The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations clocks 45 next year. By this time, it will be the second oldest national PR association on the African continent next to the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) which clocked 50 last May. The NIPR has played a strategic role in creating the enabling environment for PR practice, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa.

With the coming of age of the Institute, Nigerian PR practitioners look forward to the Institute playing and excelling at the global level like its counterpart in South Africa. This expectation finds rhythm with the ongoing efforts of the Federal Government to see that Nigeria truly becomes the “giant of Africa” in all aspects of the human endeavour. But to achieve this feat, Nigerian PR professionals need to do more than just organise themselves into a second oldest association on the continent.

The first PR department of the United African Company (UAC) was set up in 1947, and later in 1963 the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN) emerged. With these developments and the transformation of PRAN into the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) in 1972, PR in Nigeria has grown in leaps and bounds. Thousands of practitioners have been professionally prepared for the ever growing PR challenges in the country. The quality of PR practice has also improved with top professionals engaged by indigenous and multi-national companies to handle complex communication issues. PR consultancies have also sprung up, doing very well and affiliating with some of the world’s best PR agencies. The Mike Okereke’s, Jibade Oyekans and Sabo Mohammeds of our PR world are alive and kicking. Successful Nigerian PR practitioners in government, banking, energy and telecommunications sectors as well as agencies have continued to make Nigeria shine in the international arena.

The title of this article presupposes that all may not be well with our Institute and that the law of diminishing returns has caught up with the sole regulator of PR practice in the country. Beginning from the end of the last presidency leading up to the controversial annual general meeting held in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State a couple of years ago, the Institute has painfully not been the same again.

Some of the challenges the Institute has had to grapple with in the last couple of years include the decision of the immediate past Federal Government to suspend the annual subvention to the national PR association. Following which the Institute has found it rather difficult to monitor the over 6000 registered members across the country due to insufficient resources. Though PR is regulated in the country via Act 16 1990, the law has not been effectively enforced. This has therefore thrown up the issue of non-registered people practicing without the law taking its course. The Institute has also been deprived of the revenue that should have accrued to it as thousands of practitioners operate outside the professional umbrella.

A sizeable number of those operating outside may be qualified people who have been unable to register due to the cumbersome nature of the registration requirements. There is also the shortage of the much-needed infrastructure that could make the Institute’s work easier and more efficient. The drive to maintain membership recruitment, secure sponsorships for workshops, publications and conferences at the national level has come short of what it should be over the years. The reasons for these developments are well known to all of us who earn our living by the virtue of the Institute.

Unfortunately, many, if not a sizeable of PR professionals in the country, have remained aloof to the travails of the Institute. They have not been very forthcoming in putting heads together to salvage the situation. We have simply been unable to manage ourselves over the years as unnecessary bickering has always characterised our elections. Succession has become a “do-or-die affair” (apologies to the former President) which has always resulted in our inability to elect committed people to Council whose motive should be to serve and move the Institute forward. Many of us find it more expedient to patronise other countries’ national associations to the detriment of our home-grown Institute.

There is also the paucity of indigenous PR literature as senior practitioners have not found time to churn out books that can enrich PR practice in the country. Many of us have been too busy scampering for elective positions in the Institute to the detriment of the quality of PR practice, and the nation has been the poor for it. We simply failed to develop our Institute over the years which should make Dr Sam Ekpelle, the founder of PRAN, to move in anger in his grave.

Permit me to take a peep at how national PR associations in yonder have managed to keep their heads above waters.

PRISA: The Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa that has been around since 1957 has over 4000 members across the region. PRISA has developed into Africa’s most vibrant and professional PR association. One of its major accomplishments over the last 50 years has been the formation of the Council for Public Relations and Communication Management (CPRCM). The Council serves as the coordinating body representing various professional groupings in South Africa.

How has PRISA survived the last 50 years? It developed widely and highly recognized accreditation and PR training programmes from which it raises funds for efficient administration of the Institute. It also collects its membership dues as and when due and has leveraged on its reputation to get corporate organisations to sponsor its laudable programmes. PRISA is the only national PR association on the continent that operates from its own self-sufficient building that serves as headquarters. Today, PRISA holds most of its PR training programmes in-house.

