Raheem Akingbolu,

Few months from now, Professor Ike Nwosu’s tenure as the President and Chairman, Gover-ning Board of the National Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) would end. As some fellows of the institute begin subtle move to succeed him, Raheem Akingbolu writes on the challenges facing the institute and factors that would determine who replaces the university don.

At a glance

Over four decades after its establishment, the National Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), hitherto known as the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (until when it was renamed in 1972) seems not to have gotten it right. Aside from the fact that many Nigerians are yet to come to term with the fact that Public Relations is a management function, the leadership of the institute are concerned about quackery and unethical practice of some members in the name of PR. Between 1963 and the late 80s, NIPR founding fathers were faced with the challenge of getting government recognition and membership awareness.

By 1993 when General Ibrahim Babangida would leave office as Nigeria’s President, some of the early challenges had been overcome but ironically the regime also gave birth to another set of problems, as a lot of people began to do all sort of things under the pretext that they are PR practitioners. With the advent of democracy in 1999, the nation’s business terrain became more conducive with many local and multinational companies jostling for attention. Expectedly, the competitive environment increased the understanding of marketing communications, which became opportunity for Public Relations practitioners. This was the era when some quacks began to parade themselves as practitioners because of the loose operation of the leadership of the institute.

On the corridor of power too, the story is the same as political jobbers and self-proclaimed image-makers refer to all their shortcomings as ‘PR’. For instance, a former minister of Education under president Obasanjo’s administration, Prof. Fabian Osuji, at the climax of the scandal that rocked the ministry under him, emphatically referred to the N55million he used to bribe a section of the national assembly, in an attempt to influence the ministry’s budget as PR. The statement attracted a lot of critics who argued that Osuji misunderstood the concept of PR and its applications.

Clamour for Repositioning

Unlike other professional bodies, NIPR has been located in rented apartments both at the national and local chapters since it was established. Five years ago, when the institute’s belongings were thrown out of no 39 Sobo Arobiodu Street, GRA, Ikeja, for inability to pay rent, industry watchers expected the leaders to begin to see the need to own a permanent national office and encourage the local chapters to follow suit. To those who felt this way, it was considered an embarrassment for the institute to be moving from one office to the other for over four decades. There are other related problems that whomever that would take over from the current president would have to contend with issues such as the updating of membership registration, establishment of study centres like ICAN, NIM and NIMN, among others. There is also the need to control reposition the institute. The last membership register compiled by the institute was compiled during the tenures of Mazi Mike Okereke and Alhaji Sabo Muhammed between 1992 and 1996.

A marketing communication practitioner and Managing Director of Lagos based Caritas Communications, Mr. Dayo Ojo, while speaking on the way forward for the institute said NIPR needs a leader that has passion for professionalism and that would enhance integrity.
“What NIPR needs is a leader that has distinguished himself both in practice and in personality, somebody who passionately love the profession and not someone who want to use NIPR as a pedestral to know those that could butter his bread in the society. A committed administrator that understands public relations and not an usurper,” he said.

There had been efforts made in the past to sanitise the institute but none had achieved much because of lack of synergy between the national body and the state chapters. In the early 90s, a former Army spokesman and a former member of the institute, Brig. Gen. Fred Chijuka (rtd) chaired a committee that looked into how unregistered members who were parading themselves, as members would be flushed out. One of the steps taken by the committee was to write letters to private and public organisations in the country, requesting that any person employed to head the PR departments of the various organisations must be a member of NIPR. The letter also indicated that organisations that failed to do this would be prosecuted in the court of law, since the institute is empowered by an act of the national assembly to prosecute any member that behaved contrary to the NIPR professional guidelines. 
The body attended the status of a Chartered Institute in June 1990 through Decree No. 16 (now an Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). By virtue of this law, NIPR derived the power to register members, regulate the practice/development of the PR Profession and monitor professional conducts through an established Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct regime. As it is the practice with respectable professional organisations everywhere, the law allows standard academic and professional qualifications for admissions into the Institute. At the helm of the Institute’s affairs is the President, assisted by a Vice President – in 22-member Governing Council, which is elected every two years.
From inception till date (1963 – 2007), the Institute has produced eleven Presidents. They are; Dr. Sam Epelle (Late), Chief Kano Ofonery, Tonye Willie Harry, Alhaji Ikhaz Yakubu, Chief Bob Ogbuagu and Chief Alex Akinyele. Others are; Mazi Mike Okereke, Alhaji Sabo Mohammed, Chief Jibade Oyekan and Sofiri Bobo Brown.
To reposition NIPR, it is believed in some quarters that its constitution needs to be reviewed. During the last administration, some members of the institute leadership led by the then president, Chief Jibade Oyekan, approached some again members in the national assembly, including Honourable Abike Dabiri to present proposal to Senator Ibraheem Mantu on the need to increase the budget allocation of the institute. The Mantu led committee approved the proposal and jincreased the NIPR annual grant from N5m to N40million. Ironically, the money was released after Jibade was voted out at Owerri AGM. Few months after, the institute’s rent was due for renewal, yet its leaders could not pay. That was the beginning of the journey that landed it at the one story apartment it currently occupies in Opebi, Lagos.
Apart from the clamour for reorientation constitutional amendment, it is also believed that there are some strategic and administrative imbalances in the institute. A member who spoke to THISDAY under anonymity is of the opinion that the office of the registrar is not empowered to address some salient issues.
“The post of the executive registrar in NIPR is a ceremonial post because the existing constitution vested so much power in the office of president and until some of these issues are looked into, it will be difficult to put some things right. For instance, look at APCON and some other institutes, the post of the registrar is like that of a prime minister of a country and this explains why things are going on better for those institute,” the member said.

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