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The emergence of the practice of public relations in Nigeria dates back to the years following the end of World War II. That was when the emergence of African spirit of nationalism began to flourish. Colonialism and its attendant subjugation and suppress of the people’s will was becoming louder and louder. The colonial powers found it expedient to begin to control the damage of misrules as much as possible. This gave rise to the application of public relations strategies through the massive use of information techniques.
In 1963, some young Nigerians, noteably the late Sam Epelle, the late Ikaz Yakubu, Tonny William, the late H.K. Offonry and Chief Bob Ogbuagu formed Public Relations Association of Nigeria in Lagos. Gradually, this association spread to the regional headquarters such as Enugu and Ibadan.
Then a substantial number of other practitioners came in by the sheer nature of their functions; hence they learnt it on the job.
As the profession began to be widely accepted and membership expanding, the name was later changed to Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).
From 1963 to 1990 when the profession was officially given a legal status, it was that of cumulative efforts resulting in tremendous growth of the profession. It was during that period that the pioneering leaders did everything to ensure that the profession was given its right of place within the socio-political and socio-economic framework in the Nigerian national life, particularly Alex Akinyele and Mike Okereke.
Achievements under Akinyele and Okereke included the growth in membership, the streamlining of the admission of members, the granting of fellowship, the classification of membership into student, affiliate, associate, member and fellow. In addition, the establishment of two chairs at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus and Ibadan under Okereke resulting in the offering of Master of Art (M.A.) degree in Public Relations and Master of Science (M.Sc) degree in Public Relations.
Although each of the national presidents of the institute made contributions towards the growth and development of the institute, incontestably, it was during the tenure of Okereke that some major achievements were accomplished: the granting of legal recognition of the institute began in what is now known as Decree 16 of 1990 which recognised the NIPR as the only authority to regulate practice of Public Relations in Nigeria. Although it began during the regime of Akinyele who gave a vital push before the end of his tenure, Okereke, capitalising on his experience as a top functionary of the United African Company (UAC), was well placed to diversify the profession and the institute.
One of his major achievements was to secure the granting of government subvention as an arm of the Federal Ministry of Information. Apart from the formalisation of entry, requirements, regular seminars and workshops were organised by the institute from which it receives a substantial sum of money and establishment of Sam Epelle Annual Lecture. Besides, most of the public and private corporate bodies were persuaded to employ only registered members of the institute as their PR staff. It will not be an exaggeration that Okereke’s era was the golden era of the institute. PR began to be highly recognised, respected and factored into high echelon of management of several organisations. The PR practitioner was seen as no longer a man who carries portfolio or a glorious messenger, but as a well cultured, groomed and admired corporate officer or manager.
However, things began to take a gradual decline from the tenure of Sabo Mohammed, particularly in the area of proliferation of fellowship and admission of sometimes not-so-qualified members. Things had in fact gotten bad when Mohammed left.
When Jebade Oyekan came in as the president, things were no longer in good place. Although Oyekan’s regime lasted for only two years, the propaganda of Vision 2001 movement by Bobo Brown caught fire and delegates of 2001 annual general meeting (AGM) in Owerri voted out Jebade who, in my mind, would have done better if he had been given enough chance.
A core journalist, Brown, who in all fairness, is a brilliant orator but whose knowledge and experience in PR issues was more of belligerence than coercive and persuasive, was elected. He was embroiled in numerous internal and external feuds with the older generation of NIPR leadership and those of Ministry of Information. This belligerent posture invariably cost the institute the loss of government subvention.
In fairness, it must be mentioned that Brown’s era saw a serious effort to collectively give the Nigerian nation a new reputation in the comity of nations. Because, hitherto, following the Abacha era, because of his authoritarian propensity, the country suffered a lot of image loss globally. The programme of reputation restoration of Brown did a lot to enhance the country’s image.
However, his era, which stretched from 2001 to 2005, as already indicated was characterised by some belligerent attitude which invariably alienated some senior leaders of the institute and some government officials particularly in the Ministry of Information.
Another aspect of Brown’s era, which did not help issues, was the fact that he insisted on or, to say the least, supported the emergence of a highly-respected scholar and Marketing professional, Prof. Ike Nwosu, to take over from him. This did not go down well with many members who had thought that the presidency should have gone to the South West. Although Brown is a Rivers man, the totality of his birth and antecedents are by and large Igbo, having come from Opobo. The emergence of Prof. Nwosu helped to dampen the professional spirit of many members.
Another sour issue was the enthronement of Frank Tamuno Coco as the chairman of Board of Fellows where he is till this day, over 12 years running, as if it is his imperial birthright or permanent employment. Unfortunately, he used the position to ensure that only those who would support any presidential candidate anointed by him and Brown should become the president under the League of Vision 2001. That is why Nwosu emerged to replace Brown, and that is how Abdullah Mohammed emerged to replace Nwosu. By this arrangement, mediocrity was installed over meritocracy and fortunes of the institute began to decline. Without mincing words, Nwosu helped in no small measure to rectify the anomalies in the appointment of fellows and in addition to ensuring the setting up of Education Board which has honestly done very well to sanitise admission.
Thus, the new paradigm shift which a new council is expected to embrace, among other things, must ensure that the “near perpetuity” of the chairmanship of Board of Fellows is changed and made only for the person to serve four years; appointment of Fellows through examination is not achieving its objectives because some fellow appointed through the so-called examination process since 2004 did not write the submitted projects themselves. They simply got some more qualified members or even their staff to write for them; a more transparent method must be fashioned out beginning with the rule that nobody can become a Fellow, unless he has been on the membership status for 10 years. This rule has been grossly abused. Besides, venue for AGM must not be left at the whims of the president who would always set the date and venue to serve his silly and parochial interest.
The current Council members to a certain extent have not honestly asserted their authority. It appears that they have allowed the current president to regularly hoodwink them into certain decisions without their inputs, only to be appeased with “hello colleague”. Administrative and secretarial matters must be streamlined in which case the Registrar must be allowed to help make inputs into certain decisions and not as a mere “party” scribe. This must go with overhauling of accounting procedures in the secretariat, including revitalisation of income generation.
The allegation that the institute has been running another separate account in Diamond Bank is non issue because the only problem with it is non-conformity with withdrawal rules, otherwise the account was properly opened in the best interest of the institute. However, we must reverse to using the institute main bank as authorised bank for the institute. Besides, the new Council must assert its authority and not to be a lame duck Council just as the outgoing Council. The 2013 AGM should ensure that the next president comes from the South West to ensure equity. The information that Dr. Rotimi Oladele of Lagos chapter is being proposed may certainly be a welcome development. If that happens, it is proper to pick someone from the Middle Belt, preferably a lady, to serve as the vice president. In this wise, Ahjai Lantana should be considered if only for gender equality.
It is time the image maker ensured it does not lose its own image. To do this, he must begin with the forthcoming AGM. Need I say more?