Malam Jibrin Baba Ndace is the chief press secretary to the governor of Niger state, Alhaji Abubakar Sani-Bello; he is an award-winning journalist and PR specialist. Ndace is also the recipient of the Best Chief Press Secretary of the Year 2018 given to him by the Abuja chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). He has also bagged an excellence award at the Annual Public Relations Association (APRA) conference in Kigali, Rwanda. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, he speaks on his boss’ leadership style, achievements, awards, as well as challenges.
How have you been able to professionally run your office as the governor’s reputation manager?
My practical PR and journalism experience have empowered me greatly. So, I stay positive, focused, professional, ethical and anticipatory in my approach. I also maintain my network in PR and journalism. I think through every challenge. I don’t run a panic-alert strategy and ensure I don’t become a reputation manager that is an expert in rejoinders. Above all, I see my job as an opportunity to serve and set professional standards in line with global best practices in reputation management and brand building. As one expert advised, ‘I create a narrative, maintain it and change it when necessary.’ I also create and maintain trust and believability with the various publics through dissemination of timely and factual messages on both traditional and new media. You see, managing a brand is also about crisis management. There is no brand that will not encounter that, but you know you have to be anticipatory. But as a PR person, I don’t look at the headlines. I also look at the implications of these headlines. So, I’m not always in a hurry either to talk or send press releases out. Sometimes when I do my press releases, I would send it to some trusted expert friends to scrutinise because I know that I have to be careful with what the public would see. If you send a story at times, the editor would just look at the first two paragraphs maybe, but in this social media age, a blogger may use it exactly the way you send it and the impact is huge and viral. There are things we have to always avoid because rather than solving problems, these things might end up creating new ones. So, the secret behind my success is that I humble myself and consult for superior opinions before I send or respond to issues. I believe that the most important thing is how you are able to solve the problem. I also believe that in managing reputation, one has to be a student, follow global trends, see, observe and compare them with what you have around. At times I call my colleagues who have done it before me, table my issues and seek advice and solutions. We also talk to elders, seek their pieces of advice.
Are there challenges you have faced or still facing?
There are challenges, but once you prepare yourself, then you won’t even be naive in facing them because, as the spokesperson of a governor, you don’t pretend that it’s so easy. So, part of the challenges is that there are people who want to run your office for you, not just advice. They want to be in charge of what you do. You have to be able to be perfect and ethical. If you believe in what you do, then you offer it like a professional. It is very important to maintain your professionalism. Every issue that comes, you have to deal with it professionally.
Like I told you, we are reputation managers in this social media age, so it’s more difficult. Things happen. You are perpetually in a crisis as a PR manager. In the past, you had gatekeepers you can talk to, but now in this social media age, there is democratisation in the process of how journalism is being practiced. Issues come and before you know it, someone has posted it on social media so you have to be consistently on the lookout for news 24/7. It’s not a job that you would go to sleep and allow things to unfold on their own. You have to keep creating your own news around your own brand.
Another challenge is that the job of a chief press secretary is like that of a football coach. It is one job that everybody thinks he or she can do better. Better still, it is a job that requires intellect, wisdom, tact and strategy, because if you are not careful, rather than solving problems, you end up creating enemies for your boss. In certain issues, you go underground and solve the problems for your boss, not just start complaining because someone said something or criticises your boss, then you take that person as your boss’ enemy. No! We shouldn’t take all criticisms to be bad. That would mean you are not a good PR person. Warts and all, I have remained focused on my job. I do my job diligently. If I say there’s project A or B, if you go there you would see it. It makes my job very easy.
Four years down the line, how have you fared and what could you point to as some of your achievements in office?
When I was appointed, I quickly used my media and PR skills to do what we call Perception Audit of my principal, check what the major challenges around him are, the public’s perception about him and all that. I deployed appropriate PR to address the gap. I create contents and leverage on the new media very well in sharing same on various platforms. In addition to that, I rebranded my department. People often refer to us as press and I said no, we are not just press. I then decided to name the department as Niger governor’s Media Team NIGGOVMEDIATEAM.
I also overhauled the vision and mission of the department in tune with global best practices in reputation management, on which we have tactically and consistently been working. I also introduced a quarterly magazine and specialised profile for the governor. In addition to the regular press briefings, I also introduced media monitoring of both online and traditional media for thorough reviews. I also did something unique, in fact, first of its kind in the whole country. I also noticed lack of synergy in my office and that of the ministry of information as well as that of other security and response agencies in the state. Based on my experience as a defence correspondent, I proposed to His Excellency, through the Security Council, and I was given the go-ahead. My intention was to establish an umbrella body that would bring together all spokespersons from security, response agencies and other critical institutions in the state to come together, work together, anticipate security information and nip same in the bud. Lastly, I have deployed the best strategic communication technique in managing the public perception of Governor Sani-Bello.
