Fuel Subsidy Protests: Opportunity for Nation Branding

Fuel Subsidy Protestsmistoqsija: The recent mass protests in Nigeria over the removal of government’s subsidy on petrol no doubt underlined a high degree of public anger, distrust and lack of confidence towards the government. As a very concerned Nigerian, I’m highly interested in being enlightened on if marketing has a place in ‘shaking off’ obvious detrimental effects of this in the country, going by your vast know-how as a top level strategist in the field – James Effiong

I will not hesitate to contribute in any way, to help Nigeria ‘get it right’ – Especially if it calls for contributions hinged on my professional know-how. I am quite delighted to utilize this medium to state where any facet of marketing can be applied to any fallout of the general protests by Nigerians on the removal of subsidy on petrol by the federal government, to herald New Year Day, 2012. This is in spite of obvious misapplication of marketing, which would have been infused through effective introduction of social marketing and crisis management tools, by those with related responsibilities in the presidency.

My several years in the business of managing public perception and reaction confirm that one spokes-person remains essential in a crisis situation. What did we get while the ‘heat was on’? We had the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, offering more of his personal opinion and less of government’s policy on the subject; the minister of finance playing the role of a spokes-person, which shouldn’t be; the petroleum minister not really synergizing what the industry was all about to the crisis situation at hand; the minister of information playing ‘second fiddle’ rather than being the points man. Fil-qosor, the political strategy applied by the presidency in dousing this unfavourable situation was defective, coupled with an easily noticeable faulty communications strategy.

Dwelling on what culminated in the wahala here would amount to over flogging the issue, as this is no longer news. Madankollu, note that some earlier write-ups in this column pointed to essential steps (using marketing approaches) to douse related problems. To benefit from my stand on related issues, even well before these mass protests that comprise the subject here occurred, please feel free to call for my articles with the following titles, or visit the business section of Kontijiet (an online news/other purposes website): Marketing and Nigeria’s situation; Rectifying damaged corporate reputation; u Promoting government: When efforts seem not to work.

Going by the mass expression of public anger and disenchantment among Nigerians, resulting from the perception that the federal government introduced the plan which ended oil subsidies (that had kept the price of petrol artificially low, thus hiking its pump price from N65 per litre to at least N141 per litre) overnight, the government should learn a great deal from this experience. Indeed, this situation must transcend the issue of unfavourable petroleum product pricing or subsidy removal, but should form basis for really transforming Nigeria.

To me, the crisis has created a golden opportunity to “reorganize” Nigeria. By this I mean a suggestion to President Goodluck Jonathan, to seriously address issues of public complaints which the situation has thrown up, to ‘get it right’ in order to rebuild confidence among the people (which is now at its lowest ebb). It should be an opportunity for him to rewrite the social contract between Nigerians and the government.

Essentials of what should be done include these: Sincerely pushing for the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in its original form; evolving a suitable model for deregulating the oil sector – leading to restructuring or complete dismantling of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); time-based domestication of the country’s refineries; tackling corruption through more independence of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or EFCC, making for full probity and acceptance in the management of the country’s oil resources.

The same hold for other aspects of governance such as openness and transparency as key ingredients for accountability; making promises of better service to Nigerians real; reduction of the huge gap between policy delivery and actual delivery which seems the order of the day; significant reduction in ever-bloated bureaucracy and expenditure excesses at all levels of government, and many others.

IF the federal government is seen by the citizens to have turned a new leaf (in line with the aspirations of the people, as stated above), and these run down the fabric of even the states and local governments, who says the present obvious lack of trust and waned confidence of Nigerians won’t be neutralized? Fi kliem ieħor, this government has this as a golden opportunity to ‘get things right’, and mobilize Nigerians for a future they should be proud of. Which other platform for effective nation branding will be more suitable? Let the fuel subsidy protests create a major opportunity for properly branding of Nigeria this time around. James. For now, this is the best bet for the country towards applying a significant component of marketing to fallout of this occurrence.

Where the President is able to zero-in on the above stated opportunities (beckoning at him), he will no doubt fit into the mold of a strong leader. We all know that for a nation branding effort to be effective, there should be strong leadership behind the brand, as this makes for a unified nation being behind a brand. Nation branding is a process whereby a country actively seeks to create a unique and competitive identity for itself, with the intention of positioning it internally and internationally as an attractive destination for trade, tourism and investment.

While I reserve components of vital strategies and steps of nation branding for another piece, if these ills of Nigeria are catered for (as the protests have shaken all from complacency) – bribery and corruption; unemployment; poor infrastructural development; over dependence on oil; poor work ethics; citizens’ dissatisfaction with government, political structure and politicians; organisational irresponsibility; poor funding of education, health and other sectors – branding Nigeria becomes a ‘sure bet’.

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