Category: Interviews

Defence Information is a Serious Business- Brigadier General Olukolade

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Defence Information is a Serious Business
– Brig. Gen. Olukolade, Director Defence Information

Brigadier General Chris Olukolade is the Director of Defence Information. He had previously served as the Director of Army Public Relations and was one time Spokesman of the ECOMOG Force in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. As the Director Defence Information, he coordinates with other services to ensure a good flow of information to the public. He is also Chairman of Media and information Committee on Emergency Management (MICEM) where coordinates information of other response agencies in the country. An alumnus of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, he was trained at the Defence Information School in the United States of America. A holder of Bachelors’ Degree from the University of Ife and Masters from the University of Lagos, the General also has a Post Graduate Diploma from the International Institute of Journalism. He was recently awarded Best Security Information Manager in West at an event in South Africa. He speaks to the Spokesperson Digest….

As the Director, Defence Information what is the mandates of your department?
The essence and mandate of the Directorate of Defence Information is to coordinate the management of information for the defense headquarters and other operations under its control primarily. It is also to interact and coordinate information management process in the services of the armed forces. It involves undertaking the public relations functions for the defense headquarters and occasionally on behalf of the joint service that is the army navy and air force. We are involved in formulating programs and policies both in operations and activities of the DHQ. I am at the service of answerable to the Chief of Defence Staff directly, under which case I could be assigned any other task.

What is your relationship with other response agencies in Information management?
Very cordial, very encouraging, I find it quite interesting in the sense that apart from the cordiality, camaraderie, and robust relationship we have for ourselves as public relations practitioners. I also find it interesting and encouraging, the access and motivation we get from the principals of our various organizations. The principals have been very forthcoming and expectant of the support we can give to the achievement of the agencies. As a major cornerstone of his administration, the chief of defense staff have been so interested in our interaction together in a body and as a group. He has been highly supportive and motivating and quite often he reminds us of the need to meet regularly, he directs issues we should discus, and suggest quite regularly we should discuss issues of national importance. Even beyond the chief of defense staff, I also find other service chiefs, inspector general of police, DG NEMA and other bodies we interact with in the course of our job, so much expectant on the level of contribution we can make to the achievements of the various organizations. That has been very motivating and encouraging. Beyond me as an individual, I find all other members very interesting and supportive of the idea.

Let’s go to the major stakeholders that you deal with, how has the relationship been with the members of the fourth estate of the realm, media in terms of coverage of security and disaster issues?
I find the media very much friendly, encouraging and supportive, I am particularly privileged to have enjoyed very cordial relationship across the board. I trace this to my opportunity to have grown in this career and at the moment, am leveraging on the relationship I have built over the years of public relations practice, in the sense that I am able to interact across board. I have friends in virtually all levels of media practice, from the reporter to the editor. There is virtually no major media organization now in Nigeria that I don’t have friends. Friends I have met at the beginning of my career both locally and overseas. Recently when foreign journalist came to Nigeria, I found that most of them have been my friends, especially those we met in Liberia and Sierra Leone and other places I have been privileged to serve. Couple of editors are those we met in work or while training, some of them where my friends in the university and in the course of journalism training. So I have been leveraged in the relationship and it’s been very helpful to me.

What challenges do you face as regards your interaction with civil authorities?
Well, I won’t say there are no challenges. The challenges are understood and believed. In fairness to the civil societies, they are quite expectant. They expect so much from our organization. The next thing is to believe what we tell them. Many times they believe what we tell them, but problem comes when they have alternative views, coming from media that may say things different from what we are telling them, giving them doubts. And when there are doubts, it gives us challenges to convince the people that we mean well, and we are telling them the truth. So that has been our challenge but most times we have been able to scale it, by what I said initially; leveraging on our previous relationships with the media and also the help we can get from, friends, stakeholders and opinion leaders in helping us to convince the public, that we are capable of discharging what the nation is expecting from us.

How challenging has been managing information during crisis or warfare?
Very challenging and in line with what I told you before; assuring the people that the measures on ground are meant for their good and not punitive. The measures on ground are meant to end the crisis. Most of the interests that are so entrenched and not ready to change thus contending with such interest both locally and outside has not been easy. Some of these interests want to go to the extent of undermining the system, and that’s a challenge for the management of both external and internal information. Our responsibility is to manage information within ourselves and information going out. But when you find people seeking to misinform those within the organization or use them for surreptitious means of disseminating false information, you have a big challenge to persuade both your internal and external public. So far, we are coping; we are coping from the virtue of help we get and from Devine.

In what way(s) has ICT revolution impacted on the activities of your department in relations to communicating effectively with the publics?
ICT has helped us a lot, consciousness has grown up. Particularly for me as an individual; my responsibility to report seminar. While we are mindful of risks and other negative trends in social media, we apply the ICT in issue and crisis management. Virtually all the services operate with their own websites now. All of them know the essence of increasing their capacity to disseminate information digitally and also to be visible in the social network.

There is this question I want to ask you, is about the media so far, how have they assisted or hinder your performance?
Generally, the Nigerian media are good, cooperative, encouraging, understanding in many instances. Yes, there are few isolated deviations but they’ve been managed properly. We have been able to reconcile position quite often. I will say we scale challenges together and it’s all based on understanding.

What kind of relationship do you think should exist between journalists and the military especially staff of your directorate?
Cordiality but mutual respect. I am aware that the media wants to be respected. We try our best to extend to them. But we also demand that they try and be respectful in interacting with us, so as to promote good relationship and makes both of us to do our jobs better. Secondly, to cultivate trust. I know by virtue of training as journalist, we are trained to be skeptical but we can moderate it once in a while. It doesn’t mean everybody out there is a liar. Then we should be available for one another. We mentioned the issue of transparency at the beginning; we only promote it by relationship. We become transparent and free to express how we feel, when we are trusted and know that we would not be betrayed. I will also urge the media to trust the spokespersons more, than trying to go behind the line to people who may not really have the perspective that are proper to promote vital and correct information. The people they are reaching through the back door may actually have only a minor perspective of issues they are asking for and that cannot represent the position of the entire organization. So relying blacklegs within the system is not always helpful to an organization. These are issues that I think will make both of us operate well enjoy our job.

As a fellow of Nigerian Public relations practitioner and a seasoned PR practitioner, what should be major requirement for a good spokesperson?
One is confidence in you and organization and the medium. Of course, knowledge brings confidence. Confidence in your organization also includes involvement. Involvement in installing and ensuring corrective measures on what we see as not painting the organization right. And that confidence relates to the amount of confidence superiors have in you. If they take you seriously, when you raise issues, they listen. But if you are not an ideal spokesman, your views may not be taken seriously in given direction to the organization. The spokesman should raise himself to the level where he will be taken seriously. This starts with his knowledge of the organization and his analytic ability. More so, you should be confident in your medium. This seem a bit difficult, but you should be confident in your journalist that he will deliver, accurately, properly, consistence with the policy both your organization and his editorial policy. That confidence is cultivated by regular interaction with the medium. The medium will also have confidence in you depending on how well you discharge your responsibility. I think these are the major ideal qualities of a spokesperson.

Do you think the Military have been transparent enough in information dissemination regarding their operations in the troubled zones?
As much as possible within the limit of what is operationally and security allowed, we have been transparent in our dealings with the press. We are guided in our information dissemination procedures with the principles of what we call SAPP: Security, Accuracy, Policy and Propriety. It must be in consonance with the security requirement of the moment. It must be accurate not wrong or misleading. It must conform to the existing policies of our organization that is determined by the direction, the leadership and the entire system of operations. And propriety involves some level of ethics. The information must conforms to organization and media ethics so as not to jeopardize the security of our troops, equipment and security of our country. I think that any transparency that ignores those elements is of no use.

Lastly, what are the landmark achievements of your unit since its creation?
We have tried to elevate the level of vibrancy in this directorate to the extent that we are improving our relationship with all our stakeholders: the media and the military community. We have also elevated the status of relationship between this directorate, and all the services of the armed forces, security agencies and all offices of disaster management bodies. We have tried to be more pragmatic in terms of interaction and even joint trainings and of course in terms of involvement in the activities of one another. All of these is what have dictated our actions so far. We have also been able to enjoy the confidence of the generality of the armed forces and the leadership thereof. All together we have had the privilege of far reaching interactions and effort yielding result. We have tried to elevate the level of vibrancy in this directorate to the extent that we are improving our relationship with all our stakeholders: the media and the military community. We have also elevated the status of relationship between this directorate, and all the services of the armed forces, security agencies and all offices of disaster management bodies. We have tried to be more pragmatic in terms of interaction and even joint trainings and of course in terms of involvement in the activities of one another. All of these is what have dictated our actions so far. We have also been able to enjoy the confidence of the generality of the armed forces and the leadership thereof. All together we have had the privilege of far reaching interactions and effort yielding result.

