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HomeExecutive BriefNigeria's Information Minister Idris and the quest for effective govt communication

Nigeria’s Information Minister Idris and the quest for effective govt communication

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PR perfect pitch
PR perfect pitch

For many years, public relations practitioners have consistently yearned for recognition and due credibility as the custodians of communication, knowledge, and reputation management in the country.

The professional body representing the practice of the profession, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), had repeatedly taken a position and committed to drawing the attention of the Nigerian public and other critical stakeholders in the public and private sectors to the need for the right fit in the appointment of communication, information, and reputation managers, particularly in government.

This position became more significant in view of the wobbling and fumbling performance of the many government officials appointed to manage the communication, information, and reputation of the government, particularly at the federal level.

The offices of the Minister of Information and commissioners for information in several states have been largely occupied by journalists, who seemed to be more visible in the public space by the nature of their trade but seemed like a square peg in a round hole.

A journalist cannot successfully manage communication and reputation unless he or she makes a conscious effort to upscale and is trained in the art and science of public relations.

Being a mass communication or any other communication and language arts graduate is not enough. I lived with a journalist with many years’ experience, but we always processed news items in different configurations. For public relations, a news item is more than disseminating information.

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Now something has shifted, and the public relations practitioners have something to cheer about! The Minister of Information and Orientation in the current political dispensation was picked among them.

A representation of the profession in the federal cabinet Ironically, another individual who seemed more prominent had been speculated for the office until the allocation of offices was announced, and it turned out to be the ‘right fit’.

Muhammed Idris is an active public relations practitioner and a senior member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. He is the publisher of Blueprint, an Abuja-based newspaper, but not many have his records and antecedents in public relations and journalism.

The combination of active public relations practice and pedigree in journalism gives hope that the ministry of information and orientation is set for efficient delivery of services to Nigerians and the government.

Upon assuming office, the minister was reported to have assured Nigerians that the ministry under his leadership would uphold honesty instead of resorting to falsehood in defense of the government.

He also affirmed a commitment to transparency and truthfulness in disseminating information. That was a departure from the immediate past.

As a public relations professional who knows his onions and understands his calling, you don’t need to lie or deploy propaganda to succeed in office. Lying, attacks, and propaganda are not public relations, and they will never be, whether in an advanced clime or a developing society like ours.

What should be expected from Muhammed Idris? From a professional point of view, nothing short of professionalism is expected. Nigerians have had to contend with the good, the bad, and the ugly from the previous government in the management of communication, information, and reputation.

Suffice it to say that his appointment is yet another opportunity to show that professionals can truly make a difference when called upon to serve.

The minister will do well to ensure effective communication and information dissemination.

He has the primary role of supervising and ensuring effective dissemination of information and communication of government programs, activities, engagement, and policies to the Nigerian public in a timely, credible, and appropriate manner.

He has that responsibility, which should be a departure from the experience of the immediate past, where information dissemination had aggressiveness as its companion.

Public relations had been grossly lacking. Managing the government’s public image and reputation must be the forte and priority of the minister. Public concerns must be addressed in a professional manner devoid of attacks and distortions of the truth.

Response to criticism must come from a position of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, and a deliberate effort must be made to promote a positive and favorable image of the government to endear goodwill.

Efforts must be made to restore public trust and confidence in the government through effective public relations.

Managing communication, information, and the reputation of the government requires effective media relations. New and traditional media must be embraced as crucial partners in the journey to a successful destination.

The office of the minister and agencies of the ministry must be purposeful in building and sustaining healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with different cadres of journalists, media organizations, and other stakeholders.

The timely provision of information to journalists is essential to curbing the fake news syndrome.

A massive orientation program is needed for Nigerians to influence unpalatable and negative narratives and misconceptions about the government. Not many Nigerians believe in the country’s socio-economic and political landscape; this is begging for change.

It is possible for Nigerians to begin to have trust and confidence in the nation again. It is possible with deliberate effort, a mind shift, engagement, and verifiable actions for change.

One noticeable disservice of the previous administration in the management of the communication, information, and reputation of the government is the below-average awareness of government activities and programs.

Many of its achievements were underreported, and this made it easy for the government to have a poor and below-expected rating. Muhammed Idris must avoid this error, hence the need for a functional team to deliver in his new role.

As the custodian of government information, the Minister must make it a priority to ensure that the collection, processing, and storage of information, including data, are managed effectively.

It is important to note that managing government archives with accurate and up-to-date information is available to support decision-making and as a reference when the need arises.

Crisis management is one major role that distinguishes a public relations professional from a journalist in that role. While a journalist-minister will report the crisis with purposeful distortion of the truth, a public relations professional will highlight the crisis situation from an empathetic point of view.

Crisis is often inevitable; it is imperative to note the availability of accurate and timely information to the Nigerian public. Effective communication at such a time can prevent panic and misinformation and cushion the impact of the occurrence on people.

The nation once had a propagandist as a Minister of Information, and this cost the country reputational baggage in the international community and among the community of nations. Efforts must be made to be a good representation of the country on the international stage, with a commitment to hold the brand Nigeria in the highest esteem.

While it is expedient that the Minister exercise regulatory functions on the agencies for which he has responsibility, such oversight functions must be devoid of witch-hunting or use as a weapon of oppression against the government critics. Regulatory oversight of media and broadcast stations to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations must be seen as transparent.

Lastly, while it is mandatory for Muhammed Idris to align with the government’s goals and policy direction, his office must serve as a trustworthy and dependable source of information for the public, uphold ethical standards in managing communication, and be strategic in building a positive image for the country.

Indeed, Nigerians should know the difference between a Minister of Information and Orientation who serves them and one who does not.

(Edited by Oludare Mayowa; omayowa@globalfinancialdigest.com; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)

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