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Madam Ezekwesili, you’re on your own!

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Nigeria Air

Since the announcement by the Federal Government that a new national airline to be called Nigeria Air, will commence operations by December, we have heard a lot of noise.

But I am concerned by the rash of tweets from Oby Ezekwesili.

This is a lady I hold in very high esteem. On this matter of Nigeria Air, however, I have to disagree vehemently with the argument she has been tweeting.

To her, Nigeria Air is another bogus, wasteful project, because we have limited resources and cannot afford to float a national airline.

She tweeted ‘A BOGUS PLAN to WASTE up to $300M on a grandiose ‘National Airline’ Project has awakened some of you to debates even if it laced with abusive words’.

She went on, ‘I LOVE THAT YOU ARE ACTIVELY ENGAGED. I have made my point. Make yours too.’

She states that she is happy to stand alone in this position.

Are you saying, Madam, that it is okay to use abusive language by people who have an opinion about a decision or policy of the Federal Government?

One of the things I find objectionable about online debates is the use of abusive language.

I have often wondered why many people find it impossible to express themselves or make their point without recourse to abusive language.

It takes a civilized mind to express disagreement without using abusive words.

While we should all strive to conduct ourselves with dignity and civil decorum, it is disheartening to hear a highly respected activist and public commentator actually encouraging such offensive behaviour in the social media. But that is not the main issue.

Your argument against the establishment of a national airline on the grounds that it is a bogus waste of money that should be spent to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty has no legs to stand on.

It is a position that promotes the collective poverty mentality which has worked against the development of our nation for decades.

It is uncharitable to condemn this initiative simply because previous attempts failed.

I have argued on this page that it is important for our nation brand to have a national airline.

I am therefore happy that this Government has finally decided to make the move.

What is the bogus waste if Government plans to own no more than 5% of this airline?

The airline is not a charity. It will generate employment and promote the brand image of this country.

You see, we must begin to understand the economic value of brands and branding.

A national airline is a brand that promotes and adds value to our nation brand.

For years, I have been ashamed by the fact that you travel around the world and you see planes of Ethiopian Airlines at international airports around the world.

Do you know what this does to the brand value of that nation?

It makes a statement about the nation and tells foreigners that you are accessible to the rest of the world. It promotes your national identity and creates a positive perception about your country.

Smaller countries around us have and operate national carriers, including Kenya, Ivory Coast and even Rwanda!

The North African nations of Egypt, Morroco and Tunisia have national carriers that help in no small measure in boosting their tourism industry despite the perceived insecurity in those places.

Nigeria Air will surely deliver tangible economic value because travellers to Nigeria are likely to make that airline their first choice as it will offer more convenient connections.

The airline will create employment for thousands of Nigerians. I am sure this is obvious. So how is it a waste of money?

How do you lift people out of poverty? I believe creating employment is one of the best ways to do it.

A national airline will also promote tourism, because it immediately makes a limitless range of tourism packages possible, which foreign airlines would not support.

Tourism creates jobs for even the lowest levels of job seekers, from security men to cleaners and cooks. And who can deny the fact that we lose billions of naira every year to foreign airlines?

Why would anyone argue against having a Nigerian airline taking us to London as an alternative to Virgin Atlantic and British Airways?

The staggering amounts of money these guys cart away from our economy every year is disheartening to those of us who understand the value of building your own brands instead of perpetually patronizing foreign brands.

I am surprised that Madam Ezekwesili would rather we continue spending all our travel money on foreign airlines when it is possible to develop our own airline brand. The major reason for our poverty is the failure to build our own brands.

We frequently hear stories of these foreign airlines treating Nigerians with disdain, despite all the money they make from us.

Because they believe we cannot run our own airline.

It is no news that we are the most frequent travellers on the African continent. It is therefore a national embarrassment that we do not have a national carrier.

How some people are comfortable with this shame, I do not know! I am tired of these argument about ‘more pressing needs’.

Must we continue to carry the poverty mentality which dictates that we cannot embark on any capital intensive venture?

Poverty is a thing of the mind. And we must liberate our minds from this mentality.

If we don’t, we will never break the poverty chain and free our people to achieve their true potential.

How big is Ethiopia and how rich are they? I have been to that country and seen the poverty level of the masses.

But they have run a national airline for more than 70 years and to them, it’s a source of national pride in addition to having a huge economic value.

If Madam Ezekwesili is truly concerned about the mass poverty ravaging our land, and I believe she is, then she must support any initiative that aims to build our own brand where we had hitherto relied on foreign brands.

The surest way out of mass poverty is to build our brands.

Because for as long as we rely on foreign brands, we shall remain in economic slavery and we shall be working to enrich foreign companies while our own people suffer.

Our middle and upper classes spend billions of naira every year on flight tickets.

Wouldn’t it be of huge economic value to our people if a sizable chunk of this money is retained in our economy?

Why is it so difficult for our people to see the clear connection between brand building and wealth creation?

If you want to fight poverty, do you do it by giving money to the poor?

I think there is a contradiction in the argument that setting up this airline is against the interest of the poor.

Now to the point that touches me directly. If indeed, our Government engaged a foreign firm to design the logo for the proposed Nigeria Air, then I think they have started on a faulty note.

It is however not too late to quickly reverse this blunder and engage Nigerian branding companies to work on this airline.

Apart from the need to empower our own, it is difficult for foreigners to capture the essence of our brand identity as effectively as we can while it is irresponsible for anyone to take our jobs abroad while campaigning to us to pay our taxes!

• 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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