As spokesman, you must answer your calls – Garba Shehu

The PRNigeria Spokesperson October 2013Mallam Garba Shehu is one of most respected political communicators in Nigeria. He has been the media handler of the former vice president Atiku Abubakar. A graduate of Mass-Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he was at one time the Managing Director of triumph newspaper, Kano and General Manager Corporate Affairs of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), in Akwa Ibom. He had also served as President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE). Malam Garba Shehu is a thoroughbred journalist and political communicator. He speaks to The Spokesperson on qualities expected of political communicators, especially in Nigeria

What in your opinion are the basic qualities a political communicator must possess?
Since this is basically a communications business, one should be able to communicate well. You need good grammar, if not eloquence, and to be able to convey ideas and thoughts very well. A good political communicator should be able to pretend to knowing the big issues of the day, and be able to discuss them intelligently. But above everything else, you must have a mastery of your own subject. Without this, you can’t approach your job with confidence.

Would you say that your years in political communication have been worth all the trouble?
I certainly believe in what I am doing, otherwise I would have opted out. It’s a lot of trouble, though. Access is key to getting it right. You must answer the phone all the time or return all the calls whenever you are unable to pick them. The biggest gain I have made is not in terms of money; it is the knowledge of people.

Is it not a betrayal of the principles of journalism when a journalist decides to work for a politician?
No I don’t think so. There shouldn’t be any confusion about the two roles. In Journalism, your boss is the truth or facts as you may wish to call it. In political communication, your boss is the Governor or President or whoever you work for. Many Journalists make the mistake of thinking that the response or attitude of say a Radio Nigeria journalist to a given report will be the same now that he is a media adviser to a political leader. They are wrong because the call of duty is different.

Why in your opinion do you think we have more men in political communication than ladies?

I have no answer for this. But it is also a fact that in Nigeria, media work is generally seen as a men’s turf. Even where women are in it, they mostly contend themselves with women’s and children’s pages in the newspaper and news reading or continuity announcement in the broadcast media.

Should journalists in government be seen emphasising/ promoting the use of money to subvert truth?

Any PR strategy that is based on money will not be successful. The simple fact is that if you pay to get published, the day you do not have money you will not be published. Equally, Journalists who know that you dish out money whenever you deal with stories, they will create mischief for you whenever they are broke. Success in this work is determined by your knowledge of people. The more people you know, the richer you are; the more successful you will be.

Who is a successful political communicator?

The one who successfully carries the media and PR needs of his/her Principal to full satisfaction while retaining credibility and support with the mass media and the general public.

At the personal level, would you consider yourself a success in this area, and why?

In my culture, men are not allowed to grade themselves. Let others, including your employer say you are successful, assuming you are.

How would you advise a political communicator to approach his/her duty in a crisis situation in which his principal or his interest is the issue?

Stay on your job and do it well. There is always the temptation to dabble into politics, with many communicators behaving as if you are the expert or a guru politician. If they hire you as Communications Specialist, stay on that and prove yourself. Let the politicians do their own thing. If you ignore your job and embark on carrying out the work of others, who will do your own?

Who is your role model in political communication?

Alistair Campbell, Spokesman of Prime Minister Blair. Those who like him call him the spin master. Those who don’t call him “Blair’s virtuous thug”.

How to rescue advertising from drifting, by Ayanwale

Public Relations Nigeria

PRnigeria

All over the word, advertising has become a key index to measure the growth of economy. The scenario is not different in Nigeria. With a fantastic list of A-list practitioners churning out first class creative, the industry in the estimation of the CEO of Centrespread, Alhaji Kola Ayanwale “has remained the oil that lubricates the wheel of manufacturing industry.” Even with the growth in leaps and bounds that the sector has witnessed in the last couple of years, he enumerates a number of challenges that has continued to slow down the pace development. Just as he catalogues operational values that remain at the core of his agency’s performance in the last 30 years of its operation. He spoke to a collective of journalists in Lagos recently. KABIR ALABI GARBA was there.

ADVERTISING, generally, Ayanwale begins the assessment, “performs an important role. In fact, it is the oil that lubricates the wheel of manufacturing industry. So, it is an important industry and to the best of my knowledge, there is no industry in this country that is training our people and it is because our policy formulators do not even appreciate the role of advertising in national development and contribution to GDP.”

In spite of the growth that the profession has witnessed over the years, a few issues, he insists, are still bugging the industry. Number one, he says, is the dearth of talent.

He explains, “advertising is a business of talent and until Kenny Badmus took a leave of absence from here to set up Orange Academy, nobody has set up one to train our creative hands.

“It was after the school got established and took a life of its own that he came back to take its rightful place in this agency last year. So we also compete with our clients with the available few talents that are breeding right quality. You see an account executive on the job, the clients take him or her over, banks come after them. No agency, to the best of my knowledge, can compete with telecoms and banks in retaining talents and yet we are not producing enough quantity and quality of this talent. That is a big problem in the market.”

Another problem, according to him is regulation. “In Brazil, advertising is thriving now, not because they are magicians, but because the government has succeeded in creating enabling environment. Incomes of advertising practitioners in Brazil are guaranteed by law and there are certain things you cannot do by law. In terms of power of advertising and great works, Brazil is beginning to takeover from UK and US of this world.

“I know that APCON is working on what is called APCON Committee on Advertising Practice Reform (ACAPR), it is my prayer that by the time ACAPR is signed and given flesh by the APCON decree, perhaps a few of our practices will be regulated better.

“We all know what happens in Ghana, you cannot work to any media house in Ghana and say you want to place an advert, they will refer you back to the agency that created the ad. Here, it is a different kettle of fish altogether, even the provision of APCON decree is being manipulated. Until and unless we revisit the issue of law in our industry, it will still continue to threaten the industry.”

Absence of cash to do the business is another point that is slowing down the pace of growth in industry. “Things are changing now, but a lot of agencies are underfunded and not able to attract enough money to do the business they are set up to do. I have said it in this board room, once or twice, one day, this group, will go on to the stock exchange. Until that begins to happen, the issue of indebtedness in the industry, arising from the fact that we do not have enough money to do business will not be solved.

“The other side of that is, when a company goes public, by the regulations of publicly quoted companies, the owners of the business will ensure that the right management is put in place at all time to ensure the continuity of that business.

So if we can tackle those three points I have made, then the industry will continue to witness a lot of boom.

“However, one thing that is also tearing the industry apart is that, because there are very few big spenders in this market, we find agency people fighting themselves  over business in a manner that is highly uncalled for.

“We have had our fair share of it in our almost 30 years of doing business. The style here is, once you lose a business, the question is not who, the question is, why did we lose that business? What is it that we ought to have done right that we did not do, such that we can take some lessons and get answers to those questions and then use it in subsequent exercise. People do a lot in this market, but we pretend not to know, but we know. People also say a lot particularly against successful agencies.”

By and large, Ayanwale is grateful that the company that started out as a simple idea between friends 29 years ago, has become the most sought after in providing result oriented integrated marketing communication solutions to clients across various industries in the country today. CentrespreadFCB, he notes,  “through hardwork, creativity and commitment to excellence has grown to become a front runner in the integrated marketing communications business in the country.”

Incorporated in July 1982 and began business effectively in December of the same year, Centrespread has given birth to other sister companies. They are DKK, another full service ad agency; FCB redline, which is the PR; Mediamore, a media independence outlet based at Ilupeju; Kontactpoint, an outdoor agency; and the latest baby, an information technology branding outfit, FCB Interactive.

With satisfaction, Ayanwale says, “our presence in the industry is being felt with some award winning campaigns…  I remember when Telecom News gave Multi-links an award, as being the best telecom ad of the year, we were not there. Of course, saka, the popular campaign for etisalat came out of here. We are the agency behind Good Mama, and so many others for blue-chip companies in the country.

“But we have not gone out of our ways to say anything special on television and radio, the credit goes to our clients. Indeed, it has been a good journey for us. In fact, as a business, we have had our ups and downs. For us, the most important thing is to be among those key players. You know in this industry, you hardly can tell, who is number one, or number two, three or four. Nobody can say that categorically, because, we are still very close-minded in this market.

“In South Africa, Kenya, you publish your billings, people could earmark your profitability and score who is number one, two or three. But in Nigeria, we are still close-minded. But if I ask you the top five or six agencies, there are no pitches, you do not find them, I am sure you will mention names like Insight, DDB, 141, Centrespread, maybe, STB McCannes, you cannot find more than seven.

“For us at Centrespread, the key thing and vision we have is that this agency must be among the key players. Take us as a group, we are probably the third biggest in this country. But as an agency, there is a thin line between who is number one, number two, and so on… it takes one account to move to agency A and the whole table changes.”

He enumerates resilience, human capacity building, huge investment on research as some values that the company cherishes dearly.

“A few people who were not in this system then, but who took a bold step to join us when we had vacancies suddenly realised that the reason that Centrespread is relevant is that, one, it is a very resilient agency, extreme resilient, never say die spirit.

