Last month, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) announced the appointment of Olaseni Alakija as the new General Manager in charge of its Corporate and Strategic Communications department.
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.
Curiously, however, Alakija is the sixth person to head the department in five years of the management of Hadiza Bala Usman. More curious is the fact that all the six heads of the department appointment by Bala Usman were not public relations professionals and were appointed towards the end of their tour of duty in the organisation.
Alakija, who was deployed from the Risk and Enterprise division, does not possess any qualification or previous experience in public relations, raising doubts on how he intends to create and implement a strong communication strategy for the agency.
Indeed, under the present management of NPA, it has become the norm to post officers who were at the twilight of their careers and who had no knowledge of public relations to head the Corporate and Strategic Communications department.
With the exception of one, most of the officers spent only six months before proceeding on retirement only to be replaced by another about-to-retire officer.
Since Hadiza Bala Usman became the NPA Managing Director in July 2016, the six General Managers that headed the Corporate and Strategic Communications department include Chief Michael Ajayi, Captain Iheanacho Ebubeogu, Effiong Ndunofit, Abdullahi Goje, Engr. Adams Jatto and now Olaseni Alakija.
What they all have in common? They were posted to the department when they were about to retire. They were also non-PR professionals.
The new spokesman has barely six months to retirement.
It is worrisome that despite the crop of seasoned PR professionals that have been trained over the years by NPA, the management of the organisation would rather sideline them in favour of non-PR professionals who served for barely six months before exiting. This trend will certainly demotivate professional PR practitioners in the department and create instability in the system. Little wonder NPA has been having bad press and has not enjoyed cordial relationship with most of its stakeholders in the past five years.
The recent suspension of Hadiza Bala Usman as the Managing Director of NPA may not be unconnected to poor corporate communication and stakeholder management. Surely, a professional PR practitioner will be more discerning and strategic in projecting the agency as against the unfiltered and disorganized communication we see from the agency these days.
A strategic communication expert, Ishola Ayolele, described the practice of having non-professionals to head corporate communications units of organizations as a misnomer.
He noted that in “saner climes”, such positions are only headed by certified public relations practitioners owing to the importance of the unit to the image and reputation of an agency.
“It is a major challenge we have in Nigeria. It is only when it is in the area of communication that you see organizations bring in anybody just to head the unit. It speaks to how important such organization holds communication. The unit is a strategic position because the head designs and executes communication that will have impact not only on the organizations but the stakeholders.
“During crisis period is when you see their inefficiency because the unit is not just about bringing in someone who can write, there is more to it. In a saner clime, for you to head a corporate communications for an organization, you have to be a certified PR professional but in Nigeria especially in federal agencies, that is not the situation.
“I can’t imagine NPA having the person heading the account unit to be somebody that read mass communication. If they can’t toil with someone heading the legal department, so why put a non-professional in the communications department?
“It is a leadership problem because it shows that the people at the management level really do not see the unit as important or adding value. That is why they put people who are close to their retirement to head the unit,” he said.
The Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, should endeavour to entrench professionalism in the Corporate and Strategic Communications department by ensuring that a PR professional replaces Alakija when he retires in about six months.
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