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Without A Unique Identity Nigeria Cannot Make Sustainable Economic Progress

–By Wole Ogundare

Over the last decade, I’ve chewed on the following question about Nigeria – In the last sixty-plus years, how has power (trusted to political leadership) been used?

Observable events across the country, over time, seem to point in the same direction – power has unwittingly been used, at varying degrees, to propagate poverty on the average Nigerian. Today’s reality confirms that poverty has indeed spread across ALL its major measurement indicators:

  • Security and vulnerability
  • Political rights and influence
  • Socio-cultural status and recognition
  • Nutrition, health and education initiatives
  • Economic development via consumption, income, and assets
  • Gender equality
  • Environmental sustainability

… and there seem to be no end in sight/comprehensive plan to alleviate these. For proper context, about 50% of our population is now under the poverty line, earning less than $2 per day.

This isn’t a political narrative but one which seeks to propose an alternative approach to our economic trajectory and governance, wrongly charted over the years, as a Country, since 1960.

I’m a firm believer that we got it wrong from independence and in tune with modern times, need to correct same with well-crafted thinking and different overall approach.

I’ve heard all sorts of cultural, economic and social arguments on why the Nation is doing well or otherwise. Arguments on both sides are always buttressed with various data but one thing most fail to realize is that we have a problem that is mainly twofold – visible inequality amongst citizens and lack of output-based standards across board


protesting Nigerian youths


Some Background

Independence started off (estimated 44m population) with absolutely nothing holding the diverse ethnic fabric together, everyone naturally reasoned along ethnic buckets and leanings – favouritism, back-biting, lack of trust and greed to amass ‘for my people’ seemed to be the way we set out. That was where the problem started, then coups and counter coups, bloody civil wars/etc. that further set us apart along those same ethnic lines. We discovered oil and its attendant riches along the way but because the overall thinking itself was fraught, we couldn’t use those riches correctly and till date still grappling with basic economic development; small wonder ‘we are where we are today’.

At a current estimated population of 190 million, overlaid with 250 plus ethnic groups and more than 500 indigenous languages, solving the age-old economic, political and ethnic conundrum requires a strong political leadership that is ready to do right. This is why if you look at leading political parties in the country today, it’s hard to tell them apart because none has any clear ideology on addressing these age-old problems.

We are today officially the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. We have the third-largest youth population in the world, after India and China, with more than 90m of our population under the age of eighteen. One of the greatest challenges facing teen population across the world is at the very minimum – creating an identity for themselves. If you don’t help them shape an identity, they will either do it themselves or follow whatever seems to be the current fad and ignore the consequences. The alarming identity crises has commenced amongst the youth already and needs to be re-shaped, immediately.

The Alternative Proposition 

So what is my alternative proposition to address issues around inequality, lack of standards, lack of anything holding together our diverse ethnic fabric, identity crises amongst our teeming youth, etc., we need to create a Country Identity/Brand/Vision (and I will continue to use these words interchangeably); in other words, define an identity for the Nation and let that identity drive every single thing we do, as a Country.

There’s a process that drives this type of proposition and it can be done.

Alternative Proposition – Synopsis and Approach

To develop this unique identity which a number of developed countries have done, major areas to typically focus on are as follows:

  • Governance
  • People
  • Exports
  • Culture & heritage
  • Investments & immigration
  • Tourism

The work highlights to be done along each of these areas are seen below in the Nation brands model by Simon Anholt (2000):

The work output here must reveal a unique Country identity for Nigeria, across all 774 LGAs. Every single citizen must get a sense of involvement and awareness of this process. The unique identity created becomes a go-to point that determines how we approach every National issue – Legislative, Executive and Judicial. State governments will naturally take a cue.

A classic example that will resonate is Dubai, UAE – branded as a tourism and real estate investment destination. Every initiative pushes this identity in Dubai – on a global scale for the country and today, they make more foreign direct investment (FDI) from tourism than oil, our similar natural resource. Think about it for a minute.

As a next step, outputs from each area of this ‘Nations Brand model’ are further unpacked into two areas (Major Components of a Country’s Identity below) for further tests:

  • the cognitive component – to gauge what your unique identity is and what you’re actually doing to live that identity and
  • affective component – to translate that unique identity into an emotion that actually motivates people to take action by investing in the Country/etc which helps to determine if as a country, the rest of the world recognizes and trusts the identity you have created.

Major Components of a Country’s Identity

The final illustration (Value Drivers of a Country’s Identity below) as an example of exports in the Nation’s Brand Model, shows how data can be applied to a Country’s identity to gauge the potential economic success and what areas need further work. In this case, a predictive intention that helps the Swiss government gauge if their export products will be bought globally.

Take a moment and ask yourself… What will be the results if any Nigeria’s export products are put to this test today?

Value Drivers of a Country’s Identity

This country brand/identity must be sold to investors/interest groups worldwide (privately and publicly) to attract the required Greenfield FDIs. FDI investment will target each priority sector/sub-sector. An example is the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan, targeted at infrastructure across the six geo zones but cannot be funded with our current dependence on ‘oil money’. Nigeria needs a clear route to attract/retain investors. The public sector also needs a total reform to make this work. The drill down effect, if you take education as an example is that the sector‘s overall curriculum will be aligned with the Country’s brand/identity.

The idea is to align all plans and spending (A-Z) to an overall Nigerian vision/identity and no @NGRSenate and/or reps/groups can unilaterally change/amend budgets without showing us that the change is also aligned to the Nigerian vision/brand. As highlighted earlier, country examples exist – UAE, Rwanda, Indonesia, Germany, and Ethiopia/etc.

Most of us experience the subtle brand narrative on CNN without even realizing it. Have you seen a recent ad (on CNN) about Japan being the “country of comfort and thoughtfulness” or hearing that Israel is branded as “hope realized”? Most of us don’t realize that these are subtle messages/methods that shape how we think of these countries, of course backed by real work to justify their brand narratives.

Lagos skyline

Let the Nigerian vision/brand/identity guide every single thing we do – political, economic and behavioral culture. If an initiative doesn’t support the overall vision, we question and amend same. All must be in alignment at the Local, State and Federal levels. This is the way to bridge the income, social, ethnic, poverty and knowledge gaps currently pushing Nigeria to a sad brink.

Five disciplines that can triple the success rate of this approach by government:

  • Clear purpose and priorities
  • Committed leadership
  • Coordination in delivery
  • Compelling communication
  • Capability for change

Some Concluding Remarks

If you watch this @simonsinek’s video – on how true leaders inspire, you will notice the thinking is from ‘inside out’. Any aspiring leader must think in terms of ‘why, how and what’. Sorting this big picture will show the seriousness of any leadership. Herein lies the beginning of any meaningful and sustained economic transition in Nigeria.

Many will typically scoff with the usual response of ‘this will never work in Nigeria’. OK but think about it and do some personal research. Share amongst your network and debate its merits and demerits vs. the current Nigerian development trajectory.


** Ogundare is the CEO of Carthena Advisory.

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