NIPR is an Institute Chartered by law to Regulate PR Practice- President Sirajo
In this interview with the President & Chairman of Council of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, Mukhtar Sirajo leads us through his journey into the PR profession, his plans as the President and how he hopes to drive processes. Please have a good read!
Q: SIR, TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING THE PRESIDENT
I have been in the communication, media, PR business ever since l left school. l studied Mass Communication for my first degree, so l didn’t stumble into Journalism or PR. For some people actually, it was after leaving school and looking for jobs and perhaps finding nothing. So my being in media and PR is a deliberate choice. In fact, l will tell you that the year l finished secondary school, l gained admission first into ABU Zaria, which is the premier University in the North, but l knew I wasn’t going to stay long in ABU, because at that point they weren’t offering Mass Communication. So, l just went to ABU because that was the admission l got, and l already applied to the Bayero University, Kano (BUK) that was offering Mass Communication at that point. When l got the admission into BUK, I left ABU, Zaria for BUK to study mass communication, the course of my choice.
I went to BUK specifically because they are offering Mass Communication and that was what l wanted to
study, and that was how my journey started. When l finished school, l did my service in a PR firm in Kano, and also did some stint with print newspaper as a senior editorial person, both of which experience l gained as a youth corper. Immediately afterwards, l was employed by the New Nigerian Newspaper which was the second largest newspaper in the country at that point. Of course, it’s moribund now, but at that point, it was a very important paper like the Washington Post of the U.S. From New Nigerian, l did other programmes; l was selected to go for a one year internship.
Q: SEVERAL PR APPOINTMENTS WITH STATE GOVERNMENT
Immediately l returned from the internship in U.S., I was appointed by the government of Kaduna state in 1992 as the Press secretary. When Abacha came, the appointed military administrator held on to me. He didn’t let me go and he was later succeeded by interim government which also retained me. l was retained as the Chief Press Secretary up to Rtd. Compt. Hameed Ali, the current Comptroller-General of
Customs.At last count, after working with so many governments at a point, l had to leave when civilian dispensation returned in 1999. By 2000, Ahmed Markafi, the then Governor of Kaduna State, who we both work under the same boss, was Commissioner for Finance. So, we had known each other, and he dragged me back to government in 2000. So l worked with him in various positions, as Senior Special Assistant on Media, Special Adviser Media, Director- General Media, until he left the office.
And all this while l was participating in the Institute’s activities, lending support from the governmental angle to ensure, especially in Kaduna State, that NIPR was kept alive. I became one of the members of Governing Council of the institute in 2011 in Yenagoa, and became the Vice President in 2013 in Abuja. Then l did two terms as VP and at the end of the tenure of that administration, the Institute decided that it was not time for me to go home and that l needed to continue from where Rotimi Oladele stopped, where we stopped actually. So it’s a very brief journey.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE INSTITUTE NOW AS THE PRESIDENT AND HOW DO YOU HOPE TO DRIVE THE PROCESS?
You see, the vision for the Institute has been there, and l want to say with all sense of responsibility, that we had a vision the very time Rotimi Oladele and l came on board as President and VP respectively, our vision is for us to reposition the Institute. The first realization we came with was that the Institute was not where it ought to be. This is an Institute that has history, name, integrity, but along the line – l don’t know where we got it wrong – things began to go haywire, the Institute became like an orphan, and like a discarded road.
Successive administrations have done their bit and this is not to take anything away from them, but as at the time we took over in 2013, it had just been woken up by the immediate past administration. So we needed to begin the process of repositioning the Institute to return to its past glory. We didn’t deceive ourselves into believing that it was something we could do overnight. No one regime could do that, but we knew the most necessary step was the first step which we took and l am glad we are where we are now. Though the Institute is not where it ought to be, it’s way higher in terms of integrity and positioning than where it was in 2013 when we took over.
Q: REVIVING THE ADMINISTRATIVE OPERATIONS OF THE INSTITUTE
When we took over, there wasn’t what you would call clearly defined processes or structure in place. We began to trace the genesis of the rot that had eaten into the fabrics of the system. We discovered that the secretariat was existing only in name, no defined schedule of responsibility. You couldn’t even pin anybody down to any responsibility, because the leadership was not better in the first place. So the first thing we did was to try to restructure the secretariat – all the processes, membership, exams, education, whatever, everything we found in place, we needed to restructure. Incidentally as Vice President, l chaired the committee called the Corporate Governance Committee. So l know what l am talking about if l say there was a lot of rot in the system, which we tried to clear.
So back to the question, the vision is to actually continue the process of reforming NIPR, to those days that everybody used to be proud of us as an Institute and we have started, we have built structures, the
secretariat. It’s still not where it ought to be but it’s a lot better in terms of service delivery. Value addition to members is in a lot better shape than it was years ago.
