Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Mr. Olusegun McMedal, speaks on many issues including hiring of foreign communications firms by some Nigerian political elites. Raheem Akingbolu brings the excerpts
In recent time, some corporate organisations and leading political parties have been accused of hiring communications agencies abroad. What is Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR)’s stand on this and what do you think government should do to enhance professionalism in the communications industry?
With my experience as the Publicity Secretary of the Lagos chapter of the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN), I have been able to know that government neglect of professional bodies is not limited to NIPR but to all professional bodies. That is why we see government putting round peg in a square hole when considering appointment. Today, we have many people who are not members of professional bodies, holding professional positions and this is affecting delivery and growth in many sectors. The explanation has always been that it is a political appointment but the masses are suffering for it. It is that neglect of professionalism that usually call for appointment or hiring of foreign practitioners by leaders of some political parties and government institutions, in areas, where professionals can be sourced locally. The question I have always asked is that how can government grow local practice and practitioners by going abroad to look for experts that can be gotten in Nigeria. Like they say in politics that all politics are primarily local; all communications practice is also primarily local. It’s therefore absurd for government to bring in films from abroad when we have similar films with equal capacity in the country. Unfortunately, those who are promoting foreign agencies are putting pressures on our hard earned forex. If government put professionals where they should be, the country will be better for it. There is no country that grows today without respecting her local professionals.
What are the measures being taken to curb quackery in PR industry?
One of the greatest challenges in the PR landscape is the free and easy entry into the profession. Like a friend would say ‘entering PR in Nigeria is like entering Seme border’. Even though the law emphasises that nobody can practice public relations under any guise without first being a member of the institute, we are surprised that top corporate bodies and even government hire people that are not members of NIPR to perform the functions. At every forum, we push for compliance with the law that establish NIPR among our members. At the national level, under Dr. Rotimi Oladele, the issue on how to defeat quackery and strengthen professionalism was squarely dealt with few years ago. As a first process, the institute embarked on re-certification by asking members to bring their certificate to get membership numbers. Today, every certified member carries a unique membership number. It wasn’t there before because there was no control. As things are, anybody who stands out there and not re-certified is technically not a member of NIPR. If any member commits a blunder in the course of his or her professional dealing, the moment his name is forwarded to NIPR, he will be traced and dealt with. Before now, tracing was extremely difficult. Another area we are trying to explore is through the ministry of Justice. Don’t forget, NIPR falls under the Ministry of Information and so the Minister in charge has oversight function in NIPR. It will interest the public that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation is also a stakeholder and with him, NIPR will soon set up a tribunal where offenders would be tried from time to time. When this is instituted, our monitoring and compliance unit will be able to have stronger teeth and bite where and when necessary.
Besides, to catch our practitioners young, we have taken the campaign on ethics and professionalism to schools where Mass Communications is being offered. For instance, two months ago, all the Mass Communications students of Covenant University got enlisted as students members and we want to introduce this in other schools. With this, the students will have the idea of what they are coming out to do on graduation and no the dos and don’ts of the practice.
NIPR has consistently used its annual award and recognition platform –LaPRIGA to send message on the importance of public relations to nation building. What should stakeholders expect this year?
This year is the third edition of LaPRIGA, an acronym for Lagos PR Industry Gala and Awards. It is a platform that was conceived three years ago to recognise excellence and celebrate practitioners, individually and as corporate organisation for identifying PR as a tool for communication in their businesses and operations, thereby contributing to the nation’s economy. The theme of the edition is; the HATTRICK. Just like we have it in football, when a player scores three goals, it is referred to hat trick. The theme is very symbolic to us in NIPR Lagos.
One, the event is in the 3rd edition, having held it for three consecutive years. Two, some of the elements that made LaPRIGA itself can be discussed under three functions; celebrate, network and full entertainment. With this, we come to another hat trick. Back to the question what new thing to expect. From first edition to the second, we have learnt some things that would reshape the third edition and make it possible for us to add more values.