Could you speak more about FOSCIN?
FOSCIN is acronym for Forum of Spokespersons of Critical Institutions in Niger state established to create synergy and coordination in managing security information in the state. Consequently, FOSCIN was established in December 2017. From inception to date, the forum had handled very critical security information that would have otherwise created confusion in the state. I can assert that in Niger state today if there is any security challenge, information is managed in such a way that nothing would be left to speculation. We also use the opportunity for capacity building among ourselves, our colleagues and any others that are working in the same sector. We even invite experts who come and speak to us on how to manage security information. So, these are some of the things I have been doing.
There’s this perception that most information on govt policies and programmes don’t come from your office, are you not working from a unified front?
It is just perception. We have a well-coordinated information strategy. As Chief Press Secretary, I speak for Mr. Governor, while the Commissioner of Information speaks for the government and our role overlaps. We work closely together in coordinating and giving direction to how information is managed in the state. However, this is democracy; there may be information that may get to the public through other credible sources in government such as office of the Secretary to State Government, Head of Service and heads of MDAs.
How would you describe your relationship with your principal in the last three years?
One thing I want people to know is my principal is not a professional politician. Rather, he is a professional in politics. He’s not noisy or loud. He’s always frank and sincere. He only says it as it is. Therefore, in managing a brand like that, you require wisdom, tact and strategy to be able to do that because you have to know what it is that you would say that nobody would question. Above all, I can describe my relationship with him as very cordial. Largely because he is not the type you would be afraid of because there is little or no media issues around him. He’s not a controversial person. That makes my job very easy.
How would you describe Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello in a few words?
Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello has unique leadership style that I liken to that of the current Indonesian President, Joko Widodo (JOKOWI); who as a governor introduced a style that is called BLUSUKAN. BLUSUKAN means impromptu in Bahasan Indonesia. Like my boss, he enjoys impromptu visits to areas where ordinary citizens live and connecting with people who hitherto do not have a feel of leadership at that level. He’s not just looking at the grand ones. He also has his eyes on the minor ones or the ordinary people. Let me narrate scenario that aptly describes his person: My first convoy with him as a chief press secretary from Abuja to Minna took us about six hours because at every point, the governor would stop to check potholes, potable water in small communities, etc. At times such little problems would be solved there and then. From then on, I conclude that he is humble and focused on the goal of good governance. Considering his background as someone who was born with a silver spoon, you would think that he is something else. He has got a way of solving little and big problems. His own kind of politics is politics without bitterness. He doesn’t take politics as a heinous game. He ignores a lot of things that are uncalled for and that wins him sympathy from the people. His commitment to rebuilding Niger state is total. He came to the job with a Restoration Agenda and he has been able to achieve so much so far.
You were recently honoured by the African Public Relations Association (APRA) in Rwanda and the Nigerian Institutes of Public Relations. Tell us about it…?
It was indeed a pleasant surprise; I really appreciate the awards. What it means is that when you do your work diligently, professionally and ethically there are people or organisations that are watching. So, I will just use this opportunity to thank my principal, His Excellency, the Governor of Niger state, Alhaji Abubakar Sani-Bello, for giving me the opportunity as his CPS to express myself as a journalist and PR practitioner. There’s a proverb that says no matter how healthy a seed is, it requires a fertile ground to grow. I must also thank my boss and publisher of Blueprint Newspapers, Alhaji Mohammed Idris who has mentored me over the years; And our elder, Malam Mohammed Haruna for his guidance and mentorship. I think I’m among the few lucky journalists in Nigeria whose entry point into journalism is from PR, and was able to combine PR and journalism successfully. I also want to thank the members of the various award committees, for deeming me fit for the honour. I thank the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Ketso, the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Hon. Ibrahim Isa Ladan, the Chief of Staff, Hon. Mikhail Al-Amin Bmitosahi, Head of Service, Alhaji Yabagi Sule, Hon. Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Danjuma Sallau and entire members of Niger State Executive Council, the Speaker, Niger state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ahmed Marafa Guni for their support.
I thank my colleagues in the governor’s media team, NIGGOVMEDIATEAM. I owe a lot of people in PR and journalism too many to mention. You see, I formed a tradition that whenever there is an issue, I don’t just sit and do things on my own. I consult widely with senior PR practitioners and journalists at home and abroad. That has helped me a great deal; one such practitioner that I have had to disturb more than any other person is Alhaji Yushau Shuaib of PRNigeria.