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