Reforms in Nigeria: the Place of Public Relations

This discussion will be toed sequentially so that it is easily and understandably digested.

What is Reforms?

According to the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, reforms can be defined as ‘change that is made to a social system, an organization etc in order to improve or correct it’. It is obvious here that the essence of reforms in any instance is to bring about a positive change, which will either result in improvement or correction; embedded intricately in the definition of reforms are three major words we need to further get right to ensure our comprehending of the essentials of this discussion, these words are change, social system and improve. The understanding of these elements will make us appreciate the essence of the place of public relations in reforms in the Nigerian polity.

· Change – this can be defined as the fact of a situation, a place or an experience being different from what is usual and therefore likely to be interesting, enjoyable etc.

· Social system – this can be defined as a patterned set of rules, norms and agreeable way of behavior, which is applicable to all members of the society.

· Improve – to make something better than before.

The above analysis is purposely meant to establish the fact that Nigeria is a social system and in its present state needs a change to bring about improvement in the polity: in other words, Nigeria needs reforms.

Why does Nigeria need reforms? In what areas?

To say Nigeria needs reforms is an understatement – a euphemism of hypocritical proportion. Really it is even common to hear some people express it in a stronger way that Nigeria needs ‘deliverance’. It is viewed by most people (especially when the African mentality comes to play) that some unseen evil forces are behind the problematic anomalies in the Nigeria system. Why all these? This is because Nigeria as a social system is fraught with a plethora of simple political, economic, educational, international and national related problems which when viewed by right thinking persons are considered issues which in the first place can be solved through mere common sense. This is not meant to imply that those at the head of those sectors, which are faulty are incompetent or are not right thinking, but to say that they are most times either ignorant of how to approach issues that are negatively affecting their responsibilities, placed in the wrong place of their specialty, or surrounded by unbefitting persons who advise them in such a way that budding problems in the institutions either persist, stop transiently or snowball into crises of national and international proportions. Nigerian heads hardly ever involve the services of professional advisers in the formulation, expression and implementation of reforms and national branding, and this has most times made reform attempts in Nigeria either futile or of disservice to all or some section of the polity.

All the sectors in the Nigerian polity are seriously faulty and riddled with problems, which are either self-induced or overlooked. This then infers that Nigeria itself needs total rebranding. Who then can carry out this task successfully, but the professionals whose duty is predominantly image making.

The politics of Nigeria is more of a ‘chess game’ other than a system of rules, priorities and responsibilities. The political system is far from the leadership oriented one it is supposed to be, it has become a ‘dirty game’ as most people have stigmatized it. In most cases, other than having people who are capable of handling government machinery in power, we have inexperienced and unqualified persons imposed upon the people by some unfortunately rich or wealthy persons, who at the end of elections serve as advisers to ‘our leaders’; for God sake, what kind of advice do you expect such godfathers to offer those they have put in public position – to share revenue from the public treasury among private stakeholders instead of putting it to use for the benefit of public stakeholders. Nigerian leaders so far have shown that they are infected with the virus – fear that makes man greedily pursue monetary (or better avaricious) goals other than pursuing good image. This is why we have our political leaders caught in the act of money laundering, siphoning and other corrupt practices which are ignominious not only to those shameless persons but to the Nigerian identity as a whole. Another major mistake Nigerian leaders make in the design of reform programmes is the elimination of stakeholders’ interest in the reform plans; in one of his articles in the dailies, Deon Rossouw was quoted to have stated thus:

‘ In line with the inclusive model of corporate governance that prevails in Africa, all country codes, with the exception of the Nigerian one, emphasizes that there should be regular engagements with stakeholders. Engagement with stakeholders is being effected through the regular channels of communication that exist in the annual general meeting and through regular disclosure of financial reports.’

The statement above shows the observed incompleteness in the reform process in Nigeria. This incompleteness accounts for the unsuccessful positive branding of the Nigerian entity. The governance of a country determines the rate of development of that country. The mainframe of the faulty Nigerian image is the deceptive and politicized factors, which characterize reforms programme in the country.

