Imperative of engaging Nigerian against foreign communication experts

Following the position of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) against purported moves by the Federal Government to hire foreign publicists to remedy damage to its reputation from the Chibok Girls scandal, we have received many an interesting response.

While the majority of respondents appreciate the position, there are many otherwise well-meaning citizens who imagine that PRCAN is needlessly heating up the polity. Thankfully, the Federal Government quickly appreciated the umbrage and denied the purported moves, though there is information that at least four of our ministries have engaged foreign agencies already.
The issue however remains on the burner. There are those who feel that local agencies have not offered service to government in tackling the matter, forgetting the fact that it is Government itself that is reaching out to the international firms without doing the same to agencies based herein.

One of the most amazing responses came from a journalist on a critical beat germane to the subject. First, she felt “everyone is free to choose which firm should work for it” and also that “the intention of the Federal Government is to make these foreign agencies use international cases as case studies to proffer solutions to the issue on ground.” She then mentioned PriceWaterhouse Coopers as a foreign firm offering services in Nigeria.

Many of those responses have come to the PRCAN Exco and to me as President. It is important therefore to establish a proper understanding of the issues involved. I quote extensively from my response to my journalist colleague.

Dear reader, let us reason together.
Government not free to hire just anybody. We have heard some arguments that the FG is free to choose any body it likes. Even some of our members have voiced this unfortunate position. No, the FG is not free to hire anybody to do the job. Otherwise, they might as well hire civil servants from England because the English civil service is one of the oldest and the most competent in the world. I am sure that if they did that we all would scream. Too, they might as well hire foreign journalists and staff NTA and News Agency of Nigeria with them. They ostensibly have more exposure and can also take Nigeria’s message abroad. You get the absurdity of the position?
Our position is logical and premised on at least three grounds.

1. Nigerian Law. We have a Law in Nigeria that specifies who is qualified to offer public relations counsel in our country. That Act of the National Assembly is the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Act 16 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It says no one can practise public relations in Nigeria without due qualifications and registration with NIPR. Bye Law 3 of the same Act then created PRCAN and states that no company can offer PR counsel without registering the corporate entity with NIPR and PRCAN. Get it?

Note that those provisions are not exclusive to Nigeria. As a public relations person, I cannot just walk into South Africa or the US or UK and serve as public relations counsel. They would not allow it. I have to register with their relevant body.

The example of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) is interesting. It is so because something may be similar but not identical. In this case it is even wrong. PWC is an international firm but in Nigeria it is properly domiciled and registered to offer the services that it renders in financial and management consulting though it is currently overstepping its bounds to areas for which it has no registration.

We will get to tackle in due course firms that are encroaching on public relations as we grow the brand equity and strength of PRCAN. Thankfully, the brand equity of PRCAN is growing daily and our voice is being heard.

2. Responsibility of government to its citizens. All over the world, countries prefer their citizens and firms floated by their citizens to outsiders. Only colonial mentality that dominates government in Nigeria means they prefer foreigners. When foreign governments give aid, they tie it to purchasing goods and services (including consulting) from companies based in their country. Therefore, PRCAN says Nigerian government owes a duty (what the insurers call afiduciary obligation) to patronise Nigerian firms before any other from anywhere in the world. Note how suddenly there is a whopping $800m available to be spent while the Ministry of Information hitherto had no money to produce basic information and communication materials to do its job.
We learn to do by doing. You grow muscles by exercising them. When Government releases $800m for public relations and Nigerian agencies handle it, locally and internationally, they also become “international”. Go check: most of those so called “international” agencies earned that status by handling jobs of USAID, DFID etc in other countries but paid for by their home government or companies that came from their countries and established in other markets.
Those firms would then be able to offer direct employment to the thousands of young people with qualifications in communication, social and management sciences that form the bedrock for entry into the profession. The firms pay taxes here and contribute in several other ways to the economy and society.

3. Fallacy of foreign focus. Many people have fallen for this angle of saying the job of the so-called foreign PR firms is to address foreign media and audiences. Wrong. The problem is at home. The primary audience to address is the key stakeholders being Nigerian citizens. Once the government addresses the stakeholders here, the foreign media would also report that all is well in Nigeria on the Chibok matter. Note that for the foreign media to report the matter,they all came here or used their correspondents based in Nigeria. So it is false to speak of addressing the foreign audiences. The matter is here in Nigeria.

Above all, PRCAN reiterates the imperative of strategic management of Government communication at Federal but also at State and Local Government levels. It is necessary to do so because of the growing disconnect between government and the citizenry in our land. The climate of suspicion and distrust is such that even where government has performed creditably, citizens doubt the veracity of such information. Government machinery also has to go beyond the old concept of “Information dissemination” to modern “communication”. One involves a mere transmission, as in the way the Yoruba of Nigeria described radio initially asasoro ma gba esi (the object that speaks without taking responses) while the other actively involves listening, acting on that feedback and communicating based on insight. That is the standard in modern marketing communication. With its attributes of flexibility, cost effectiveness and credibility, public relations is a lodestar of the communication disciplines in this age of multiple channels and fragmented audiences.

It is important to get this right as our laudable rebasing has drawn attention to Nigeria’s actual economic size and potential. PRCAN welcomes foreign direct investment. Our member firms keep company with the best organisations in Nigeria, many of them representing FDI, so we have nothing against foreign agencies. Our concern is with doing things right.

Published in Brandish pullout in Vanguard Newspaper, June 12, 2014

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