Rebranding Nigeria by blotting out the ugly past and unveiling a promising profile is not going to be an over-night job, said the President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Dr. Rotimi Oladele, but he is optimistic that NIPR can help matters by trying to brighten the image of Nigeria.
Yes, she’s faced with the crisis of insurgency, youth unemployment, seasonal electoral violence, unrest and economic sabotage in the Niger Delta region, falling standards of education and, amongst others, corruption, which the Buhari administration has vowed to uproot from the country’s political system.
But, Dr. Oladele thinks that the body could do a good job of presenting a new, promising and reliable Nigeria to the outside world.
Said he: “We have to take it from the causative factor to have a change in the mind-set of every Nigerian, particularly the youths, because the adult are already dry fishes. We need to address the new Nigerian so that they can grow with a new mind-set and that means we must have curriculum in primary and secondary school system that can equip and utilise the psycho-motor, the affective and cognitive aspects as well.
“If that is done, every secondary school leader will be able to provide food on his table, while waiting for further studies or make do with the enterprise and earn a good living and employ some workers.
“If he has access to tertiary education, it will be with a mind and life-style and a bent on innovation, not liability that we have today, via breeding an army of consumers. We need to breed creative founders, investors and innovators. If that happens to our educational system, Nigeria’s reputation would change for good.
“There is no amount of sloganeering that you can do to someone who knows nothing about how to use his hands and head, except being a liability or a fraudster. Public relation is not about noise making. It is about people seeing you that you are good and they say so with confidence. It is about the value that you represent.”
Oladele said that it was integrity and service, which had been quite useful to the advancement of the Institute that won him the hearts of the voters, who, at a recent congress of the Institute, in Ibadan, elected him and his team for another term in office. It’s that same integrity and service that he said the NIPR could inject into an ambitious programme to brighten the country’s reputation.
Reacting to his electoral success, Oladele said: “I think that members in their wisdom believed in continuity, which means progress, and makes things faster, as well. We’ll continue from where we stopped, rather than a new beginning. We have a 16-strong Governing Council, with three new members. The members believed in the team and my re-election is for the team to work harder for continuity and better service.”
For Oladele, his first two years in office were quite eventful to the effect that, “We gave each member of the Institute an identity on which a tab could be kept and easily verified, with a corporate touch, so as to keep quacks away from our body. Every member now has a certificate with a number. My certificate and practicing number is 1450021.
“Two years ago, I had no number. That number belongs to me forever, until I pass away. Nobody can use it. That’s a great mileage. If anything happens, and it’s a public relations act, and you want to find out who did it, we can confidently identify the actor. If I want to practice as a consultant, a member of the NIPR, that’s my number. So, if I write any release, say, to the media, that’s my number. That, alone makes it impossible for anyone to impersonate me.
“It’s a warning to quacks. If you don’t have a certificate number or practicing licence, you cannot say you are a member of the NIPR or public relations practitioner. If somebody wants to use you for a cheap popularity exercise or propaganda or something criminal, and the person has signed the piece as a fellow or member of the institute, you can ask the character for his certificate number. If it’s not in the document presented to you. You can then call the registrar of the NIPR to find out whether it’s true the person in question is, indeed, a member of the Institute.
“That’s a firm measure to stem criminality, impersonation, fraud, quackery, etc. Besides, we have been able to have a befitting secretariat in Abuja, a suitable Lagos Office. We have also had good study centres, where people go for lectures to prepare for the examination of the Institute.
“We have the honour of introducing a new curriculum by moving from 15 subjects to 21 subjects – and with diversification into other areas of empowerment like social media, financial management, quantitative method, corporate social responsibility, and event management, which is becoming very germane today. All these used to be mentioned in passing but, today, we have realised that each of these new subjects is a big area of study.
“The new curriculum will be implemented in January 2017. The old curriculum will expire in December 2016. We also have the internal examination for tertiary institutions by which universities and polytechnics – especially those that have aligned their syllabus with that of the NIPR – can now write our examinations as an internal academic exercise, and the regulators like the National University Commission (NUC) or National Board on Technical Education (NBTE), depending on the level of the educational body or organisation. So, that makes it possible for our accreditation committee to partner, very easily, with both the NUC and NBTE.”
There was also a long standing issue of accumulated financial obligation at the international level, which the Oladele administration has met. “We were able to pay all the NIPR’s outstanding membership fees dues to the Global Alliance, which is the world body, and with that feat, we are able to participate, actively, in the activities of the global body. We have, since then, been in Spain. We were in Kenya with 22 members. In May, we were in Toronto, Canada, with 30 members. All that international outing has elevated the NIPR a great deal. The previous regime did not see the Global Alliance angle as a priority, as we did. Nigeria is not an isolated country. She’s operating within an international system. We must strive hard to meet up with global standards.
“If we want our practice to be recognised and seen as relevant, we must take a cue from what obtains in other countries. We now share experience and knowledge with Spain, Canada, United States, Italy etc. – indeed, all the members of Global Alliance. We have tailored our Code of Ethics in line with that of the Global Alliance, and contributed our quota to the body of knowledge called Public Relation. For instance, in Kenya, recently, I chaired two sessions, just as I did in Madrid, Spain. So, that’s beautiful for us, because Nigeria is now visibly present in the field of Public Relations. We’re now recognised as occupying a conspicuous, strategic position.”
