should be encouraged to set up standing committees or to have designated positions responsible for liaising with the officials of Nigeria's ministry of information and national orientation (the overseeing ministry of the Heart of Africa project), this is in order to share ideas and adopt models of best practice. The recently concluded 2-day National Conference on the Nigeria Brand and Economic Development tagged Mind the Gap 2006 presented a good opportunity to get both the states and local governments involved, but it remains to be seen if they were even invited.