By: Ugochukwu Favour-Mayor
As long as Abia State is been positively branded, it is anew page for the State. Already, the State have in the past developed wrong impression as a place where fake products are been made, both imitation of other company’s product. But, what feelers don’t know about Abia is that it has the necessary prerequisites for effective economic development. It is a state blessed with abundant resources, both physical and human. All that remains is for investors to come to the state and harness these resources, even with the industrial layouts that have been established in the two major towns, Aba and Umuahia.
The local governments have also zoned areas for commercial and industrial purposes. The industrial areas have been provided with the necessary infrastructure such as good roads, power supply, water supply and communication facilities. Abia State is also endowed with manpower resources. With the last population figure of 1,976,805 people, both skilled, semi-skilled and un- skilled labour are available for industrial development. In addition, the workforce is peaceful and industrious and interested in partnership with investors.
With the establishment of banks and other financial institutions all over the State, credit for industrial development can be assured. The question is no longer if the state government is willing to go into partnership with prospective investors, as every good government has the interest of the people at heart. But what seem to be far from the state is its strength in awareness, which mostly rallies around branding. The fact that people breed the thought that Abia is the home of kidnappers, criminals and counterfeit manufacturers would forever scare investors from partnering with the government and people of the state.
Abians are very intelligent, hardworking, industrious, resourceful and hospitable to a fault. Abia as a state has done a lot for the global community especially for Nigeria and Africa at large, which the government must bring to the consciousness of Nigerians and the international community. If they do not blow trumpet, nobody will know. The Abia State government should know that Governments in other states in Nigeria have realized the notion of the world being a global village where competition among nations has reached a new level of sophistication. In other states, branding has become more relevant than ever. Other States are beginning to employ branding and marketing techniques to sell their regions and zones to the rest of the world, in order to increase their international profile, attract foreign direct investments and create desirable destinations for tourism and trade.
There are many factors that determine the success of any branding efforts of any state, country or geographical location– ease of travelling to and from the destination, interesting tourist sites, infrastructure, economic power and many others. To put succinctly, the goal of every nation or place branding effort is to attract investment, attention as well as create a favourable reputation for the brand. In order for a state or city to be a good brand, it must possess defining and distinctive characteristics that can be readily identified. These include appearance, people’s experience of the city, people’s belief in the city, what the city stands for and the kind of people that populate the city.
One thing that brings the former Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim to the minds of the people today is that of his “New Face of Imo,” a re-branding initiative of the state government to ensure a clean break from the state’s ugly past, also been complemented with the “Clean & Green” initiative. If you must know, the brand manager, Prof. Cona Asinu-Anosike and his team of experts controlled it that it became an African project. Already, the Cona firm that is known for total branding has never failed in discharge of duties, and I think his unique style and professionalism has kept the firm going; even with his branding activities in some of the South East states which is worth recommending.
For many who never understood the ex-governor’s vision saw it that Ohakim built projects on the internet that were not on ground. But the case study was to project the State into being the dream land where investors could come down and invest into. As we all know, a cleaner environment attract investors. Ohakim on his own aimed at re-branding and redefining Imo that has nothing to write home about in the past. Consequently, I would admit that the projection the State received during the administrative era of Ohakim, made it a public discourse during the last general election.
Meanwhile, the case of branding or image making of a State like Abia should be anchored on attitudinal change, re-orientation, revival of the State’s beautiful old cultural values and instilling a renewed spirit of patriotism and hope in all citizens. The people have to believe in themselves so that they can define who they are, and also tell their stories by themselves. Like Aba in Abia, for too long now, the people residing there have allowed outsiders to define them the way they want. The Abia State government should do whatever they can to project Aba positively and responsibly. With the new step the governor has taken now on branding, I think it will emphasize on the strong points and de-emphasize on the people’s weak points.
However, Nation or State branding is not destination branding or marketing initiatives; it’s not image makeover, nor an advertising campaign or a marketing strategy; and it’s most emphatically not just a logo. Rather, all of these things are part and parcel of the totality of the nation brand; but they aren’t in themselves constitutive. In simple terms, your brand is what they say about you when you’re not in the room, just like the “Clean & Green” initiative.
Even the billboard which situates at the Diagnostic and Specialist hospital Annex in Amachara, one could understand that the Abia monthly allocation that comes from the Federal Government is actually working. Not only that the billboard stands as a sign to an ongoing project in the state, professionally the brand consultants were able to urge the people with the written statement: “Please pay your taxes” and alongside the prototype of the ongoing projects, into buying the idea and it would make Abia people to also accept the fact that their resources is being invested properly, whereby endearing them to pay their taxes regularly.
The issue of branding in governance should not be taken for granted. A positive branding will go a long way into informing the people on the government plans for them. If for example a new policy is made by the government, the people should be the first to be informed; if not they will perceive it as being a policy that is imposed on them by the steer-man in power, whereby giving wrong signal on the present government in power.
Let’s take the case of Dora Akunyili while as the Information Minister for an example, when she thought of how to do things differently in addressing Nigeria’s image problem so she could not only succeed, but have it sustained. She conceived of a systematic approach to deal with this negative perception and Re-branding was born. To her, the campaign was a holistic one, home grown and people-centered because only Nigerians can truly Re-brand Nigeria. That is to say that buying the idea of any Ochendo’s policy, the people must first be informed and carried along. Building projects without the people being informed on the gains and effect of it, it shows the sign of arrogance and autocracy.
I must encourage the state governor into investing his time and resources towards branding that will go a long way into informing and educating the people with the realities of his projects and policies on ground. Already, with much of well designed billboards situating around the major areas in Umuahia and with well crafted photos of Governor Theodore Ahamefula Orji, I would at this point rest my pen because the Ochendo as a man of style seems to have woken from his slump, and that I think should be encouraged.