As PR practitioners, we started this in a little way before it gets bigger. The way we started was somehow funny because we didn’t have something like this in mind then. As the chairman of the annual general meeting planning committee under my predecessor, Mr. Joseph Okonmah, we focussed on corporate social responsibility(CSR) and thought of appreciating some corporate bodies that had touched lives. They are about nine that we identified then but unfortunately, we couldn’t complete the process because of the cancellation of the election that was to bring back Mr. Okonmah for second term in office. Therefore, when I came on board, I decided to revitalise it by suggesting to our members the need to still go ahead and reward those people we have pencilled down. It was accepted and we kicked off. That was the genesis and it turned out to be like an experiential outing. We were able to identify our lapses and worked on it in the second edition. Let me quickly add that the feedback we got after the event encouraged us. It was then we realised that there was a vacuum. From the feedbacks, it was easy for us to know that the time had come for PR practitioners to set aside a date to celebrate, reward and network as we have it till today. Until three years ago, it was always talk and training and the rest. This year, we have upped the game in many ways including the unique venue we have settled for –The Raddison Blu, Victoria Island, Lagos.
We see the venue as a place that would impact well on the PR brand in Lagos State as well as befitting our guests and honourees. In line with our practice, our juries for this year are knowledgeable people and industry champions, same for our honourees; they are also people of good pedigree. While reviewing the past editions, one of the things that impressed us most is that our judgement on whom to reward in any category hasn’t been questioned or become subject of controversy. The reason for this is because of the process and the quality people we are working with to get it done.
Breaking it down, #LaPRIGA is a complete immersive experience presenting in its true essence a celebration of musical artistry, depth and richness as well as spectacular visuals and fine dining by a top international chef, accompanied by soothing soul music and drama from popular acts. It is a night of elegance, class and entertainment exclusively for the communications industry and most influential stakeholders.
Another special highlight of the event is the presentation of #LaPRIGA Awards to practitioners and corporate bodies in recognition of their professional excellence and contribution to the development of the profession over the years.
The drama presentation at the #LaPRIGA Awards, tagged: #AutiConnect; is a special advocacy project to increase awareness, acceptance, respect and support for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorders [ASD]. It is estimated that 190,000 children in Nigeria suffer from Autism.
As chairman of NIPR Lagos State, can you please share your experience?
First, coming on board has opened my eyes to many things about NIPR Lagos chapter, especially in the area of operations and activities. As a result of this, I have also discovered that NIPR leadership in Lagos is tasking and is like a full-time job. I was new in the institute when I vied and won the chairmanship –I was barely three years as member. There were oppositions from some quarters over the fact that I was new, which I understood and appreciated. But then, there were people, especially senior practitioners, who were impressed with my contribution as chairman of the AGM planning committee in the previous administration and so encouraged me to aspire. They believed that if I became the chairman, it would be a lot better for our chapter. Then I started consulting and I was surprised when some of the people I spoke to told me frankly that the job would take most of my time and affect my business. They, however, added that ultimately, I would be better for it at the end as it would prepare me for better practice years ahead. They told me I was in the process of sowing and that I would reap at the end. It was also emphasised that for that period of sowing, I have to manage my time.
Two things have helped me so far; my closeness to many people in the previous executive and my well articulate manifesto. With these two, I understand the institute and I had the idea of what I was coming in to do. Since I came on board, I have not, in any way, veered off my manifesto. One, I wanted people in the corporate Nigeria to be much more interested in NIPR, especially those who were members but had abandoned the institute; I wanted to bring them back. I wanted new members too from those who ordinarily should be members but thought there was nothing there. I was passionate in doing things that would attract them. Today, anytime NIPR does induction, Lagos State has always topped the chart, in some cases doubling the number of other chapters. Therefore, some of these people, who had deserted have come back and we are still working on others. As we all know, it is work in progress. Personally, the leadership of NIPR, Lagos chapter, has redefined my person in many ways. I know by the time I leave office, I would be a better person in my approach to issues, temperament, team work and other areas. In all these, I’m grateful to my team and other members because I never dreamt of becoming the Lagos NIPR chairman. They have not only made me one, they have supported me to achieve my objectives for the professional body. Another set of people that have made the job easy are our friends in the corporate world.
What is the relationship between NIPR and other stakeholders, especially PRCAN?
There have been collaborations, synergies and understanding that the motive of all is to strengthen the industry. Early enough, I identified three stakeholders; Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), The African Public Relations Association (APRA) and the Brand Journalists Association of Nigeria (BJAN). Working with this belief, I have been able to maintain a good relationship with the three bodies. For instance, PRCAN and APRA Presidents, John Ehiguese and Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, have been my mentors over the years. Also, almost all members of BJAN are my personal friends; from the immediate past chairman, Goddy Ofose to the new one, Princewill Ekwujuru, we have strong relationship and this has helped us to succeed together. Apart from the fact that I have the ears of these people, I also see Lagos State government, corporate affair managers of organisations and photo journalists, as strategic partners and we extended hands of fellowship to them.