By ‘Kunle ADEBAJO
A new poll of NIGERIAN Journalists shows that they pointed at the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police, and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as public institutions whose spokespersons they have had the worst experiences with.
This indication emerged in the poll conducted in October by The ICIR, in which journalists from various newsrooms were asked to disclose the government Public Relations Officers (PROs) with whom they have had their best and worst experiences.
They were also asked to rate their overall experience with the spokespersons and state what common problems they encounter in interacting with them.
The newspaper received a total of 32 responses from journalists across 12 media organisations including BBC Igbo Service, Business Day, Daily Post, Daily Trust, Legit, Nigeria Info, Premium Times, Punch, Sahara Reporters, TheCable, and The Nation. Two freelance journalists also filled the survey.
Their roles range from reporters to content producers, photo-journalists, data analysts, senior investigative reporters, and editors.
Police, Army ranked worst by most
While some spokespersons and MDAs were mentioned only once in the “worst experience” field, there are those whose names came up multiple times. Topping the list is the Nigeria Police with nine mentions.
Two of the nine journalists specifically wrote the name of Jimoh Moshood, former Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) and another two submitted the name of Frank Mba, the current PPRO.
Two other respondents included Bala Elkana, PPRO of the Lagos Police Command, while the names of Anjuguri Manzah, the FCT PPRO, and Olugbenga Fadeyi, Police PRO of Oyo State Command appeared once.
Following closely is the Nigerian Army with five mentions. Two of the five journalists wrote Sagir Usman, the Director of Army Public Relations appointed in February 2019 and a third journalist said he has had an awful experience both with Usman and his predecessor, Sani Usman.
“I could write their names a million times,” the respondent stated for emphasis.
Then there is NAFDAC, a Federal Government regulatory agency, having the third-highest number of mentions, three. Two respondents mentioned the agency’s national PRO (Jimoh Abubakar) while a third respondent filled in the name of the Lagos office’s spokesperson, “Christians Obiazikor”.
Police preventing journalists from covering a court trial. File photo.
Other MDAs mentioned twice include the Ministry of Education, Ibrahim Usman Yakasai of the National Universities Commission (NUC); Stella Nezan of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Those whose names came up once include the presidential spokespersons; State Security Service (SSS); Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC); National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); River Basin Development Authorities; Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC); ministries of water resources, agriculture, labour, and environment; Boade Akinola, Director of Press at the Ministry of Health; Ayang Ogbe, Director of Promotion at the Rural Electrification Agency; and Usman Arabi of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
We also have Bisi Kazeem, Public Education Officer of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC); Moses Adaguusu, Head of Public Affairs at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); Isaac Okoroafor, Director of Corporate Communications at the Central Bank Nigeria; and Sunday James, PRO of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
Some state governors’ spokespersons also made the list, including Sam Onwuemeodo, media aide to former Imo State governor Rochas Okorocha; Taiwo Adisa, Chief Press Secretary to Oyo State governor; Toye Arulogun, former Oyo State Commissioner for Information; and Ismail Omipidan, Chief Press Secretary to the Osun State governor.
EFCC, NEMA adjudged to have best spokespersons
With the highest number of five mentions under the category of best government spokespersons, the EFCC was the respondents’ top choice. All five journalists mentioned Tony Orilade, former Acting Head of media, by name and one included Ayo Oyewole, the Lagos office’s Head of Public Affairs.
Orilade was appointed as the commission’s Acting Head of Media and Publicity in November 2018 and handed over back to Wilson Uwujaren, his predecessor, in August.
Coming second place is the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Sanni Datti, the agency’s Head of Press and Media, was mentioned twice, and Manzo Ezekiel, a press officer, was mentioned once.
Three spokespersons of the Nigeria Police were likewise commended: Frank Mba, PPRO; Chike Oti, former PPRO of the Lagos State Command; and Anjuguri Manza, FCT police command PRO.
Mentioned by two respondents each were Sunday James of the NIS and the Ministry of Works. While one journalist generally commended the “Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing”, another praised David Henry, a senior information officer at the Works Ministry.
Commonest problem: ‘They hardly answer calls’
The journalists who filled The ICIR‘s survey have a number of complaints about the spokespersons working for government institutions, but the biggest issue apparently is the difficulty in getting them to comment. As much as 84.4 per cent of the respondents said the spokespersons “hardly answer calls or reply texts”.
For not being detailed and patient in responding, 62.5 per cent lamented this attitude, 37.5 per cent said their contact details are difficult to get, and 28.1 per cent said they aren’t polite in responding to enquiries.
In August, for instance, when The ICIR reached out to Lauretta Onochie, Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media, to speak on a fact-check, she replied that the reporter “must be very stupid”.
The ICIR has discovered too from a study conducted in October 2018 that six out of 24 federal ministries did not have email addresses stated on their websites for easy enquiries.
Also, 12.5 per cent of the respondents complained that there are spokespersons who spam their mailboxes with press statements. Finally, asked to describe their overall experience in interacting with govt spokespersons, 65.6 per cent of the respondents replied that it has been fair (that is average).
The second-highest number of respondents (18.8 per cent) described their experience as bad, 9.4 per cent selected “awful”, and 3.1 per cent each picked “good” and “excellent”.
The questions put to journalists include the following:
What common problems do you face in your interactions with govt. PROs?
Name which PROs you’ve had your worst experiences with and the MDA(s)
Name which PROs you’ve had your best experiences with and the MDA(s)
How would you describe your overall experience interacting with govt. PROs?
‘Spokespersons need training’
Lekan Otufodunrin, Executive Director of Media Career Development Network and former Editor of Online and Special Publications at The Nation Newspapers, told The ICIR that government public relations officers can improve with adequate training.
He rated the spokespersons average and said he has heard a lot of complaints from reporters. He suspects that this is because many of the spokespersons were originally civil servants and have several restrictions at their workplace regarding speaking to the press.
“Unfortunately some of them do not also have the grounding to handle the flurry of requests coming these days,” he observed. “Before, they were just dealing with a few traditional media organisations. Now, everybody is pulling them here and there and there are all kinds of fact-checking… So I will say they are just average and can do a lot better.”
He emphasised the need to have the spokespersons take advantage of professional capacity-building opportunities. There needs to be stronger synergy among government officials especially in sharing information, he said, and MDAs also need to constantly update their websites with relevant information so as not to make their work “unnecessarily difficult”.
Otufodunrin also advised journalists to be more patient in expecting statements from government institutions and not to delay calling spokespersons until the last hour.
“They need to be a bit understanding,” he urged. “My experience is that people who work in government also have a lot of challenges.”