A former Ambassador-At-Large of Global Alliance for Africa in 2015 and 2016, Oladele said that during his first two years, it was to the credit of his team that: “We were able to resuscitate some old chapters: Ekiti and Gombe states; Zamfara is becoming very active, as well. Kaduna, too. In order to enliven the chapters, we organised a retreat for their Chairmen and Secretaries. It was unique.”
The Institute, Oladele said, had done a lot to help one of the biggest challenges to public relations: unregistered or unqualified operators. “In the first two years, rather than starting with the prosecution of such people, we opened a short-term training known as Master Classes to recognise their experience and expertise. There, such people acquired an appreciable level of professional skills. After the training, they became members and were offered an opportunity for continuous learning. As members, they have access to Mandatory Compulsory Professional Courses (MCPC) to upgrade their skills. We have had an impressive turn out of Directors and General Managers of companies, Majors-General from the military sector, top police officers, top-level leaders and gentlemen from the private sector etc.
The Honourable Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has opened an opportunity for all the Press Information Officers (PIO) in federal and state ministries and parastatal to professionalise. The Permanent Secretary and Director of Public Relation are already talking to us on how to see that information officers become professional members of the Institute. That way, it will be easy for us to have an upgrading skill programme and benchmark those working out of the Code of Conduct and Professional Ethics of the Institute. It will be easy to sanction such people and know, via the membership number, who is doing what is wrong. We are advocating that government should employ more of members of the NIPR to positions of information management, in place of untrained hands. That applies to the local government, as well.
“We have tried to partner with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture on projects and policies – on a need to go back to farming, because the resources granted Nigeria by God benefits agriculture a great deal – more than any other laudable human endeavour. We were there before oil displaced us from our farmlands. We are campaigning for a change; that we should use the proceeds of oil to promote agriculture. We have identified two challenges in the agricultural sector: processing and storage; and we have been driving hard on the education knowledge to all stakeholder on those two areas. And that was why the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has shown interest in our effort. That was why he was with us at our annual general meeting in Ibadan.
“We have also started an ‘Ethical Revolution’ – well before President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in. It was as if we knew he was coming to drive hard on reputation and sanitation. Nigeria needs good reputation. We need communication and collaboration, in a symbiotic tie that would bring desirable results. That is why Public Relations has become more important than before in both government and private sectors.”
Still, Oladele believes that there is a generous room for improvement and development of the Institute and what measures to be taken in helping the image and security issues affecting the country, in the next two years. Said he: “We will be working towards a robust future for the Institute. We will be a bit aggressive in promoting and pressing our professional education projects, i.e. the ‘Catch-Them-Young Internal Exams’ in the universities and polytechnics. Besides, the numbers of our study centres would be increased for private candidates, because there are a lot of Nigerians, who are out of school, not because they don’t want to be in school, but for lack of space in the institutions. We need, therefore, to create capacity building on that crucial issue, and link up with other professional bodies and government agencies to generate jobs and enterprise, so that we can have an army of young, virile Nigerians – who can set up their own agencies.
“Every organisation in Nigeria needs public relations service. Every high-net worth individual requires the service of a public relations strategist. If these out- of-school individuals are trained and shown the way to entrepreneurship, they can create service centres, consultancies, which would take care of the needs of bodies corporate, local governments, churches, mosque, individuals, societies, sports organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international organisations, media houses etc. In effect, a well-established, public-oriented organisation requires information managers, relationship managers, reputation designers, stakeholder managers, crisis (damage control) managers, researchers, public affairs analysts etc.”
The implication of Oladele’s thesis is that the Buhari administration has, almost by indirection, in its informed campaign against corruption, triggered off a form renaissance – in tune with the NIPR’s campaign against quackery. It’s, perhaps, plausible, as Oladele thinks, that, very shortly, the NIPR would be swamped with requests from individuals – especially politicians, skippers of industries – educational institutions, airlines, professional organisations, members of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN), fiduciary and financial bodies, government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), members of the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – alongside other corporate bodies offering products and services – on how well they could, for one, gain from the image-making strategies of the Institute, in their ambitious bid to be well ahead of their competitors, and, for another, key well into the anti-corruption programme of the Buhari administration. The baseline – for such individuals and bodies – is to avoid veering into an awkward situation that would craft a telling gash on their image.
After nearly two decades of multi-party democracy, in which violence has been a regular fixture, Oladele offers that there was a compelling need to give the country’s electoral process a human face. As Africa’s most-populous democratic country, Abuja, he thinks, should lead the way on a free, fair and credible democratic process. It would, surely, require a rich dosage of the NIPR’s efficacious intervention to help the image of electoral process in the country; chart a new course that makes for peaceful elections. “If a local government chairman is campaigning, today, and he has a public relations expert, who designs his manifesto, using the feedback from the electorate, he is sure”, Oladele said, “to outdo his opponent, who believes in doling out money to voters. We need to bring in the professional bearing, so as to change the mind-set and influence the thinking of the public; that there is a way to sell your product and services, so that you get value for your money. The era of having customers is gone. What we have today, are stakeholders – an army of corporate defenders, built into your activities. It takes a lot of public relations strategy to achieve all that. They are the ones who’ll stay with you as a service or product provider; as advisers on what to do towards the improvement of what they buy or expect from you. They are quite distinct from product users.”