Sunday 29 March 2009

Novotel St. Pan Crap

Service before edifice

The moment a hotel fails to realise that is it the service rather than the edifice that makes for returning customers, they have lost the plot and are on to a monumental failure.

Generally, I use hotels in the Accor Group which range from the upmarket Sofitel through Novotel, Mercure & Pullman to the budget Ibis and bargain basement Etap or Formule1. I use the Radisson group of hotels where the Accor brand is either unsuitable or not available, for instance in terms of location, accessibility, service and quality, I would stay at the Radisson rather than the Ibis in Antwerp.

Where hotels and service have been worthy of commendation and praise, I have almost been effusive, the Riu Hotel Maspalomas stands out as an excellent hotel with the most exquisite service, in my mind.

Destroying habits

I am also a creature of habit; I rarely change what I am used to and would probably return to the same hotel until they mess up big time.

I remember an instance in Berlin where the Mercure Hotel near Templeton oversubscribed the hotel and I having booked my room almost three week before was about to be bumped off around hotels for nights before I could settle in the one I booked.

I refused to sleep around hotels like a prostitute and demanded as a holder of an Accor Favourite Guest Card holder – which comes with guarantees – to be put in another hotel of similar of better standard for the duration of my stay at no extra cost.

They met that requirement, but having been a customer of that hotel for over 3 years, I have not returned, no, not for another night, it is black listed and that is the end of that story – all because the service as offered by the staff was rotten.

When in London

In London, I stay at the Novotel St. Pancras which until the St. Pancras International railway station was opened was Novotel Euston, I might have stayed here up to 15 times.

A tall imposing 15 storey building beside the British Library with views all around London, it would not been lost on regular customers that since the name change, the prices have gone up but the service and quality has deteriorated.

With the change of staff especially at the reception has come a bearable tolerance for the convenience of the location of that hotel.

The staff at the breakfast restaurant are quite good, friendly and generally efficient in the circumstances, however, my room bookings end up in debate either because I am not getting what I paid for or something is not working in the room.

This time, I had to get them to sort out my television, I could have changed rooms but if you have done 6 hours of travel, the last thing you want is to move around rooms like the chambermaid.

A taxing case for taxis

Usually, when I check out I am able to inform the concierge that I need a taxi to Paddington Station and he goes out and hails one – it is the least one can expect from a 4-star hotel that caters to business clientele even though the rooms have diminished to perfunctory status without flair or sophistication in style – Gosh! I have stayed in better 4-star business hotels, also belonging to the Accor group.

This time, the receptionist tried to call up a taxi, and when he learnt that it might take 10 to 15 minutes he said there were no taxis, when he could have managed the information better by asking if I did have 15 minutes to wait.

However, I brought the issue of the concierge going out to hail a taxi and he said there was no concierge employed in the hotel anymore, which was strange because I have seen people man that concierge desk during my stay.

Not if I could help it

Besides, there were 4 people at the reception, it was not busy and seeing that I also use a cane he could have asked one of his colleagues to hail one – no, in the end, I had to drag my luggage out onto the street and cross the road to hail one.

That hotel has lost a customer just because they had allowed poor customer service personified in their staff to destroy confidence, interest and loyalty.

It is very likely, I would not return to that hotel; if they ever get the opportunity for me to review this blog radically. I am for now done with Novotel St. Pan Crap.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Dream a little dream for me

The life of dreams

It is not so much about being a control freak but there is need for some sort of control when I sleep. I dream very vivid dreams and usually remember the setting and context of those dreams.

Times are after waking up I try to see if there is anything to learn from those dreams and make appropriate adjustments to accommodate those lessons.

Another peculiarity is I cannot sleep without some accompanying sound, some classical music, the gospels read in the background, my television on at a news channel – I need the boundaries of external sound to keep my dreams from running away from me.

Sounds of light

In fact, if the night is still and quiet, I cannot sleep, my mind becomes a radio telescope searching out for the presence of life and sound in some nether or outward place, by which time one is primed to be startled, scared and beginning to lose ones sanity.