“Also, the company has a strong culture of investing on research. I have not known of any agency that commits so much resources to pitches. In fact, at a point in this boardroom, the board actually challenged me, on why did I spend so much money to pitch. But way back, I learnt, even when good presentation couldn’t guarantee you, bad ones would certainly make sure that you lose.

“For you to go out there and look for business, particularly when you are unknown and people just sighted your name and invited you, you need to prepare hard. That is exactly what we do here.

“Moreover, we may not have projected our people, you will not know that Kenny, one of the brightest minds in creativity is in this office. We have some of the best hands in the industry around and that is why we have very fair history of account retention in this business.

“On top of this is the commitment to create conducive working environment that enhances growth of creativity. Hardly will any prospective clients come here and will not come back. We try at all times to take the right decisions and do what is right. Of course, we cannot succeed at all times, but by and large, we are here 30 years, looking like this because we have done certain things right in this business.”

But why the advertising business is close-minded in Nigeria? “Honestly, I do not know why, but in this agency, we are very open. We are prepared to be open. In fact, two days ago, we went for a major pitch and unfortunately they invited 10 agencies for that pitch, Keystone bank pitch, 10 agencies! We would not have gone if other things were to be equal. Before the team left, I discussed with the leader and said, ‘look, if they ask you for your billing history, please tell them. So that they know that we are not a small agency.’ You see, we cannot do something outside the regulation of the business. I know that, in the 80s and 90s, our professional group, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) would send out forms and ask agencies to fill in their billing patterns.

“Meanwhile, we are still doing so here and we are giving the appropriate figures. Indeed, people do falsify this figure and at a point, AAAN stopped publishing it. If tomorrow, the association says please let’s have your data, this agency will supply its own data.

“Maybe because we are Africans and we have some tendency, it is a very small and unfortunately, largely populated by small minded individuals. I think that is another problem, the entry into the business, people who trained us, where did we start from? Who did they learn from? And of course, because they do not have enough big spenders in this market, we bring issues of competition and I cannot justify it, it is not right and all I can say is that if regulations say do that today, this agency will, because then you will get the benefit that you should get by being open. And it is because all the agencies here are privately owned, so when you go out to become a public agency, that will not happen and that is why am saying we would get there.

“In terms of time line, I will not be able to say that now, but it is a discussion at the board level and the board is looking at it seriously. All I know is that before I leave this business, Centrespread will go public.”

 

 

investigative journalism,panacea to media extinction-Yusuf Alli

The name of Alhaji Yusuf Alli evokes different pictures to diverse people. But the most important of all is that of his journalism colleagues who see him as that person that can hardly be beaten to any scoop. Alli, the Managing Editor (North) of The Nation,  recently shared his experiences with LAWAL SABO IBRAHIM. He says only investigative journalism can save the print media from extinction.

One of the most remarkable moments in your career was in The Punch, why did you have to leave?
Yes, my stay in The Punch was unique but every newspaper I worked for had its own characteristics. I started as a journalist with the Herald newspapers in 1989; I was a sub-editor, legal writer, foreign affairs correspondent and then member of the editorial board. It was from the Herald that I won a fellowship from the United States Information Agency to go to the US for training. From there I moved to  , which is a sister publication of The News, I was there from 1994 to june 1996. But I had some stability in Punch because I was there for over13 years and I rose to become an editor of the paper. I edited the three titles. It was a major challenge working for The Punch because as a reporter there, your mind will never be at rest because one is kept on his toes always. The paper has a tradition for the best and it is an innovative newspaper. It was an environment I could say I achieved everything I have in life. I get married, had  all my children and built my house in The Punch. So, as challenging as it was, it was also rewarding.

If it was rewarding then why did you leave?
Well, I can’t be Methuselah, forever living at a place. This job is about mobility and I have attained the peak of my career there though the exit was sudden.

Why was it sudden?
Because I was barely a year into my tenure as the editor of The Punch when the management decided to restructure and all the three editors were asked to go without any cogent reason. At the time I took over we were having 56,000 copies print run, but when I took over the paper, I achieved 110,000 copies daily, especially during the 2007 elections. After the elections we came down to about 83,000 per day. We hardly had space for news because adverts were coming in torrents. In his valedictory address recently, the former chairman of The Punch, Chief Ajibola Ogunsola listed the editors that made the paper what it is today and I was privileged to be one of those he mentioned. I don’t play management politics wherever I am even now at the Nation I call a spade, a spade. I did not have a godfather to become editor of The Punch and I knew my career was too smooth not to suffer a jolt, so, what I had was a jolt.

Even as a reporter?
Even as a reporter my work used to speak for me; I virtually won all the awards in The Punch; reporter of the week, month and that of the year. So, I made so much from the system and I have never for once called any of my bosses to say good morning. I know at that point some people in the management were scared of the records and the ‘pull-him-down’ syndrome was there; so, I was made the senior editor (investigations). It was more or less making me a glorified reporter, yet I accepted the challenge. Immediately I was removed as editor, I resumed the following day at my new position. But when I realised that I became the senior editor by crook, I discovered that I won’t survive for long in that system. The most surprising thing was that when I was given the so called promotion, my immediate supervisor asked me to go and write what I will be doing within the system, in short, my schedule of duty. I then wondered why I was promoted without schedule of duty and I knew the game was up.

Would you say you were fulfilled there?
My fulfilment was in the fact that my career there ended without any stain or blemish and even without lobbying anybody to get to that level. So, when The Nation offer came I took it, and I was given this offer at an eatery. If a journalist is the hardworking type he does need to go for an interview. The managing director just called and asked me to meet him at that eatery in Lagos for a discussion. I went, and there and then he gave me the job and up to today, The Nation does not have a leaf of any of my certificates; but because of the trust and confidence they have in me they decided to give me the job. Later I discovered that a former editor of The Punch, Gbenga Ogunleye actually recommended me for the job. By then the paper was just coming up, and if you want to make an impact in journalism it is through good stories. So, you have to go for the best hands in the market. So, what The Punch lost became the gain of The Nation.

But there are insinuations that you were frustrated from Punch because you had a misunderstanding with a superior?
Let me tell you, I had no misunderstanding with anybody and I was not frustrated in any way. If I had stayed and established that desk, the work I would do could make me the managing director of the company. What happened was that as an editor, your superior could have an input in what you do. Then President Obasanjo wrote to the National Assembly to keep them in confidence before handing over Bakassi to Cameroun. My supervisor suggested a different headline from the one I casted and the following day the publisher was unhappy with what we had and he sent me a text message. I forwarded the text to my supervisor who just replied ‘take charge.’ If the headline was an award-winning one the glory will come to me as the editor of the paper; so I called my team who chorused that I should shift the blame to my supervisor. I said no, I edited the paper and should take the blame. So, the fact of my departure from The Punch was that I lost out to management politics. Look, even when the editor’s vacancy came up, and the management wanted me to be appointed, the people who did not want me came up with an idea of writing exams for the first time in the history of the company.

So you write an exam?
No editor was ever appointed through examinations except me. I had to write a three-hour exam with my line editors and assistant editors and it was on the basis of that test that I became an editor. Even recently when I saw that former supervisor of mine, people thought I was not going to greet him but I did because he was such a nice boss. Under him I got so many promotions and if God decreed that under him I was going to fall so be it. I bear no grudges against him or any other person on that matter. More so, I was not the only editor asked to step down at that time, three of us were asked to go on the same day. So if someone says I had a misunderstanding with someone, what of the two others.

You are seen as one of the best investigative journalists in Nigeria today, how did you achieve that?
Well, my life is about breaking stories and I like breaking records; that is why I am able to rise in The Punch. Investigative journalism is a step ahead  of the routine one and the best one can practice because it makes one unique in the market and shores up the image of one’s paper. It is being unusual and a step ahead of fellow journalists. I deliberately adopted that, may be because of my background.

And which background was that?
I had always been a rebel as a kid and always wanted to improve the society. I always want things done in a proper manner. So, when people are doing evil in the society, when they are violating the laws I always like to expose such and I also don’t like corrupt tendencies and when people are corrupt I want to expose that. So, may be that is it; but I succeeded in doing this because one, I could keep trust.

How can one be a successful investigative journalist?
To be a successful investigative journalist one must know how to keep trust because you have a number of contacts who will always make a few things available. Then you have to be selfless; once you don’t run after money you will get scoops, and that is the difference today as the brown envelope syndrome is the vogue and once you get money from someone you are constrained from reporting against him because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. If you are my friend today even if you are a president of a country, there is nothing I cannot report on you, once you commit any infractions, I will expose them. Let me give you an example, one of the closest friends I have is Professor Maurice Iwu, former INEC chairman, but when it was time to call a spade, a spade, it was as if I was waging a war against him until he left the system. 2007 polls was completely flawed, Late President Yar’Adua admitted, and this man wanted to remain as INEC chairman; I felt there must be a change, I went all out on why he should not come back. Some people tried to set him against me but it did not work because he always said he knew the type of person I am. He conducted an election with more than N40 billion, I never went to him for any contract even though I was hungry; things were bad. But I still have my honour and integrity intact and to date, if I see him we joke about the system.