In the area of economy, Nigeria is not faring well and this unmistakably calls for reforms. The standard of a nation’s economy is not measured by what its leaders are able to afford in foreign accounts, or what the elites are able to afford; it is rather measured by the standard of living of its citizens. What can we say about the economic situation in Nigeria? Very appalling and pathetic. The chasm between the rich and the poor is very wide, we are not saying that everyone in the country must be equally rich, however, for a country as rich as Nigeria, poverty should not be so present that it can be measured from the physical appearance of the rich and the poor. In a polity of people of same race, there still exist discrimination in condition of living and public marginalization in economic reforms formulation and implementation. When the whites still physically colonized us, we complained and fought discrimination, but this is now the mainstay of the economical system in Nigeria.

Looking at our educational sector, the situation is nothing to write home about. Nigeria’s educational rating in the international environment has a substandard position. This is not because students are not well taught or that there are no qualified Nigerian teachers and lecturers, but because the lackadaisical and haphazard system of coordinating education in Nigeria is apparent to the international environment. A lot of reforms put up by the government seems very right, however, the way they are implemented other than bring about a face-lift result in confusion and in some cases repulsion from the populace for which the reforms are intended.

Nigeria’s International Relations is being badly dented due to various indecent acts exuded by some unscrupulous citizens and political leaders alike. Though the federal government appears to be doing a lot about repairing the indignant image of the country through a series of institutions put up to show that the government is not in liaison with the nefarious acts, which have been portraying the polity as a corrupt hideout, those reforms appear at times to have political subterfuge undertones in implementation, because of their malhandling, and for this reason, such reforms are militated against by those who are supposed to have been in concordance with the policies made, hence it is not uncommon in Nigeria to find two or more institutional bodies fighting each other or one another over the implementation of a good reform policy. These internal imbalances have further aggravated the problems of ensuring successful reforms in Nigeria, and have consequently affected Nigeria negatively in the international society. In 1999, when president Olusegun Obasanjo after resumption in office, wanted to sell Nigeria to foreign investors, he traveled across the globe to achieve this aim, however, his quest met futility as a result of the negative image Nigeria already possesses. This can be traced to communication gap and insincerity in expression of reform policies in Nigeria.

There are of course other areas in which Nigeria is faulty in terms of reforms, however the aforementioned are prominent among all. At this juncture, we need to get it right that it is not that the Nigerian government is ignorant of the immense contributory solution Public Relations proffers to the successful implementation of reforms in the polity, but a misunderstanding of the concept of Public Relations, which makes most leaderships apply advertising, propaganda, publicity, assassination, bribery and others that are not Public Relations as instruments of trying to implement reforms is the painful irony. For instance in the case of renowned professor Fabian Osuji, the former minister of education, he ignorantly misconstrued public relations for bribery, yet he admitted it overlooking the ignominy such absurdity has on his person, and I wonder how the international society would have laughed Nigerian to scorn when the scandal became public knowledge, I am sure some critics would have asked, ‘how if possible that the minister of Nigeria for education does not know what public relations is, how will his subordinates or the students know even other more complex things?’. The man could not be said to be illiterate but professionally he is, if he had applied the services of professional public relations practitioners to the issue of allocation of resources to his ministry, he would not have made a mess of himself and compoundedly retain the problem he was willing to solve. The same scandal has a connection with political interests and it saw Adolpus Wabara, bow out in shame from the political scene. Or better still one could reach the conclusion from studying the trend in Nigeria that the government prefers making use of quacks and willing puppets in place of institutions responsible for reforms for mischievous reasons, perhaps so that those institutions would be bound to bow to their whims and caprices pending when money and resources meant for reform contracts would be transferred to private accounts or used for selfish reasons. Behind these detestable acts, the actors have reforms behind their minds, but they failed to apply public relations in its professional form and this exacerbates the problem the more.

