It was the summer of 2011, I was about to commence my final year at the University of Middlesex; and this meant that I had to move to its flagship Hendon campus - Northwest of London from Oakwood, Northeast - to receive my lectures. As a result, I needed to secure good accommodation close to campus. I sat in my room at my uncle's house in South London where I was staying during the summer-break pondering what next to do... I had joined a few letting websites and was even a premium member of one, all to no avail. It was either that the flat-share was 'ladies only' or the studio apartment was way too expensive. Finally, I saw what looked like the ideal studio apartment; new, all bills-inclusive, close to campus and affordable. Crucially, it was 'posted 10 minutes ago'. I called the Landlord's number with all eagerness and the following conversation ensued:
Me: Hello, good morning. Am I speaking with Andrew, please?
Landlord: Yes please... about the flat right? Me: Exactly, I'm so keen on it (I stated with all encouragement). Landlord: Very well, it's still available, when would you like to come around and have a look? Me: I could come right away if that's OK with you. Landlord: Fantastic! let's meet up at the apartment in 3 hours, 1:45 precisely. The address is on top left of the ad. Me: see you in a bit......and then the dreaded question:Landlord: Sorry, one quick question, Where are you from? Me: Niiigeria (I tried to overcome my spontaneous hesitation). Landlord: kool... you know what? I'll advise that you come around tomorrow. 3 others are coming to have a look, and one of them is very keen. in fact, he is ready to pay today and move in asap. So,even if you come tomorrow. it will be at your discretion. is that fine with you? Me: ... Landlord: bye, thanks for your interest. I have to go now (he was gone before I could come to terms with the 'new' development, let alone respond).
I sat there, looking at my phone for one good minute, crest fallen, dejected, angry, tearful, as if the love of my life had just hung up on me. As I reflected, I started to recall instances where a budding conversation or relationship went cold at the mention of 'I am Nigerian'. Maybe, I was being retrospectively paranoid about those previous experiences, but I was certain that my search for accommodation would linger based on being Nigerian this time round. Any lingering doubt that that was the case was laid to rest when the same thing repeated itself once more as I continued my house hunting calls.
When my uncle returned from work later in the evening. He asked how far with my house hunt. I smiled and narrated my ordeal. he just burst into laughter and told me this story:
"A Nigerian once rented a whole flat purportedly for his family. After he collected the keys to the apartment, he sublet each of the four rooms to four different individuals at a rate that was 50% higher than the landlord's rate. For example, he rented the flat of £1000 at £375 for each room. Trouble started when he had a problem with one of 'his tenants' who refused to pay the hitherto agreed amount, because he wasn't servicing the apartment as and when due. Knowing that he could not legally eject the tenant, he resorted to using his duplicated keys to gaining access to the room and throwing his property out. The tenant reported to the Metropolitan police who then duly invited the original owner of the house after some investigation. Bottom line, after the Nigerian was detained, the landlord had to pay a hefty fine for renting to an illegal immigrant as a result of not offering him a tenancy contract that would have revealed that he (the Nigerian) did not have some necessary papers".
At this stage, the contempt I felt for Andrew gave way for empathy, my feeling of being victimized for understanding, and my anger refocused on my fellow 'omo Naijas' - especially the 'leaders'.
My uncle then said to me wryly: " there are more stories, but, wo Seyi, mi o fe ki o wa paranoid. Ma je ki n dampen spirit e, just keep trying" (there are other stories, but I will stop at this so as not to dampen your spirit)
I have been thinking about writing on this issue, but not until I had returned to Nigeria someday, I resolved.
However after reading this piece written by a Nigerian on his blog, "Why the stereotype? Fraud is not a Nigerian Nationality!" (www.emgfraudconsulting.blogspot.co.uk) I decided to write this piece. He concluded his piece by suggesting that we as Nigerians should tell our own story better and refuse to let others define our identity.
I agreed with the objective and spirit of the post but added that rather than see stereotypes as a cynical thing in its entirety, we should see it as a reminder and reflection of reality to some extent for the purpose of self-correction as individuals and as a nation. After all, stereotypes could be positive.
You can tell your story all you like, but people don't remember what you say you are, they remember what you do to them.
Another way to look at negative stereotypes is this: if your son steals in your house, you correct him and no one knows. However if he steals from your neighbour, the whole neighbourhood knows... and this is the simple reason why the atrocities committed by Indians and Nigerians for example in the western world get a lot of condemnation and coverage compared to when an English man commits the same offence.This is a part my reply to his post:
"I agree very strongly with the last line of your post which says 'we should tell our stories ourselves and better' My dissertation was about the "the portrayal of Africa(ns) in the British media and its effect on the British people's perception of Africa(ns)". My recommendation for the future was two-fold; one was that stereotypes are true to an extent, and that it was better that the Western media kept exposing the ills of Africa and its largely corrupt leaders, than have a situation just as it is today where majority of major media houses are owned by African politicians or associates, and only use them for propaganda - promoting their meagre achievements and going silent on their many sins.The other being that we have to develop our media in terms of professionalism, reach and objectivity to the extent that Africa has its own Aljazeera or BBC. so that we can have a situation where reportage of the ills of Africa is balanced with the coverage of the good sides..."
