Monday, April 6, 2009

The American Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria recently put out a warning about a possible terrorist attack against its diplomatic mission in the city. In a circular sent to American citizens in the country, the Embassy encouraged citizens to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

This is not the first time that the American Embassy has warned of a potential threat in Nigeria. In 2007, the U.S. government put Nigeria on a list of countries with ties to terrorism and announced that "it had received information that Western and U.S. interests were at threat from a terrorist attack in Nigeria." The U.S. State Department eventually removed Nigeria from that list and later said that there were no specific threat to American interests in the country. Unfortunately, even though then-President Obasanjo publicly asserted that the nation was an American ally with no ties to Al Qaeda or terrorists, the alternative perception lingered.

Since the issuance of this most recent security warning, the only positive news Nigeria has received is that the Nigerian Police was patrolling the area around the Embassy to keep it safe. However, no response from Nigeria's government, the city of Lagos or Nigeria's Inspector General of Police has made it to the internet. As such, Nigeria's 'side of the story' has yet to be told. Conversely, when the Italian Embassy in Accra, Ghana announced a similar threat, it took no time for the Deputy Accra Regional Police Commander to explain that the threat was simply due to threats from a frustrated visa applicant. His ability to publicly discuss the matter on the very same day it made the news (Monday, April 6th) has already lessened the potential fallout to Ghana from such a story. Nigeria's reaction to this story should have been immediate so as to dampen the negative impact.

The news reports about this latest Embassy warning reinforces the need for Nigeria to do a better job at P.R. and getting its own message out into the public domain. The Associated Press (AP) report, from which most news papers and media outlets culled their story, made the following negative reference about Lagos -
"The U.S. maintains a large consular services office in Lagos, a chaotic, crime-ridden city of 14 million people on Nigeria's southern coast."
A quick 'Google' search shows that quite a few media outlets included that specific sentence in their report without editing the inflammatory and disrespectful reference to Lagos. Although Lagos is beginning to receive much positive news such as the clip on Governor Fashola and this CNN clip about the transformation the city is undergoing,helps to counterbalance the less positive news. Still, the AP's unfortunate reference to Lagos will only continue to inflame the stereotypes and negative sentiments that exist about that city, Nigeria and Africa as a whole. It should be responded to immediately.

In Nigeria's quest to 're-brand' its image amongst Nigerians and foreigners, the government must be able to efficiently address news reports and especially the negative ones that are disrespectful. As noted, in Using Nigerians to Re-Brand Nigeria, the government and particularly Dora Akunyili, who is in charge of the re-branding campaign, can take advantage of Nigerian bloggers, the entertainment industry and other assets the nation has at its fingertips, to counteract the constantly dismissive reports the international media shares about the country. But for that tactic to be successful, the government must also follow up on its promises to improve the lives of the average Nigerian and actually fight corruption, instead of wavering on the anti-corruption crusade.

It is still not too late, to get our act together and present a better face of Nigeria not just to ourselves, but o the world.

UPDATE (April 7th, 2009; 10 am): Just got a Twitter message from a Lagosian informing me that the Police are stopping and searching people at the Walter Carrington St., in Lagos, where the American Embassy is located. If anyone can take pictures, it will be greatly appreciated.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Nigeria's Re-branding Effort
- Using Nigerians to Re-Brand Nigeria
- Re-branding Nigeria: Success is the Key
- How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot With Al Qaeda

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Unknown said...

The laziness of many reports on Nigeria infuriates me and there is definitely a need for the government to clarify negative/false information. That's a rather obvious place to start the re-branding effort but i wouldn't be surprised to find that there are no arrangements in place for such. Instead, you get propaganda like the minister who denied the child-witch documentary in Akwa - Ibom. These people seriously need to re-think their whole information strategy.

io said...

its the stay silent, ignore the buzz and hopefully it would go away tactic that is being employed here.
it is how we respond to situations like this that shows how serious we are as a nation and it helps prove all our noise about rebranding is not just that. noise.

have they setup a website where we could donate our ideas about this rebranding project yet?

Adaeze said...

