On Saturday, March 15, 19 Nigerians died in a stampede during an ill-fated recruitment exercise for the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). The exercise, which was carried out across different recruitment centres across the nation, allegedly had over 500, 000 applicants in attendance – a mammoth figure by any standard. The fallout from this was swift and criticisms from different quarters trailed the exercise; the Interior Minister and the Comptroller General of the NIS were also officially queried by the Presidency.
The incident was a public relations disaster, as evidenced by the first, crucial mis-steps: at the initial stage, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Abba Moro, blamed the dead youths by saying that “the applicants lost their lives due to impatience and for not following the laid-down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise.” This reaction was widely condemned and tagged as showing insensitivity and a lack of remorse on the part of government. It also showed a lack of skill, tact and preparation in dealing with sensitive issues; for example, a government that wishes to be seen as caring and responsible in times of crisis must show empathy to the affected parties, particularly when there is a loss of life and property.
There is undoubtedly a need for government to incorporate Public Relations (PR) into every area of policy formulation, execution and management. Besides offering adequate publicity to every policy thrust or drive, it helps deal with crises when they occur – and they do occur. The NIS incident is a good example of a crisis that would have been better handled. Given proper PR management and ill-advised utterances such as Moro’s would never have found their way into the press.
The art and practice of Public Relations by the government must to a large extent reflect honesty, openness, advocacy, fairness and most importantly; constant communication. If these tenets had been followed in handling the NIS crisis, the public backlash might have been substantially reduced.