By Akintola Maxwell
All manners of panaceas Â Â Â have been proffered for the rebranding of the over dramatized so called bad image of our dear country Nigeria .
Even with the rebranding project of the Federal Ministry of Information led by Prof Mrs Dora Akunyili, the effort have achieved little or nothing.Â Rather. the seemingly bad image further plunged with the Abdul Muttalab attempted bombing of a United State â€™s jetliner last December.
The recent logjam on whether the Vice President should act as president pending the arrival to the country of our ailing President, Umaru Yarâ€™adua has not helped matters.
Thanks to the National Assembly people who though belatedly acted wisely helped by not prolonging the challenges.
Nigerian image needs constant repairs through deliberate effort of government functionaries particularly those in the Foreign Affairs Ministry as well as those whose briefs involves external engagements.Â The latter brings to the fore the roles of government agencies that are engaged in one event or the other in foreign lands like in the areas of tourism, commercial and industrial exhibitions fairs, andÂ conferences and other related events.
My recent experience at three tourism exhibitions in Europe in the last few months gave a rare glimpse of how exhibitions can serve as platform for diplomacy and selling of ones country particularly a country that has suffered serious image damage.
They are unexplored tools of our image repairs with little or nothing in cost in monetary terms.
I was priviledged as a tourism enthusiast and a prospective tour operator where I watched at a close range how travel traders, National tourism organizations, hotels operators, airlines and operators of tourism, leisure and hospitality businesses interacted with one another at the ITB Berlin Exhibition in March last year, World Travel Market (WTM) in London last November and FITUR in Spain in January 2010 and concluded that there would not be a better place to sell a country other than these tourism platforms.
Take for example, the World Press Conferences organized by most nations with a large assemblage of travel writers and journalists from around the globe.
Nigeria â€™s representative at the exhibitions is the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation led by its Director General, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe who took advantage of Nigeria â€™s participation at London , Madrid and Berlin fairs to launder Nigeria â€™s image particularly by consistently correcting the long held misconception that Nigeria is not safe for tourists and investors.
In London last November, Nigerians in diaspora and some Europeans were beaten flat when he explained with statistics that Nigerian cities were safer than New York , Los Angeles and Johannerburg on the account of criminal activities citing, the frequency of murders and other crimes in these cities.Â Although they told him that criminal acts are resolved in the cities he cited including murders.
One attributes that is known to be lacking among the Nationâ€™s public figures abroad particularly people in the diplomatic circles is their inability to persuasively talk to Nigerians living there to be an ambassador of a sort for the country.
I remember Otunba Runsewe surprisingly convinced a Manchester based Nigerian to be a goodwill ambassador for Nigeria charging him and his likes to speak for Nigeria rather than condemning their fatherland.
The gentleman had asked during a question and answer session why Nigeria â€™s image continued to nose dive without a seeming remedy.
My trip to these tourism exhibitions afforded me to guage the pulse of many prospective inbound tourists to Nigeria but came with a wonderful findings that this kind of one on one meeting with foreign press, foreign tour operators, tourists and those who wanted to know about Nigeria was the only magic left to bring tourists and investors into Nigeria in their large numbers.
The initiative of the man at the helm of NTDC should be replicated by Ministers, Chief Executives of Parastatals and other government representatives at the slightest opportunities during their foreign assignments.
Mr Akintola Maxwell Writes fromÂ Zone 2
Wuse â€“ Abuja .