That Dowden’s Lecture at Nigeria’s 51st Anniversary

October 26, 2011


 By Tola Adenle 

That Nigeria’s President Jonathan seems to be pulling all the stops – at least, his way – to “transform” Nigeria is not in doubt.  The recent 51st anniversary saw him bring Richard Dowden, one of those British “experts” on Nigeria to deliver an anniversary paper at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja where the guy also got to promote a book I refuse to name here.  His book is doing well, I’m sure, thank you very much even here in the land where a book may generate zillions at public presentation where money bags try to outdo each other by buying multiple copies for millions even though books would never be read but Dowden’s book has been read by no less a personality than Nigeria’s leader.  Dowden mentioned that fact and thanked Jonathan for it.

I have no axe to grind with Dowden’s paper which is quite excellent but it says nothing that Nigerian “experts” and public commentators have not said/still saying these last several years: that Madam Great Nation Akunyili – he didn’t really say that – put the cart before the horse in the squandermania “Rebranding” Project.  Dowden merely dressed my – and others’ criticisms – as “attempts to simply rebrand Nigeria will not work … [here are his words]:

All I would say is if it is the latter, don’t try to change the image. Change the reality, the image will follow. There is nothing worse than PR that goes wrong. You end up with the stereotype even more firmly entrenched.

So the word is reputation – your record based on experience. Change the reality and the reputation will change itself. The brand will follow..

How about the scandal by so-called lawmakers who are bleeding Nigeria dry by awarding unheard-of pays to themselves?  Did Jonathan need to import anybody to tell us that “the politicians are the highest paid in the world. $1 million dollars for a parliamentary salary with another $1 million in expenses is obscene” since the guy told the world he “received the invitation to speak here”? How many newspaper essayists have written about this looting of the country’s wealth by a do-not-much group, including so-called representatives of “progressive” parties – AC, CPC and other alphabets?

Dowden possesses impeccable credentials but even more so, pardon my being the one saying so as there’s blood relationship, is Ladipo Adamolekun whose , “A Transformation Agenda for Accelerating National Development” was Jonathan’s “Inauguration Lecture”.  That lecture, reviewed here as “Would Jonathan deserve …: on June 8, continues to be popular with visitors to this site.

 Has Jonathan declared his assets and those of his wife as suggested in that first-of-its-kind “inauguration lecture” by Adamolekun?  It’s one of the major things I’ve taken away from the paper. 

 With Reuben Abati as his media aide, I wonder if those forever waving “acada president” – unlike many in Nigeria’s ruling circle, the president’s degrees, including a doctorate, are real – are not driving  this acada-type approach to razzle-dazzle governance.  Is this not part of the re-branding that Jonathan’s August visitor who came in September condemns:  p.r. to promote image over substance?

 I did mention that it is an excellent paper by an experienced newspaper guy but Dowden did pay for his lunch – pardon me – his air tickets, a VIP treatment which he acknowledged and, we must not forget, a cheque – must have been a fat one.  How did he pay? He danced to the left and then to the right but stayed on course for the most part and that way, most Nigerians could not, including acada types – take offense.

By the way, was there a disparity between what he was paid and what Adamolekun receive knowing how warped our thinking in these parts are regarding such things?

 While highlighting the many sins – so to say – of government and leaders, he made sure he chided the followers, especially critics who – if Jonathan’s arch defenders are to be believed – do not wish the president well and do not want him to succeed:

 “First the good news. Things have got a lot better since then. The VIP treatment I received when I arrived yesterday made me feel like… well a VIP. Thank you very much.

On a more serious note I would like to say that many Nigerians like to criticize their country with brutal honesty. That is a good thing. But I think many people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians overlook some of the very substantial successes.”[Emphasis mine]

 Dowden’s type of “good news” is taken by most Nigerians as the kind of good news by Oshiomole, a Nigerian governor who has defended Jonathan’s government on its inability to stem the wave of insecurity in the country by – believe it or not – stating that there are countries that have worse security problems than Nigeria.

 Dowden reminds people like this blogger why they love British journalism.  In his opening remarks, he came out with guns blazing:

 I will not flatter. It would be pointless for me to tell you that everything is fine and can only get better. I know there is a great tradition of praise singing here …[emphasis mine].



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