In my opinon, stereotypes are real and borne out of people's experiences and observations. They are not just imagined. What you can say it that they may not tell all of the story, they may be too generalized or that they are exaggerated.
Stories like that of Ibori who had been convicted of fraud, and pilfering while working at DIY yet becoming Governor of a state in Nigeria reinforce negative stereotypes. In fact, BBC depicted Ibori as "the thief who almost became Nigeria's president" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17184075).
These negative media stereotypes do more good for the common African than bad. Just imagine how bad elections in Nigeria would be without foreign coverage or observers. Our concern as Nigerians and Africans should be firstly, to clean up our acts as individuals, hold our leaders accountable so as to halt the trend where people troop out desperately to other countries (mostly the Western world) without the slightest idea of how to make a living (maybe they do actually) and as a result start to indulge in all sorts of unscrupulous trades. On the other hand, majority of the relatively few Westerners who go to Africa do so for tourism or expertise transfer. If we focus more on cleaning up our acts, the negative stereotypes will cease. After all, Eastern Europeans ladies are also reputed to massively indulge in prostitution in London, and Jamaicans are know for being physically very fast (Stereotypes can be positive).
In short, we cannot blame people for stigmatizing or stereotyping us. Instead of sulking or blaming people when they tell us 'who we are', we should instead look in the mirror and see if it reflects any different, maybe then we can refocus our anger at our fellow country men or successive Nigerian governments who continue to impoverish the people. Then someday, hopefully, " I'm Nigerian" would be less dreadful.
- Mr Imbuya
- London, Greater London, United Kingdom
- I believe that for individuals and nations to prosper, there is the need for creation of ideas, expression of such ideas and an exchange. "Out of the intangible comes the tangible. Material wealth is created from ideas; hence, ideas rule our world" - Sam Adeyemi. Africa does not suffer from a paucity of natural resources but the right knowledge to develop and sustain such resources. In other words sustained development needs communication (value orientation). An undeveloped mind cannot even maintain sophisticated inventions. My mission is to learn (research/mentorship) and also imbue people with my innate inspirational insights for self actualization. I therefore, describe myself as a Development Communicator - motivationals, advocacy, personal counselling, PR and image grooming and entertainment (Events MC). A graduate of Mass-communication (BSc University of Lagos), Advertising, PR and Media (BA Middlesex University, London)and Leadership (Daystar Leadership Academy), Seyi Imbuya is ready to imbue his generation. Some of my mentors are Dr Oluwole and Mrs Tokunbo Ogunsola (Parents),Arsene Wenger, Sam Adeyemi, Wole Olusola and John Maxwell.
Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Wednesday, 20 June 2012
The decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to rename University of Lagos (Unilag) Moshood Abiola University has naturally elicited a lot of controversy, condemnation and plaudits, just as any decision that pitches certain stakeholders against others would. Immediately I got a feeler of the development via my BB contacts updates, my initial reaction was 'I hope it's not true'. The most poignant of the updates read: "Unilag peeps abeg make we hear word joor, shey na Unilag name dem go first change?". This looked to me like the kind of narrow minded attitude which our leaders often times prey on to divide us and get away with their self-serving agenda (Divide and Rule).
At the same time it made me question if it was the 'ex-Akokite' in me that was beclouding my judgement. I then started to reflect, 'Is Abiola really deserving of this?', 'Is it right to change the name of an Iconic and prestigious Institution to any other thing?', 'Does the President have the right to tamper with the pride and emotions of many and diverse stakeholders?', 'How would this affect the image of the school itself?' - This final question is what I want to explore. I want to look at it from a branding, corporate identity and corporate image point of view.
As I was pondering, I received a BB broadcast from my Aunt, a Professor at the University of Lagos Medical School (Medilag) urging that we should sign a petition against the President's decision. This made me begin to see this decision in its true sense, selfish - a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, It occurred to me that any University especially historical ones have many stakeholders with interests ranging from job prospects, emotional attachment, business relations, pride, educational aspirations to simply being a citizen who should be carried along in issue of public concern. Hence, any decision that would harm all these people should be treated with a lot of deliberation, respect and sanctity.
After writing and signing my petition, I forwarded the broadcast to a few other people on my BB. Immediately, a friend of my mine who ironically finished from Unilag rang me up saying 'the decision is in order, Abiola is deserving of any measure of honour, are you sure you like many others is not just opposing it because Unilag is your Alma mater?'.
I gave him a number of reasons why the decision was against the interest of every Nigerian. I pointed out that Nigerian leaders have a history of playing politics with issues of public interest. For example, the fuel subsidy issue. I also reminded him of the culture of impunity and flagrant disregard for meritocracy that has characterized this present regime underlined by the award of a national award to Patricia Etteh who was forced to resign as the Speaker of the House of Reps.