The crisis in the Niger Delta here in Nigeria is another case. The issue of kidnapping did not just start when the youths became lethally restive. It had started a long time ago, but since a planned programmed solution was not instituted to put the budding crises under check, it resulted in a crises of international proportion.

All these expositions show that Nigeria is in dare need of reforms; the point now is ‘how does Public Relations fit into actualizing the dream of rebranding and repackaging the Nigerian entity?’ This question will be answered in the subsequent paragraphs.

Public Relations in Reforms? The links!

The import of the application of every concept is derived from the definition of that concept, we would not understand the place of public relations in reforms if we do not know what Public Relations is. For this reason, we need to define public relations. The most acceptable and generalized definition of public relations was propounded at an international conference in the city of Mexico in the year 1978 when about 30 national and international bodies of public relations met – Lanre Kuye et al, Issues in Pr?

The definition runs thus:

‘Public relations is the art and the social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organization’s and the publics’ interest’

In fact, the definition of public relations already explicitly spells out its indispensable place in reforms in Nigeria; however, it will not be left for an unconsensual debate, it will be elucidatingly explained in the preceding paragraphs. Here we take a look at the key points in the definition given above and strewn them into the right place in the topic of our discourse – Reforms in Nigeria: The Place of Public Relations; these key points are:

Public Relations in Nigerian Reforms? Link 1 – Formation of Reform Policy with Foresight and Continuity

Firstly, ‘Public Relations is the art and the social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences….’, this aspect of the definition of public relations shows that the act of public relations is not extemporaneous, but a deliberate, planned and sustained one, this makes it an art and for the fact that it is concerned primarily with human relationships and the environment makes it a social science. It aims at studying the dimension of goings on in the environment, this makes public relations very essential not only in reforms implementation, but at the elementary stage of reform policies. The involvement of professional public relations practitioners in the formulation of reform policies makes it possible for the policy to possess inherent proactive factors, which will make the policy fit into future arrangements. The involvement of public relations in reforms puts into consideration the likely outcomes of a programme aimed at reforms, hence public relations puts a check on uncertainties that might arise in the future. If the Nigerian government were able to involve public relations in reforms programmes, there would not have been the events of chaotic outcomes from the initiation of reforms. The reason why most reforms do not see the light of the day or fall short along the way without seeing maturity is that they lack consistency in themselves likewise fall short of heuristic values. In addition, it is a trend in the Nigerian environment that charlatans and the wrong institution be asked to handle the right programme. The programme of giving Nigeria a new brand or image is solely the responsibility of public relations, and until this is effected, there can be no truly branding of a new Nigeria. The reason why most times Nigeria’s ‘Titianic’ hits the iceberg is due to lack of foresight, it is during the course of the implementation of most reforms that leaders fashion short cut means to cover up inconsistencies in their reform plans, and this often times results into the use of propaganda, bribery, blackmail and other deceitful means in the name of public relations with the intention of solving problems inherent in the poor initiated reforms programme, this in the long run culminates into chaos and calamitous consequences. Even the Bible states:

‘ A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly and suffers the consequences’

- Proverbs 27:12

A recurring mistake that has often plagued reforms in Nigeria is not formation or adoption of good reform policies, but the inability for sustainability and continuity of these reform programmes, this is a vacuum public relations has to fill. With planned, deliberate and sustained efforts which are features of public relations, reforms in Nigeria will do better than before with the involvement of public relations in their formation.