Who is the other person you have close contact with?
Another person that I will say I have a close contact with is the former governor of Oyo state, Otunba Alao Akala. My younger brother was one of his most trusted drivers and the way I was writing stories against him people continued to point at my closeness to him but I always tell them that I was doing that because there were allegations of him being corrupt. Though no court has yet convicted him, but when you see a governor wearing chains, bangles and all sorts of things, sure he is not a seriously-minded person and Oyo state used to be a pacesetter in the country. So, I had to do my job even though my brother was close to him. This does not mean I had a personal grudges against him, we still relate very well. It was the same thing with the late Governor Mohammed Lawal of Kwara, I was on his neck but that did not affect our relationship; his wife just called me this morning from Dubai though I was very hard on her husband, may God bless his soul. I do my work without malice and that is one thing an investigative journalist must imbibe. One must separate himself from the story he is writing by basing it on facts and figures. Don’t let your personal interest go into investigative journalism.

There are speculations that newspapers may go extinct in the near future due to the online media. How do you react to that?
I agree with you, but the only way a newspaper can avoid extinction is by being a step ahead of the online media. We have to recruit journalists who are ready to take the risk, ready for investigative journalism. We have online media but I am still breaking stories. They always wake up to find out that they have missed stories. If a newspaper is proactive it will survive. Like your paper the Blueprint, you just came on board but you are making so much headway, especially when it comes to the Boko Haram stories. Look at what Daily Trust is doing, one reads investigative stories in it, and you read them in The Punch and in ThisDay. I think with investigative stories papers will survive extinction. It is only lazy papers that depend on routine government stories that will have to worry about extinction.

But investigative journalism seem too intimidating and dangerous to some practitioners?
I discover that young journalists run away from investigative journalism. They are always afraid of stepping on toes and do not want to offend people. But they are more or less ruining their own careers because this job is about blowing hot and cold. I am not saying people should rundown public officers or others unnecessarily or write stories out of nothing. Investigative journalism is like a service to the society when you use it to correct the ills of the society. The powers that be may not be happy, but the end will justify the sacrifice. It does not mean that one will die a poor person. Investigative journalism is not synonymous with poverty because if you are a good investigator, the job itself will pay you heavily and you will get promotions as at when due. With it also honour will come which is much more rewarding than all the money one can think of.Not only that, with it one makes contacts who can sustain you for life not necessarily in monetary terms but in respecting you for what you are and your name will ring bell and then knock on doors. I have travelled out of this country severally based on the fact that I am an investigative reporter. After all, when we die, are we going to take riches with us, no, we will go with good names and will also leave the same thing. Aremu Segun Osoba was a crack investigative journalist, did he not become a governor? So also were Chief Tony Momoh, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Labaran Maku. They stepped on toes yet the society rewarded them. So, if one is an investigative reporter his name will open doors for him as the society will call upon him not those who compromised.  

What advice do you have for journalists who would wish to perform and still stay out of trouble?
Well, I will advise them to be truthful, hardworking, avoid malice in writing their stories and learn to keep trust. If somebody takes you into confidence on any issue and gives you a storyline don’t betray that person.

New pump prices have come to stay in Nigeria- Reuben Abati, Presidential Spokesperson

 

 

In the wake of nationwide outrage that has greeted Sunday’s announcement of formal removal of petroleum subsidy by the Federal Government, Presidential adviser on media and publicity, Dr Reuben Abati in this interview with State House correspondents insisted that the policy was in the long run benefit of the Nigerian economy, adding that President Goodluck Jonathan and other government officials did enough consultations before announcing the removal. Abdulrahman Abdulraheem reports:   
 
What is the true situation of fuel subsidy now, has the government finally implemented the removal?
That question is surprising to me, but truly you will recall that when the Federal Government submitted its budget proposal for 2012, there was no provision in that budget for subsidy on PMS  which means that in 2012, there will be no such thing, that is point 1, point 2 is that PPPRA which issued a statement on Sunday is an agency of government and the statement was explicit enough and PPPRA is the agency that is in charge of petroleum pricing and regulation, so I don’t understand  why you are still doubting whether this is from government or not from government.
 
But the President said we had a stockpile that will last for 55 days and it was obviously imported when subsidy was on, so why allow it to be sold at unsubsidised prices?
 When did the President say so?
 
During the media chat, he said he asked NNPC and they said they had a stockpile of 55 days and were even trying to increase it. 
This stockpile you are referring to you may be misinterpreting Mr. President. You know that this subsidy, the way it works is that there are marketers who are doing their own private business importing fuel. When they bring in these fuel they then claim the subsidy for the differential they are paid. It is not the NNPC that is paid. So even if the NNPC has a stockpile, it is not the same thing as the price of the marketers. You know NNPC is also bringing fuel and they sell at cheaper rates in some of their outlets and NNPC fuel may not necessarily be imported, it may be the ones from local refineries.
So if you talk about stockpile, it means NNPC has enough fuel to prevent a situation where there will be fuel scarcity. If you check that part of the media chat he was not making that statement in relation to whether subsidy would be removed or not.
This is not a new issue, you know this removal of fuel subsidy has been in the public domain for more than two months.
 
But the government said consultations were still ongoing?
Well, you know that consultations have been going on for more than two months, we have held town hall meetings, the President had met with students, civil society, media chiefs and even market women and then there have been campaigns even in the newspapers. You are aware of this of course.
 
Does it mean that since the 2011 budget is still operational that 2012 budget implementation has already started?
Well, the thing is that for 2012, there is no provision for it and we are in 2012; that is what is important because if you continue to subsidise fuel, you will be piling up deficit for 2012. Where will the payment come from? There is no provision for it because even when you spend money in 2012 and you are using the 2011 budget, the money you are spending is money meant for 2012 and that money will be taken from the 2012 budget.
 
I thought the 2011 budget would rounded off by March
No. You know by December 31st  they would have closed the books, in fact I think they close the books by December 15 or so. So once they have closed the book, the new budget begins to operate but you can leave the headings for 2011 for just about three months, that is what the constitution says but it doesn’t mean that the money you are bringing in from 2011 to 2012.
 
What about the safety nets that government promised to put in place before the removal of the subsidy?
No. Government did not say it will put the safety nets before removing the subsidy. What government said was that the N1.4 trillion that will be rescued from the budget will reduce borrowing, create revenue and that money when rescued will be used in the areas stated in the source documents and it is also stated that a committee made up of stakeholders in the civil society will be mandated to monitor how that money is used and this is to address the issue of trust on the part of many Nigerians who are saying that even if they save money, the money will be wasted.One thing that baffles me is that the media has been placing too much emphasis on removal of subsidy but what government is doing actually is deregulation of the downstream sector. By deregulation the emphasis is on  efficiency, the emphasis is on competition, the emphasis is on opening up the market so that  global sector players can come in  and make  that market more effective and you know of course because of subsidy a lot of sharp practices have been going on , inefficiency, corruption , smuggling, once you remove that you remove the incentives for all of these ills and you create an open market and that is why repeatedly it has been compared to what happened in the telecom sector and once you deregulate you create an open field and the long term effect is that prices will crash. When we started with this deregulation in the telecoms sector, simcard was being sold for as much as N20,000 but today  people are given simcards almost free of charge. Now, let me ask you, how many refineries were licenced? For all the refineries that were licensed I don’t know of anybody who has taken up the license and put it into operation because  the price regime is not good for the business since some other people will either lift oil or  not lift  oil and then collect subsidy and then go and sell it in neighbouring countries or  engage in some other illicit practices. Deregulation is in the interest of the public and I think we should place the emphasis on deregulation.
 
Are you sure the price we are paying is not sexed up because nobody has been able to tell us the per liter cost of petroleum products refined in Nigeria and why they will cost the same as those imported?
The economics of that was addressed in the presentation by Finance Minister, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in her presentation and I think most of it has been reported. She made comparisms of what happens elsewhere in the world. You will find out that even with this deregulation  the per liter cost of PMS in Nigeria is still one of the cheapest in the whole of Africa and in the world. Only last week, Ghana removed subsidy on PMS , there was no debate over it there was no acrimony, it was just an announcement, just last week.
 
What is your reaction to the threat by Labour that they are going to shut down the country?
I hope  Labour will hold on to its promise that it will support whatever government does in the interest of the Nigerian people because Labour was consulted. I attended those meetings with Labour and I know there were some understandings reached.
 
Did government consider the ripple effects of the over 120 per cent increase in the price of petroleum  because people that travelled will be stranded?
One thing you will know is that leadership is not about populism, sometimes leaders have to take some very tough  decisions in the interest of the people because people are used to a certain kind of reality, it is  natural for one to resist it  but we believe  that once it is clear that this is done in the best interest of the  people even those that are opposing it now either for mischief or partisanship will see the wisdom in the action. Government had prepared the people’s mind that in 2012 there will be no subsidy on PMS. The issue had been discussed on the radio, in the market and has been a topic in the public place.
 
