Time for NIPR to Bite over Non-professionals as Military Spokespersons
By Kabir Abdulsalam
A Yoruba adage says in an entity where there are no rules, there can’t be offences. People are therefore completely free to do whatever they like as it pleases them and no one will hold them to account.
This invariably means that in a society where there are rules and regulations guiding the affairs of man and human interactions, individuals, organisations and institutions cannot afford to be lawless. When they choose to act with impunity, they must be held accountable and there have to be consequences.
In serious climes, every professional association has guiding principles and regulations binding on their members – what is expected of them while doing their job and also their responsibilities to the society. This is meant to avoid chaos and ensure orderliness in any society.
Under normal circumstances, membership of professional bodies, academic qualifications, and experience are basic requirements to practise in organised sectors. Qualifying examinations are set by these bodies and years of service are also considered as prerequisites for full membership of some of these professional bodies.
For instance, an intending practitioner must pass some examinations before becoming a chartered accountant. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN) are the bodies registered by law to regulate the practice of accountancy in Nigeria. Also the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) is there to ensure strict adherence to rules in the Engineering profession. That is exactly what Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) does with lawyers in the country.
The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) has the same mandate on Public Relations practice in the country and this legitimate mandate is backed by a state statutory instrument in Decree 16 of 1990 with the article (k) charging it to hold and enforce this code.
According to this code of practice, organizations whose existence is backed by law are not allowed to appoint officers or members of staff into their PR and Public Affairs Unit except and unless these officers are members of NIPR or have NIPR certification.
Some government agencies, especially the Nigerian military have however consistently and flagrantly flouted this rule despite repeated warnings by NIPR.
In the last three years Nigerian Army has consistently deployed non- PR professional, as Defence spokesperson. Recently, another non-professional, Major-General OJ Okpor has just appointed into that position.
“We have sent out several correspondences to public and private organisations on the legal implications of such appointments which is against the law.
“Whenever they appoint Heads for Account, Legal, Engineering and Medical Departments, for instance, they ensure they are qualified and certified accountants, lawyers, engineers and Doctors for the top offices… Why should they treat Information and Public Relations departments differently? This deliberate policy of embarrassing a professional body for image-makers and crisis communicators is very unfair and unfortunate.
“There are set parameters of knowledge you need to acquire before you can practise public relations. There are also laid-down rules about appointing spokespersons. The law establishing NIPR makes it a criminal offence for anybody to practice public relations by whatever name without certification or without being licensed by NIPR. The law provides for imprisonment, fine, or both for offenders,” a top NIPR executive who didn’t want to be named had told PRNigeria when Sawyer was appointed six months ago.
When Okpor was sworn-in recently, the NIPR shunned the event in order to register its protest on the calibre of person that was appointed.
Okpor was earlier the Director, Directorate of Military Training (DMT), the unit, under the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in charge of training cadets.
Okpor, a member of 39 Regular Course of the NDA who was commissioned into the Nigerian Army Infantry Corps as a Second Lieutenant in September 1992, has no pofessional training in Public Relations and holds no Communication or public relations membership card despite the Nigeria Army operating the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information (NASPRI), established in 2010 to train military personnel on strategic communication and publicity activities.
It is time for NIPR to stop barking and try to bite. It is time to seek redress and judicial interpretation of these appointments as a way of enforcing the rules and protecting the image and future of the noble profession.
Kabir Abdulsalam is a Staff Writer with the Spokespersons Digest