Public Relations in Nigerian Reforms? Link 2 – Adviser to Reform Policy makers

‘… counseling organization leaders ….’ This aspect of the concept of public relations makes it necessary in Nigerian Reforms programmes in the sense that professional public relations practitioners are needed to serve as advisers to reform policy makers. This will ensure that leaders are guided in their quest to bring a change to the Nigerian environment through reforms, and this will ensure that in times of contingency, public relations stands to effect reactive solutions to crises, while for budding crises, public relations will be in place to design proactive solutions which will nip any budding crises in the bud should the event arise. Generally speaking one of the basic problems with Nigeria in terms of reforms is always either that the right person is not in the right place or that ‘Ahitophellic’ advisers, who give the wrong or selfish advice, surround the right person. Public relations is in itself a management function, and its place in reforms on this premise is to see to it that leaders are enlightened on the consequences of actions, so that they look before leaping. Every leader is saddled with the responsibility of taking decisions, which he/she supposes will ensure improvement in situation of things for publics and the organization at large, a handsome dosage of public relations would do well to see that such visions are well designed, expressed and sustained towards positive fruition.

Public Relations in Nigerian Reforms? Link 3 – Implementation of Reform Policy

‘ … implementing planned programmes of action ….’ Public Relations aside shouldering the duty of policy formation and policy makers’ advisers also performs the vital duty of seeing to it that policies formulated are well implemented and not only that, but sustained so that it has continuity in its positive effects. In fact, the programme of reforming Nigeria, is centrally the function of public relations. The involvement of professional public relations practitioners in Nigerian reforms ensures that reforms programmes are proficiently put to execution through selective means such as facility visits, press conference, journals, news conference, press release and other well designed media through which open communication is facilitated and which are certain to elicit mutual sympathy, acceptance, interest and knowledge of publics on the implications of the reforms programme. Here the open expression of intentions to publics which Public Relations includes in the execution of plans would definitely suppress any thought of deceit from government and public skepticism with which most reform programmes in Nigeria are characterized. A situation where contractors are awarded contracts to put up social infrastructures that could bring a facelift to the society and improve the well being of the people, but end up doing virtually nothing will be eradicated if they know that, they have to openly account for their responsibilities and this would move the nation toward a successful reformation.

Public Relations in Nigerian Reforms? Link 4 – Two-way Communication/Protect the Interest of All

‘ … serve both the organization’s and the public interest ….’ The beauty of public relations lies in this very quality of fairness, which it innately possesses. The involvement of public relations in reforms in Nigeria will definitely eradicate the anomaly of a good reform programme facing stiff opposition from the public. The involvement of Public relations in Nigerian reform programmes will surely ensure that the public interest is considered in the formulation, expression and implementation of reforms. The involvement of public relations will eventually transform the Nigerian scene, especially the attitude of the publics for which reform programmes are intended from negativism to positivism. According to Frank Jefkins, public relations will bring about the following positive changes in the attitude of public in the following ways, conversion of – HPAI to SAIK in the analyses below:

H – Hostility S – Sympathy

P – Prejudices A – Acceptance

A – Apathy I – Interest

I – Ignorance K - Knowledge

Jefkins further elucidates on this grounds when he explained that prior to the employment of public relations in an organization, the case is always that of negativism, but public relations adds value to such organization upon employment by transferring the negativism to positivism; these are the hallmark of the transfer process – Lanre Kuye et al, Issues in Pr?

In same vein, the place of public relations is essential for the purpose of a conducive atmosphere for reforms in Nigeria. Most times in the Nigerian environment, when reform programmes are embarked upon, adequate communication to enlighten the publics or stakeholders on the essence of the programmes is not put in place, and many at times when communication is put in place, it is designed in a one-way or downward structure, hence feedback is not incorporated in the communication design and this makes the publics of the reform programme feel imposed upon or unable to satisfy their curiosity as concerning obfuscating aspects of the programme. This ‘unpublic relations’ attitude has earned President Obasanjo the infamous title of ‘civilian dictator’ in the press and polity in general.

The place of a two-way communication in reforms cannot be overestimated. We should get it right here that communication is essential in the actualization of peace, which bullets cannot achieve; one contemporary scholar expresses the vitality of communication when he wrote:

‘men communicate to make a desirable attitude popular, thereby increasing the uniformity of opinion’ – Ifedayo Daramola (Introduction to Mass Communication).

