Governors, brand your states – Part 5

It makes me cry to hear that some states are not viable. While producing my educational animation series, The Adventures of Turtle Taido, I had to research every state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I needed to find out what makes each state unique. I wanted to know the tourist attractions in every state as well as the natural resources. It was an eye opening exercise which revealed to me that every state in this country is blessed with natural resources. If we hear some governors say that some states are not viable and cannot pay salaries it simply means the resources of those states and the opportunities for economic development are not being tapped. The governors are simply waiting for their respective allocations from the federal purse. We need these governors to begin thinking like businessmen. We must signal an end to the days when people simply seek public office to ‘chop’ rather than create value, transform their states for the better and uplift the living standards of the people.

I was in Ebonyi State about three years ago on the invitation of a client who owns two rice mills in the state. We already are all familiar with Abakaliki Rice. This is set to replace Thailand Rice on our menus. What remains is the branding. We need to apply branding to everything we do if we are to make real progress. Branding is all about creating value. Let’s look at the yam export story. The recent export of 72 metric tons of yam signals a new dawn in our drive for non-oil export and increased foreign exchange earnings. However, an analysis by a certain pharmacist went viral in the social media. The writer explains how much incremental value would have been created if that yam was processed into pharmaceutical grade starch, PGS. It gets even more exciting if the PGS is packaged and branded. As we drive non-oil exports with yam and other natural produce we must not fall into the same trap as we did with crude oil. You see, we will remain poor if we only export natural produce without adding value and creating brands out of these commodities.

Imagine this. We are among the top ten producers of crude oil in the world but our people suffer extreme poverty because in addition to mismanagement of our oil wealth we have not built brands around our oil resources. We do not own Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell or Texaco. Worse still, we export crude oil and import fuel. That is a tragedy of monumental proportions. When you refine the crude oil, you have added value, but when the fuel is dispensed through a Mobil retail outlet, you have added brand value. I make a deliberate decision to buy fuel only from the retail outlets of the major brands. And I know a lot of people do this. The reason is simple. You feel more comfortable buying from the big brand names because you have a higher degree of trust in them. You think there is integrity in their dispensing pumps. You also believe they won’t sell you adulterated fuel. These are some of the responsibilities and benefits that come with building a brand. We continue to short change ourselves if we sell raw produce to those who add value or build brands with it and sell back to us.

Look at Ivory Coast. For all the cocoa they produce, they do not own any of the global chocolate brands like Toblerone, Lindt and Sprungli, Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, Godiva, Mars, or even Cadbury. Check out the countries that own these brands! We have countries in Africa supplying diamonds to the rest of the world. They include Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Congo and Botswana. But does any of them own a popular global diamond brand? No. If you look at the world’s top jewelry brands using diamonds, none is African. They include Graff, Harry Winston, Cartier, Debeers, Tiffany & Co, Steinmetz, Leviev, Pluczenik and Dehres. Yet, this is where the real money is. Branding is the real wealth creator. We must therefore apply branding as we develop our economic potential beyond oil. I am delighted about Dangote Refinery and am eagerly looking forward to its commissioning. This is what I expected at least one of the governors of the oil producing states to have initiated over the past ten years. But none of them deemed it necessary. It is a disgrace that the nation’s largest refinery is not even located in the Niger Delta! This is one of the tragedies of our time! This is why many governors tell us their states are not viable.

While Governor David Umahi has told us that Ebonyi State is not viable, he has also designated 50,000 hectares of land for rice cultivation. This is good. But he must think branding and create the platform for building Abakaliki Rice into a strong brand, with world class processing and packaging to go with it. While a lot of this may be private sector driven, the state must provide the platform for enabling private sector success in its rice industry. Meanwhile the state has the slogan ‘The Salt of the Nation’. This is due to the presence in the state of the popular Salt Lake Okposi. Although the traditional salt making methods may have persisted for generations around the lake, this has not been transformed into a modern industry of any significance. That slogan is no longer relevant. It should be discarded while the state builds a new identity based on its comparative advantage.

When you talk about Ebonyi State and its capital, Abakaliki, what comes to mind is rice. This is what I think the state should build on and develop a compelling brand strategy which leverages the foundation already laid with the rice industry. It is obvious that people have paid little attention to these slogans. However, slogans do matter. In building a brand, your slogan says a lot about your identity. It is supposed to be a catchphrase that projects what makes you unique and attractive. It is supposed to express your value proposition. You are not building a strong brand when your slogan conveys the opposite of who you really are or what you stand for. You must therefore clearly define your identity before coming up with a slogan. And if at any time your slogan no longer projects what you stand for, because brands like human beings evolve over time, you have to change the slogan.

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