Mr President, your brand needs Change!
The Buhari Brand is fast becoming a victim of poor brand management. This is a long distance from what we witnessed when he was being prepped for the last presidential election. I was greatly impressed by how much work was done to give General Buhari (as he was known), a befitting image that appealed to the majority of Nigerians. His handlers knew what they were up against. They knew his strengths and weaknesses. They perfected their strategy and repackaged him as the better of two not-too-attractive options for Nigerians. Buhari’s value proposition was his anti-corruption stance at a time the generality of the people felt that the nation was being ripped apart by the ruthless hands of thieving officials. Looting had assumed titanic dimensions and something needed to be done to save the country.
But Buhari had his perceived shortcomings. While all agreed he had an impeccable character and couldn’t be accused of having stolen public funds, many were tired of what appeared to be the recycling of past leaders. There was a desire for fresh thinking and fresh ideas. Again Buhari’s handlers wisely keyed into that sentiment by selling him on the platform of Change! Some of his opponents accuse him of sectionalism and nepotism. His campaigners were able to overcome this obstacle and eventually ensured electoral victory. But once he became president, it appears the brains behind his brand repositioning had gone to sleep. If their brief was to win the election, they had succeeded and probably didn’t receive a new brief for managing the Buhari Brand and taking it to a higher level.
To some extent, I understand their predicament. In this country, we have this hero-worship mentality that prevents our political office holders from working hard enough to perform their obligations to the people. Because the same people, steeped in excruciating poverty always find their voice when it comes to singing the praises of their oppressors in government. I find it impossible to understand this problem. Somebody is stealing your money. Instead of seeking justice, you sing his praises. Then you go back home and continue with your poverty stricken existence. You don’t see the connection between your lot and the lavish lifestyle of that man whose praises you sing. When we complain about bad governance, we should look at ourselves. The people in government are drawn from among us. They did not drop from the sky. Democracy gives us the power to compel them to work in our interest, failing which we remove them.
The objective of winning the presidential election should therefore be a means to an end because the essence of governance is the welfare of the people. Winning that election should be taken only as a platform for changing the fortunes of the people for the better. For so long, we have not been so lucky to enjoy people-oriented governance in which the best interest of the people takes precedence over political and pecuniary interest. Buhari’s presidency, coming on the brand promise of change provides a great opportunity to right this perennial wrong against the people.
The core brand value proposition of Buhari being the anti-corruption fight is also not an end. It should be a means to an end. Many of us think the biggest problem confronting us and undermining any effort at developing this country is corrosive corruption. If that is the case, any government that has a commitment to fight corruption should do so with a specific aim of improving the lives of the people. I know that in this country, once you are in power, you become infallible in the eyes of those around you, and you are miraculously elevated above human foibles. You become a deity. You can do no wrong. Your advisers, and cabinet members are all praise singers. They shield you from every unpleasant truth and ensure you are insulated from the reality of things. But if the President had a clear objective and pursues it relentlessly, perhaps, this virus that afflicts those in the corridors of power and prevents them from understanding the situation of the people they govern, would be terminated.
This is what Buhari’s brand managers should do. Firstly, they should give Nigerians ownership of the anti-corruption fight. The ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign was probably meant to achieve this but the strategy has failed. They should change their strategy. A fundamental flaw about the anti-corruption campaign is that it has been positioned by the opposition and those who are guilty of corruption, as ‘Buhari’s Anti-Corruption Fight’. This is wrong. Buhari’s brand managers, or image makers, must reposition this fight as the people’s fight. They should make Nigerians understand that this fight is theirs, and the money being recovered is their money. It is not Buhari’s money. It is a fight which every good Nigerian who wants the progress of this country must partake in. Anyone who speaks against this fight should be perceived as an enemy of the people.
So far, a lot of money has been recovered but it is proving difficult to send people to jail. Here is the second thing the government should do. They should build legacy projects with money recovered from looters. This is very simple. It is common to tell us how many hospitals and schools could be built from the money stolen by some of these public officials. So why don’t you just go ahead and build those schools and hospitals with money recovered, instead of leaving room for people to speculate that recovered looted funds are being re-looted? After building these schools and hospitals, and any other facilities for public use, they should mount granite plaques with the bold inscription- THIS CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL WAS BUILT USING MONEY RECOVERED FROM FORMER MINISTER XYZ. IT IS DEDICATED TO THE WELFARE OF NIGERIAN CHILDREN AND GENERATIONS YET UNBORN.
I offer my services free of charge in helping them craft these inscriptions. This way, looters and their families will live with the shame and even their future generations will inherit the shame. Imagine hundreds of such projects built all over the nation. The people will see these projects as theirs and guard them jealously. Anyone trying to erase those plaques will be seen as an enemy of the people and will be treated as such! The essence of the Buhari Brand will be solidified and his legacy will be there for generations to come.
• 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.