Source: People Daily
 

 

 

Public relations is not only about journalism –Ogudoro

Many journalists are quitting the profession to establish public relations outfits or even straddle both worlds without the requisite training. Peter Ogudoro, a UKtrained PR consultant and Programme Administrator for the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations’ (NIPR) Accelerated Certification Programme, cautions against such practice in this chat with LEONARD OKACHIE. Excerpts;

How would you describe public relations practice in Nigeria?
Awareness is increasing gradually, but we are still far from where our counterparts are in the advanced societies. Many who today parade themselves as public relations practitioners in Nigeria have no business in that profession because they do not know what it is all about. They are mixing it up with journalism.

Much as we use journalism skills, public relations and journalism are not the same. So, what you find is a situation where many quacks are traversing every nook and cranny of the country presenting themselves as people who can solve communication problems for their employers and clients.

Unfortunately, they are deceiving those people to believing that they truly can help them solve their problems and thereby, creating a lot of confusion in the society and generating avoidable problems for everyone. A few people have received skills in this area but most people who practise the profession in Nigeria need to go through proper training and certification so that we can improve the quality of practice.

What do you mean by public relations and journalism not synonyms?
The public relations person is trained to be an artist and a scientist who has the skills to network stakeholders and publics in a way that can give them mutually beneficial relationships. So, what you find in some cases is that we tell truth to build bridges, enhance the value of mankind, remove conflicts, give people the opportunity to realise their potentials and help society to advance.

We are not just in the business of selling news because if the news that we have is the news that will destroy, we may not be eager to tell people things that will be bring conflagration in the society. We are merchants of truth and we abhor falsehood. We are not in orchestrating stories that bring destruction. We are in the business of mending fences, helping people to relate in such a way that they can get the best out of their relationships.

So, it contrasts with journalism especially the genre of journalism where focus is on ‘man bites dog’, which is what sells the paper and not the opposite of it.

You say the challenges we face as a nation is due to absence of public relations in government. Why so?
Most problems in the world, no matter the level of analysis, are connected with communication gaps, people not understanding what others are doing and the intentions they have. Most times, we misinterpret intentions of our communication partners and that creates a lot of problems in relationships. Many of the laws we make in this country as well as public policies are usually not well chewed.

A few people stay in Aso Rock or parliament and think they understand what the problems of Nigeria are and that is wrong. You cannot feel where the shoe pinches unless you wear it. Professional communication requires that you go into dialogue with the people who live with those problems. You should take them into confidence and get to understand the dimensions of the problems they are going through and seek their perspective to the resolution of such problems. So far we have not seen much of that in Nigeria at any level of governance, whether local, state or federal.

They sit down in their offices as ministers, governors, president and think that they know what the individual Nigerian in my rural community is going through and that is quite unfortunate. I cannot remember in recent times, seeing any minister who is a professional public relations person handling the Ministry of Information and Communications. That is a big loss for Nigeria and we should not continue in that direction. Media is just one element in the communication process. The medium gives us the vehicle to get our messages across to our audiences.

Somebody has to start the process and that person must have the skills to design the right messages and come in to borrow the platform of the medium to get the message across. We also have to ensure that we are even talking to the right audiences. So, if all you know is about the medium that carries the message, what about the message? You have to first design the right message before talking about the medium that carries the message. So, there is a disconnect somewhere. Public relations is first and foremost interested in ensuring that society survives and flourishes because if that does not happen whatever you are working to accomplish is not going to stand the test of time.

What is the NIPR doing about the menace of quacks in the profession?
From preliminary investigations, it is obvious that for every qualified professional PR person in Nigeria, you probably have as many as five who are quacks. That is a sad commentary; we need to fix it very urgently.

It’s huge and damaging to our image and if we allow that to continue, we will be to telling the wrong stories to our younger generation because a lot of young people are in universities studying Mass Communication and as they graduate they automatically assume that they are PR people.

Those of us who are professional trainers in this field know that the average university in Nigeria lacks capacity in terms of manpower and technology to produce world class PR practitioners.

So, for you to come out of the university with a Mass Communication degree and automatically assume you are a PR practitioner is worrisome and certainly not something we should continue to promote.

What about experienced journalists who run public relations outfits?
They have no business with PR because they have created lot of problems in the industry. All they do is go out there and think that PR is about issuing press releases. Interestingly, I also have done a study of press releases they issue in Nigeria and discovered not even one of them coming from virtually every sector of the economy met the minimum requirements for a good press release.

The average journalist goes into public relations and thinks that those things he has been receiving from organisations present the professional angle to writing press releases. But we know that it is a wrong belief. As a trainer in the classroom, most of the people I train now are people on the job. Some of them have practised for about 20 years and when we give them the opportunity to write press release in the class, you hardly find one person who gets it right. That is proof that a lot of things are wrong with the practice of public relations in Nigeria.

Journalism is responsible for my success –Prof. Okunna

Professor Chinyere Stella Okunna is the Honourable Commissioner for Economic Planning & Budget and immediate past Commissioner for Information in Anambra State. She is also the first female professor of Mass Communication in Nigeria and a member of editorial boards of several national and international journals of Mass Communication. A Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, she talks of her journalism experience with LEONARD OKACHIE. Excerpts:

As an expert in journalism education, how would you compare the industry today with your time?
You know my bias will definitely be in favour of my generation. In my days, standards were higher probably because the numbers were not as many as we have today. One thing militating against journalism today is the large numbers they are admitting into the profession. For example, If you go to the polytechnics you discover the large number of students being admitted to read mass communication even when there are shortage of teachers for the courses. Many people are not teaching journalism and those teaching are most times not as committed. Having said so, the profession is waxing very strong. You can see there are so many schools of journalism today. Every university, polytechnic now has a Mass Communication Department, and that attests to the popularity of the discipline. It is a wonderful course. Whether you are teaching or practising it, journalism is good and I foresee a bright future.

In spite of the bright future you mentioned, how do you reconcile the seeming poverty of practitioners in the country?
My heart bleeds each time I realise that the profession is taking a nose dive. I remember as a young academic and any time we hold conferences we used to urge the government to take appropriate measures and ensure that practitioners are properly remunerated. When they are well paid they will resist some of the temptations that come their way. We still keep praying and hoping that government will eventually begin to pay media practitioners like their counterparts elsewhere. I think some journalists in the private sector are better paid than those in government. So, it falls on those still paying peanuts as salaries to realise that the profession requires commitment and that should not be compromised at the expense of the ethics guiding the practice.

More entrepreneurs are now investing in the media. What does this portend for the industry?
That is how it is done in the advanced countries. There, people in business invest in the media as part of their business conglomerates. There are number of reasons for this: one is materialism, another is power because they want to have a dedicated medium to publicise their financial empire. Sometimes, it is a disadvantage but overall, it is also worth the investments because many a times the media arm is too weak to stand on its own so the conglomerate comes in to help. But whoever owns the media, the most important thing is to make sure you give freedom to your employees so that they can perform creditably.

Do you not think that social media is having an adverse effect on the traditional media?
It should not because that is the direction of the emerging global media. After all, journalism is for the people. There is a way of accommodating one another. Journalism is a vibrant profession. Remember when TV came they said cinema was dead. Look at the way cinema has bounced back and it is waxing strong in America, India and elsewhere. Somehow when a new wave comes, the old one might shift a little bit but eventually, they bounce back and find a way of accommodating one another.

Shouldn’t there be a way of regulating it?
I think so. They are already thinking about it in America. It should be because what sometimes appear on the Internet is scandalous. It is unregulated, it is a war out there and I think people are beginning to notice. Even those who talk about freedom are also beginning to see that there is a need to edit what is sent out for public consumption. That is why what we recommend in journalism is the social responsibility theory. You must be free as a journalist but you must also be responsible. If you can’t regulate yourself, the government will do it for you.

Some years ago you championed the cause of women journalists. Today, how would you assess their performance in this profession?
They are working hard. There are challenges. Women in our society are not yet as ‘free’ as the men to do what they can or say what they want. But they are growing. It wasn’t always as robust as it now and I have a feeling that if we keep encouraging them by not forcing them into a corner or intimidating them, they will grow stronger. Even in academia, I am hoping that soon, we will have female professors of Mass Communication. I need somebody to come up here and keep me company. Women journalists are growing. You notice that most schools of journalism have more female students than males. That means that the women are interested and we have to encourage them.

Was that the reason you used “She” rather than “He” in your books on Mass Communication?
That is a gender issue. I think the new journalism is beginning to recognise that there are women. If you call a man a woman he would not like it. The idea of addressing journalists as men came from an era when there were no women in journalism. When journalism began, it was an all-male field. Then, if you call all of them men it was right. But when you see young ladies in the profession today, you can’t keep calling them men.

