Mistaking drone owners for pilots in public relations practice in Nigeria

Unlike the practice in the more economically developed nations, the propensity to patronize impostors is higher in the developing nations. For medical and legal services, we see instances where people consult individuals who veil their witlessness with the appearance of professionalism and ability to mumble some professional jargons. The reasons for engaging in this self-destructive practice are many, but ignorance and financial inability are the most prevalent.

These reasons are so important that, whichever one is adduced as the rationale for patronizing impostors, one is able to easily place the victims of deceit into a particular class. However, there is always a common realization, be the victim a corporate and human entity, which is – patronizing charlatans is more expensive!

When faced with the actual cost of wrong counsel and unprofessional services, or the reality that they may have to live with the irreparable damage caused by sneaking into bukaterias for major surgical operations, regret is the feeling that follows. Mental picture of the process that led to the decision repeatedly appears on their minds, but unfortunately, their situation always illustrates the axiom, crying over spilled milk, since time, money and expected value ultimately came to nil.

Impostors are in every field of human endeavor, and their inordinate quest for survival does not only destroy the professions they feign knowledge of, but also destroys institutions, and sends several people to their untimely death.

Does anyone remember the era of Wonder Banks? Yes, that one! People died because their money got trapped in the complex web of deceit ‘packaged’ as a high-yielding financial product by the draftsmen of the phony financial product, who sold the charade to investors. The travesty went on for a while.

Then the bubble burst. Although not until serious personal financial injuries were sustained before regulatory intervention ended the feast of deceit. Those who lost money to the sham are still licking their wounds because they have not been refunded a dime and the matter still lingers on and painfully in court. Isn’t that a case of penny wise, pound foolish? I am certain they are remembering that there were proper banks before yielding to the allure of ‘money-doublers’.
Now, the Public Relations landscape in Nigeria is the gaming center. The industry is surprisingly faced with an identity crisis originating from existing gap between its real image and wish image. Quacks have forced a totally different narrative, from what the profession and practice represent, on potential patrons. This is one of the major reasons for the sad contradiction in public estimation of Public Relations as a profession. So terrible is the case that the whole situation is gradually acquiring the similitude of taking drone owners for pilots; and noticeably, Public Relations programmes are now intuition-driven than strategy!

From observation of the evolving trend, patrons of the profession are being deceived into believing that Public Relations is about having the appearance and eloquence of a Master of Ceremony (MC), or just the ability to place photographs in newspapers. Inability to define what constitutes Public Relations, and poor knowledge of what value the practice can add to businesses and individuals, have tampered with likening the profession to a centaur.

At the expense of expertise and professionalism, simulated British accent and American drawl have become indicators of competence, while jargon-throwing now signals know-how in the Nigerian PR landscape. Like the situations earlier described, organizations and patrons of Public Relations services will not get value for engaging ‘communication administrators’ or patronizing ersatz Public Relations consultancies, instead of seeking the services of professionals who are apt at solving the riddles associated with complex communication problems.

As a result of these, we suffer great losses from missed opportunities to accurately and beautifully tell the Nigerian story to the world, and set our brands free from the shadow of foreign products that put our nation in the shameful trade deficit position we occupy permanently. Notwithstanding the universal outlook of Public Relations theories, models and tools, Public Relations remains a culture-based practice. The success or failure of a campaign conceived by foreign agencies, amongst other factors, is largely dependent on the extent of localization of the campaign.

If the campaign or its theme does not reflect understanding of the local culture, or recognize the cultural nuances of the people, and its executional framework not adaptable to existing platforms in the local setting, I am sure that you will agree with me that the campaign is destined for failure. This means that local agencies are central to telling brand stories.

The situation is not also different from people forgetting that the impressive rhetoric and manifestations they consider as excellent Public Relations campaigns are predicated on complex algebraic models, proven theories and tested frameworks, which only trained minds can deconstruct and apply in strategy development, or campaign planning in Public Relations context. This implies that continued engagement of masqueraders for Public Relations roles in-house, and for consultancy services, harms organizational reputation and robs brands of opportunities.

Our country, Nigeria, is a victim of too many things, not just corruption. All these things have combined to stagnate her growth. While corruption in the ‘high places’ is arguably the major crippling factor, recklessness in the ‘other places’ has been a burden on the nation’s quest for greatness. In our individual capacity, everyone is a contributor to the present state of the Nigerian nation and guilty in different dimensions of recklessness.

