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Vacation in sunny Nigeria?

Government's re-branding exercise is criticized by people who say fix problems first.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Holiday in Nigeria? Nigeria: a good investment bet? That's what the Nigerian government would like people to think.

West Africa’s oil giant — best known for its endemic corruption, collapsed infrastructure and crime problems — is being re-branded. In a bid to generate national pride and attract foreign investors and tourists, the government is sprucing up the country’s image under the slogan “Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation.”

Unlike previous branding campaigns, the government is targeting Nigerians at home, rather than immediately aiming at overseas audiences. Ownership and participation of this latest branding campaign is central to its success, said new Minister for Information and Communications Dora Akunyili.

“You cannot brand a country with an intervention that the people cannot comment on, that the people cannot identify with, that people cannot understand,” Akunyili said. “Any government policy that is not accepted by Nigerians cannot work.”

Previously the government tried to brand Nigeria under the slogan “Heart of Africa,” but the campaign was widely seen as a merely an opportunity for corruption, with the bulk of the multi-million dollar budget going towards international travel for top-ranking officials.

This time around, says Akunyili, re-branding will be principally funded by Nigeria’s private companies, especially from the growing banks and telecommunications sectors. The campaign includes some billboards, ads on television and radio and text messages sent out to cell phone subscribers. Akunyili says she would also like to see campaign buttons and T-shirts emblazoned with the new slogan and logo.

But in the streets of the commercial capital Lagos, where some 15 million people do daily battle with the city’s faulty utilities and violent crime, residents say it will take more than a re-branding campaign to improve Nigeria’s image.

T-shirt designer Malcolm Datondji, 20, understands the importance of a strong brand. He stamps each of his hand-printed shirts with his logo, which he says is a sign of quality. Nigeria, he says, could be a quality product too, if only the government would invest in some of its people’s basic needs.

“It is a great nation and we do have good people, but they [the government] don’t utilize what we’ve got very well,” said Datondji, who’d been snoozing the afternoon away after a power cut made work impossible. “I don’t see any reason for them to re-brand — how can they re-brand when our people are not comfortable?”