Osondu: Improving Nigeria’s Image is a Public Relation-driven Process

The Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) in the FCT, Oheari Osondu, speaks with Adebiyi Adedapo on the positive effect of the country’s  rebased GDP on its image among other issues. Excerpts:

What, in your opinion, is responsible for Nigeria’s battered image abroad, and how can PR help in redeeming the image?

We cannot put it directly that our image as a country is battered but rather, it is common knowledge that Nigeria experiences public perception issues over time within global circles, on account, perhaps, of the activities of an insignificant number of compatriots and we in the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations are disturbed over this trend. For us in the NIPR, goodwill, responsible performance and integrity remain the critical planks on which the image of an organisation, a community, a state or a country can thrive. One of the primary challenges faced by developing countries especially Nigeria, stems from the breakdown of understanding between the government and the masses. There is crisis of confidence and public misconception of the intent of the public officers to deliver on good governance. Relationship between the government and the governed is severely undermined by distrust of the government and pervasive lack of faith in national institutions. Some Nigerians also nurse a profound skepticism and negativism about the intentions of their political leaders and about the capacity of institutions to deliver on the promise of democracy. This scenario gives room to more cynics in the country and throws up numerous challenges for a public relations practitioner to bridge the gap of understanding between the government and the governed . We now have people who are prematurely disappointed about the future. People who are less interested in any meaningful government initiative and even question the outcome of some processes such as the population census. People who are not positively disposed to any reforms such as the deregulation of the oil industry, privatisation and fuel subsidy, even in the face of obvious benefits.
For us in the NIPR, an audit on the attitude and perception of Nigerians to government policy formulations indicate indifference and apathy, with attendant negative impact on numerous government initiatives towards national growth. This underscores why there are challenges to collective drive for nation building.

Under the present circumstances, public relations remain a distinctive management function, which helps to establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between the Nigerian government and the civil populace. It involves the management of problems of public opinion, defines and emphasises the responsibility of government to serve the public interest; helps government to keep abreast of and effectively use change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends, and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tool to engender good governance.
It is instructive to state that Nigeria needs total re-branding in order to encourage the Nigerian people to buy into the new Nigerian project and this is a public relation-driven process. The “Heart of Africa” project was a major effort by the government to reinvent our image and correct the very grave misrepresentation of our country and people by the Western media.

How can the recent GDP rebasing be used to create a better image for Nigeria, putting PR in perspective?

The recent Gross Domestic Product rebasing meant changing the mode of calculating growth in output and using a more recent base year of 2010 from 1990 prices. After 23 years of using 1990 as its base year, major economic shifts and trends have occurred, one being the creation of the services and the telecoms sectors. This exercise is expected to provide a more realistic estimate of the Nigeria economy and although it is a welcome development, the wider implications on key macro-economic indicators are more cosmetic than material. With the GDP rebasing placing Nigeria as having the fastest growing economy in Africa and rated 26th within the international community, it behoves the people to support the government to harness this situation to have wider impact on national growth. Since our Nollywood industry is ranked 3rd globally after American Hollywood and the Indian Bollywood, we should strive to consolidate on the gains we accrue from the film industry to properly reposition our country. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of Economist magazine, Nigeria has a young and growing populace estimated at 170 million, who have a per capital annual income of $1,624 and thus the country ranks as an IMF income economy heavily dependent on oil. The World Bank classified Nigeria within the category of lower middle income economies based on criteria such as the GDP and GNI per capital. Similar countries within the same bracket are Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon.

Economic observers believe that with the rebasing, Nigeria may record an approximate 40 per cent leap in nominal GDP to about $400 billion, putting it ahead of South Africa.  Back to the Nollywood industry, this is one sector of the economy which produces more films a year than any other country except India. In 2006, when the last comprehensive data was collected by UNESCO, Bollywood released 1,091 major feature films, Nollywood churned out 872, and the America’s Hollywood, trailed with 485. If you include the smaller, lower budget films, Nigeria’s rises to more than 2,500 movies per year. Motion pictures, sound recording and music production are collectively now worth billions of pounds, and constitute 1.4 per cent of the country’s £307 billion GDP, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. Every public relations practitioner will always expend his energy and expertise on those areas of positive performance and outcomes as far as his organisation is concerned. A public relations practitioner will always advise the management of his company to properly harness and develop its areas of strength.

