By Victor Akuma
A visionary youth, seasoned Public Relations expert and an advocate of good governance … Agi Victor is a youth of many towering legacies, passionate the birth of a new Nigeria where things truly work.
Victor works with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), FCT Chapter.
In this chat with CRISPNG, he talks about how Nigeria can improve its image through Public Relations, youth and governance as well as the country’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic among others.
Tell us about yourself
Thank you for having me. I am Victor Agi, a Nigerian, from Oju Local Government Area of Benue state. I am of the Igede speaking tribe, one of the major tribes in the state, and I like to quickly add that we have been politically and economically marginalised since the creation of the state.
I am a graduate of mass communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). I have special interest right from my school days in Public Relations, and it’s not much of a coincidence that I currently work with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), FCT Chapter, where I have been working since graduating from the University.
I detest unproductivity, and I believe that with the right communication (strategic communication), there are bound to be results.
Passionate about our common humanity and how to make the society a better place for all. That’s just a little about me.
As someone so passionate about PR, how do you perceive Nigeria as a corporate entity?
Yes, PR is in everything that we do; and as a matter of fact, it’s the only profession, like one of our senior professional colleagues would say, that will be needed hereafter, because, God will still need to communicate with those of us that will eventually make it to heaven (smiles).
My passion for the PR profession stems from the understanding that with the right application, it can be a major solution to the world’s many challenges. There’s PR in diplomacy, commerce, politics, leadership and virtually everything that defines our relationship across borders.
This background information is necessary because it will help us to understand that the failure of the entity called Nigeria is simply a failure of Public Relations.
For instance, I like to see lots of things in terms of “brand”, and as a ‘product’. If we take Nigeria as brand, which it is, you will agree that our brand managers are doing a terrible job in creating value for acceptability.
So, to put this in proper perspective, the following questions suffice: would you accept to purchase ‘Nigeria’, as an investor? Would you gladly recommend Nigeria to foreigners as choiced tourism destination? Would you in all honesty send your ward to Nigeria’s public institutions if you have the means to send them elsewhere?
If your answers to the aforementioned posers is in the negative, then we can say that Nigeria, as a brand or corporate entity, as you may wish to call it, is not a good product.
Talking about perception, which is where most of the problem about a brand lies, we can not run away from negative perception about our country. It’s essentially a sum total of how a brand is viewed which leads to identity and of course, corporate reputation. It means then that a lot of things need to be done to change the negative perception about Nigeria, if we must begin the journey into building a positive reputation/image for the country.
Let me add that, both followers and leaders have a role to play if we must change the way the country is being perceived and place her on a growth trajectory, because there’s a strong correlation between how we are perceived by the rest of the world and our development.
“If we take Nigeria as a brand, which it is, you will agree that our brand managers are doing a terrible job.”
What do you think could be done to address the image crisis of Nigeria?
The whole journey into addressing our image crisis begins from leadership. John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. Nigerian image can not be better than the vision and expectations of our leaders.
So the process to reimaging/re-branding starts from leadership. There’s what we call leadership public relations. Do our leaders understand their role as the first representation of the nation’s image? What are they doing to change international perception about the green card? What role are the Ministry of Information & Culture and the National Orientation Agency playing to change our image at the international scene, and even locally.
So these are the issues.
Our leaders must be deliberate about changing the nation’s bastardized image which they have caused in the first place through their acts of corruption and impunity, and that is possible when they see the nation as a brand that should be marketed.
Professionals should be engaged in managing the nation’s image and reputation problem. A situation where “experts” are only people our leaders choose to call experts, even when they don’t have the prerequisites, will cause more damage to the already faulty image. For instance, as much as I know since return to democracy, those who are engaged to handle spokespersons and PR jobs are mostly journalists. We have had a series of leaders who think that the job of public relations and/or image making is just about writing beautifully. No, it’s far from that, public relations is much more than just knowing how to write for the media. Indeed, and we must give it to them, those who have been handling the jobs in the past and currently are veteran writers, who mostly are not even members of the NIPR, nor know what it entails to manage image. So, you have a government that’s flouting it’s own law, which prohibits anyone who is not a member of the NIPR from practicing PR in any form.
The President managers are good journalists we must admit, but PR and image making is much more than journalism, it’s about strategic and impact communication towards a given end.
Then the citizens of course have their own roles to play in the entire process. The task of national branding is a collective effort that shouldn’t be left in the hands of our leaders alone, and it will, in fact be an effort in futility, if there’s not citizens buy-in.
“Nigerian image can not be better than the vision and expectations of our leaders.”
How long do you think it will take for Nigeria to attain its wish image, considering the guidelines you have given?
Well, like they say, Rome was not built in a day, and one thing about image or reputation is that it can take a very long time to build, but very easy to destroy. Reputation is likened to an inflated balloon which takes some reasonable effort to get inflated, but something as tiny as a needle can ruin a wonderful moment of a baby playing with that inflated balloon.
Building a lasting reputation is therefore not a quick fix effort. Like every PR campaign, you must research to understand the intricacies and dynamics of the Nigerian state to know what went wrong, how it all went wrong, who did what and so on. Then you consciously plan programmes that will galvanise stakeholders in the Nigerian project towards rethinking the nation’s image, and instilling a consciousness on why it should be corrected in them. Actions will follow, before you talk of impact analysis.