The vagaries of modern life has turned us into freaks which for me includes the need to have some white light on when sleeping – why I wake within 5 minutes of lights going out when asleep just amazes me, maybe it is something to do with the amounts of light shone in the eyes of pre-term babies at birth.

Snapping for justice

Anyway, I dreamt last night, I walked out onto balcony that had a number of dream-recognised relations when looking into the courtyard there was this familiar old lady waving around a pole as if to fend off unruly kids.

Then four hoodlums approached her to rough her up, I shouted from the balcony to dissuade them but they did not relent, there was nothing I could do from that setting as I asked for a camera for at least record the event for a consequent police investigation.

I did get a camera and took quite a few good photographs, at one time, it appeared all the four hoodlums were posing for me and I got very good shots of their faces.

When they realised they were being photographed, they ran off, however, I cannot say what became of the lady afterwards, it is not clear if anyone ran to her aid or helped her afterwards.

Unhelpful help

What annoyed me on review was that everyone was in praise of my presence of mind to ask for a camera to take pictures and as I went back into the building, someone offered to get the pictures off the camera for analysis and so on, I neither saw picture nor camera after that.

Strangely, in one of the many twists and turns that my dreams have, the camera happened to belong to the lady, she had left it when she went for her walk and in some way the name she had was quite familiar.

On reviewing the dream I realised I should have fully supervised the handling of the pictures, ensured if I could that I backed up the material and got the evidence to the police as soon as possible.

Between ideas and effective action

Much as I could record the horrible event for the purposes of bringing justice to those hoodlums, I was surprised that I had not seen to having someone tend to the lady, we were all enamoured by the singular act of someone taking pictures when a lady had been roughed up.

What I take away from this is how to handle critical information on which justice and fairness might rely, I should not give it up easily if it is not going to the relevant authorities no matter how familiar I am with the person who requests it and I should be careful about unsolicited help which might end up depriving me of important work.

I should also have the presence of mind to address the humanity and humanitarian issues I find myself in and see the matters through to satisfactory conclusions so that I do not find myself aching about why I did my dreams did not end perfectly.

Monday 23 March 2009

Rebranding Nigeria: Blox Populi

Written for NigeriansTalk.Org

Good Request, Great Tardiness

Imagine a situation where a strong global brand like Coca Cola has garnered an unfavourable situation where drinkers of the product have had serious stomach upsets, then in a public relations offensive the management decides to rebrand the product having not essentially dealt with the primary issues that have tarnished the brand in the first place.

On Friday, Olumide of and the new site invited me to review the blog reactions to the new branding of Nigeria – I rarely, if ever, take commissions like this because easy and interesting as it sounds, it is harder than one first realises – there is quite a lot to read before creating a review – I am the wiser.

Good Intentions, Great Inactions

Recently, Professor Dora Akunyili, the Minister of Information, started a campaign to re-brand Nigeria, in fact, when I first heard of it a few months ago, I was not enamoured by the idea at all, Ken Wedding, like me, writing on Re-branding Nigeria states – “I would have missed this new public relations campaign if not for the discussions on a couple of blogs written by Nigerians”, I would suppose we mostly picked up the thread from there.

He goes on to quote the minister who says, the campaign was aimed at “re-orienting Nigerians, changing the negative attitudes of Nigerians, making Nigerians believe in themselves, inculcating optimal spirit of patriotism in Nigerians and at the same time, celebrating our best before the international community”.

Good Aspirations, Great Challenges

Quite laudable, because the purpose of a brand is to draw attention to a product or commodity and persuade people of its quality, usefulness and utility, in the case of a country, Uche Nworah, of the Long Harmattan Season who writes in treatise mode that I took a holiday after reading his piece quotes a presumed expert on nation branding, Simon Anholt who says, “the challenges the developing world is facing today beside poor governance and weak infrastructure is the issue of weak nation brands and identities”.

