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That Google Doodle of a Birthday Gift

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IMAGE: Google Doodle »


It was likely meant to be an innocuous birthday present. But the connotations ‎and many interpretations that trailed its presentation sold the impression that it was a Greek gift. Or worse still, a cynical citation in mockery. 

But all said and done, Google's doodle to mark Nigeria's 54th Independence anniversary displayed on its homepage is both an awakening to reality and a study in national brand management. Or mismanagement as the case may be.‎

On Wednesday October 1st, 2014, Nigeria woke up to a moderated animation on the homepage of ‎the world's most popular search engine. Three transportation means - a motorbike, bus and tricycle - were put on an oscillating roll with caricature characters holding out Nigeria's green-white-green national flag. With the bus painted in the trademark Lagos yellow colour for public commute and thick carbon monoxide issuing from the exhaust pipes of the vehicles, an incontrovertible picture of typical life in Nigeria's commercial nerve centre is conjured. This imagery, creative as it were tended to portray Nigeria in two key uncomplimentary light: one, a backward country battling with poverty and low standard of living and two, a nation making significantly unhealthy contributions of carbon emissions to push up global warming. 

That is Google's way of saying happy birthday Nigeria. ‎But not a few Nigerians dismissed the intended humour. It was a joke taken too far some said. The controversy over the doodle is not misplaced. Google is the world's most used search engine on the internet "handling more than three billion searches each day," according to Wikipedia. While not everyone everywhere in the world who used the service that October 1st may have seen that animation, the fact nonetheless is that millions of web surfers around the world have been treated to an impression of Nigeria that does not sit pretty well with what the country truly represents or what she stands for. It is true that Africa's most populous nation still contends with some basic matters of livelihood and totters on the lower rungs of development indices like maternal and infant mortality, ‎life expectancy, access to education for children, access to and availability of social services for citizens, among others.

It is a fact that poverty is still an issue of substantial worry and good governance index attracts contentious debate across the land especially in periods of political transition like this. It is commonplace knowledge that whilst fast rail systems, vast network of modern bus rides, tramps and even safe and affordable air travel have become the norm in developed and even some developing countries, Nigeria's cities and towns are cramped up with obsolete means of transportation as depicted by the doodle. These facts and realities are continually reinforced by global ratings and other measurement standards often applied in development planning and discourse. For instance, the 2014 Ibrahim Index for African Governance (IIAG) released late September placed Nigeria on the 37th position out of 52 countries rated. Although, it's an improvement on last year's score where she emerged on the 41st spot (out of 52), the country still stayed below the continental average of 51.5. Top on the list is Mauritius with a score of 81.7 on the marking scale. Botswana, Cape Verde, and South Africa came second, third and fourth respectively. It is instructive that Nigeria even scored lower than the West African regional average (52.2) trailing behind countries like Ghana, Senegal, Mali and even Togo. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation which does the ratings annually surveys economic indices and governance in Africa. Since 2007, the ratings which measure indices like safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunities and human development have become a respected reference for measuring good governance and development in Africa. Compiled by a combination of over 100 variables from scores of global and African institutional experts, the IIAG has become "the most comprehensive collection of data on African governance."

The 2014 IIAG ranking reflects the story of Nigeria. But it is only a part of narrative. Another part unfortunately glossed ‎over by the Independence Google gift is that fact that Nigeria is rising. The country is the 26th biggest economy in the world and the largest economy in Africa overtaking South Africa following a recent rebasing of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The federal government and some municipal authorities are confronting poverty with a tough fist with measured successes being recorded in job creation, housing, transportation and infrastructure development, expansion in educational opportunities among others.

The globally acknowledged stride recorded by the government in successfully containing the dreaded Ebola virus in the country are among other positive signals that Nigeria is getting things right in some significant areas. Though there is much yet to be done, the Google Doodle surely could have taken a cue from the successes to celebrate Nigeria. But it chose to look at the glass half empty.

However, the blame should not be on the creative intention of a Foreign Service provider. This affair calls for a closer examination of Nigeria's efforts to brand herself. It is a basic truism that it is the name you give yourself that you will be called. What name has Nigeria given herself? What is the thrust of the message put out there in the global media and available communication channels about Nigeria? What is the take-away from those occasional spot advertisements the country has placed on CNN for instance?

Does Nigeria get to be perceived as a tourist destination? Or an attractive hub for business and investments? Or a bastion of democracy and rule of law where justice and equity are values that attract visitors and even promote immigration? Or a welfarist state that promotes the good life both for the haves and haves-not? These are salient questions that are thoroughly tackled before national resources are expended on spot placements in international media. For instance, when you see the South African jingle on CNN the message taken immediately is that of a rainbow nation removed from an inglorious apartheid past that is now to open to all and sundry from around the world. The 'Invest Macedonia' flick on global media passes the singular message that that country is one of the best places to invest in Europe.

But by far the most important factor beyond jingles and spot messages is the carriage, temperament and value orientation of citizens of a country. Without meaning to gloss over the bad eggs and indecent attributions, Nigerians are generally known all over the world for resilience, diligence, industry, intelligence and entrepreneurship ‎ That is why one can hear of the irrepressible Nigerian spirit in honest conversations about the country. And if nothing else, a kind representation of Nigeria could have been reflective of these. But in any case, the joke is on the country. What choice does she have but to pick up the challenge? And just maybe, her next anniversary Google gift could be an inspirational doodle.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 2 Years ago

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Tags:     Google     Doodle     Nigeria     Mo Ibrahim Foundation