As immediate past commissioner of Information and now Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, how would relate your experiences in the two positions?
Governor Peter Obi thought I was good at planning and for me, it is a major elevation. A lot of what I’m doing now is really communication because I came to coordinate all the donors, partners, ministries and MDAs. They all make their inputs into the budget of their ministries and then we coordinate them. A lot of communication goes into that. Also, with the MDGs it is communication that we do. So, there is a meeting point between the two ministries and you know communication is a component of everything. In Anambra State, my governor has done very well and in all honesty, we need communication, not just the information ministry. We make sure we are communicating the work we are doing and we are doing that.

Would you say journalism has served you well?
Yes it has. If I come back again, I will go back to the profession. It is a wonderful place to be.

 

I started life as a technician – Yar’Adua’s ex-Press Secretary

Alhaji Sabo Sarki Mohammed was Press Secretary to former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Major General Shehu Yar’Adua when the late Daura-born General was second-in-command in the  General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime. Alhaji Sabo Mohammed later emerged President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.  He is currently a public relations consultant.  The 71-year-old told the story of his life in Kano.  Excerpts:

Q: How was it growing up?
A: I was born on the 20th May, 1939.  I started off at Government Technical College, Kano and by that, what I should now reveal to you is that I was originally trained to be a technician.  But right from the word go, when I was at the Government Technical College, I thought that kind of profession was not for me. I had teachers like Maitama Sule, who later became Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations; they were very good at English and there was also another Briton, an English man in Kano Middle School before I entered Government Technical College.  All of them at different times encouraged me and they were very good at English.

Q: How did you move away from the technical to journalism?
A: I decided I would not run away but I would use it as a springboard to jump onto the profession where I wanted to be. Mohammed: General Yar’Adua was not a talkative. So, in that school there was a kind of enticement: they would give you like two pounds a month. Apart from the fact that we were housed in the dormitories, you were given free food three times a day. It was that two pounds I used to enrol in correspondence schools in the United Kingdom.  I enrolled in two: the Bennett College and the Rapid Result College in London. So, gradually I passed all the in-house examinations of those colleges and I said now is time for me to do journalism.  I was doing that up till the time we passed out of the technical college.  

Q: Was it a short course?
A: It was a very lengthy course. At the end of the technical college course, a few of us got what was then called the First Class Certificate in Technical Education.  I remember one of my mates, Musa, who was very good at Arithmetic.  He later became an accountant because he did other things thereafter. He passed his GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level, then worked his way to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. But in my own case, there wasn’t any need since there wasn’t any institution offering journalism-related courses.  It was later the University of Lagos started doing it skeletally and then the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  I started doing my own thing and before I finished, I had started contributing articles to the only Northern newspaper at that time, Nigerian Citizen. It was Nigerian Citizen that metamorphosed into the New Nigerian.  I was contributing and they were sending me money, one pound; sometimes five shillings, which was a lot of money.That was in 1955 because we entered the college in 1954.

Q: How do you contribute to the paper?
A: This time around, I was not only contributing to Nigerian Citizen but also I started contributing to Daily Express in Lagos.  That time, Daily Express was openly an Action Group newspaper. Bisi Onabanjo was the editor and Olu Adebanjo was the managing director.

Q: How did your contributions to those newspapers earn you employment as journalist?
A: Gradually, I was doing those writings as a stringer until the Daily Express became interested in me and I was asked to go to Kaduna and meet their Regional Editor, Mike Olu Pearse, a Lagosian, who was a relation of one Commander Pearse of the Navy at that time.  I went to meet him, he interviewed; I passed and he said oh, this is a good stuff.  So, he recommended me to Mr. Olu Adebanjo, the managing director, in Lagos.  Within two weeks, I was employed as a reporter.
By that employment, I became the first man from the Northern Nigeria to be employed as a reporter by Daily Express.  That was 1962.

Q: Did you face any challenge as the only Northerner working in the Lagos press at that time?
A: No.  Look, what bosses don’t like when you are working with them is arrogance.  Mine was to say ‘yes sir, yes sir’ to whatever they were saying.  If they said do this, I would do. Go and buy that, I would go, and so I had no problem with my bosses because, not only that they were good but also I was being a good and humble subordinate.

Q: But you also were in the BBC.  How did you get there?
A: It was after I had served at Daily Express for five months that I saw an advert in the Daily Times. That advert was inserted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), London, that they were looking for young Hausa speaking journalists and broadcasters to be employed as programme assistants in the BBC African Service.  I applied and forgot about it.  After about three months that I had applied, I got a letter from London. That time, it was a British national that was the head of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Kano and the BBC, through the letter, said I should go to him for examinations.  We were 12 candidates invited to the place.

Q: What were you major responsibilities?
A: We were asked to translate some Hausa texts into English and vice versa.  After that, we were asked to do voice test whereby you would go to the microphone and you were given an old news text and then you read it as if you were broadcasting.  We read text in Hausa and read another in English. Twenty days after, another man came from London. His name was Frank Barber; he was the Head of West African Department of the BBC.  He came and did another interview for us and went away.  It’s like they wanted people quickly because after two weeks, three of us were employed: myself, another person from Kano, Haliru Gwarzo and there was another one, Sani Abdullahi.  Then we went to London.  That was how I got to BBC.

Q: How do you attend journalism school?
A: It was while I worked with BBC that I was able to attend the London School of Journalism at Park Lane in the heart of London, where I got my diploma in journalism.

Q:Despite the plum job you had in the BBC, you still returned to Nigeria?
A: My engagement with the BBC was on contract and it was for three years.  So, at the end of my three years contract, the Head of African Service, Mr. John Masingham, said I should extend my contract by two years. I said no problem.  But that time I heard that Nigerian Citizen Newspaper was being transformed into New Nigerian with new web-offset machine, the first to happen in Nigeria.  Then I wrote to Mr. Sharp, who was the first managing director of the New Nigerian. He showed interest and said as soon as I finished with the BBC, I could come. I said no; that doesn’t sound like a very strong response and that I wanted something immediately you said when I finished with the BBC.  He said okay, I will employ you but meanwhile, go to Reading.  There is a town not too far away from London called Reading.  They too had started this kind of web-offset machine and they had a paper called Reading Post.  So he attached me to them.

Q: How often did you go there?
A: I was going there during my free time, especially weekends.  I met the editor and I saw how web-offset machine was working.  I did that for quite sometime and after that, when I returned to Nigeria, Mr. Sharp, the New Nigerian MD, employed me as sub-editor and later I became features editor. That time I was about 29.

Q: And you left Nigeria for Germany?
A: Oh, there was a team from Voice of Germany, a radio network station in Cologne, Germany.  There was a lady called Frao Tisson Houzon who was in that team.  She interviewed me and I said look, I have just started with these people now. They will say I am a ‘jack of all trades’; moving from one job to another.  She said no, no, no, come and you will have the chance of attending the university over there.  In short, they employed me and I went to Germany.

Q: What was the attraction: the pay package?
A: Of course, the salary was more attractive than what I was earning in Nigeria. But reluctantly I went.  Of all of us that went, I was the most experienced, having worked with the BBC.  I was there and at the same time, processing how I could get into the university when Tanko Yakassai, who was then Commissioner for Information in Kano State, came to Germany en route the Soviet Union on official assignment.  He branched in Cologne because there were six of us from Kano working in Voice of Germany. We met with Yakassai and we talked: He already knew me very well and so he said you left the BBC for Nigeria and now you are back in Europe.  He said Audu Bako, then governor of Kano State, wanted experienced people in the Ministry of Information and he said we should come. I said look, I’m trying to study  here while working and he said what else do you want to study? He said as far as this journalism profession is concerned, what you have studied is enough and you can learn further on the job. I said let me think about it and he said you think fast because if you don’t think fast, other people might come and grab the job.  I said okay but I didn’t give him a firm reply.

Did you get any further correspondence?
But within two days, I got a letter from the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Kano and I said look at these people, I haven’t even known Germany enough as a young man and they are taking me back to Nigeria. I came back and I was interviewed by PS, PSC in Kano and I was thereafter employed as Information Officer responsible for publications and public relations.  I worked there for about a year or so when the governor, Audu Bako, called me to come and be his press secretary.  Then I became Chief Press Secretary to the Governor and moved into the Government House.

Q: Why did everybody or organisation want you?
A: I would say God.  You see, my career had been interrupted a lot.  Earlier on, I became close to Alhaji Tatari Ali, who was Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information before he became the first civilian governor of Bauchi State. One day, he came to Kano and, like joke, told my boss, Governor Audu Bako and said ‘ah, this, my friend is with you?’  He said ‘look, give him to me and I will take him to Lagos. I don’t have anybody to speak Hausa to there’. I said the governor will not accept and he said ‘look, I will talk to the governor’.  He went to talk to Audu Bako.  The governor was not happy and he said to me ‘look, if you want me to release you, I will not release you on secondment.  Just seek transfer to the Federal Service.  I did and, of course, with the help of Tatari Ali, I was transferred to the Federal Civil Service and I moved to Lagos.

