Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The American and British Visas as Nigerian Icons

Eba and Afang Soup: Nigerian Icons

Okwui Enwezor and David Adjaye are the two Nigerians who made it onto the just-released ArtReview magazine's annual list of the 100 most powerful people in the contemporary art scene . In May of this year, Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Anglican Communion of Nigeria made it into Time Magazine's List of 100 most influential persons in the world.

News like this does far greater to positively brand Nigeria than all the expensive, over-deliberate attempts by the Nigerian Government under its many (Govt-driven) branding projects like the Heart of Africa project. I'm no brand pro, simply someone interested in the concept of branding... and when I grow up, I'd like to do some work in branding - individuals, companies, governments etc...

On this site is a list of items, places and events that have been selected as "ICONS OF ENGLAND". The website defines an ICON as "uniquely important to life in England and the people who live here. That we can all agree on. Some are obvious. Stonehenge. Cricket. The Crown Jewels. Others are more controversial."

It went on to list the qualities expected of potential ICONS:

1) Icons are symbolic - they represent something in our culture, history or way of life

2) Icons are recognisable in a crowd - if no-one has heard of it or knows what it looks like, it cannot be an icon.

3) Icons are fascinating and surprising - they have hidden depths and unexpected associations

*It adds that icons AREN'T "people": When we're talking about icons we don't mean people. Churchill and Darwin may live on as historical figures but we won't be including them as icons in this collection. This does not mean we ignore key individuals. It just means that we will include Shakespeare’s plays rather than the man from Stratford, Stephenson's Rocket rather than Mr Stephenson himself.

English Icons

Alice In Wonderland .The Angel of the North. The Archers. Big Ben. Blackpool Tower. The Bobby. Bowler Hat. Brick Lane. Cricket. A Cup of Tea. The Domesday Book. Eden Project. The FA Cup. Fish and chips. Fox-hunting and the Ban. Globe Theatre. Hadrian's Wall. The Hay Wain Hedges. HMS Victory. Holbein's Henry VIII. Jerusalem. The King James Bible. The Lake District. Lindisfarne Gospels. Magna Carta. The Mini. Miniskirt. Monty Python. Morris Dancing. Notting Hill Carnival. Oak Tree. The Origin Of Species. Oxbridge. The Oxford English Dictionary. Parish Church. The Pint. Pride And Prejudice. The Pub. Punch and Judy. Queen's Head Stamp. Robin Hood. The Routemaster Bus. Rugby. Sherlock Holmes. The Spitfire. SS Empire Windrush. St George's Flag. Stonehenge. Sutton Hoo Helmet. Tower of London. White Cliffs of Dover. York Minster.

...On this basis, I am moved to start my own ICONS OF NIGERIA project. Hah! My problem with the Nigerian Government's desperation to brand Nigeria positively for the world lies precisely in that "desperation". Rome was not built in a day, neither was England "iconned" in a day.

There is something too deliberate about Nigeria's branding attempts:

1) expensive CNN adverts (one of them had the President demeaningly playing "salesman": WELCOME TO NIGERIA, THE HEART OF AFRICA", it made me feel sad for my country, and I wondered where in the world you would see a President or Prime-Minister appearing on a CNN advert to "sell" his country. None of the "Sights&Sounds" that I have seen on the CNN show Prime Ministers/Presidents (agreed this Nigerian one was a paid advert, not a Sight&Sound feature, but still...)

2) Expensive Time magazine adverts - I have seen adverts by state governments in Time Magazine... money that would have been better spent within the country, not outside... those adverts are like Africa giving aid to the West...

3) A while ago, the Government announced plans to construct an "Abuja Millenial Towers", which would become Abuja's symbol of identity, our own Eiffel Tower/London Bridge/Statue of Liberty etc.. (was that giggle yours?) giggle!) A columnist referred to it as a "Tower of Babel", which might not be a far-fetched appelation judging from the controversy the 53 billion naira (about $400 million) plan has been generating.

In a country where a lot of people wallow in poverty, good governance (which will translate into a higher quality of living) will do more for our national brand than expensive towers, CNN adverts or branding seminars in London or New York. The way we are currently pursuing this branding project smacks of a blind desperation to whitewash our rottenness and paper over our very glaring failures as a country. True achievers go unrecognized, whilst mediocre, thieving politicians cart away all our national honours.

The National Creativity Award was instituted by the Government of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, and on the 14th of September, 1999 Professor Chinua Achebe (father of Modern African Literature) was announced as the maiden winner. That first time has turned out to be the ONLY time the Prize would be awarded. The award carries (carried!) a measly cash prize of one million naira (less than $9,000), in a country where parliamentarians collect furniture allowances three or more times that

... Achebe went on in 2004 to reject the award of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) in an open letter to President Obasanjo, citing "...the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom..." as his major reason for his turning down the award.