Interesting post..
I think there is a serious lack of positive stories from Africa as a whole. It's important to be honest but show all sides. I'm fed up of the bad image Nigeria has. Every foreign dep. site advices you to NOT go and everytime I go, people I know ask me if I'm not scared, am I not going to get hurt. I don't think the image of Nigeria is nuanced enough and the bad image is exaggerated. When it comes to Lagos, I wouldn't know. I guess you have a lot going on in one city. My husband lived in the worst part for 2 years and has so bad memories he doesn't want to even land in the airport. At the same time there are parts that are absolutely beautiful. I've heard about the new projects of change there and I am thrilled - can't wait to see the result.
"the government must also follow up on its promises to improve the lives of the average Nigerian and actually fight corruption, instead of wavering on the anti-corruption crusade." - I totally agree. Corruption and poverty must be fought against aggressively if we want permanent change. Less poverty means less desperation and criminality.
It's also very important that the politicians get on board and address or clarify the information given. I love your innovative ideas on ways to do that.

N.I.M.M.O said...

We know that some people -like AP- are just butt-scratching stupid; but when some sensible, rational people -like Solomonsydelle- goes ahead to quote what AP said verbatim, it becomes difficult to know what to believe.

A Google search will return both comments at the same time and as is too.

Its a no-win sometimes. They say something wrong. You protest and they say 'So whatschagonnadoboutit? And then we go on and repeat what they said, thereby re-inforcing the original wrong assertion.

While I concede that the US Secret Service guys must earn their pay by bringing out these periodic 'alerts' but its getting to be a case of shouting wolf. Let's hope that the public would not have become weary when the wolf really appears.

The Lagos State Police Command has responded in 'kind' by beefing up its presence around the Embassy Zone on Victoria Island. This dance has been going on like this for years. They mobilize, demobilize, mobilize, demobilize.

This latest alert did not give details of the nature of the reports it had received regarding the possible attacks 'on missions located close to the US Consulate General situated in Lagos'.

The Nigeria Police that I know does not discuss its strategies in public - not to talk of on the internet; but the fact that they are not talking about it does not mean they are doing nothinig about it.

That is if they are not attanding to more pressing 'matters of state' - like that PDP rally in Ekiti.

Dojaa said...

In the united states innocent people get killed everyday by guns which are legally owned, and they think Lagos is unsafe? How many times has a gunman walked into a building in Lagos and started shooting complete strangers? Terrorism is a serious threat to the world, unfortunately Americans have belittled the threat by irresponsible actions, exagerations and torture.

Cant they just close the embassy and return to their hilariously 'safe' country?

Femi B said...

Well, to me i just think the warning is just childs play, and maybe the nigerian govt is tired of jumping to the american embassy false warning. At least they sent the Don't mind me i like to play the devils advocate.

Beauty said...

Lagos, a chaotic, crime-ridden city of 14 million people is a correct way to describe Nigeria's excellent coastal city but adding words like terror is not acceptable. Where is the evidence and which group is planning to attack? To those that do not get it, Nigerians protect their guests better than their own people. Could talks of terror be a new way of adding more elements of chaos to the already over heated environment? "reports of plans for a possible attack against its consulate in the southern city of Lagos" does sound irresponsible with nothing to back it up. And yes, we do respond & cannot leave it to those tech challenged govt.

Shawndavinci said...

"...., the government must also follow up on its promises to improve the lives of the average Nigerian and actually fight corruption,..." For me that is the best PR and 'rebranding' Nigerian government can do for this country! Simple and short.


@ Baraal: thanks so much for stopping by! Yes, you are right that reporting on Nigeria and in fact Africa often leaves much to be desired. I, personally, feel that we need to do more to counteract the impact of such reporting, but many will argued that we need something to work with.

If you have any news of positive stories impacting Nigerians in small or large numbers, please share with me.

@ 9ja_kuti: Good to see you. I can't even add to what you have said. Your comment reflects the difficulty I am having wrapping my head around Naija wahala, lol!

As for a website...your guess is better than mine. If you find it, let me know.

@ Adaeze: You mention something crucial, "I don't think the image of Nigeria is nuanced enough and the bad image is exaggerated"

I definitely agree with that. There is so much good in the country, on so many levels. Unfortunately, when it comes to politics and related issues, it is hard to shine a bright light for too long. But if you or anyone else has some good news of any kind, abeg, tell me. Whatever we can do to provide a more "nuanced" view not even for foreigners, but for us Nigerians, is a good thing.

Thanks so much for the kind words.

@ N.I.M.M.O.: help me understand, my brother, I should not have put the offensive language up, right? Well, you could be correct, but I need as many people that read what I wrote to understand my disappointment. I could have spoken around the 'language' but I am not sure how effective that would have been.

