My initial perception of that embassy was formed in November 2011 at the World Travel Market in London. The World Travel Market is the world’s largest tourism event, which pulls the travel industry together in different regions around the world. The London chapter is the largest gathering of professionals and investors in the travel and tourism industry. Last year, it attracted more than 50,000 visitors and exhibitors from around the world. It provides one of the platforms for countries to promote their tourist attractions as well as their brand image. Each participating country has a pavilion where you can ‘experience’ the country. At this particular edition, the Nigerian ambassador in the UK was scheduled to flag off our exhibition at the Nigeria pavilion. We waited for more than two hours before the man eventually made his entrance followed by a shameless entourage. As he made his grand entrance, one of the foreign visitors asked me ‘is that the king of Nigeria?’ I smiled, trying to mask my embarrassment.
‘No. he is the ambassador’, I said, wondering what his reaction would be if he saw a governor’s entourage! And what perception would that gentleman have of our country? Probably, he went away thinking Nigeria was a nation of unserious people, full of hollow grandiosity.
I had another experience, this time at the Nigerian embassy in London. In November 2014, I was involved in an investor road show and the ambassador and some top officials at the embassy were billed to attend the investor forum. Having previously informed the embassy, I was to hand in some documents pertaining to the event to the head of the commercial department at the embassy. On getting there, I was refused entry. In fact, the main entrance to the embassy was locked and no one was allowed to enter. I was directed to the side entrance where a security man collected the documents from me.
I wasn’t allowed to go in despite being on appointment. When I later spoke with the head of the commercial department on the phone, he said the documents were not delivered to him. Still, I couldn’t help wondering ‘what if I had an emergency?’ Here was an embassy whose doors were locked against its citizens. I could only imagine what atrocities many Nigerians had suffered at this embassy in their times of need.
I am aware that American citizens are encouraged to locate the American embassy in any foreign country they visit, so they could go there in case of emergency. We need to ask ourselves what our embassies are actually there to do. We run a polity in which ambassadorial appointments are given out as political favour. So those who get these appointments see it as some kind of ‘reward’. To them, it is not a call to duty but a call to enjoyment. Given that scenario, it is not surprising that these folks don’t see themselves as being there to render service to our citizens. I have not seen any evidence that we have strict rules regarding the qualifications required for the post of an ambassador. Rather, these politicians share the posts based on the countries considered as juicy which are allocated to their most favoured cronies.
Somewhere in between all of these manipulations, they apply the federal character. Meanwhile, all across the world, our citizens are persecuted, humiliated and frustrated.
When these ambassadors are being sent off to their posts, I wonder what they are told. I wonder what they have as their job description. I wonder if they have any idea about brand image and perception.
I wonder if they understand what role they have to play in promoting a positive image for the country and our people. Within the context of the complexities of international relations, these diplomats always engage in ceremonial rituals and carry on with bureaucratic aplomb. Meanwhile, we are always left wondering if they have any positive contributions to make towards the well being of our people.
The real ambassadors of this country are the thousands of Nigerians who have brought glory to the image of our nation. Through their achievements in sports, entertainment, academics and other areas of human endeavour, they have excelled and have shown the world that Nigeria is not all about the negative news daily served up in the Western media.
But sadly, their efforts and whatever positive impact it may have in our national image are often quickly overshadowed by the negative news. If it isn’t Boko Haram, it is either corruption, the slave trade or the drug cartels. It appears they will never run short of bad news to broadcast about Nigeria. What this means is that our so called ambassadors, within the protective confines of their consulates have much more work to do than they realise.
The show of shame that took place at our London embassy was obviously the outcome of many years of frustration and desperation. We may question the approach of the protesters because their protest brings more shame and tarnishes the image of the country, but it is a response to a seemingly incurable disease afflicting our foreign embassies, which makes the occupants impervious to reason and completely blind to the people whose interest they are there to serve.
Our embassies should know they are mini symbols of what our nation is all about and should conduct themselves with integrity and responsibility. Our governments should stop putting political jobbers at these embassies, but people of integrity who understand what a positive brand image and perception does to the success of any nation, institution or enterprise.
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.