Q: THE RECERTIFICATION EXERCISE
Certification too was a problem. That was why we introduced this process of recertification, so we actually tried to kill several birds with one stone, and by doing that people were encouraged to get up-to date with their subscription to the Institute, which is part of the revenue-generating scheme to the Institute. Then most importantly, it affords us the opportunity to have an up-to-date register of members, which used to be part of the responsibility of the secretariat. With re-certification that we have done, which is still an-ongoing process. Now with a click on the portal, we can tell you how many members we have in the FCT re-certified, how many we have in Bayelsa and so on. Before the re-certification exercise, it wouldn’t have been possible. We have a very functional website right now, but we are still working on it. At the touch of a button, whatever you want from the NIPR, you don’t come to us, we are trying to go with the trend of events in the world. It’s easy for us now to identify who our members are However, it’s important to mention that some members are yet to comply with the recertification exercise. Of course, you know that recertification comes with a lot of benefits to members.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY ON NATIONAL-CHAPTER RELATIONSHIP,?
You know, a good strategist does not tell you what his strategies are (laughs). If I let you into my strategy, then it’s no longer strategy. But I will tell you something. I am worried, I must be very honest with you, at the low-level nature of the relationship that exists between the centre and the Chapters, which is not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a relationship between a mother and her children, it’s supposed to be very cordial, beautiful, something that you really want to be identified with.
Q: WHAT ARE THE PROBLEM?
The problem is a two-way traffic; the National Secretariat has its problem, the Chapters too have their problems. But where I place the hammer more is on the National Secretariat, because of the problems that I pointed out to you earlier on. At a point, the Secretariat was not driven by people who knew what administration is. In any case, it was not driven by people who knew what PR itself represents.
Q: IS NIPR NOT AN ASSOCIATION?
The NIPR is a creation of the law, that is why when people say we have an association, I tell them, NO, you degrade us when you call us an association. We didn’t come together and form an association; we didn’t go to the CAC to be registered. NIPR is chartered by law to regulate the profession. The Act has made it a criminal offence for any spokesperson to practice public relations in whatever name without licensing by the institute. Organizations must therefore ensure that officers assigned to speak for them are registered members of the NIPR.”
That Decree 16 of 1990 is now an Act of Parliament which is part of our Laws of the Federation. This was what gave birth to the NIPR. The Chapters are a creation of the Council through byelaws of the Institute. The Act that gave birth to the Institute now empowers the Governing Council to make bye-laws, where and when necessary to accommodate emerging issues and trends, so that you don’t wait until there is an amendment to that law before you get things done. It’s quite cumbersome.
So Chapters need to allow this to sink very well; everything about the Chapters is at the mercy of the Council. So the manner in which some Chapters operate as if they are in competition with the National
Secretariat does not augur well for the Institute itself. It is more dangerous for the Chapters themselves because the Council, as it were, is in a position to dissolve any Chapter and it stands dissolved by law. But that is not part of the strategies we are going to use (laughs).
Q: TELL US MORE ABOUT National-Chapter Retreat
The strategy we are going to use is to really re-educate all of us, not just the Chapters, because, like I said, the problem is not just from the Chapters alone, it’s a two-way kind of traffic. We have our own problems at the National level and the Chapters have their problems.
Part of the strategies is to continuously organize retreats, where the National and leadership of the various Chapters across the country would lock ourselves up for two days and really brainstorm, talk some sense into one another and define areas of responsibilities and powers of each of us (one of such retreats held recently in Calabar).
But one thing that the Chapter must really understand is that whatever power is ceded to them, they have to know they derived it from the Council, which is the source. So you cannot be more important than the
Q: HOW DO YOU INTEND TO IMPROVE STRUCTURAL COMMUNICATION
What I want is a situation where there is a seamless communication. This is one thing I am actually driving at the moment. I want to ensure that there is a seamless communication between the National Secretariat and the State Chapters. Part of what I intend to do is that when we form our Committees, there is going to be a Committee in charge of National-Chapter relationship, and it’s going to be headed by a member of Council. Yes, the Secretariat is going to be the hub, but then, there’s going to be Council member that is going to head the Chapter Relations, so that the little problems that we are having can be sorted out without having to come to the Council, except where it becomes too necessary. But we are going to ensure that we have a very robust relationship between us and the Chapters. We want to ensure that in terms of training, there is a synergy. Whatever the Chapters do, they should know that the eventual destination is the prestige and integrity of the Institute, and not the Chapter. The Chapters are ambassadors of the Institute in their respective States.
Q: IT SEEMS YOU ARE WORRIED?
So, like I said, I am worried about the current nature of the relationship between several Chapters and the parent body. I want us to work together. It’s not going to be master-servant kind of relationship, but that which will up the ante as far as the practice of PR is concerned.
Even the National, I must confess, it’s supposed to be a symbiotic kind of relationship. However powerful the National thinks it is, it cannot do without the Chapters; that’s the truth of the matter. The Chapters are the foot soldiers, they help the system function. So we are not in any way undermining and underrating the position of the Chapters. They are very important, but it’s very vital for both parties to know that we cannot do without each other, and since we have laws and byelaws, we can stick to them to ensure that whatever we do is done within our confine. Once we confine ourselves to our responsibilities, then we have no reason to clash.
Q: HOW CAN YOU ASSESS FCT CHAPTER?
I must commend the FCT Chapter for its advocacy and training programmes. It has been up and doing, and I want to say that it needs to do more. Like I said earlier, NIPR is not where it ought to be, we need to take it where it ought to be, and that is possible when we tighten our belts, get more committed, and get responsive to our duties.