As to whether the Nigerian Police discuss strategy publicly, at no point did I ask them to do so. far be it from me to advice Okiro on how to do his job, but it would be wonderful if Okiro, or the NPF's P.R. person shared 'basic information' about the alleged threat and how it affects not just the Embassy but homes and businesses in the vicinity. Even if there is little credibility to the threat, I would love to know whether my friends who work there will be okay.

But, it is like you suggest, hopefully when the wolf actually shows up, people won't befatigued.

Thanks so much for your comment. How are things?

@ Doja 2: your comment makes an important point, when you think about it Nigeria is not more violent than America or any place, quite frankly.

I just wish that we had taken this opportunity to pump up Nigeria's image by reinforcing that the Police are working to keep citizens and foreigners safe and/or follow the strategy of the Ghanaian police and downplay the alleged 'threat'.

How you dey?

@ Femi B: lol! Please play Devil's Advocate oh! That is the only way we learn to think through our opinions thoroughly. =)

"i just think the warning is just childs play, and maybe the nigerian govt is tired of jumping to the american embassy false warning."

You could be correct. And, like N.I.M.M.O. says, they run the risk of creating information fatigue. Nevertheless, I still think this was an excellent opportunity to reinforce that Lagos is 'safe' and respond to the rude A.P. reference. But what do I know?

Hope all is well.

@ Beauty, lol!!! You are too much. Lagos is far from perfect, but there have been great advancements in the city. Check this short video of Oshodi for instance. I'm not sure if you are a Lagosian, but I can tell you that Oshodi in the past, looked nothing like this. As in, you couldn't see the tar on the road, before. loL!

I think this goes back to lazy reporting and a general disrespect for Nigeria and even Africans, honestly. The dark continent of unruly children who need all sorts of help. We definitely have aided that opinion. It has worked for our political elite and in turn for those who make the world go round. But ultimately, we have to decide whether or not that system will continue to work for us. I know it doesn't work for me. What about you?

I definitely agree with you that 'terror' should not be used in reference to this situation either explicitly or by suggestion. Unfortunately, I will no longer wait for any response from the government. I just hope they are busy doing what needs to be done for the people. If they are, then they get a pass from me on this one.

@ Shawndavinci: lol! Full stop, ehn? Well, full stop it is and I cannot agree with you more. How body?

brap said...

Is the US govt. paranoid? Maybe. But I think Nigeria is exactly the type of place where religious extremism and terror can take hold. On PR the problem is that Nigerian govt is not innovative someone has to point stuff out to them before they actually do anything. I bet the American govt. was aware of the threat before Nigeria was that is why they could not issue an effective statement like Ghana.

Lost at The End said...

"Lagos, a chaotic, crime-ridden city of 14 million people on Nigeria's southern coast."

But seriously, how do you, in good conscience, describe a city like that? Does it even make sense? The small-mindedness of some western news media houses is appalling.

The Activist said...

Naija sha! i just dont like the way we keep getting negative pr cuz our leaders are never swift on sceurity issues.

In Indian, I was reminded that Nigeria has a lot of scammers. Thank God one other person remember that we have crude oil but he asked "what happens to all that money"?

tobenna said...

Spot on as usual SSD.
I actually took me mum there for a visa interview on Tuesday and was in a line for 2hrs just to get through the security checks.
WHen it got to my turn, I had to open my trunk and bonnet for searches while they probed and poked all around the car.
And we allowed it.
I'm not sure you'd get someone with pictures.
I couldnt even bring meself to try it.

Omo Oba said...

great point.

kehinde said...

lol....oh so we should start jumping through hoops because America says so.America gets it wrong sometimes (Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, anyone).

I think Our Head of Police would have a reason for not acknowledging or like you say "no response"....maybe its a strategy

By the way, its nice that you added the update.

Anya Posh said...

hmm...I like that quick twitter update! LOL. And describing Lagos as a crime-ridden city is negating the fact that people live there & will continue to live there so they're addressing the wrong problem. Anyway, I don't like the logo for the rebranding campaign. It looks like the logo for an airline. They really need to stop it with that green, I get that it's our prime national colour but what about other shades of green or just brown (and its numerous shades). can tell i'm really just bored with the green.

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I would really value your opinion and the opinion of your readers. The long-term goal of this project is to facilitate a more diplomatic American foreign policy in the years ahead.
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