It is not the purpose of this article to enumerate the many reasons why the decision may be legally, morally, socially, psychologically and culturally faulty. I believe that the criticism of the decision by the likes Prof. Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana and Bola Tinubu who have hitherto championed the cause of Democracy or at least the proper honouring of Chief Abiola has done justice to that. Paradoxically, my friend agreed that he felt that the image of Unilag had been scarred for life as he could not imagine being referred to as a graduate of MOU'. He however concluded that image was trivial and a matter of sentiment compared to the need to immortalize the great man. I disagreed, telling him that the biggest damage done to Unilag was that of PR and image.
I want to examine how the image of companies and organizations is becoming increasingly vital to their survival and progress in an increasingly competitive world; and then establish the vital link between Corporate Image and identity (name).
We live in a global village. A world that continues to be made smaller by the power of communication. The emergence of the new and social media means that PR and branding efforts have become even more ubiquitous. At the centre of this revolution is language. By language, I mean language of communication, name, brand and corporate message. Given that the internet brings people from all over the world together, it is important that even if certain people cannot read English for example, they can at least recognize certain word or symbols associated with a brand. For example, If a Kuwaiti cannot read and understand the new features of the latest Apple phone written in English, he can at least recognize how the A-P-P-L-E in I-phone is spelled. But if Apple placed an advert on the internet without the brand name 'Apple' and also decided to name it Turbo 4, the advert will not work and the phone will not sell, because the brand name Apple has become the byword for all that Apple stands for -Innovation, style, durability, functionality.
The Brand David Beckham is one of the most coveted in the world. David Beckham alongside Prince Williams and David Cameron represented England at the 2018 World Cup Bid. He was also the one "who used the Olympic flame to light up a cauldron after the Plane carrying Princess Anne arrived at a Cornish Air base from Greece" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18093410). A lot of people especially non-football followers may not know what Beckham looks like physically, but they recognize the name and associate it with excellence, prestige, influence and style. If Beckham decides to change his name tomorrow, it will come as a huge loss to not just England but many of the world's leading company like Adidas and even MLS. I am sure he cannot even change it until the expiration of the various endorsement contracts he has signed.
I want to juxtapose the names Moshood Abiola University and University of Lagos and measure them against these basic qualities of brand names: Communicability, Pronounceability and Neutrality/Positivity.
James Dettore, president of the Brand Institute in Boston had this to say about the importance of brand names; " First, it should be able to communicate on its own without a lot of advertising. It has to be easy to pronounce and have neutral to positive associations around the world, or at least in various languages".
Communicability - The name University of Lagos sells itself; the first reason being that it is already a globally recognized name by Nigerian and African standards at least. Secondly, Lagos is is a very popular place all around the world. It is one of the foremost business capitals of the world. It may not be as developed as New York or London, but it is also popular for either being the former capital or for entertainment reasons. Like Rio De Janeiro, New York and Jo'burg, many assume it is Nigeria's capital especially because Abuja is not nearlyf as popular. From my personal experience as a student here in London, I have come across many white people who do not even know Lagos is in Nigeria but know Lagos very well. Some of them recalled hearing stars like Snoop Dogg and Beyonce saying they were visiting Lagos. The point here is that Lagos being part of Unilag's name makes it even more popular and Universal.
This singular reason is why it is even easier to change the name of the equally prestigious and historical UI (University of Ibadan), and even that would take some doing.
Pronounceability - If Nigeria must be as developed as Japan or Australia, our Universities must be amongst the best in the world... and if they must be universally recognized and patronized, it is important that they are globally marketable. It appears that the name University of Lagos is easier to pronounce and thereby more globally appealing and marketable than Moshood Abiola University, Jonathan Goodluck University or Seyi Ogunsola University.
In a related development, Politecnico di Milano one of the oldest Universities in Milan and a flagship institution for science, engineering and architecture in the world recently decided that they will be teaching and assessing most of their courses in English. Why would a proud and reputable Institution decide to jettison their language, culture, and tradition and start teaching in English, you may wonder? The simple reason according to the BBC is because "the waters of globalization are rising around higher education - and the University believes that if it remains Italian-speaking it risks isolation and will be unable to compete as an international institution".
"We strongly believe our classes should be international classes - and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language." says the University's rector Giovanni Azzone (/www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17958520)Therefore, if a world-class university in a developed non-English speaking country can take this decisive step for the sake of global competitiveness, then we should not be doing the opposite in Nigeria. There is no denying the fact that English is the language of globalization; hence, an English brand-name where necessary and significant should not be jettisoned on the alter of politics or indigenization.
The last consideration in choosing brand-names and the most crucial in the case of Unilag is Neutrality.
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the re-naming of Unilag as MOU is that it reflects on the Institution as a regional one. The argument is that University of Lagos like Lagos City is cosmopolitan and open to people from all over the world and especially Nigeria, hence, any attempt to give it a local name especially one without a logical or emotional connection projects it as a local University.
I end with this quote from a cousin: " Unilag is an Institution, Abiola is an Institution, you do not kill one for the other".