So it’s not what a single president can do. Over the years, successive governments have come up with national branding initiatives, yet, we are where we are today because, it’s not what a single administration can finish in four or even eight years.
Government should necessarily be a continuum when talking about sustainble branding, but a situation where new government comes on board and abandon even laudable projects of predecessors will not help our efforts in re-branding Nigeria.
Essentially, there should be short and long term programmes for national branding which should be sustainable over a long period, notwithstanding if there’s a change in government.
As an analyst in leadership matters, would you say Nigerians have enjoyed the best kind of leadership since the inception of uninterrupted democracy from 1999?
Certainly NO. If you have been following the conversation, you will agree that the missing link in our many woes as a nation is the lack of visionary leadership.
I was ruminating over the current situation in the country a few days ago, and all I can see is poor leadership. I was tempted to conclude that we are as good as not having leadership in the country in the present hullabaloo. Nobody seems to be inspiring hope in the face of the current situation, and none is thinking on how to take advantage of the current situation to even “shine”, like we say.
Our leaders are just waiting for the U.S. and other countries to get solution which they will readily transfer (of course at a huge cost); and God bless the soul of Abacha, who in my opinion envisioned a time like this and stack dollars for us in some U.S. banks. Well, they like to call those repatriated monies “Abacha loot”, but I am beginning to have a different opinion, these monies are actually our savings, which were rightly done by the late Head of State.
So, to answer your question, I am not satisfied with the nation’s leadership since the beginning of this dispensation, and nobody actually is.
Coincidentally, we marked the 10th year anniversary of President Yar’Adua demise a few days ago and he was the only leader, in the estimation of most Nigerians, who had a vision and was pushing through that vision. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to have him for a much longer time.
Having said this, we have had fractions of individuals who had visions for the country, but those visions were frustrated by the system, and most of them are not at the topmost level of our leadership, hence, there’s little impact they can make in the system.
What measures would you suggest to help tackle the situation?
I believe the first most important measure is to check our leadership selection process, which is our elections, so those people who we call our leaders are truly those who we elected, and not those who imposed themselves by hook and crook, that’s, those who steal our mandates through electoral fraud.
If for instance, majority of the citizenry want Mr. A as the President, and Mr. B eventually emerges because he has access to state machineries which he deployed to his advantage, there is nothing we can do about such leadership. Because they will definitely not serve the interest of the majority who are mostly the proletariats, but the interest of the bourgeoisies, who are mostly in the ruling class/cult. The result in such arrangement is the looting of our common heritage, as a result of the “politics of settlement” which has been our dismal experience over the years.
Many have argued that the youths are a quick fix to the country’s problem. Do you belong to this school of thought?
Not exactly, because we have seen them fail like the old people when given the opportunity. I strongly believe that the problem with Nigeria’s leadership performance is an issue that has to do with with failed systems rather than the age bracket.
Well, we may argue that a particular age bracket has been responsible for this failed system, but we have also seen that the youths have not proven to be quick fix to the dysfunctional system.
You may wish to cast your mind into what is happening in our universities’ Students Union Governments (SUGs) and the other body that operates more like a political party, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), what impression do you have of them? They don’t really inspire hope in the ability of the younger generation to do a better job in the leadership of the country.
I strongly express the believe that, leadership is not necessarily a function of age, it’s a function of vision, commitment and actions that will cause a positive change in the society.
“I strongly believe that the problem with Nigeria’s leadership performance is an issue that has to do with with failed systems rather than the age bracket.”
Let’s look at the fight against coronavirus in Nigeria. What’s your assessment of our situation?
Let me start by saying that the corona virus pandemic is regrettable, and may I seize this opportunity to condole with families of those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
Well, concerning our handling of the situation, we must give kudos to the Lagos State Government which has shown leadership since the beginning of the crisis, the effort of the leadership of the FCT is also commendable in curtailing the spread of the COVID-19.
However, we must admit that the nation was ill-prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. Like you have seen, the pandemic has exposed our dilapidated health infrastructures and we are just lucky not to have experienced an all out outbreak as seen in some climes. We must however be careful, especially giving that we are not testing as much people as may be carriers of the virus because of the dearth of facilities, which means that there are far more cases than already reported.
Locking down the affected states has proven to be the best measure to avoid community wide spread of this virus, but we have equally seen that it’s not sustainable, as it has given birth to other crisis which are threatening to be more devastating.
The palliative measures are not helping the situation, as they are marred by same corruption that is our major problem. Hence, lockdown that is the best way of avoiding spread of the virus seems to be unsustainable which is the reason for the relaxation of the lockdown in the affected areas.
The economic impact of the corona virus crisis are dire. Global recession is being projected and with the crash in oil prices, only countries who can think inward will survive the looming danger.
Nigeria can’t afford to be clueless in the present situation. We can leverage this situation to rediscover our agricultural potentials, at least for us to be self sufficient in the basic stuff that will keep us going.
The government should take note of the lessons thrown up by the crisis to get the nation’s health sector in better shape. We also need a good data management system in order to keep track of the issues.
We have a global crisis in COVID-19 and we must look set to be part of efforts at finding solution to this crisis as the so called ‘giant of Africa’.
Thank you for having me