However, going back to the Minister’s aims, it would appear that good governance and strong infrastructure might well help in persuading Nigerians of a pride in nationhood and give them a stronger national identity that could bolster celebrating our best to the world.

As he quotes another proponent of nation branding, “There is no arguing that the image we have of another country says a lot about how we view it as a tourist destination, a place to invest or a source of consumer goods”.

Bad Reports, Low Expectations

Let us hope the Minister has noted that the biggest challenge she then faces is in changing what the CIA FactBook says about Nigeria, one would concur with Uche Nworah here on Why we must rebrand Nigeria.

The truth as I found on LinkedIn the professional networking site was when Aisha Lami Adeyemo who appears to have a Nigerian name asked, “Rebranding Nigeria- I was wondering what impact do you think this reform will have on Nigeria as an Emerging Market?” and the three answers she got were very negative.

Mikhail Tretyak suggested international air crew are ferried out of the country so as not to spend their layover there and then asks, “How much cash does a typical businessman need to pay the bribes in order to get from the airport to his hotel?” and damns the whole exercise with “Rebranding won't work until the fundamentals change.”

Good Ideas, Great Fantasies

Reorienting Nigerians does smack of a sense of hubris, Nigerians have been reoriented from the beginning of time as their leaders have use cliques to deconstruct the sense of nationhood for tribal, familial, religious, regional or personal benefit – too many people are sceptical of this drive.

However, Mohammed Haruna whose write-up appears on Elendu Reports under the byline Akunyili and the "re-branding" of Nigeria: The limits of propaganda, first lauds her achievements as the head of NAFDAC, then wonders if the supposed successes of NAFDAC can really be translated to the rebranding Nigeria effort.

In fact, he contends that though there is a greater awareness of the work of NAFDAC, “the fact is that contrary to the image that NAFDAC under Akunyili has virtually eliminated the phenomena of fake drugs and drug abuse both have hardly experienced any significant decline. In spite of all her efforts, the open and illegal drug markets in the country including the three most notorious ones at Onitsha, Kano and Aba, have never really gone out of business. So also have those who openly hawk prescription drugs on our streets”.

Good Bloggers, Great Commentary

That does not bode well at all, however, Nigerians still maintain a sense of optimism as Oz of Mootbox says in announcing Good People...Great Nation, he concurs with the professor when she said, “This journey will be slow and painful…but we will be a better nation tomorrow”. He worried about the fact that so much had been spent “on this effort for us to tear it down on launch day” and he was “tired of the foreign media making fun of all our efforts”.

Tosin Obubela leaves a comment on that blog which is somewhere between gratuitous ululation and downright sarcasm – “Congratulations, you have a new name now. I know you have been through so much but never mind, a name can change a lot”.

SolomonSydelle of Nigerian Curiosity, notes that the foreign media mocked the initiative and even states that Nigerians at home and abroad were invited to design a logo and slogan for the venture, when I found the campaign notice, I was utterly crest-fallen, the setup was shoddy, sloppy and sedentary – which is why many of us might not have seen it.

Bad Preparation, Low Responses

The campaign for entries was launched on the 5th of February with a deadline of the 23rd and some panel selected the slogan and logo for the launch that happened just over 2 weeks later. So, it is no wonder that Oz opined in a comment left for this blog, “Me thinks they were not ready and it was a rush job.

Ouch! As SolomonSydelle admonishes the proponents with the concept that more Nigerians should have been involved in this exercise and Oz considers 5 things I would do differently, if he were running this campaign.

Good Branding, Great Debacle

However, all this rebranding talk exposes other issues, people who believe it would be another opportunity for patronage and graft, as Nwachukwu Egbunike on Feather’s Project opined, in his piece called The Rebranding Rumble – “neither the country nor her citizens being any better for it, except the PR consultants and their cohorts who had their pockets lined.”

