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Letter from Nigeria

by Frank Tamuno-Koko

Frank Tamuno-Koko, a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), has been working in PR for over three decades – in government, in education and in business. He is now in private practice, specialising in Community Relations. Frank has also been a member of the Governing Council of the NIPR for eight years and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Institute.

Early beginnings

During World War II, in which Nigeria participated as a then British colony, the colonial army established the role of Public Affairs Officers. Their principal duty was to look after the welfare of Nigerian recruits until their departure for the Far Eastern battlefields and to take care of their integration in civilian life after hostilities had ceased. In this rudimentary but essential practice, the public relations profession started in Nigeria.

Public Relations was first recognised as part of business in 1949 with the creation of the first PR department in the country – in the United Africa Company of Nigeria, a Unilever subsidiary.

Thereafter, several government departments and state companies such as the Customs and Excise, Nigeria Railways, and Nigeria Airways (now defunct), introduced public relations departments ostensibly to exploit the growing mass media as a means of educating Nigerians about their activities. In its infancy therefore, PR practice in Nigeria was basically media relations.

A mature industry

With the growth of the Nigerian economy in the 1960s, which meant greater competition for imported goods by companies such as Unilever and the Lonhro Group, PR practice took on the additional role of supporting marketing and also extended to cover Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). With the further growth of the economy in the 1980s, many businesses became listed companies on the stock market which required specialised financial reporting and in turn led to the birth of financial PR.

The dominance of the petroleum industry as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy and the emergence of environmental issues have had an impact in oil producing communities, especially in the Niger Delta region. This has led to the emergence of Community Relations and Public Affairs as important areas of public relations practice in the country.

In Nigeria, PR practice is regulated by law. Founded in 1963, the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN) was transformed into a legal entity in 1990 with the promulgation of the "Nigerian Institute of Public Relations Practitioners" Decree 16 of 1990 which is now CAP N114, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2007. This Act gives the NIPR a Chartered Status. The NIPR has about 12,000 registered practitioners. For the last four years the Institute has seen a steady increase in new members, with about 700 joining each year. In this respect, the NIPR compares very favourably to national PR associations like the CIPR in the UK.

Differences and similarities

For a visiting PR professional just arriving in Nigeria, PR business may appear somewhat different from what is usual practice in other countries. They may find it a challenge to deal with the quality and quantity of media and journalists that abound in the country. However, PR practice in Nigeria is not so much media relations-focused as it is in Europe. It is more about relationship-building and maintenance. This is especially the case in rural communities.

Additionally, because of the varied geographic and socio-political environment, PR strategies might not be uniform. Working with the media does also pose certain challenges. Because of the inadequacy of communication and other transport infrastructure, PR practitioners might need to facilitate the presence of journalists at rural or late night events and they have to pay close attention to logistics when developing media-relations strategies.

There are also a lot of similarities. For example, there is a well-developed network of PR agencies. World-leading PR agencies have affiliates or branches in the country and they work alongside full-service Nigerian-owned agencies specialising in all areas of PR. The level of professionalism is quite high, with the possible exception of digital communication where there are still areas for improvement.

There is no doubt that the PR industry in Nigeria is fascinating and certainly more challenging than in other countries, especially in areas like Community Relations and Public Affairs. While the general principles in PR strategy will still be applied, the Nigerian PR industry requires a lot more strategic thinking and inventiveness in execution.

Facts about Nigeria

  • Region: West Africa

  • Population: 140 million

  • Area Total: 923,770 sq km

  • Capital: Abuja

  • Climate: equatorial in south, tropical in center, arid in north

  • Major Languages: English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo

  • Currency: 1 Naira (NGN) = 100 Kobo

  • National Day: Independence Day, 1 October (1960)

    Source: Nigerian High Commission in London

Related links

Nigerian Institute of Public Relations