Two-way communication if incorporated in reforms programmes in Nigeria, will always make room for general acceptability of the formulation, expression and implementation of those reform programmes. But this cannot be possible without the application of Public Relations, which in itself has the use of a two-way communication as a veritable tool. Late Sam Black, an honorary Professor of Public Relations, and a past president of International Public Relations Association defined public relations as:

‘ … the establishment of a two-way communication to resolve conflict of interest by seeking common grounds or areas of mutual interest in the establishment of understanding based on truth, honesty and full information’

- Lanre Kuye et al, Issues in Pr?

In Nigeria, most times, reform programmes are put up without enough or full information to carry the publics along and this poses the government as dictators, whom the publics will seldom regard with having good intentions. And in where (if at all) communication is set up, it comes in the form of propaganda, and so at the end of a promised time when the result of a reform programme is to be measured by the publics, it is discovered that the government has been fabricating promises all the while. A relevant example is the issue of repairing the unserviceable refineries in Nigeria, which the present regime, during the first tenure put forward as the rationale behind the increase in prices of petroleum products, but at the end, despite the neck breaking price the people had to pay to acclimatize themselves to the travails of hike in fuel price, the refineries in the end were not repaired whereas the government necessitated another fuel price hike, this resulted into industrial actions of national scale. Another instance was the unceremonious execution of the educational reform policy, which is intended to further test the admission worthiness of potential students into higher institutions. The introduction of the policy was so unceremonious and this elicited vituperation from various stakeholders. The programme, though loaded with a lot of positive benefits appalled many people including some educational institutions to which the reform programme was not properly communicated. There was no uniformity in the execution of the programme, and most schools were seen to have exploited students through the unaltruistic implementation of the programme. These are all anomalies Public Relations stands to prevent or eradicate in reforms in Nigeria.

These examples show the absence of the involvement of genuine application of public relations in most of the reform policies in Nigeria. And for as long as Nigerian leaders fail to apply public relations in reforms programmes, there is every tendency that things would not go impartially right with the development of the polity.

Public Relations in Nigerian Reforms: Candid Summary

I submit here that individual and national success, improvement and public relations are so intertwined that they are inseparable. The place of public relations in reforms in Nigeria cannot be compromised. It is only with the involvement of genuine public relations coupled with good leadership that Nigeria can be truly reformed. Nigeria has all the natural resources to outgrow its present stunted growth, but has continued to ignore the efficacy of the real image builder - public relations to actualize true reforms.

Dele Olukoju, the General Manager Richardson and Briggie expressed this clearly, when he wrote:

‘ the reason why Nigeria has not been able to make any appreciable progress in the project of rebranding Nigeria was because government abandoned the professionals and is working with contractors’.

I wonder whether it is because of the openness which public relations has as its benchmark and which of course is vital to successful reformation, but which negates deceit, unscrupulousness and propaganda for which most reform programmes in Nigeria are characterized that has made our leaders shun its involvement in a true and pragmatic sense, after all Nigeria is characterized with terminating the existence of anything, whether human of idea that poses to bring about fairness and openness to move the polity forward. It is really pathetic that we have the solution to our problems right in our hands, but prefer to go on in the dark paths. I look forward to a day when our nation will eventually have a leader whose priority is good image not avarice, a leader who will be able to appreciate and put to use the instrumentality of public relations in gearing the country to the summit of improvement and correction which are the brass tacks of reforms.

The process of branding Nigeria is supposed to entail the initial identification of stakeholders and then policy formulation putting into consideration how the government will engage the masses’ interest in the reform programme. Only public relations stand as the institution that holds the solution to the successful branding of Nigeria; its place in reforms in Nigeria is immeasurable, invaluable and indispensable. Public relations is the answer.


About the Author:

Nelson Oluwabukola Michael (NOM) is a Mass Communicator, and a Professional practising PR expert. He is committed to offering professional advise to organization on Management and human relationships.He is a chartered member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations