Dr Matthew Oluwarotimi Oladele is the current President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). A multi-talented scholar, he served as Managing Director of the Nigerian Tribune from 1999 to 2002 and has been the Managing Director of Megavons West Africa Limited, a publishing outfit, since 2003. Besides being a fellow of the NIPR, he is also a Fellow of the Institute of Directors, Nigerian Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Entrepreneurs. He is a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management. He also teaches postgraduate students at both the University of Ibadan (UI) and the Lagos State University (LASU) on part time basis.
Oladele holds a doctorate in Business Administration, three Master’s degrees in Corporate Governance, Marketing and Business Administration. He actually specialised in Public Relations during his Master’s programme (Marketing) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2000. He also holds a Diploma and an advanced Diploma in Law (University of Lagos).
In an exclusive interview with ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI in Lagos, Oladele speaks on a number of contentious issues in Public Relations and Journalism; why the NIPR Code of Conduct is important and why he thinks the social media would find it difficult not displace the traditional print media.
One of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations’ (NIPR’s) objectives is to conduct research, collect and disseminate information in all aspect of public relations. To what extent has the institute been able to carry out this mandate?
The mandate has not been carried out far enough. But to date, the relationship between the tertiary institutions offering the subjects related to Public Relations and the institute has done a lot of that.
However, the current leadership has taken the bull by the horn, by having Education Advisory Board, which is a bridge between tertiary institutions and the NIPR; and also between the NIPR as a regulator at the professional career side, and other regulators like the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) at the academic side.
We have also, in the past, gone to the level of having some collaboration with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) for the MSc degree programme and with Bayero University, Kano. These are the two giant steps we have taken, in ensuring that research and collaboration at the tertiary education level are ongoing.
Beyond that, we have established study centres at four places, but we are going to have, at least, one in each of the geo-political zones. We have now in Uyo (Akwa Ibom), Owerri (Imo) and Abuja (Federal Capital Territory). Next week, I am going to receive a courtesy call from the Commandant of the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information, to finalise plans to make that school another centre for Lagos. So, Lagos is likely to have two. These centers are part of plans to create a robust platform for continuous professional training and also research and publications.
Recently, we held meetings with TETFUND (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) for sponsorship of our journal and that has been going on for about six years now. We also have a new publication committee, apart from the academic journal committee. This new committee is to transform into a publishing company, that will be able to edit and print; publish research findings, instructional materials and academic books.
Why is the institute’s Code of Conduct so important?
It was not even as important as it is now. It is now more important. To start with, the core focus of public relations as a profession is ethics and integrity. Reputation is the substance of our article and what we manage is reputation. So, if you manage reputation, then integrity is key.
If you look at the emergence of corporate governance, the first thing that the people who saw the need for it did, is to put up a Code of Conduct. That is why, ab initio, the NIPR saw the need. We need to let the people have our guidelines; the rules of the game – what can I do to know I am wrong; what can I do to know that I am right? Even by creation, you say, anywhere there is no rule, there is no offence. So, our Code of Conduct is very key to us.
Has there been a situation when the institute had to discipline an erring member?
Of course! I can remember, clearly, as a member of the former Disciplinary Committee about seven years ago, there was a very senior colleague, a lady, who misbehaved and the institute set up a panel, referred the case to the disciplinary committee and I was a member. We had sittings in Port Harcourt and disciplinary actions were taken. Of course, it happens.
Okay, so it is possible for people to file complaints against unethical behavior of any NIPR member and action will be taken?
Sure, very well.
There are two groups of Public Relations practitioners: those who work in the public and private sectors; and those who are in private practice – the consultants. At the moment, the economy is not doing so well and competition for briefs is quite tough. Many consultants are complaining. What steps could those in private practice take to improve their fortunes in these hard times?
Let me say, first of all, that those who are recognized as consultants in public relations must belong to the affiliate of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) called PRECAN – Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria. That is what the NIPR put in place via a bye-law some years back.
Those who belong to that association are qualified and competent professionals, who can run a consultancy on public relations. They are licensed to do so. Anybody who is not a member of the NIPR cannot be a member of PRECAN.
That is why the current leadership of PRECAN is taking the right steps in the right direction. As I speak, we are finalizing a special programme, which is a Master Class for the Public Relations Consultants. We need updating ourselves, just like lawyers, medical practitioners would do. You have to be current. You have to know – what are the new challenges you are to manage as consultants?
For your client, you should be ahead of them, so that when you go to them, they see you as a bundle of solutions, as a last point of reference, where their challenges can be resolved.
But for those who are not members of this synergised structure, they cannot say they are consultants and they cannot get jobs. They are charlatans. They don’t have the expertise; they don’t have the experience. People who are aware will not give them jobs.
But for those who are competent, who are licensed, not getting jobs, yes, the challenges include foreign invasion. Foreign practitioners, who may have close ties with government (at the state or federal level); or maybe the client in Nigeria has a parental body somewhere (outside the country) and they are now dictating where you should go.
There is going to be an end to that. That was why we started the campaign since last year on quackery. Decree 16, which is now an Act of the National Assembly enacted in 1990, made it clear, the qualification and the process for somebody to qualify as a Public Relations practitioner. And as a regulator, the NIPR is going to ensure that there is absolute compliance with that.
Is there nothing the NIPR can do to regulate how foreign PR practitioners operate in Nigeria?
Sure, the law is for both the local and international offenders.
If someone flouts the law, what is the penalty? For instance, if a British or American PR firm comes to Nigeria, gets a job from the state or federal government, without recourse to the NIPR. What is the penalty for that?
It is possible to take you (offender) to court if you are not our member. A foreign company can come to Nigeria and do the needful, follow the due process and then practice. We are not saying foreigners should not come to Nigeria to practice, but they should do so legally. That’s what we are saying. I can also go to another country and practice. Nigerians are all over the place as medical doctors, but they are practicing legally. They have done the needful of that society where they find themselves. That’s what we are saying about compliance with the law.
The punishment: most of our laws in Nigeria – some are outdated, some are weak. So, the punishment may not be adequate and may not be enough to deter anybody from doing it (breaking the law). But the fact that it is there means it is there. Even if you’re fined N10, or put in prison for 10 days, the fact remains that you’re an offender, you’re a criminal. That, in itself being established, is a step forward. And that is what we’re pursuing.
What’s the requirement an individual needs to belong to PRECAN?
There’s a prescribed number of years you must have practised. Then, you must have been a member of the institute. Your organization must be managed…., your CEO (Chief Operating Officer) must be a very senior member – either a full member if not a fellow of the institute. Then, your organization must be a corporate member of the institute. You must pay your dues and be licensed.
Let’s digress a little bit, sir. You were the Managing Director of a respected newspaper, the Nigerian Tribune. What’s your view about journalism practice now, compared to then?
I must tell you, we have gone well below the ethical standard. We are already losing grip of professionalism. We need to really, really re-challenge ourselves, those of us who still remain on the media side of the divide.
First of all, the recruitment process must change. Professionalism in journalism is now a necessity more than ever. Secondly, we must challenge the business owners in the media, to be up and doing with respect to their responsibilities of the welfare of practitioners.
The bane of journalism is poor welfare package. Here in this small company (Megavons West Africa Limited), you can go and interview any member of our workforce or any of my colleagues, from the most junior that, if he is given the same job in Bank A, or Telecom company B, or Oil and Gas company C, whether he will readily move. The answer will be no, not because we are paying better than those organisations, but because there’s a welfare package and there is a relationship arrangement that is far, far competitive, friendly, sensible and measurable. That is grossly missing in the media organisations. Worse off is the print media. That was one of the things that was not in the Tribune of my own time.
Apart from that, you will also discover interference of the ownership, which does not allow professionalism to thrive. It does not allow career paths to thrive. Where workers don’t have the hope for the future….., any organization where I worked in the last 30 years, and I cannot say where I will be in the next five years, I will not stay. I would leave so soon. People who are career-focused are always like that. So, ownership interference does not help the practice and it makes people do all sorts of things.
Thirdly, we need to ensure that the regulatory bodies function properly. The synergy among the Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria…..there must be an umbrella body that will bring everybody together to form a media policy in Nigeria.
South Africa is a very good example: whether you are in the print or broadcast media, there is an umbrella under which they all meet.
We can do the same, look at the media policy in Nigeria and solve so many problems, like infrastructural problems. It is a shame that till date, with the number of book publishers, newspaper publishers, printers, graphics, communication organisations, magazine publishers in Nigeria, we still cannot acquire any of the paper mills in the country.
We had the giant three; two are dead – Iwopin and Oku Iboku. Jebba is operating at between 30 and 40 per cent capacity. Yet, we have a very robust consumer demand for paper.
That’s why newspapers are forced to import newsprint from overseas…
It is a necessity. There is no paper in Nigeria! This is a business that is 99.9 per cent import-dependent. And the banks are not even helpful. You walk into any of the banks; you will see Agriculture desk, Oil and Gas desk; IT desk….you won’t see Printing and Publishing desk. And yet, with the population of Nigeria, education administration is run on paper up till tomorrow. Despite the ICT, we are yet to do away with paper.
How wide or narrow is the gulf between Public Relations and Journalism
For the relationship between public relations and journalism to be understood, the public relations side is the chef in the kitchen, who prepares the food and dishes it out for the waiters to serve the stakeholders. The waiters, in this regard, are the journalists. For a good public relations individual, stories are built for journalists to disseminate, because it is when you create scenes of value, activities of value, relationships of value that there are news.
Yes, the other side of news, when we talk about negative things happening, odd things happening, yes…that could be part of it, but essentially, the relationship between public relations and journalism is to ensure that value chain is created and made accessible to stakeholders. It is in this regard that relationship building, activities attracted, attention attracted, interest satisfied, come as joint activities of journalism and public relations.
Journalists often complain that Public Relations Officers sometimes constitute an impediment to their efforts to reach their CEOs. What steps would you recommend for the two to maintain a cordial relationship?
In most cases, such issues will come up from non – professionals, who find themselves lucky to be given such jobs. But a professional knows that, that is the reason why he/she is on seat – for his/her CEO to be accessible to the media. However, the media practitioner should also note, that you cannot say because you’re a media person, you can just walk in, in the name of your profession and say, yes, you must see no other person than the CEO.
The first thing a journalist should do is to exhaust the capability of the PRO. And when there is a need for that interface, your reasons must be open and clearly presented to the PR person. Unless you have a sinister motive, if you come to me and say, how many products did you produce last month, and I say we produced 1,000. How much are you selling now, and I say N2. How much were you selling before and I say N1.50k. If those were the questions you want to ask, and I have given you the answers, and you are now saying you must see my MD, then it means – one – you have lost confidence in me or you have a reason, which is no longer professional, to see my MD.
If it is both ways, even if you want to see my MD, you can tell me you’re not satisfied with my answers and what you then need is to hear it from the horse’s mouth. A PR professional cannot say no to you. He can take steps; rather than take you to his CEO, he could take you to his immediate boss – the AGM (Assistant General Manager) Corporate Affairs, or the General Manager, Marketing; or the Executive Director, Corporate Services.
And in most cases, the CEO wants to meet the media and the PR person is the one who will get the credit for whatever the media does. But most organisations are afraid because they don’t do the right thing. They are not in good shape. They don’t have reputation. They lost, ab initio, PR practice, and they have already misunderstood it as a preventive dose. They use PR as a curative dose. So, when crises are on ground, and the media people are now here, since negative news sell more than positive news, they become jittery.
Do you have any fear for the print media, especially with the advent of the social media and the Internet?
I don’t. That was the fear people had when television came, that the radio would no longer exist within a few months. But is radio dead?
The complimentary role of one to the other will remain. Yes, we might have dwindled volume and this can lead to high price. So, the business, in terms of what comes in as bottom line may not change. Apart from that, it is a challenge to the print to go and look for another set of value chain to add, in order to be retained.
Secondly, the social media is a powerful platform. It will remain forceful and sweeping too. But also, in the longevity of storage, making a reference point and the production, they differ. So each of them would be appealing to different values. But if it (print) will die at all, it will take a very long time and it will die gradually, not a sudden death and that will give us enough time to adjust ourselves.
Finally sir, if student turned up in your office to ask for advice on whether he should study Public Relations or another course, in terms of career prospects. what will you say?
I will advise him to go ahead, because Public Relations, apart from being the key to all other professions, is where all other professions meet. That is why the new syllabus of Public Relations today has a little bit of everything. Gone are the days when you had a PR practitioner who cannot do a very good accounting and balance his journal. But now, you have to pass some financial subjects to enable you to do a good job, at least, at the preliminary level of an accountant. Same goes for other subjects.
What we are saying is that, Public Relations is managing lifestyle and service, whether business or public service. So, the thing is no longer for the PR person to terminate, for example, in the banking industry of those days, once you get to Principal Manager, Corporate Affairs, that’s the end, because they will now tell you that you cannot be an AGM (Assistant General Manager) because you’re not a banker. But that era is gone, because we have found out that all other things you do, they are encapsulated into a relationship. So, as long as you have relationships, you will need public relations to manage them.