One obvious dimension of recklessness that has held the Nigerian nation back for decades is shabby and uncoordinated treatment of brand Nigeria. As a nation, Nigeria and her economy seems not to have benefited adequately from Public Relations practice as much as nations like the United States of America, The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France. Do you really think the images projected of these nations to the world is what they really are in actual sense?
Nigeria as a country is peculiar; unfortunately, this peculiarity which should be an advantage and attraction huge investments, is not properly communicated and projected in a manner that will excite investors. I will not entirely lay the blame at the doors of government communications teams, because the private sector organizations are equally culpable, so also the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) which has failed to provide the required support and necessary direction.
The country is grossly misrepresented, and consequently misunderstood because most private sector organizations that should tell the actual Nigerian story to the world are failing with respect to crafting and creating compelling narratives about their achievements. Rather than engage organizations and individuals who are adroit at storytelling, they look for relatives and friends who obviously lack the expertise for storytelling in a professional way.

They tended to have forgotten that the train had since left the station, and communication has evolved into a science that manifests itself as an art. Organizations or individuals who still hold on to this assumption do not deserve any blame because NIPR, the professional body charged with the responsibility for regulating the practice and development of Public Relations practice in Nigeria, has not shown that the practice requires more than instinct. The body admits people into the profession and confers membership on them based on length of stay in communications department of an organization or organizations.

Contrary to the practices in other professional bodies, like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) where a first class degree in Accountancy or Finance does not qualify a candidate for associate membership (ACA) of the association. NIPR has become like a long service award, where your time of service in a communications position of an organization is taken as an indication of how qualified you are. And there is little or no consideration for quality of experience?

This practice is really disturbing because we know that most people designated as communications professionals in some organizations are secretaries, photographers and party planners in its real sense of their roles.
Until we develop a robust framework, something similar to that of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), where everyone regardless of experience or education, earns their membership through a rigorous certification process, and is placed on appropriate grades which reflects experience level, patrons might continue to have justifiable reasons for engaging anyone to provide PR services.

This is because there is nothing that separates professionals from non-professionals, or validates the expertise and competence of practitioners. The institute needs to protect and promote its members. Otherwise, the government will not understand that press-agentry is not the same thing as strategic communication that will enhance the positioning, reputation and maintain the integrity of the Nigerian nation because the PR profession in not ‘dressed’ differently.

The ideal thing would have been existence of a working relationship between the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and government communications team, such that the body lends its proficiency and techniques to government communications teams, spokesperson and parastatals. But that may not be the case now because Public Relations practitioners in the country are guilty of a dimension of recklessness that has so much diminished the value and status of our profession, and made taking drone owners for pilots in our trade possible.

As a body, we do not know how to push our relevance. For instance, did we take the opportunity of the Bokoharam issue to show the government and the Nigerian people that communication can achieve so much for a nation? Is it that we did not know that issue that eventually snowballed into a national calamity of unmanageable proportion was heightened by poor crisis communication?

Supposing NIPR came up with an intelligent review of the situation with recommendations on how the situation could have been managed, would the succeeding government not have taken a different look at the association, or practitioners? In managing the issue, there were loads of goofs that resulted in distrust between the Nigerian public and the past government. There was a mismatch between the responses from the crisis managers, the level of public attribution of crisis responsibility to the government on one hand, and the reputational threat the crisis posed to the government on the other hand.

Our professional association needs to get involved in things like this and take advantage of such to demonstrate that the profession has its own processes, methods and principles which must not be breached, like we witnessed in the interviews of significance granted by different senior communication officials and the President on the Bokoharam issue.

Clearly, the situation that created the atmosphere for engagement and patronage of quacks in different field of human endeavours is more complex than what face value estimation throws up. For practitioners and patrons of PR services, this is a genuine call for process evaluation and opportunity for recovering wasted resources which was informed by confusing drone owners for pilots in communication services.
We need to know, like Benjamin Disraeli puts, “without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay”.

‘Segun Fafore, a Public Relations practitioner and member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), lives in Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]


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  • Damilola | 2016-10-14 22:21:39
    Oh, and I forgot to mention - the focus is on the other room when Germany also said they would be doling out funds to Nigeria. That's how the funds will be taken into that other other room through that other back door. Sad.