I smell a rat!

When you see a rat, what do you do? You either run towards it, with the aim of killing it, or you run away from it, if you are scared. I am yet to see a living soul who has not directly or indirectly experienced the sheer destructive tendencies of rats. These rodents are simply legendary in their parasitic omnipresence. They do not only prey on you, but also transmit different types of diseases. They have established themselves as an endemic force of nature and despite man’s development of nuclear weapons, he has not been able to permanently curtail the pestilential presence of these notorious rodents.

Why then was anyone surprised that while the Lion of Aso Villa was away, his abode was invaded by these infamous rats, with the potential for an infestation that could send our dear President back to the intensive care unit? Are these the only rodents and pests we have within the corridors of power? What about the legion of career politicians and thieves masquerading as bureaucrats who constantly prey on our common wealth and devour our nation’s resources.

Some level of sanitation was restored at the President’s office and the infested area was once again made suitable for human habitation, but have we have seen the end of these nefarious rodents? Experience tells us this is unlikely. Rats are extremely stubborn. That is why such pest control exercise must be a continuous activity, to be carried out with determined and persistent regularity. Even then, the rats will never go away for good. For centuries they have defied all human assault, while the most advanced pesticides have failed to curtail them on a permanent basis. Rather than a decline in the destructive activities of these rats, what we see is an expanding market for rat killers.

On a typical busy day on Lagos roads you will see different brands of rat killers on sale. Some are said to be so deadly they’re called atomic bomb. Yet, these rats just won’t go away. When it appears they have retreated, they only bounce back with greater ferocity. In fact, in many households, it is difficult to tell who the real householders are. Such is the prominence of rats in such homes. The rats have become so daring they don’t even balk when they come face to face with you, especially in the overcrowded ‘face to face’ dwellings.

Just like rats are no respecter of persons, our political class have no respect for the people they claim to represent. Are they not even worse than rodents? So far, EFCC, DSS, SSS, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureau have not developed an effective pesticide for this notorious breed of parasites. The consequence is that the rats and politicians have collaborated to give our national leadership and our country a negative image. Just like the rodents, our politicians are rabidly unrepentant. They are the rats and pests we need to get rid of. We need constant fumigation to put them under control even if they cannot be totally eliminated.

They have made endemic corruption our constant narrative and this has defined our national brand image before the rest of the world. They have made it perpetually impossible for us to tell a different story. Each time there is a bright ray of hope in the form of a positive development and national achievement, their notoriety suddenly jumps to the front burner to eclipse whatever positive story we have to tell. The result is that these rays of hope are never allowed to endure.

In order for us to build a strong brand image for our nation, we must do away with the bad habits of our political class. No matter how much you invest in creating a positive image, if you carry bad habits with you, your brand building journey will lead nowhere. Where you have bad habits and those habits overshadow the positive attributes of your brand, you will never be able to sustain a good image. The economic consequence of having a negative national image is dire. Let’s look at it on a personal level. If you constantly get negative feedback or comment about a particular person, wold you like to do business with that person? Of course not! The same goes with nations. When we allow bad habits to define our national image, other nations are reluctant to do business with us. And which nations can grow in isolation? The world used to be a global village, but it is now one big family. Whatever happens anywhere is constantly beamed across the rest of the globe. This is why the cost of having a negative image is even more serious now than ever before.

Building a successful brand involves looking at those things which may undermine your success and developing clearly defined strategies to deal with them. An integral aspect of the branding process is SWOT analysis. SWOT means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. In corporate branding, this study helps companies carve a sustainable niche for themselves in the market. If we apply a similar study to Nigeria, the rodents who have infested our national leadership under the guise of politics, will spring up prominently as one of our Weaknesses.

The core attributes we expect in our leadership are painfully missing. These attributes include Vision, Competence, Integrity and Commitment. These are some of the attributes listed when serious organisations define their Core Values. We must develop effective strategies for dealing with the weaknesses and threats while leveraging our strengths and taking advantage of the opportunities we have. This is a sure way to develop a strong nation brand. It is also an approach commonly adopted by corporate entities.

When we look at the rat story, we see yet again the disadvantages of taking your brand image for granted. If it is true that rats actually invaded the President’s office and the office needed to be fumigated, it underscores our tardy approach to managing the Presidency Brand. However, some claim that the President had not sufficiently recovered to resume at his office, hence he had to work from home. If that was the case, why would anyone come up with such an embarrassing story about rats? This obviously couldn’t be true.

However, such speculation shows the level of distrust the people have for the messaging of our highest office, and the general distrust we have for our leadership. Successful brands are built on trust. We must therefore work very hard to win the trust of the people. It is virtually impossible to lead successfully when the followers do not have trust in you. This erosion of trust in our leadership must be reversed so that we can truly create and sustain a positive brand image for our nation.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.

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Muyiwa Kayode
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