Q: And you became Press Secretary to the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. How did it come?
A: In our time, all Press Secretaries would come from the Ministry of Information.  Even at the state level.  It is because of politics that the President or the governor picks one of his political friends to be his press secretary nowadays.

Q: How did you become Press Secretary to YarÁdua?
A: How I became General Shehu Yar’Adua’s Press Secretary is a long story but I would summarise it for the purpose of this interview.  At the Federal Ministry of Information, having been employed, I was promoted as Senior Information Officer and posted to Berne.  Berne is capital of Switzerland.  It is a German speaking town. I was in Berne for six years: normally, foreign posting was for three years but somehow, I was forgotten there. I later returned to Nigeria and as soon as I came back, the Federal Director of Information, Yakubu Abdullahi, said to me, ‘Go quickly to Dodan Barracks. Yar’Adua wants a Press Secretary and we don’t have anybody now to give him except you’.  That was why I said Press Secretaries were being appointed from the ministry; even the present monarch of Achalla, Igwe Alex Nwokedi, OON.

Q: How was posting of Press Secretaries in those days?
A: In those days, when he was appointed Press Secretary to the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, he was sent from the ministry.  It was so because they wanted good and perfect arrangement of government information management.  That was how I became Press Secretary to the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory.

Q: How would you describe General YarÁdua?
A: General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was a great and strong General but he was also very quiet naturally, so much that, at the monthly press briefing we were doing at that time, he never denied any journalist from asking questions.  He would allow you to ask your questions and he would listen attentively till you finished and he would not feel burdened to give befitting answer to each question asked. General Yar’Adua was not talkative: he talked only when it became extremely necessary to do so and my late boss was a very intelligent military top brass.  And when he became a politician, his was done in very polite manner. He never believed in do-or-die politics, yet he won everywhere in Nigeria during the nationwide presidential primary elections that produced him Social Democratic Party (SDP) flagbearer before it was cancelled. May Allah forgive, keep and bless his soul till the day of resurrection, amen.

Q: What kind relationship existed between the Press Secretary to the Head of State and that of the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters?
A: That time that I was there, Oghuefi Alex Nwokedi was already there before me and naturally, as Press Secretary to the Head of State, he was my boss and I was his deputy.  In few cases when he travelled out of station, I acted for him in the Office of the Head of State but he was not travelling much except that he would go with the Head of State.

Q: At the expiration of Obasanjo/Yar’Adua military regime, did you leave with General Yar’Adua?
A: After the Obasanjo/Yar’Adua military regime handed over power to the civilian regime of President Shehu Shagari, I then said I was no longer going to stay beyond necessary in the Ministry of Information.  I retired as Chief Information Officer in the Ministry of Information, at a time I would have become a director in the ministry.  I then went to establish Sarki Media, a public relations and advertising outfit.

Q: How did that take you to Nigerian Institute of Public Relations where you were later elected as President?
A: With Sarki Media I was doing public relations.  Then there was a decree, which said that you have to be a registered member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations before you practice public relations.  Many of us in Kano, 25 in number, formed ourselves into a group and we were looking for registration. One day we held a meeting and at the end of the meeting we sent a delegation to the then President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Chief Alex Akinyele, to come and inaugurate us.  He agreed and then came here in 1984 around December and inaugurated the Kano Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. Of course there were some accreditations: some were given full membership, some were given associate and some were given affiliate.  So we were members and that was how we started.  I rose through the cadres to become President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).  My success in the NIPR presidential election that produced me as President is attributable to the popular support I enjoyed from all members from across the country.

Source: Vanguard Online

Why PR needs perception management –Badejo-Okusanya

Yomi Badejo-Okusanya is one of the leading lights in perception/image management, a segment in public relations spectrum. He runs one of the reputable communications outfits in the country -CMC Connect. In this interview with journalists, he explains why communication experts must continue to enlighten the public on what PR entails, among other issues.

Q: When does a practitioner qualify to become a strategic communicator?
A: The first thing is for one to acquire the knowledge needed to practise any of the legs of communication; then that will expose him/her to some level of strategic communications. This is because there are courses in all aspects of communication that fall on it.  However, this would be depending on your needs. But again there are some practitioners who acquire various knowledge while on the job and they learn the strategic stuff in the course of their practice. These set of people climb up to acquire skills in this area of communication and they become experts.

Q: You said something about legs of communication. What do you really mean?
A: There are two legs when you are talking about communication. There is strategy of communication and there is execution of communication. The strategy of communication is the idea that gives birth to the execution. You usually find it in many marketing communication organisations, especially advertising and in some cases, PR.  In any of these organisations, you have what is referred to as strategy department. Some people call it strategy and business development. To me that is the heartbeat of communication. That doesn’t mean that execution is not important. As a matter of fact some people are very good and outstanding when it comes to strategic communication and confront a huge challenge when it comes to execution. Therefore both of them go hand in hand. When you see good execution, look behind, there is already good strategy. And when you see good strategy, then with a right person, the execution would turn out to be a faultless one.

Q: How can the industry solve perception problem surround it?
A: It is about education and enlightenment; that is why all of us, practitioners, should rise up to the occasion and nip it in the bud. In the first place, there is a misconception about what PR is. Some people see it as bribe taking; some see it as a blackmail or propaganda. This is why I think we practitioners must not tire of the need to continue educating members of the public on what PR is and what PR is not. Again, we can achieve a lot by adhering to the global best practices in an attempt to correct wrong impressions. We must continue to be spreading the true meanings of public relations, which dwell so much on the fact that it is in itself a sustained deliberate attempt to influence public opinion.

Q: How would you describe PR?
A: PR is a scientific approach and mechanism frequently used in modern society to influence opinion or pass message across to the public in the most refined way. I believe if we are consistent in using our own office, our practice and our networks to preach this gospel truth, all will be well. In another plank, I think the profession itself needs public relations. What I mean in essence is that public relations in Nigeria need public relations services. The irony of it is that we are very good at doing it for other people while our own industry is in dire need of perception Management.

Q: What does strategic Communications connote?
A: There are various aspects of Marketing Communication like you have rightly pointed out: Advertising, PR, direct marketing events. But there must be a strategic tread that runs through every one of them, especially when you are having 3600 campaigns. Strategic communications is simply the hub of all aspects of communications.

Q: How long does it take somebody to become a strategic communicator?
A: An every business, you have specialist. You can be a marketing communicator but you then decide which area you want to specialise in. A lot of people are specialists when it comes to strategy while many people are better in ‘execution.’  Your question is how long does it take for one to earn that tag. It can take you forever because you are always growing in the business, since one is forever learning as a student. Even when you go to school for formal acquisition of knowledge, it is just the foundation, because no two challenges are the same. And you have to be broadening in knowledge   before strategy. What is strategy? Strategy is a word taken from the military, it originated from the military and it talks about a grand battle plan. When you talk about military strategy, how do we take to win the war? We now borrow it that when we plan to launch a campaign or launch a brand or connect a product with consumers in a competitive market. In this case, one is trying to evolve a campaign; it is like going to war. In this case we are going into a battleground with a strategic plan. That is why we have military strategists, whose jobs are to map out plan on how to win a war. If you go back to history, you will read about Napoleon Bonaparte, a very diminutive man in stature, but he was a very great military strategist. In this part of the world, you talk about the battle of Songhai in Africa history, when a whole village was burnt so that the advancing troop had nothing to feed on. The water was polluted, animals were killed, and those who were not killed had to run for their lives. With this, what they were doing was to systematically reduce the strength of the advancing enemy. In marketing too, whenever we are going for these campaigns, we ask ourselves, what is the grand plan? What is the overall objective? What is the shortest way that I can take to achieve the objective and what is the overriding consideration in running the battle? That is strategy, the hub upon which other marketing communications legs are built on.

Q: How would you assess the growth in Public Relations in Nigeria over the years?
A: Somehow, we seem to have pigeonholed everything. We were on the ride for a while and we came to this stage where going forward is not as fast as expected. We have not made any significant improvement in recent years.

Q: With this stage of development, is it therefore possible for us to produce strategic communicator?
A: The increase in number of strategy communicators can be one of the indications. Now you are talking to me about marketing communications generally and you are talking to me about PR industry. The market has grown but not to the expected level that is significant enough when considered where we are coming from. To some extent I believe that is a reflection of the economy. By now, I predicted that we would have witnessed a few things.  One, I expect there should have been a specialised PR consulting firm. Under this you see firms that will tell you they are only specialised in the area of public affairs, we don’t do anything else.   There will be some, who will tell you that they are only specialised in corporate communications.  In some cases, you meet practitioners who will tell you they are consumer PR or a grand PR company and we don’t do anything else.  Some will say we are financial PR, some educational while some may say they are strictly for health matters.  Two, I realise that the wealth of knowledge available within the PR industry is still very limited.  Again, we have not witnessed significant improvement in this regard.

