- Time to return to part of sanity
By Ray Ugochukwu
Keen observers of the Public Relations Unit of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) can testify that despite the name change to Corporate & Strategic Communication (C&SC) that department has remained a rolling stone that gathers no moss. It used to answer Public Relations Department. Though the department by infrastructure may look corporate but by operation, there is nothing strategic nor communicative it can boast of.
Reason for the above is that its Managing Directors, especially under Hadiza Bala-Usman, the immediate past boss, turned the department to a Rehabilitation Centre of exiting tired staff. As if this is not enough, the retiring workers are always recruited from sections quite alien to Public Relations. As one cannot give what he does not have, they come, siddon-look, get overwhelmed and check out into retirement.
This is quite unfortunate for a department that is supposed to be the ears and eyes of the organization. In most cases, the PR Department or whatever named called, is supposed to be the Ombudsman of the organization for effective performance. By this, every personnel in the department will be on his or her toes working for the good image of the agency. But this has not been the case with the NPA PR unit where most of the staff are rendered redundant and made appendages of tired hands. Instead staffers only idle about as their jobs are handed over to a retinue of so called Media Consultants, who milk the organization dry. Can anyone blame some of them who resort to vendors of clothes, shoes, perfumes, among others, to keep busy in the office?
The travail of the department started with the coming on board of the former Managing Director, Mallam Habib Abdullahi, who redeployed Mallam Musa Iliya who held the forte as the Assistant General Manager to Special Duties Department in 2010. He brought a foreign body into the department in the person of High Chief Michael Ajayi, who headed the Administration Department at the headquarters. Though Ajayi exhibited some good character as PR person but lacked the skill and training. No matter how good he might have been, that system rupture laid the ugly foundation for the roller-coaster trend in the department today.
As Chief Ajayi was leaving on March 8, 2017, he was being replaced by Captain Iheanacho Ebubeogu, a Master Mariner of note. Ebubeogu openly confessed his little knowledge of the workings of the department and solicited for assistance. He learnt fast and as he was about reaching the cruise control, he was yanked off to oversee the Compliance and Monitoring division. Then came in another foreign body in the person of Mr. Ndunofit Offiong, who was Assistant General Manager (AGM) Audit at the headquarters before his promotion, took over on March 17, 2017.
Later on October 5, 2017, Mallam Aliyu Abdullahi Goje, then General Manager, Eastern Zone, who studied Geography in his first degree and a Masters in Land Resources, took over as GM, PR. With the retirement of Goje, on November 30, 2018, another foreign body, Adams Adeiza Jatto, who served as General Manager, Lands & Assets Administration and Engineering & Maintenance departments, took over. The electrical engineer retired from PR and on April 22, 2021 Mr. Olaseni Alakija, took over as General Manager. He was drafted from the Risk & Enterprise Division. Just on Wednesday, November 4, 2021, he bowed out of office in retirement. What a story of a PR department!
From the above scenario, it can be seen that this all important arm of the NPA has been turned to a political pawn in the hands of the names generation Managing Directors of the NPA. Any wonder the image of the organization is at its lowest ebb? Any wonder also the occupiers of that office have all ended up in disgrace? No boss, no matter how saintly he is, can look clean when his establishment has a bad image!
This awkward style of appointment of PR heads has alienated the organization from the media. The age-long symbiotic relationship created by people like Engr. Wali Ahmed, the former Managing Director and the likes, is gone. Infact, there is a big gulf between NPA and the press that will be very difficult to be abridged as things are presently.
The #EndSARS debacle suffered by NPA can be easily traced to poor image management because those who could project the organization better are sidelined in place of rookie media consultants. Where there are good image managers, NPA Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should not have been perceived as pro-North when Isale-Eko, just behind it, has myriad of Alayes and street urchins that desire help.
It is sad that as things are with the organization, it still parades an array of professionals, well trained in PR with taxpayers’ money, but made redundant. One particular officer, an AGM, has always been a recurring decimal filling up all the gaps in-between the various appointments of these foreign bodies. Yet these preferred foreign bodies rely on him and his other long-standing colleagues for direction to perform. They have remained ‘use and dump’ and not found good enough by the powers that be to take full charge. What a civil service system!
One is in no way blaming the foreign body PR heads because they did not redeploy themselves but the MDs that made them square pegs in round holes at an old age. If they had the choice, they would have preferred to exit service from a familiar terrain rather than where youths, even younger than their children, would be schooling them on new job tricks.
For NPA to redeem its poor image among the populace, the PR department should be returned to the part of sanity and professionalism. The Mohammed Bello-Koko led administration should act urgently to reverse the ugly trend of picking the head of the department from within. The General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications is the official spokesman of NPA. This position should be held by a certified public relations professional in line with Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Act of 1990.Unfortunately, none of the last six persons appointed to head the department in close to six years was a certified PR man.
NPA should borrow a leaf from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) that recruits succeeding PR heads from within the department. At some point, though, the agency derailed and paid dearly for it before it called itself to order. It is expected that the NPA should follow suit. Where there is no qualified AGM from the department, and if one cannot be easily elevated for such according to civil service rules, a lower rank officer can suffice. After all, the favoured foreign body AGMs had solely depended on the wise counsels of the lower ranks. What a GM can do an AGM can also!
Now that Alakija has left the department on retirement, never again should a rookie GM from the moon be made to head the department. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. The hunter should frantically search for the carcass of the shot antelope before its neck bends!!
Habib Abdullahi, former MD