From culture, religion, politics to education, sports and other socio-economic ramifications, we hardly get the basics right in our national branding.

Ernie Onwumere

Almost 58 years after independence, Nigeria is a country that still struggles to get its fundamentals right. Our distinct nationhood is yet to evolve the way it should, hence the relentless cries for restructuring every now and then. Our national ethos are neither here nor there. And we continue to grapple with the challenge of how to project and present our desired national identity to the world. What do we really stand for among nations as brands? Are we just the ‘Giant of Africa’ in name and fame? Does our chosen ‘eagle’ icon match our potential and reflect our performance? The answers fly in the wind.

Without doubt, we are a great nation of good people. We are also the heartbeat of Africa by the sheer size of our population and resources on the continent. Yet, the dilemma of misrepresentation of who we really are rears its ugly head in almost every aspect of our national life. From culture, religion, politics to education, sports and other socio-economic ramifications, we hardly get the basics right in our national branding. And this often stirs up needless controversies over our national products, projects and initiatives. One such controversy is the one currently swirling around the proposed new national carrier branded as Nigeria Air.

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Recently unveiled in London by the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, Nigeria Air is being positioned as a mint-new ‘Proudly Nigerian’ national carrier that Nigeria can flaunt to rival those of other African nations like South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and so on. Nigeria Air is also being proposed to be run and managed exclusively by private operators.

The capital ownership of the national carrier will reportedly be 95 per cent private held and 5 per cent government owned, according to the minister. The new national airline will also require initial capital of between $150m and $300m, and the Federal Government is said to be seeking a strategic partner to operate the carrier. Planned to begin flying in December this year, the new airline will have a fleet of 30 aircraft and operate 80 routes, half of them international, within four years.

Now, that is a recap of all the formalities and technicalities involved in the structuring of the proposed carrier as announced by the Minister. Let us now trail our focus on the branding aspect of our new ‘Proudly Nigerian’ conceptual airline. Yes, Nigeria Air is still a concept until it becomes a reality. Aside the typically Nigerian mixture of euphoria and cynicism that has greeted the announcement of the new national carrier, much air of criticism is also being vented on the branding.

The new airline’s brand identity as unveiled in London shows a logo design featuring an eagle-like swirl in green and white colours. Some people call it a ribbon in the form of an eagle. The logo apart, there is also an accompanying slogan couched as ‘Bringing Nigeria closer to the world’. The news has also gone viral that the new airline’s logo design was outsourced and done at a hefty fee by From6 Communications, a branding and advertising agency in faraway Bahrain in the Middle East.

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So, what is wrong with Nigeria Air’s branding? Well, let us take a brief rewind in the history of our national carrier branding. We used to have the Nigeria Airways in those days as our premier national airline. Established in 1958, the initial logo of the defunct Nigeria Airways was a cumbersome flying elephant! Imagine that: the image of an elephant fitted with wings to fly as a symbol of an airline.

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What an incongruity. Anyway, public criticism at that time halted the continued use of that flying elephant logo, reason prevailed and the Nigeria Airways later got a new logo that was an iconic flying eagle. Despite the rebranding, mismanagement killed the Nigeria Airways and we were without a national carrier for years. In 2004, Nigeria came up with a new carrier named Air Nigeria, managed by Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. The logo of Air Nigeria was better than that of Nigeria Airways, but it was also tainted by a criticism that it looked more South African than Nigerian due to a colour combination showing yellow, green and red feathers in the spread-out wing symbol. Of course, Air Nigeria also packed up in 2012.

Fast forward to 2018, and we now have a new national carrier also being mired in controversy before it even takes off. How come we don’t learn from history as a nation? Are we doomed to keep repeating basic mistakes in our national projects?

By the way, the first mistake in the branding of Nigeria Air is that, as noble as the idea of a national carrier is, the usual haphazard Nigerian bureaucracy was allowed to apply. Why was due diligence not done by the government to consult widely among professional Nigerian branding agencies for the branding of Nigeria Air? Could the outsourcing of the branding to a foreign Middle East consultant be a result of some people exploiting the budget provision for Nigeria Air, for selfish gains?

READ ALSO: Nigeria to spend $300m on national carrier

What is happening to the much hyped Local Content policy of the government? At least, in 2017, the Federal Government signed and released an Executive Order on Support for Local Content in Public Procurement. The Order generally provides that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should grant preference to local manufacturers of goods and service providers in their procurement of goods and services. So, why was this Local Content policy not applied when the Minister of State for Aviation was considering the branding of Nigeria Air?

In Nigeria, we boast a wide array of world-class creative branding, design and advertising agencies owned and run by Nigerians. Some of these agencies have handled and still handle global brands here in Nigeria. Others have even won continental and international creativity awards. Any of them could have been consulted and engaged to do the branding of Nigeria Air, and the result would have been different. Perhaps the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) should seriously take up this issue with the Federal Government, as the long-standing trend of MDAs ignoring Nigerian branding and advertising agencies to look abroad is uncalled for. Let it not be said anymore that we are a people hinged to a colonial mentality of thinking that everything foreign must be superior to our local products. It is not so.

Now, looking at the controversial visual logo of Nigeria Air itself, a top Nigerian branding agency would have done a better job with the advantage of local insight and an approximation of Nigerian essence. The unveiled foreign-designed logo showing a ribbon shape of an eagle is rather pedestrian and too stretched. The use of a ribbon playing with our national colours of green and white is already overused and has lost taste. Anyway, the existing visual logo of British Airways is ribbon-like too. But unlike that of Nigeria Air that dwarfs its name, British Airways’ ribbon logo is subtle, sleeker and lighter.

A more conceptual, compact rendition of the eagle icon could have been done, still with our national colours. And talking about the slogan too, Bringing Nigeria closer to the world, it is too long and shallow a slogan. Is Nigeria too far away or segregated from the rest of the world that Nigeria Air is now needed to bring Nigeria closer to the world?

Besides, the slogan is also uncomfortably similar to South African Airways’ Bringing the world to Africa and taking Africa to the world. A much shorter, endearing, inspiring slogan would fare better for Nigeria Air.

Onwumere is a brand communications consultant based in Lagos