Q: Can you compare the growth of advertising with that of PR?
A: Those in advertising, for instance, in the media independent arm have come out and sharpened their skills to be on top of their game.  In such industry, if you fail to grow with your peers, you lag behind.  I don’t think this type of improvement has taken place in our industry. Three, I think by now, we should have started witnessing some mergers of PR companies.  If some of the companies we are working for are merging despite their original strength, how come we are not looking at that area of development?

Q: With the way things are going on with low entry barrier to Public Relations, don’t you think there should be a measure to control the point of entrance?
A:  Of course the entry barrier is low but let’s separate two things.  First, to practise PR in Nigeria, you need to be registered with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).  With this you can practise anywhere.  Now, another challenge is that for you to be a consultant, you should actually belong to Public Relations Consultant of Nigeria (PRCAN).  But unfortunately, by law, all that you need to be able to practise PR in Nigeria is to be a member of NIPR.  The way I see things, since the institute set up PRCAN to regulate the practice of consulting, it is PRCAN that should rise to the challenge.  Thank God for the continuity that Dr. Phil Osagie as the president is bringing in after the tenure of Emeka Maduegbuna.   It is now going to be the responsibility of the association to regulate those who are consulting and say, as in medical practice for instance, the fact that you have qualified as a medical doctor does not make you a surgeon or cardiologist until you go for specialist course in any of these areas.

Back to where we are coming from, the fact that there is no specialisation has literally made PR to become an all comers’ game within the confine of even the NIPR.   That is why anybody who passes the institute examination while working in a private or public institution, will immediately pick up his briefcase immediately he loses the job to become a PR consultant.

Q: Do you have anything against that?
A:  Personally, I don’t have anything against briefcase consultant. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t make sense for all of us to open offices. I think we should have more of briefcase consultants who can work to build capacity in the various fronts. Such people can come and work for an agency on a particular campaign or activation, take their money and go away.  Tomorrow, they go to another place and work and go back. Under this situation, he doesn’t need to pay salary or set aside certain amount to buy fuel. To sum it up, the best way to solve this problem is to have standardisation for PR consultancy in Nigeria.

Source: Daily Independent
 

Corporate Identity Requires Simplistic and Convincing Messages – Aliyu Ma’aji of Corporate Affairs Unity Bank

Corporate Identity Requires Simplistic and Convincing Messages – Aliyu MaÁji Head of Corporate Affairs Unity Bank
 
After unveiling their new visual identity meant to reposition the bank in a refreshing and invigorating manner, with the aim of setting the pace in redefining industry standards, the Head of Corporate Affairs of Unity Bank, Mal. Aliyu Ma’aji advocates simplistic communication strategies devoid of screaming messages for successful campaigns. He granted this interview to some media houses in Abuja…
 
 How do you see the rebranding campaign of financial institutions in Nigeria?
Unlike what obtains in other countries, it is only in Nigeria that banks engage in screaming messages in the bid to be market leaders when they simple convincing and persuasive messages for their target audiences. Innovative Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies can be applied for positive impacts
 
What is new about Unity Bank new Brand?
The new corporate signature, colour schemes and changes in the architecture of business premises, are meant to create natural warmth, which will dilute the rigid seriousness that is peculiar to most business premises while reiterating the core values in order to strengthen the bond with our customers and shareholders.
 
What is the benefit to the customers?
All the efforts being put into rebranding the bank are geared towards optimising customers’ satisfaction through world-class service delivery, in a two-way approach of top-bottom and bottom-top directions that ensure the customers and the bank succeed. Though the bank is modifying and refreshing to keep pace with a dynamic society, it will not lose its heritage of trust, accountability and environmental responsibility. as we introduce our new corporate signature and colour schemes- the new embodiment of our distinctive attributes and principles, we consider it imperative to reiterate our core values in order to strengthen our bond with our customers and stakeholders. Our rebranding will result in significant changes to the architecture of our business premises nation-wide. Today, our new corporate signature and colour schemes have come to symbolise these values as well as the new thinking behind our technology driven approach to simplified banking. They further demonstrate in a refreshing and invigorating way our commitment to meaningful partnerships with our stakeholders.
 
Does the new concept affect your employees?
We are injecting more practical meaning into our business values by embedding our new thinking in the minds our employees. We believe that the behaviour of our people at the point of service will define our reputation. This in turn will impact on the success of our business. Our acculturation process was conceived to communicate the new brand values across board, establish clear line-of-sight between our daily operations and the vision of the entire business. In this regard, we have established veritable monitoring processes and platforms for continuous training of our employees to ensure long-term sustainability. Our new corporate identity signify the strength of real values as forms, shapes and colours that will stand as human innovation and talent geared at transforming and presenting symbols of our enduring promises to our customers of service that will exceed the expectations.
 
How do you intend to take the bank to new height?
We are introducing new brand essence, new brand value, this is the way we believe we will take the bank to greater heights by looking at the opportunities in the market and looking at the stakeholders, customers segmentation and the diversity of the need of the customers, and looking at what is it we have not been doing previously that we will be doing now. In terms of optimising customers relationship, expanding our business network, entrenching our values and getting the best out of our people, in terms of driving and developing competent in our people. So that they seize the opportunity in the market and ensure that they build a sustainable business that will last and last. And I believe and the chairman of this bank believes this is the surest way we can achieve our longterm objective as a business.
 
There is a misconception out there about our corporate identity. What can you say on that?
At Unity Bank, we recognised that all these things are the tangible values that you can see but there are intangible values that have to be associated with our brand for people to understand and appreciate and what our brand should reflect. A brand grabs much of its strength from the quality of service that he is able to deliver, and how its employees are able to uphold those values that the organisation will like to be associated with. A brand, usually most people do not understand, but we do in Unity Bank. It is not only about the assets, the real assets are the intangible attributes that have to do with values, the behaviour, conduct and the quality of service delivered. These are what we are doing, we are impressing this kind of attitude from the top-bottom, and from bottom-top, so that everybody will live up to its expectation and live up to its brand values and delivering the brand promise.
 
How was the bidding process for this new corporate image?
To ensure that the organisation gets the best in its communication strategies, after a rigorous bidding process, a company in South Africa won the bidding to come up with the strategies for the branding communication strategies.  We told them our challenges and the opportunities Unity bank can seize, and how we can change and improve perception, embed new values, optimise customers satisfaction, through world class service delivery.
 
So now how are you taking the process?
The branding project is being done with being responsible to the society by taking into consideration the economic base of the environment each branch. The branches’ architecture will not all be identical in all the locations. And in line with this, the design of the branches has been segmented into urban, semi-urban and rural. Customers will get the same kind of service experience no matter the location, whether Ikeja or a rural community in Kano.
 
Can you explain some of the concept tools in the branding project?
The special effect created in the connectivity between the U and the N in the writing of the name of the bank is about the bond between the bank and all its stakeholders, internal or external. This is the new Unity bank and what it means is that there is this kind of connection between the U and the N. Initially one of the things we have been rattling with as a bank has been the perception that Unity banks is talking about the unity of Nigeria, that is not surprising, taking into cognisance that our colour even has more resemblance to the national flag, the green is the Nigeria green. The unity, because of the diversity of the 9 banks that came together to form Unity bank, from the East, South, West and North. But people assume that Unity bank has to do with the unity of the Nigerian nation. Of course, we are Nigerians and we cannot run away from the environment where we are operating, but the primary objective of the unity is creating a bond with the customers and the bank. It has to do with our commitment to partnership, with the fact that if we walk together, the customers and the bank, there will be success for us, as a bank and you as a business man, trying to achieve your business objectives through your relationship with us.
 
What about the lemon green colour?
The lemon green colour is more contemporary, it has to do more with the environment, refreshing, and it is something new and it is something that is actually impactful in outlook. Of course there is this environment element taking into cognisance the reality on ground that everybody is seeing green and the fact is that our collective responsibility becoming success in determining visually by a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, commitment to best practices and aggressive drive to business growth and sustainable business practices. And this lemon green and grass formed the element that we want to be identified with. And as I said earlier, that the brand is not only the logo but the colour schemes, also have to communicate some intangible attributes that this organisation will like to be associated with, and the strength of the graphite, and the contemporariness and the freshness of the lemon green.
 
There is still strong public perception of Unity Bank as a Northern Bank?

In the past, there is this perception that Unity bank is a northern bank. I usually do not know why these people think this way because it was Citibank that changed to Unity Bank and the rest of the ones that merged with the group also followed suit and merged with the group. I also like to remember that the Bank of the North was one of the last to join the group of nine, but everybody looks up and say it is the Bank of the North. And there is actually nothing in being Bank of the North but the perception is that oh, there is so much association with the Bank of the North with conservatism. Oh they are conservative, they are not contemporary, and that is why we are actually changing that notion, because we cannot achieve our long term objective without being able to move along with the time.

Source: PRNigeria.net