He goes on to say, “The government should stop paying lip service to corruption. It is obvious that 90% of our image crisis arises from this monster, wash out corruption and you’ll have rebranded Nigeria, period! Nigerians are no fools; it takes a radical commitment to effect such a revolutionary change.”

Therein is the analogy I made at the beginning of this review and it has Grandiose Parlour saying the concerns of the people in the main are about survival, with his byline - Re-branding Nigeria? Yes, but not on empty stomach!

Suffice it to say that this campaign which does not seem to have a web presence, is not linked to any particular achievable goals for the economy, infrastructure or tourism and is yet to convince people of its worthwhile aims has been trumped by a more pressing slogan “If you can survive Nigeria, you can survive anywhere

Good Nigeria, Great Nigeria

I leave the last words to another treatise Uche Nworah wrote 3 years ago, about the now extinct rebranding campaign which had Nigeria: The Heart of Africa as its slogan with the title Rebranding Nigeria’s Cities, and he quoting Tom Traynor & Ro Breehl – “every place does have some distinction, some reason to live there, work there, vacation there, rather than some other place”. They also argue that finding that ‘true compelling claim of distinction’ can be hard work which lots of tourism boards, city councils, business improvement districts aren’t prepared for, ‘preferring instead to move directly to (inevitably drab) advertising execution’.

This line of least resistance appears to be the one towed by Nigeria’s state and local government officials.

In other words, Good People, Great Nation, but no lessons learnt; for the optimists, we wish the campaign success; for the pragmatists, keep pushing the agenda for better correlation of ideas; for the pessimists, hold your peace and the indifferent – what difference does it make, Nigeria is still a country of good people and a great nation, it may not be a reality today, but having it as a dream and aspiration is a good start.

Friday 20 March 2009

Nigeria: Obasanjo's Hard Talk

Hard to talk

First draft plus - probably now fine.

One can say Stephen Sackur of the BBC Hard Talk programme found it hard to talk with President Olusegun Obasanjo, the erstwhile president of Nigeria on his programme which was aired this morning on BBC One [1].

In the preamble that accompanies the interview. Mr. Sackur was looking for the answers to two pertinent questions.

Does Africa have leaders capable of solving Africa's problems?

Does his (Obasanjo's) record inside Nigeria lend him any credibility as a regional statesman?

I am not sure throughout that interview we came close to any plausible answers but the exchanges were nonetheless engaging.

Favoured without telling

On the matter of the first question, the interview covered the appointment of President Obasanjo as the UN Special Envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); now this is the second international appointment of Obasanjo to matters of conflict in Africa. In the 1980s, he was a co-chair of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group on South Africa that recommended sanctions as a way to persuade the then South African apartheid government to begin negotiations.

I reckon, Mr. Sackur had to ask the same question twice about the joint military operations between the DRC and Rwanda against the Hutu rebels – the question was whether Mr. Obasanjo favoured those activities.

We were first taken on rigmarole about the realities of a monumental humanitarian crisis before some meeting in November 2008 to confirm Mr. Obasanjo’s status and function as a facilitator and mediator.

The interviewer’s impatience a bit evident hammed on the original question and in a roundabout way, we found that Mr. Obasanjo supported those actions because he recognised that in November Mr. Kabila of the DRC and Mr. Kagame of Rwanda – the presidents of the respective countries were not talking and by January, they were involved in a joint military exercise.

Never direct

It is not clear if Mr. Obasanjo was trying to take credit for that reconciliation, but he was elusive when direct answers were required and noncommittal when opinions of a person with his status were required.

He was particular about not being referred to as an adviser of any of the parties involved and did not aver that Kabila could bring essential change to the DRC but suggested Kabila could lay the foundations of lasting peace being the first leader of that country to have any legitimacy by reason of democratic elections.

There was a tendency to the legalistic where ifs were followed with requirements of evidence to support allegations and issues being discussed.

Darfur is invisible

When pressed on the matter of the indictment and warrant for the arrest of the President Bashir of Sudan about Darfur, Obasanjo felt no evidence had been presented to make President Bashir culpable of the atrocities committed in Darfur.