Presidential spokesperson Femi Fani-Kayode, (who has over and over again proved himself adept at the Art of Gutter Language) in a now famous, and characteristically Faniesque reply to Achebe said "...That being the case, our response is that his position as regards the state of affairs in his native land and his rejection of the great honour done to him by the Nigerian people is regrettable. It is not a slap in the face of the Nigerian government or Mr. President, but rather, it is a slap in the face of the Nigerian people..." Honour my foot!

Digression. Sorry. Bottomline is that, as long as Nigeria continues to fail to honour the most basic of obligations to her citizens (Infrastructure, security, justice, decent healthcare and education, etc), branding this country in Time Magazine or on CNN will be akin to forcing a severely under-sized Father Xmas costume onto an obese, bad-tempered, wolf in an attempt to admit him into a Cute-Dogs party...

Let's follow the criteria of the English Icons project and see if we can come up with our own truly Nigerian Icons: symbolic, recognisable, fascinating and surprising...and, no people (i wonder why?)...

...well, here we go... let me hear from you... if there's anyone reading this, that is... (problem is I keep assuming there are, incurable optimist that I am...)

...(PS) methinks that whatever we come up with, sadly, at the pinnacle of our Nigerian Icons List will be two VIIs (Very Important Icons) - the American and British Visas


iGwatala said...

"...(PS) methinks that whatever we come up with, sadly, at the pinnacle of our Nigerian Icons List will be two VIIs (Very Important Icons) - the American and British Visas"


This is not funny! No.

BOA said...

igwatala, thanks for dropping by... I might try to be funny a lot of the time on my blog... but no, this was not meant to be funny... and so you are right! It is NOT funny! The image is very vivid in my mind: A NIGERIAN PASSPORT STAMPED WITH AN AMERICAN VISA... we value that over here as much as the English value their cup of tea... No apologies for holding this opinion!

iGwatala said...

Listen BOA,

Many/most Americans would value a vacation trip/visa to Hawaii/Aruba/somewhere exotic...!

Many Britons to Tranfalgar square.

Hawaii/Aruba/Jamaica/Big Ben/Trafalgar Square are icons, but not the TICKET that takes one there.

A Nigerian might value his visa like "a cup of tea" (even though I still disagree with this one since a cup of tea is so commonplace compared to a visa - to any country). S/he may even value a t-shirt sent from the UK/US, but it doesn't represent his/her cultural symbol, and thus is not thus made an icon.

If you present it as such in fiction, satire - and much dark literature that would be, you must be held responsible for the outrage that must surely result therefrom, with accusation of deliberately slighting an already much-slighted common identity. Without need.

I do not find that necessary.

"No apologies..."? OK. The one problem with holding such a stand so fast is already a tendency not to see it as being a wrong one.

Well, Regards.

iGwatala said...


if you ask me for distincly Nigerian icons, I'd mention the lagos bus - danfo, the National Theatre, the bridges and roundabouts of Lagos (especially during rush hours), the MM International Airport.


Those will scream "distincly Nigerian" when seen on any T-shirt abroad by anyone who has ever heard of the country.

American/British Visa is not a good satire, methinks. Oh, you weren't satirizing. It's no (good example of) icon either, actually.


Araceli Aipoh said...

I like this discussion and am seriously thinking of my own set of Nigerian Icons. Coming with a list soon...

BOA said...

Hi Araceli, I'll be expecting your list eagerly... my list will be coming up soon too... please spread the news... let's see what we all come up with... any suggestions/lists that I get on the comments page, i shall put them up on the main blog page...

BOA said...

igwatala, i really appreciate all your comments... if you have any more suggestions, please let me hear... I disagree with the National Theatre suggestion... because the design is not original-Nigerian, if you look at my blog-post on the Nigeria Prize for Literature http://omoalagbede.blogspot.com/2006/10/ahmed-yerima-wins-2006-nigeria-prize.html (the Tidbits), you'll see that I mention there that the National Theatre was modelled after the Palace of Culture and Sports in Wama, Bulgaria... but of course, with the Danfo, you get 100% :)))

Jeremy said...

David Adjaye is Ghanaian, not Nigerian! This does prompt the question, who is the most celebrated/interesting contemporary Nigerian architect?

BOA said...

Hi Jeremy, thanks for this clarification. I recently got an email from someone that said:

"David Adjaye is not a Nigerian. He is Beninoise. Confirm."

But you are right. I did a quick internet search, and the Contemporary Africa Database says that he is a Tanzanian-born Ghanaian.

Wrt your question about who the "most celebrated/interesting contemporary Nigerian architect" is, methinks that that would have split up into two different questions:

1) Who is the most interesting contemporary Nigerian architect?

2) Who is the most celebrated contemporary Nigerian architect?

'cos, the fact is wrt the arts, the most interesting is hardly ever the most celebrated, and vice versa...

Demas Nwoko for example has to his credit some very brilliant and original architectural work, but he is not widely celebrated... perhaps because he is considered an "outsider"...

Btw, have you seen this blog? http://designpages.blogspot.com/

Brian Cailsey said...

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I hope there is a good response from you, Thank you

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Ebere said...

Hmmm Demas Nwoko.'Outsider' U Mean?