The option A4 system, fashioned out for the success of the transition to the civil rule programme of the Babangida government, has now come to its final stage, a stage where campaigns to the nook and crannies of the federation to win public support is inevitable. The Presidential Election is renewing interests in one of Nigeriaís most enduring businesses, politics. In Nigeria, as in other parts of the world, the secret of getting elected by the populace is not in massive publicity and investing in advertising. It involves something a lot more personal; image building and presenting good credentials. This is where public relations comes in. Unfortunately, little is known by party stalwarts of the significance of public relations and how it can serve them.
A great majority of voters consciously belong to some sort of special interest group. The candidates who can appeal to most of these groups may end up being the victors. Itís quite unfortunate that most politicians believe only in the advertisement game, where gutter language is often used, and money politics becomes the order of the day. With public relations, the office seeker easily receives feedbacks of his campaign and gets public acceptance by his appropriate response.
The field of public relations is large. Its boundaries include marketing, advertising, promotion, sales and journalism. To sum it, PR is the mother of all publicity. Public Relations helps its users to anticipate and optimize new values and life styles. It also helps media houses to enlighten and educate the public on particular subjects.
According to the authors of Effective Public Relations, public relations is the management function that identifies, establishes, maintains mutual beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends. Although public relations has gained a lot of grounds in developed countries, the idea is comparatively new in third world countries. In recent times, Nigeria has gradually realized the importance of PR through the efforts of former and incumbent chairmen of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Chief Mike Okereke and Alhaji Sabo Mohammed, respectively who fought doggedly to ensure that the general public is aware of the significant roles PR can play in peopleís lives.
In America, where it is firmly established, it was initiated as an effort to persuade and promote the settlement of unsettled West and to build up political heroes with the use of the press. It was also intended to assist politicians in their campaign strategies when voters became more and more out of reach and mass communication was inevitably pushed to the fore.
Though some critics allege that PR cheapens publicity when it is compared with the advert, they fail to realize that while advertisements are designed to influence the public of the need to vote for the candidate, public relations is more subtle. Its campaigns are designed to influence attitudes and beliefs of the electorate (general public). And there is no room for campaigns of calumny in PR. In adverts, gutter languages and senseless arguments are freely used and raised.
Decree 16 of June 1990 empowers the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations to regulate the practice of PR in the country, already, the Institute, under its present chairman, Alhaji Sabo Mohammed, has set up a monitoring committee, which will ensure the enforcement of the Decree. There are many features of PR: Seasons greetings, condolence visits, courtesy calls, congratulatory messages, letters to the editor, favourable news stories, feature articles and rejoinders which we read are the hand work of hidden persuaders, i.e., public relations practitioners.
The practitioner is endowed with an appreciative demeanour. The practitioner, who is often called image-maker, image merchant, information officer, etc. studies the attitudes and values of the public concerned so that he can develop effective relationship between his candidate and the electorate (public). He adopts persuasive devices to win people over to his man. It is obvious from the foregoing that PR has to do with publicity, awareness, mutual cooperation and understanding and goodwill. Its abuse should be avoided.
For a successful transition to civil rule devoid of rancour, acrimony and political abuse, which consumed and caused the demise of the first and second republic, the politicians should boost their image by presenting themselves to the public through press briefings, attending conferences, and honouring invitations to occasions and cultural shows.The politicians can write articles for and grant interviews to the press. Indeed, the politicians should fall in love with pressmen and the editors who are the determinants of what goes out to the public through their media. And if he is lucky to get the support of columnists and writers, the politician would get his name frequently mentioned in feature articles as a reference point in discussions. The politicians may probably find public relations very cheap but they should avoid unnecessary press briefings, blind arguments, childish statements, disrespect for particular groups in the society and failure to watch their tongue whenever they are chipping in their views on sensitive issues of public interest.