Let’s brand the presidency!
Like most of our national institutions, our presidency is crying for rebranding and repositioning. In theory, this is Africa’s most powerful seat of power. But as a brand, it is a laughing stock. Our Aso Villa remains shrouded in mystery and misery. Most Nigerians do not know what their President’s official residence looks like. Only a privileged few who are allowed into the hallowed grounds of Aso Villa know what the place looks like. Okay, we know Ibrahim Babangida relocated from Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock in a hurry after he was nearly killed in a military coup, but that was more than 30 years ago! By now, there is no reason why our presidential villa shouldn’t be a gigantic iconic monument in which we can take pride.
The official residence of the head of a nation is a symbolic monument which represents the core attributes of that nation’s brand.
It is an essential part of the nation’s brand identity. This is not a strange or alien concept. We have it all around us and we see it in other nations. The White House is a global brand, recognized all around the world as the seat of the world’s most powerful president. The building is iconic and the whole world knows what it looks like. As a brand, The White House has a logo and official colours. Perhaps, going to Washington is maybe, taking things a bit too far. Right next door to us is the official residence of the Ghanaian President. It is known as the Flagstaff House. Modelled after the legendary Ashanti Golden Stool, the Flagstaff House is an iconic monument and one of the tourist attractions in Accra. According to Ghanaian folklore, the golden stool is symbol of royalty and authority and it is said to contain the soul of the nation.
If we look at the top ten most iconic presidential palaces in Africa, we will observe that Nigeria, the self-proclaimed Giant of Africa is nowhere to be seen. The Unity Palace of Cameroon, which was commissioned in 1982, years before Aso Villa, makes the list.
There is the magnificent Abdeen Palace in Cairo which is rated as one of the most luxurious palaces in the world. The Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa is an architectural masterpiece and a national heritage site. The intimidating State House of Namibia is a national fortress and covers 25 hectares of land. The lavoloha Palace at Antananarivo Madagascar is known for its beauty and grandeur. Even in troubled Sudan, the magnificent Presidential Palace at Khartoum is adorned with invaluable relics and antiques. The Presidential Palace in Nouakchott Mauritania is the most iconic landmark in the city with its enormous gardens and vast grounds. Senegal’s Presidential Palace in Dakar is a beautiful white edifice with elegant grounds, described as one of the most beautiful sites in Africa. Uganda has an impressive State House in Kampala which boasts of imposing pillars and elegant simplicity.
Back home in Abuja, the official home of our President is nothing to write home about. Inasmuch as we try to copy American democracy, we seem to fall miserably short of copying the most exemplary elements of it. The White House was built more than 200 years ago, yet it remains an iconic symbol of American Democracy till this day and a huge tourist attraction. After Babangida’s hurried relocation more than thirty years ago, I believe we have had more than enough time to build a befitting presidential palace which promotes the image of Africa’s largest democracy. Instead, what we have is such a shame that most of our citizens do not even know what it looks like. I am privileged to have visited Aso Villa. With all due respect, I was embarrassed and disappointed. The place is symbolic of our perennial ad hoc approach to nation building. There is no deliberateness in the architecture, neither is there an attempt at anything iconic. No fountains. No giant eagles and horses. No predominant green-white-green. The Banquet Hall doesn’t have the portraits of our past leaders. Worse still, it doesn’t even have our national colours as the dominant colours. Where the portraits of our past leaders are displayed, it is grossly underwhelming. I would at least expect some of our best artists to have been commissioned to do the portraits, with giant frames that would awe anyone looking at them.
Unfortunately if a president says today he wants to build a befitting presidential villa, many would protest, with the usual poverty mentality argument. That shouldn’t be our priority for now. So many people are hungry. The money should be spent on critical healthcare and education, blah blah blah. I remember the protests that greeted Obasanjo’s plan to build the Abuja National Stadium. Yet, that stadium falls short of what we should have in Abuja, our Federal Capital, considering how passionate we are, about football.
We should see our presidential villa the same way serious companies see their head offices. It should make a statement. It should be a symbol of the nation brand and carry the aura that our national essence projects. Beyond that building, the various elements that make our Presidency a brand are conspicuously missing. It is not enough to display the Flag and the Coat of Arms. These are basic elements. We should go beyond these and create a presidential brand that truly projects Africa’s Leader. To begin with, what is the official name of our presidential villa? Is it Aso Rock Villa or Aso Presidential Villa, or simply Aso Villa? Does the Presidential Villa have a logo? If it does, what does the logo look like? What are the colours?
I have noticed that anytime the President or Vice President is attending an event, there is an official lectern that goes with him to that venue. This is one of the brand identity elements of the office. I was therefore amused when at a recent event I saw a wife of a governor had a lectern brought for her! What is the significance of this lectern? Who is supposed to have it and who shouldn’t? What are the specific guidelines for the identity of the Office of the President? What are the identity elements of the office?
It is embarrassing that we run the most expensive democracy in the world, by way of how much our politicians earn. Yet, we do not have a presidential villa worth looking at. I think Aso Villa (or whatever they call it) should be pulled down without delay, while we build a Presidential Villa truly befitting of Africa’s largest and wealthiest nation. An architectural masterpiece, with resplendent grounds and lush greens. An iconic edifice with beautiful fountains and giant horses and eagles cast in silver or bronze. Branding our Presidency is a prerequisite to attaining that lofty image that our nation deserves. Many may not see it, but this is essential to giving our nation a positive image amongst our people while enjoying the respect of the international community.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author of The Seven Dimensions of Branding
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