Dr. Rotimi Oladele is the President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). After NIPR’s recent 3-day workshop on ‘Crisis Communication’ for the Public Relations Officers in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Dr. Oladele granted this exclusive interview to MMS Plus. He reveals the place of public relations in managing crisis in the Customs, governance and setting the right agenda and repositioning Nigeria. Enjoy it:
How would you appraise the just concluded training of Public Relations Officers in the Nigeria Customs Service?
I want to say that the training programme is timely because the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) having recognized the career perspective of professionalism of Public Relations, domiciled it into departments that is servicing all other units of the service. And the need to look through crisis communications became very apparent in view of the fact that the society is becoming more volatile. The health, operational and professional challenges within which the NCS operates need to be understood the more and to be approached in a professional manner, that is why we designed this course for public relations practitioners in the Customs service. You could see that the top management of NCS also bought into it by the number of the top officials that were present in the training programme. The essence of this is that crisis must be recognized as a permanent part of daily events and without training it can’t be better managed.
One of the problems associated with this training programme is that with time, some of these trained workforce would be moved into other areas of Customs operations, thereby creating inconsistency.
That was the former scenario but it has changed now. You could hear them saying that the new Comptroller General has approved a career path for Public Relations Practitioners in the service. They don’t move them out of PR department anyhow any longer. They will now get to a certain level where they will have to be management staff. That is good for us. If a PR person grows and then becomes an Area Controller or Assistant Comptroller General (ACG), you don’t expect the person to be narrow-minded. He or she will still be a PR person managing his official beat with the skills and experience, so it is good for us. That is why we have been saying that duties given to accountants and engineers should also be given to PR people to get to the peak. So, getting to the peak is not a problem, it is a benefit.
How can president Buhari’s health challenge be better handled, using PR strategy?
The first thing in PR is telling the truth, if you want people to rely on you and trust you. This is what is happening now that I like, unlike before. We have been clearly told now that Mr. President has been told to rest more. And if he is to rest more, he is to get well better. There is nothing wrong about telling the nation that the doctors want him to rest more. We are all aware he is in the country, we are all aware he is not okay yet, we are all aware that he needs rest. And the masses who are the stakeholders and the owners of the president should know what is going on. The truth has been told. What else do you want them to tell you?
Are they to tell you that he is well? The first thing we must remember is that the President is an individual and a human being, and so bound to be sick like any other person. So, if he is sick, he should be treated. The problem here is because of his office and personality. How many people in the presidency have been sick without the knowledge of Nigerians? What noise do we make about these people? It is all about his person. So, we should appreciate sincerity and honesty in this situation.
Could you say the place of PR in managing the prevailing economic recession in the country?
PR has a lot of roles to play but the critical and most important of these roles is giving thorough analysis to policies. All government policies aimed at combating recession must be analyzed in terms of human capability, workability and time tenure, monitoring and measuring. For example, look at what the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has just done by banning 16 errant banks from accessing forex for SMEs. It was based on feedback mechanism. Remember, we spent a lot of time talking about feedback analysis on crisis communications and management. That is what CBN has done, unlike before CBN was able to get a feedback from all the banks on the disbursement of the forex and found out that the big 16 are the defiants. They are not complying and so were sanctioned. So, through assessment of policies, marketing of policies, public enlightenment and masses education are key in recession management. People need to know what government is doing. The role of every citizen must be clearly stated. People don’t know that leadership cannot work if followership does not work. And this is the essence of PR in governance. This further explains why government should not use quacks for policy-marketing, analysis as well as feedback management. Quacks don’t know what it means. They will politicize it, bastardize and criminalize it as well as falsify the feedback because they are not professionals.
The war against corruption has done more harm to the government than the good intended, what is your take?
Yes, essentially because PR strategy is not used. If we had used PR strategy to fight corruption in Nigeria, the first thing we should have done was to sanitize from within. You cannot keep a former governor, or minister who embezzled money as part of the government, yet you are fighting corruption. It looks like an unbalanced judgment! If I was a former governor or minister and there are accusations, and cases in courts and responses from the public against me, send me out to go back and tidy up my personality and reputation before I come back to my portfolio. How can you keep a former minister or governor who has cases about corruption in office and you are talking about fighting corruption? Sanitation as far as corruption is concerned must start from within. Anybody having a case of corruption in court should not be in government. This is what is giving the public conscience a problem now.
There has been issue of cash hauls discovered here and there, with the doubt that the EFCC is planting them. This is another PR question. What is your take?
This has really brought Nigerians serious disrepute of international record. If I were Donald Trump, I would change Dollars overnight so that all those Nigerians having millions of Dollars in keep will lose out. Even the owners of the currency don’t have it in such situation. If these discoveries are all true, then the government needs to go a step further to sensitize Nigerians and the world at large that we are not a trash can for Dollars. It is a disrepute to the nation.
How do we use PR to reinvent and reposition Nigeria?
The first thing we need to do is to change our curriculum, we need to repair our school curriculum. The post primary school must have curriculum content that can put food on everybody’s table. There must be entrepreneurship, vocational skills that everybody must enjoy. You must be able to fix your toilet, plumbing materials on your own, take your own photograph, among other things. If that education is comprehensive and entrepreneurial enough, it would have solved the first problem.
The second problem is de-monetizing politics. We should have salaried senators, local government chairmen, etc. The system is such that it is better for me to go to the Senate and forget about pharmacy. No single pharmacist has gone to the Senate and come back to practise pharmacy. They make enough money after eight years and may not even invest that money in pharmacy. We have shut mentoring; we have shut manufacturing and research, health care and others because of politics. It is not wrong for anybody to be a politician but we should de-monetize it. It should be dis-incentivized away from money.
Another thing is once you have spent eight years in power in any elective position, you should have nothing do again anywhere. So, this idea of being a career politician, by holding on to position after position must end. Are you the only one in your constituency or the most qualified to hold positions? This greed in politics is being sustained by the class of people in positions now. The voters must vote them out and that is when reputation will be back to Nigeria. These key critical areas I have listed will repair our reputation as a country.