PRSA: The Public Relations Society of America whose vision is to unify, strengthen and advance the PR profession in the United States is the largest association of PR professionals globally. It celebrates its 60th anniversary early next year. It has 28, 000 registered members across the nation, more than 100 chapters and 19 professional affinity groups. These include business and industry, counseling firms, independent practitioners, military, government, associations, hospitals, schools, professional services firms and non-profit organizations.

PRSA also has 255 chapters at colleges and universities in the U. S. and charges $255 per member annually. Associate members pay $165 and students $60. Practitioners of less than one year standing are admitted as associate members and automatically upgraded to full members after one year of membership. From 2006, students can join PRSA up to 5 months before graduation. The student members have been organized to belong to PRSSA which stands for Public Relations Students Society of America. Any group of up to 10 members can enjoy a discount on membership fees and can organise themselves into a chapter. PRSA generates its revenue largely from membership subscriptions, training programmes and generous corporate sponsorship of its programmes.

The American national PR association that held its last annual conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania October 20 – 23, 2007 had over 50 corporate sponsors. Yours sincerely attended the event and participated in the international panel discussion that examined the global PR challenge. The other panelists came from the UK, USA and Mexico. Five other Nigerians and two Zimbabweans also attended the event. A total of 3200 participants graced the occasion mostly from across the United Sates.

CIPR: The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (UK) has 9, 500 members who pay 200 pounds annual membership subscription. With an annual turnover of 4 million pounds, CIPR has 38 staff members who manage its secretariat. One third of its revenue is derived from subscriptions, one third from education programmes and another third from seminars and conferences. It will be 60 years old in 2008.

So what is the way forward for our Institute? First, we must establish that there is no alternative to the survival of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. It is a legal entity, it is all we have got and if managed well, it can and should enhance professionalism in the country and grow to be one of the best globally. Given Professor Ike Nwosu’s appreciable strides so far and with his reelection for a second term, he should be able to turn things around. The new and responsive minister of information and communications, Mr John Odey has also shown his readiness to do all he can to enhance the status of the Institute and PR practice in the country. We should assist both of them to realise their objectives for the good of the Institute and the nation.

Perhaps, the best way to begin the reforms is to organise a major stakeholders’ forum to discuss the aforementioned and other issues so that a way out of the current situation can be proffered. This should be held as soon as possible by the new council that has been elected. Fellows, senior practitioners and members should all be invited to the forum to contribute ideas on how to reposition the Institute for better performance. Our agency can help with the management of such a forum.

Efforts should be stepped up for a review of the NIPR constitution to sort out some of the thorny issues that have caused friction within the Institute. Top of these is the succession plan. Registration of members to enable many of those practicing outside the Institute to come in should be relaxed a bit. A window of opportunity such as that of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) can be created to pave the way for more practitioners to register and for the Institute to raise revenue.

The provisions of Act 16 1990 should be fully enforced. Failure to enforce the law makes a mockery of the legislation. If we agree to go on with the regulation, employers of unregistered practitioners should be forced to get them registered or face the full wrath of the law. Government at all levels should be sensitised on the need to employ only registered practitioners as their reputation managers. It should duly recognise the Institute by engaging its members to manage its reputation. Other communication specialists employed as government reputation managers should be trained to professionally handle the function and be made register with the Institute.

On its part, the Institute should enhance the beauty of its secretariat and operations by acquiring new and state-of-the-art tools. Its ICT systems should be upgraded to enhance efficiency. The existing library should be better equipped to aid PR research. The Institute can also consider moving its secretariat to Abuja where it can be closer to the seat of government and build a more effective rapport with the nation’s political leaders.

The Registrar’s position could be strengthened as the chief executive of the Institute to be headed by a respected professional. He or she should be someone who can effectively and professionally administer the Institute. A respected registrar with the needed clout can make great things happen at the Institute and nurture it to a high and desired level. Many, if not all, of the aforementioned projects could be sponsored by corporate organisations that have interest in enhancing the status of PR in the country. All that is needed is effective and aggressive marketing of these needs. It was successfully done in the past and can be done now. We must learn from the mistakes and misdeeds of the past or face extinction.

Dangogo is a fellow of the NIPR and CEO of Timex Communications Ltd.


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