In fact, in asking what crimes were committed by Bashir and how they could have been committed by Bashir, he questioned the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court and impugned its impartiality by suggesting that it was political in its actions.

It would appear Obasanjo is in some way oblivious of the happenings in Darfur, but then in my opinion, this represents the kind of leadership in Africa that ignores the people for the propping up of illegitimate rulers.

The test of reasonable doubt cannot really be applied in the indictments and warrants for arrest - that kind of test is done in the courts, it was disingenuous of Obasanjo to demand that test before arraignment in court.

On that score, in response to the first question one can say that Africa does not for now have leaders capable of solving Africa's problems – the leader of Africa’s largest country by people for 11 and a half years in total could not rise to that occasion, I am afraid to say.

Allegations are nonsense

Moving on to the second main question, which centred on his record in Nigeria lending him credibility as a regional leader, I was at pains to glean a good answer and quite unimpressed in the end.

President Obasanjo’s record has been under great scrutiny and most especially in the words of the current president; corruption went all the way to the top.

Obasanjo made the case that any accusations made against him should be fully substantiated with incontrovertible evidence or they were nonsense and as far as he was concerned quotes attributed to others against him would be repudiated because he believed the persons were not referring to him.

I am not corrupt

He concurred that people in his government were corrupt but there was no evidence that he was corrupt and he offered that at least four top people in his government were charged for corruption, however, when read in detail, only one case was concluded with the conviction of the Inspector General of Police, one died and the other cases – one wonders.

I would suppose Obasanjo considered it an achievement that people were charged at all or that he was investigated by the anti-corruption agencies that most of the cases might have been bogged down in bureaucracies or influence peddling did not matter, edgeways he got to hang out his estranged vice president as probably corrupt.

When Sackur raised the issue of his daughter whose allegedly corrupt activities were topical for most of last year, Obasanjo exculpated himself from her activities saying she was responsible for her actions and would not brook the idea that their father-daughter relationship meant that he could be impugned. African ethical standards, I presume.

I am not responsible for my daughter, he said.

That persecution complex

However, the complete low of the interview came when Obasanjo took offence as Sackur pressed on those questions about corrupt influences by association or indifference at which point he said, “Will you ask that of a European leader?”

Thankfully, that broadside badgering did not work on Sackur – personally, I think Africans and African leaders sometimes exhibit a persecution complex and where they seem to be cornered on matters of principle, they lash out with the accusation of racism.

For a man who has achieved so much, surely he could have resisted taking the interview down that line but any opportunity for a Mugabe-like jibe at the white man cannot be missed.

Nigeria’s potential

When Sackur suggested Nigeria was one of the richest countries in the world, he was corrected that Nigeria was potentially one of the richest countries in the world.

For the reason why a third of the population is in poverty, Obasanjo suggested our income per head in a country of over 150 million people would be considerably lower than that of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait which both produce a lot more oil but have a considerably lesser population.

In fact, that is a plausible argument, but many would contend that if only 20% of the oil income were properly invested in Nigeria, a lot more people might be lifted out of poverty.

Problems as lapses

Where it was suggested that Nigeria has not used its resources to the best of its ability, the man who has ruled Nigeria the longest ever said the opposite and for all the problems we have had in Nigeria, they could all be classed as lapses.

When asked to comment on the current president’s performance, he said it was too early to comment and then damning President Yar’Adua with grudging praise he said, “A good person is not enough to make you an effective, successful and great president”

I would suppose Obasanjo was talking about himself – Hard talk indeed, with all questions barely answered. This is probably the most pressing interview we would ever get from "Baba", as he is known in some quarters, our local press emasculated by obsequiousness would not have dared ask half the questions and instead thrown him soft ball platitudes to elicit preposterous gloating.


[1] BBC NEWS | Programmes | Hardtalk | Olusegun Obasanjo