By Oluremi Oyo
It is a reality of life in the 21st century that information, communication and the ability to manage both effectively have become very precious national resources. Indeed, some scholars have gone as far as listing information and communications as modern day factors of production, in addition to land, labour, capital and the entrepreneur.
My presentation to this august gathering is therefore on the urgent need for concerted action to boost our human resource base for the effective and efficient information management that is critical to the attainment of our national goals and aspirations.
There can be no doubt that the quality of human resources available to us at present for this vital national assignment is well below our requirements. Several factors are responsible for this.
The public sector’s low salaries, poor conditions of service and largely uncompetitive working environment have all combined to work against the creation and consolidation of the required cadre of well-trained professional information managers.
The rot and decay of our educational system over several decades which the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua Administrations have been labouring to reverse has also had a very negative impact on the availability of well-educated young men and women for recruitment into government information services nationwide.
Furthermore, advances in the field of communications, information technology and information management have been so great and rapid in recent years that with their glaring handicaps, our educational and training institutions have found it impossible to keep their curricula up-to-date.
Modern technology has also invaded the field of communication and information management. The advent of satellite communications, GSM, computers, the Internet and other technologies for instant multimedia communications has substantially increased and will continue to increase the number and variety of professionals necessary for effective information management.
The quality of any service is dependent on the ability of those who render it. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that good training on the uses and applications of the new tools of mass communication is of paramount importance in a sector such as ours.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the shortage of trained personnel and deficits in training schemes are among the basic reasons for the perceptible deficiencies in the quality of information management available to governments at all levels in Nigeria today.
Rather sadly, the extreme variety of communication-related activities and the ever larger range of emerging specialized skills required for efficient information gathering, processing and dissemination has meant that the demand for skilled manpower in the field far exceeds the available supply in the country. The urgent task before this council therefore, is to evolve remedial strategies, policies and programmes.
Training manpower for effective communication, in the broadest sense, involves a wide variety of specialists in a whole range of different fields. Journalists, as indeed all those whose careers are in the press, radio, television or the film industry, obviously occupy a prominent place in the training of communication professionals.
In addition to the traditional requirements of skilled mass media personnel – editors, reporters, authors, script-writers, typographers, printers, directors, cameramen and others, new needs are arising for non-traditional categories of communication workers such as webmasters, computer engineers, programmers and analysts.
It is, perhaps, very pertinent to recognize that these different categories now form an integral part of the communications community, which has become of a more multidisciplinary nature than ever before. In addition to other requirements, a new national curricula for the training of communication professionals must therefore prepare all members of the community for the teamwork that is now essential for their success.
Training for the old and new categories of information and communication professionals is currently carried out in institutions of various kinds. Universities, polytechnics and specialized schools run courses in journalism and communication studies but unfortunately, some of the courses are not tailored towards specific national needs.
While universities, polytechnics and other schools appear increasingly involved in communication training, they cannot in most cases provide the practical training which the professionals need.
Therefore, various specialized training centres and media organizations must play a greater role in providing this kind of training. My organization, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) is already doing appreciable work in this area by providing further training, refresher and in-service courses for information professionals in the service of government.
I also believe that other dependent variables must underpin the effort to boost the quantum of well-trained professionals available to the country’s information and communications sector.
These include the political will to assume local ownership and leadership of capacity building efforts. It must be recognized at the highest levels of government that the challenge of implementing result-oriented human resource development programmes requires extraordinary political will and talented, dedicated, patient and persistent professionals whose level of commitment to the mission of local ownership of the country’s development agenda is unwavering.
While capacity enhancement in the entire public sector is both desirable and feasible, it requires serious hard work. It also takes some time and dedication to rethink old ways of doing things and to develop new, more country-driven ones.
Capacity building programmes should go beyond just technical training in narrow fields – which are, of course, necessary, but not sufficient – to also include the development of talented young and emerging leaders into future leaders in the various spheres of activities of the public sector.
Specific purposeful and innovative training schemes that would aid the fulfillment of national development goals should be initiated and sustained across the Information and Communication sector. Efforts should also be directed at upgrading the professional skills of journalists, technicians, managers, telecommunications workers through refresher courses.
All agencies within the sector should be encouraged to have Human Capacity Development sections or units within their organizations and the units should be specifically charged with the identification and organization of training programmes.
Efforts should be made to conduct basic training locally, in familiar surroundings, with training methodology suited to local conditions, cultural conditions and national development aspirations.
Overseas training should, however, be reserved for experienced specialists and designated trainers who would, in turn, train the organization’s officials on the knowledge they had acquired.
Sub-regional cooperation between the Information and Communication sectors of West African countries in the area of Human Capacity Development could also be pursued. Such cooperation is desirable because the training models would be anchored on local conditions and the social realities existing within the sub-region.
The National Communication Policy should be regularly reviewed to incorporate emerging global trends in Human Capacity Development. The policy should place specific emphasis on training and retraining of the personnel in line with the various national development needs.
Capacity building activities should also be undertaken within the context of a competitive global environment. This is because globalization has brought about new trends, skills, human resource qualities and other attributes which cannot be overlooked in any country’s human capacity efforts.
It is, therefore, imperative for the Information and Communication sector to develop the capacity to absorb and make use of the new trends that the new international process produces.
The sector must strive to adjust to the emerging social realities and strive to benefit from new global Human Capacity Development trends, rather than wholesomely resisting or condemning them.
It should also go without saying that investing adequately in information and communications technology (ICT) is of critical importance to efforts to boost our human resource base for effective information management. Such investment should not just be on computer hardwares and softwares but should also be on training the people who will use the ICT systems.
Against the background of ongoing efforts to avert another strike action by members of RATTAWU who constitute a sizeable proportion of the workforce in government’s information and communications services, I believe that this council should also reflect on the impact of current remunerations, benefits, allowances and incentives on our ability to attract and retain the best hands in a highly competitive environment.
In spite of the obvious limitations of our training institutions and facilities, the country has over the years managed to build up an appreciable core of competent media professionals whose formal training has been vastly augmented by years of on-the-job practice and experience.
Unfortunately for government information and communication services, many of these professionals have been lost to the much more attractive remuneration and welfare packages now available in our rapidly growing private print and broadcast media.
Something needs to be done to reverse this trend as all our efforts to improve on the quality of the pool of media professionals in the country will ultimately prove to be of little benefit to the effectiveness and efficiency of government information services if the best products continue to end up in the private sector.
Because of the vital importance of effective communication and efficient information management to building a broad national consensus in support of its seven-point agenda, the Federal Government must, in concert with state governments, do everything it possible can to initiate or support all efforts to improve on the quantity and quality of professionals available for this critical assignment.
Much will depend on the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications as the focal point of these efforts and it is my hope and expectation that the distinguished members of the National Council on Information will work to evolve feasible policies and programmes for the consideration.
I thank you for your kind attention
Mrs. Oluremi Oyo, (OON) is Managing Director / CEO, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). She delivered this paper at the National Council on Information and Communication at Yenagoa, Bayelsa State on July 29, 2008