How can the government-citizen relationship be improved?

As stated earlier, there is urgent need to raise the stakes in public communication and public engagement. It requires a holistic approach of bringing relevant stakeholders under the same platform to work as a team for the good of the entire nation. Evaluation and re-strategising are also critical components for this project.

President Goodluck Jonathan once said the corruption record of Nigeria is over-bloated. What is your view?

We must commend Mr. President for his acknowledgement on corrupt practices in the country but we also agree with him that it is not a trend that is peculiar to Nigeria and should not be over-bloated. President Goodluck Jonathan also maintained that structures have been put in place to discourage corruption, citing the manner in which government business is being conducted presently as part of arrangements to check corrupt practices. He even stressed that the processes of reforming the power sector and handling of the fertiliser sector have so far been transparent. Beyond this, the Federal Government should consider other measures towards addressing the scourge of corruption, which transcends almost every facet of the society. I was privileged to visit an office four years back and a young graduate entered to enquire after an ongoing recruitment exercise to know if  he was shortlisted but I was shocked when an office clerk took him outside to extort N100.00 before providing him the information without minding if that was the last money on the desperate young man.  There should be a wider distribution of the information on the rules, a better specification of the criteria, and greater transparency in respect of decisions reached and the institution of a system of appeal will help reduce the element of distrust, collision and the abuse of the discretion that is built into public processes. For instance, transparency should be introduced in recruitment exercise into the public service and not the recent process which resulted to untimely death of some Nigerians during the last Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise. Even when the Federal Government introduced some compensatory measures for the bereaved families, most people rushed to the National Hospital in Abuja with false claims of being among the injured during the recruitment exercise.

In the same vein, government should institute appropriate reporting systems and supervisory controls and legislation on people’s right to information on decisions taken or actions initiated by the Government. For example, power corrupts when it is wielded without fear of accountability and reprisal. And when supervisors are in collusion with their subordinates it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to have an effective arrangement for accountability. The problem is accentuated by the difficulties of measuring both the performance of personnel as well as the impact of their decisions. The problem becomes more difficult to resolve simply because of the lack of appropriate reporting systems and supervisory controls, especially if cases involving disciplinary action take years to conclude or never.

Accountability is another disturbing issue as end users of certain services do not know the rules governing service provision, especially regarding service standards, partly because such standards have seldom been developed. The public has also been brought up on the tradition that they have no right to any information and hence do not protest against the lack of information and the secrecy maintained on even the most basic matters hence, they are simply unaware of their rights and the recourse available to them if these rights are denied them.

Furthermore, most citizens do not encounter corruption on a daily basis, but on the basis of distinct episodes involving interaction with public agencies in specific circumstances just as the case I mentioned earlier. If a citizen is not exposed to corrupt practices frequently (from which he or she also does not benefit directly), he is less likely to invest time and effort in taking up cudgels against it and lobby vigorously for structural and systemic reform.

Other forms of corruptions are bribes paid in the hope of getting a favourable ruling under a manipulated judicial process. Much of the corruption of this variety is a product of the tradition under which people have been brought to keep in good humour the authority with the mandate to obtain favors; at times the purpose may not be to obtain a favour but to simply remain in the good books of the person holding the authority to take a decision.
In a nut shell, can ‘little stealing’ of public fund be classified as corruption?

There is no yard stick for measuring corruption. Any act of extortion or obtaining  fund, which was not offered in good faith, is corruption no matter how little the public fund is.

How can we rebrand Nigeria ?
As stated earlier, the rebranding process is a team work but government should fire the first salvo through adequate public engagement with sincerity of purpose and ensure that during the implementation stage, round pegs are not put in square holes.

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