Death & burial of the rebranding programme

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By Douglas Anele
One of the negative qualities militating against the emergence of Nigeria as a country to be reckoned with in the comity of nations is self-deception or hypocrisy, particularly among members of the elite. Self-deception is a character trait of human beings which constitutes an aspect of what existentialist philosophers describe as the facticity of human existence.

A self-deceiver or hypocrite is a pretender, someone that habitually distorts or denies what is real in order to achieve egoistic purposes. It implies deliberate substitutionof facts with fiction, reality with illusion, truth with falsity, and forthrightness with double-speak.

Therefore, when Dora Akunyili, former minister of information and communication, launched the Rebranding Project during the short-lived administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, I knew that the programme would not achieve meaning transformation of the mentality of Nigerians, which was why I described it as putting the same old insipid wine into a new wine bottle.

Keep in mind that similar propaganda programmes in the past, such as MAMSER and the Heart of Africa Project,failed to achieve tangible results despite the billions of naira wasted on sloganeering and badly conceived ineffective strategies of image laundering.

In this connection, the question that arises now is: since Akunyili left office, what has become of her rebranding programme? Some might answer that it is comatose; but,more accurately, I would say the programme is dead. Moreover,there nothing to show that the slogan “Good People, Great Nation” appropriately applies to Nigeria, because members of the ruling elite in particular, and Nigerians in general, are still manifesting those very negative attitudes that have crippled the country, among which are corruption, indiscipline, hypocrisy, egoism, and lack of patriotism.

Thus, it is not surprising thatno one in Goodluck Jonathan’s government, including the President himself, talks about rebranding at the moment, probably due to the recognition that rebranding Nigeria requires much more than media hype, fancy programmes and sloganeering.

Akunyili’s rebranding project is dead, and the despicable conduct of many prominent Nigerians both in the public and private sectors have buried it for good. More pointedly, the legal odyssey of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, failure of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, our finance minister,to clinch the presidency of World Bank despite her impressive credentials, and the responses of prominent Nigerians to these events prove that the rebranding project was a complete waste of time and money.

I have written about Ibori’s trial in London in this column. In that essay I argued that the erstwhile governor’s acceptance of guilt in a foreign land after Nigerian courts had discharged and acquitted himon similar charges is a terrible dent on our battered image and a harsh rebuke of the corruption-infested judiciary and law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.

Expectedly, most prominent Nigerians, including senior lawyers that have reacted to the sentence passed on Ibori by Judge Anthony Pitts, have hailed the judgment.

But, in my opinion, the responsesare largely hypocritical. First and foremost, senior advocates of Nigeria constitute the most formidable stumbling blocks on the way towards successful prosecution of corrupt politicians and other prominent criminals in the country.

These very lawyers, because of the craving for primitive accumulation, shamelessly jettison moral considerations and exploit weaknesses in the Nigerian judicial system to prevent thieves in high places from facing justice for their crimes.

Secondly, the Nigerian Bar Association, to the best of my knowledge, has not done enough to discourage its members from aiding and abetting criminality by the so-called VIPs in the society. It is surprising that the association has not introduced effective measures to sanction members who bribe judicial officers and use frivolous injunctions, ludicrous plea bargains and other legal shenanigans to subvert the course of justice.

In addition, no individual can steal the kind of amount Ibori stole or successfully commit the offenses for which he pleaded guilty without the assistance of lawyers who understand how to exploit the system. It follows that Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana, my friend Fred Agbaje and other lawyers who are happy that Ibori has finally got his just deserts should go beyond “ceremonial or public relations statements” and work towards expeditious transformation of the legal and judicial system in Nigeria.

Law is not about making millions from highly-placed criminals or brandishing highfalutin titles. Rather, it is about resolutely bringing morality to bear in the quest for justice and equity in human relations. That is why the late Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, former governor of old Imo state, will continue to be remembered by the Igbo whose abandoned property cases he handled pro bono.

That said, I am sure that some Nigerians who respect and admire Itse Sagay, a Professor of law and outspoken critic of financial rascality in government, would be wondering whether their “idol” (Sagay) really detests corruption as much as he proclaims in the media.

According to newspaper reports Sagay, while responding to the news about the judgment against Ibori, claimed that the sentence was too harsh and malicious.

According to him, the sentence is extremely excessive because Ibori will be sent to jail and his property confiscated, even after saving the court the inconvenience of protracted trial by pleading guilty as charged. I must frankly admit my respect for Sagay, not merely because of his academic accomplishments but also for being brave enough to criticise indiscipline and corruption among theruling class.

But if his comments on the Ibori issue are a true reflection of his views, then he is completely wrong. I do not intend to insinuate that Sagay’s position is influenced by whatever he might have personally benefited directly or indirectly from Ibori whenthe latter was governor of Delta State.

I simply do not have information to back up such insinuation, although I know that governors routinely use different means to patronise prominent outspoken indigenes of their states to win either the support of such “eminent persons” or at least buy their silence in the face of misgovernance.

TO BE CONCLUDED.

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