Public Relations and National Cohesion
By Aliyu Umar Aliyu
Public Relations is a concept that describes the deliberate, planned and sustained effort by an organization to create and maintain mutual relationship between the organization and its publics. The process involves the cultivation of favourable relationships for organizations and products with its key publics through the use of variety of communication channels and tools. Initially, it was believed that the role of public relations was to work with media men in building a favorable image by publicising the organization’s products and activities through stories in print and broadcast media, but the society is becoming more complicated and sophisticated as it expands.
As such, the need for the public relations practitioners to redefine their duty so as to meet with the taste of modern day organization and trends in the contemporary society. The roles today include:
1.Building awareness and a favorable image for a company or client via stories and articles found in relevant media outlet.
2.Closely monitoring numerous media channels for public comments about a company and its products.
3.Management of crisis that threatens the organization’s image and its products.
4.Building goodwill among an organisation’s target market through community, philanthropic and special programmes and events.A number of attempts have been made by various scholars to define the concept of ‘Public Relations’. One of the commonly accepted ones is ‘Doing good and telling people about it’.
This is because public relations are all about winning people’s hearts and minds by gaining their supports willingly.In the same vein, it has been proved that Public Relation’s practitioners are achieving consensus on the nature of Public Relations. In August 1978, representatives of more than thirty National and Regional Public Relations groups, societies, and associations met and adopted a definition which they tagged “the statement of Mexico”. It states that:Public relations practice is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organization and the public interest.In another instance, the Public Relations Society of America (1982) issued a statement on Public Relations as extracted in Sam Black (1989).
It stresses that public relations helps our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and functions more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony.Public Relations serves a wide variety of institution in society, such as businesses, trade unions, governments agencies, voluntary associations, foundations, hospitals and educational and religions institutions. To achieve their goals, these institutions must develop effective relationships with many different audiences or publics such as employees, members, customers, local committees, shareholders, and other institutions and with society at large.The managements of institutions need to understand the attitudes and values of their publics in order to achieve institutional goals.
The goals themselves are shaped by the external environments. The public relation practitioner acts as a counselor to management, and as a mediator helping to translate private aims into reasonable publicly acceptable policy and action.”Having considered these definitions of public relations, it should be noted that public relations is a continuous, and planned process of communication – which can also be evaluated by the audience – aimed at endearing the organization to its publics. Based on this analysis, the importance and successes of Public Relations remains incomplete without a retrospective antecedent that has given rise to the present day practices.
Nation-building or national integration has long been seen as an important focus for postcolonial African governments. As some scholars noted, upon African decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s, social scientists were concerned about the need for what was called ‘national integration’ in societies with multiple ethnic religious and racial cleavages (Binder, 1964; Coleman & Rosberg, 1966; Zolber, 1967). Bandyopadhyay & Green (2009) have argued that this concern has been more recently resurrected by Miguel (2004), Collier (2009) and others who have advocated for national integration as a policy to promote state building in a continent now notorious for and rife with political instability and economic throwback.As Ifeanacho & Nwagwu (2009) observed, Nigeria’s effort at achieving national integration have remained largely unrealized. In their words, the history of democratization in Africa, and Nigeria, in particular, has remained the history of national disintegration. Thus, the integration crisis facing Nigeria is manifest in the minority question, religious fundamentalism and conflicts, ethnic politics, indigene-settler dialectic, resource control, youth restiveness and militancy and the clamour for a (sovereign) national conference or conversation about the terms of nation’s continued unification.
The status quo has convulsed the productive sector, limited the impact of government’s economic programmes on the people, threatened food security, complexified social insecurity, deepened the deterioration of physical and social infrastructures, distressed the living standards of a vast majority of Nigerians, militated against educational system and resulted in the ostracisation of the generality of Nigerians and their exclusion from the political and economic space, among other glitches.The entire social matrix in Nigeria is characterized by inter- and intra-community, inter and intra-ethnic, and inter- and intra- religious strife. Some of these conflicts are as old as the history of the Nigerian nation. The implication of these hydra-headed conflicts is that national integration suffers. There is increasing insecurity of citizens and property in the country, foreign investment is deterred and economic development is stymied.Terms used for national integration included national cohesion, national unity, nation building or national integration. According to Duverger in Ojo (2009) integration is ‘the process of unifying a society which tends to make it a harmonious city, based upon an order its members regard as equitably harmonious.How do we use public relations to reduce conflicts and violence and thus contribute to the national integration? NIPR professionals through the institute need to have clearly defined understanding of integration. Integration must be fully understood at the various levels starting from individual organizational levels through the local government up to the federal stage. We have acknowledged that human societies cannot avoid conflict and conflict when not properly managed can lead to violence.
There are some salient points that should be noted:
1. Peace is the essential ingredient for stability, integration and growth. We must develop permanent conflict resolution mechanisms so that conflicts do not exacerbate and become unmanageable.
2. We must improve the socialization process of our youths through civic education, guidance and counseling facilities.
3. We have to define citizenship in such a manner that any Nigerian who has lived in a particular state for five years can claim citizenship of that state. That way the conflict between indigenes and settlers will abate.
4. Our media must be more careful in their reportage of ethnic and religious issues so that their reports do not cause a conflagration.
5. True federalism is the way forward. It will release our creative energies, increase our productivity and increase our self-assuredness as federating units.It is worth noting that, public relations is not a cure-all therapy. It cannot solve all problems but an efficient use of it can be helpful if other relevant factors are properly calibrated as we hope to build our country into a cohesive, self-reliant, prosperous nation that is bound by the universal ideals of fairness, equity, justice, accommodation and egalitarianism – a country that is united even in its diversity.
Aliyu Umar Aliyu is a staff of Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and also the Vice Chairman Nigeria Institute of Public Relations FCT Chapter.