By Yushau A. Shuaib
When Mrs. Remi Oyo, President of Nigerian Guild of Editors was announced as the new Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Olusegun Obasanjo, many in the media circle saw it as deserving appointment and a welcome development given from her decades of experience in journalism. To the female folks, it is a development that answers to the cry for gender equality. It would be on the record that she is the first woman to be so appointed to this highly sensitive and mobile office, especially in our democratic dispensation where the President is widely known for his frequent foreign trips and working almost around the clock.
Though it may not be a big deal for a woman to occupy such sensitive office, afterall many of them abound in the media where the practice is full 24hours-7days a week. But a versatile spokesperson only sleeps after the boss must have slept and must have woken up before ‘Oga’ wakes up. That is why I wonder how a married woman with children could cope with the strenuous life of a spokesperson whose phone is ever busy for enquiries from foreign and local media and public scrutiny. The press secretary does not have a time schedule, especially in a country where the leadership at the tiers apply fire-brigade approach to public issues; travel on adventurous expeditions; receive and pay needless courtesy calls and organize Owambe in the name of social parties.
Most journalists are finding themselves in public affairs, as Special l Assistants on Media, Personal Aide on Press Matter, Chief Press Secretary, Media Consultant, Publicity Special Adviser, and many of such nomenclatures. We need to ask how adequately are they prepared to man the offices, which though media related, is more of public relations routines. For Mrs. Oyo, a scholar in International Relations with Distinction in Mass-Communications, she has added advantages and should do well in tackling the myriad of problems associated with high-level image management, even though she has little practical experience in public relations as a profession.
Unfortunately many chief executives have preference for journalists to handle public relations jobs which is not restricted to media relations. Because at best the officer so appointed only provide such publicity activities as press briefings, media interviews and issuance of press releases.
A journalist without prerequisite qualifications and experience in PR may realize that the public affairs’ role is not all about issuing press release and attending to the media but involves a lot of techniques of studying public moods and advising the chief executive and management concerned on the desirability of tackling policy issues without necessary drawing the media attention.
In PR, there are such implementable and practicable programmes towards establishing and maintaining goodwill and seeking and receiving public support. The recommendable PR techniques for any press secretary include effective planning, perceptive research, incisive evaluation, reputation management, crisis and issue management; name and brand building; public identification and classification; media categorization and selection and strict adherence to ethical standards and code of conduct.
There are benefits to be derived by joining relevant professional bodies like Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, British Institute of Public Relation, International Public Relations Association amongst others. The benefits of membership of professional bodies entail management development, recognition, understanding new trends through publications and conferences, and as a meeting point for members to rub minds with professionals and veterans as to gain from their vast experiences.
A good spokesperson must be a go-getter personality with good temperament. He /she should demonstrate energetic initiative and creative demeanor to enable him/her to come up with fresh ideas and worthwhile programmes. Amiability, resourcefulness and openness without necessarily being frivolous, are qualities that can enable the officer to attend to enquiries and handle situations with ease without giving wrong signals to the public.
Press secretaryship in the public service, is neither strictly restricted to civil service rules nor seen solely as political appointment but moderate assignment between the extremes. Public relations as management function, empowers the officers to have direct access to the chief executive where they interact on horizontal basis. A spokesperson who is afraid to meet or advise the boss, is not worth the salt. It is by having direct access that the chief executives are informed and advised regularly on policy issues and public expectation before any public forum. The advisory roles performed by a dynamic PR person may contain warning on when the leader can deliver extempore speech, crack jokes, wear mournful visages and when to keep mute as is known sometimes that silence is golden. Every environment requires unique disposition of chief executive to avoid public misinterpretation and misconception.
Due to recruitment and appointment of ineffective and inefficient officers for image making, many public officers have committed political harakiri through their unguided statements and misguided behaviors in public cause which embarrassment to several individuals and institutions.
Though in the media what make news is sensational and exclusive stories, but care should be maintained in curtailing damaging information which are better controlled by effective media relations and openness of government which is to be seen as transparent and accountable to the public.
I know Mrs. Oyo may not have difficulties in retaining her respect with the editors and newsmen, she should be very careful in media identification and selection. Though she may not need to understand all Nigerian vernaculars, but there are local dialects widely and publicly spoken that need media monitoring. For instance Nigerians who cannot afford newspapers due to poverty and illiteracy levels, tune to electronic media for information. Most Northerners, for instance, rely on Hausa Service from foreign electronic media where hourly news is provided in Hausa language worldwide from international news stations such as British Broadcasting Corporation, Deuschevele of Germany, Voice of America, and other broadcast stations in China, Moscow, Bulgaria and even from Botswana in South Africa. Though it is claimed in some quarters that some of the stations are biased, the new spokesperson to the Nigerian President may find that monitoring the stations and responding appropriately would further correct any erroneous representation and ensure the goals of effective information management.
Let us pray that some of the new government appointees from the media are not deliberately withdrawn from their objective, fearless and just profession of voicing for the voiceless only to be discarded like sacrificial lamps. We hope that Mrs. Remi Oyo and all other media practitioners in the new political disposition would not be active in denying and denouncing actions and utterances of their bosses through rejoinders and rebuttals.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in The Guardian June16, Daily Trust June17, New Nigeria June18, Vanguard June22, Nigerian Tribune June18, ThisDay June22, Monitor June24-26, Daily Times June23-24, 2003