• Say some comments have claimed lives
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) has advised against the practice of engaging non-public relations experts serving as spokespersons for political parties, public institutions, and private sector.
This was the consensus of participants at the consensus at a Special Virtual Engagement on the 2023 Presidential Election Campaigns with the theme: “Review of the use of public relations strategies, tactics, and methods in the 2023 presidential campaigns” organised by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in conjunction with Consortium of Nigeria Communication Experts (CONCE).
In his contribution, the forum’s convener, Professor Charles Okigbo, a United States based Nigerian born academic and former Registrar of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations noted that because the 2023 presidential election is the most consequential in Nigeria’s political history, public relations experts decided to interrogate the campaign process to assess the impact of messaging by leading political platforms and their minders.
“This 2023 Presidential election is the most consequential in Nigeria’s political history because it is now a 3-horse race, with a third party favoured to do better than expected, according to credible, respected, independent, international polls,” he asserts.
“As communication teachers and researchers, we are interested in this election campaign, especially the various uses of PR and social media, which may be the decisive factors in determining the eventual electoral outcomes this time.”, he added.
Most speakers at the forum agreed that current Nigeria’s electoral campaigns as lacking in substance and content as leading candidates and their spokesperson have demonstrated lack of capacity to clearly communicate their visions and programmes to the voters, but rather largely highlighting unnecessary controversies that don’t communicate valuable information to the electorate.
Attributing these flaws to lack of requisite professional training, skills and experience required to deliver on critical assignments as campaign spokespersons, noting that majority of them as non-PR experts, struggling to deliver on what is clearly a public relation responsibility.
NIPR for instance noted that for other professions, an intending practitioner must pass some examinations before becoming a chartered accountant. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), and Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN) are the bodies registered by law to regulate the practice of accountancy in Nigeria. Also, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) is there to ensure strict adherence to rules in the engineering profession. That is exactly what the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) does with lawyers in the country.
In a remark, the NIPR president, Mukhtar Sirajo reiterated that the institute as a professional body, will ensure that the extant law, regulating the practice of PR in Nigeria is adhered to by all and sundry. “As professionals it’s required of us now to make more concerted efforts to stop this country from continuing to be shortchanged, because there are experts in this field, public relations that can hold their head high anywhere, and a trial will convince our leaders.”
He admonished members to remain resolute and continue to engage critical stakeholders to ensure that the right things are done. “We should speak out; we should shout until they hear our voices. And as NIPR will continue to discharge our mandates, and especially the bits about ensuring that only licensed public relations practitioners are allowed to practice public relations in Nigeria,” he added.
“We will continue to do our bit until the law is amended, it is still a law and our governors, our leaders must realize that if you don’t like a law, you don’t bend it, you change it. It is a law, it is part of Nigerians laws. And our leaders must come clean as far as the application and upholding and compliance with that law is concerned. This is not just about ego. This is not just about the institute, wanting to protect its own, it is about the institute wanting to protect the country, by insisting and ensuring that the right thing is done.”
“You don’t ask me, for instance, to be the Legal Adviser to any political leader. Because I cannot give what I don’t have. In the same vein, you cannot advise anybody on communication if you don’t know what communication is all about. We must stick to our own fields, so that everybody plays their part in the right place in the right way and at the right time.”, Sirajo asserted.
On his part, Ambassador Aminu A. Wisdom, a diplomat, and former Nigeria’s Principal Representative to ECOWAS, advocated for strict sanctions against violators that stray into the practice of public relations without licence to ride the system of quacks.
“And the method of sanction must go across board, irrespective of who is involved. You can’t just because you know how to drive, and just enter a car and drive anyhow, on the street, where you are caught, they will penalise you, and sanction you, and fine you because we have no license. Therefore, in every venture, and in everything we’re involved in, we need a license.”
He added that spokespersons need to be monitored closely to “Ensure that they are licensed to speak. And that is where these problems are coming from. And like I said earlier, even in creation, creation was spoken into existence. So why do we not think that what we say does not matter? Why do we now think that we can just talk? I mean, some of the talk that has happened in the past has claimed lives. In a rally that is going on, and the messages I’m receiving from them is ugly, it is not pleasant. These are Nigerians, these are great Nigerians, these are our leaders of tomorrow that we are killing with unguarded statements.”
He added, “There are tools or resources to back us up to ensure that we are going to monitor closely and train people, license them to speak for whoever they want to speak for. And those who are not licensed are sanctioned, then that can serve as a deterrent to any other person. When you pick a microphone, you need to be careful with the things you are saying and be careful of how you present it. It is true that what you are saying is important, but it is much more important where you are saying it, it is particularly important how you are saying it, how you are presenting it, irrespective of who you are.”
Also in his contribution, the Director of Prime Business Africa (PBA), Marcel Mbamalu, expressed optimism that Nigeria’s emerging political and economic development presents a huge opportunity to consolidate the development of public relations practice in the country.
He urged PR practitioners to step up their efforts in strengthening Nigeria’s democracy through a more transparent electoral system in the country by deploying an integrated communication process that envisions from beginning to the point of taking power and all through your period in office.
Although, the event’s theme focused on the ongoing 2023 presidential electioneering campaigns cycle and how media managers of the 18 political parties participating in election fared, additionally various speakers interrogated the process as well as identified key flaws with the messaging by various platforms and their candidates.
The event attracted leading public relations professionals, legislators, diplomats, policy makers, from across the world including university lecturers, top executives of leading PR agencies in Nigeria, practitioners and students and the media.
The virtual event was moderated by Executive Director institute of Strategic and Development Communication at Nasarawa State University, Keffi and the Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Education Advisory Board, Prof. Emmanuel Danduara.