AN EVALUATION OF PUBLIC RELATIONS AS A STRATEGY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF CULTISM IN NIGERIAN TERTIARY INSTITUTION
1.1 Background of the study
Tertiary institutions in Nigeria are expected to play a major role in the country’s human resources development and to serve as vibrant centers of productive research and academic excellence. In recent times, cult violence has become a serious bane among tertiary institutions in Nigeria; and intensely so in the last two decades. Quite unfortunately too, tertiary institutions in Nigeria are the major critical target point where the bulk of adolescent offenders are either students or stakeholders who constitute the high risks and also pose challenges to institutional managers who are at the receiving ends of youth violence and psycho-pathological carnage in university campuses (Austin, 2009). Most of the extant literatures that have ventured to study the phenomenon have been preoccupied mainly with magnifying the implications of secret cult activities in Nigerian universities which includes youth carnage on campuses commonly referred to as cult wars, thuggery at political events/activities, motor parks “overthrows”, rivalry for the same girl/woman referred to as macho-violence, gang rape, drug-related violence, assault on lives and property, indiscriminate use of light weapons, dangerous arms, and the resultant disruption of academic calendar (Austin, 2009). According to Austin (2009, p.1) “a major factor working in the favour of cult groups is mass ignorance on the part of students especially the new students who are hoodwinked and deceived in joining their dead cemeteries”. Secret cult activities have and are still causing hindrance in the smooth flow of academic curricula in Nigerian tertiary institutions. There is no doubt that the phenomenon of campus secret cults is negative development in tertiary campus secret cults is negative development in tertiary institutions and has destroyed and still destroying the value of academic life, meaningful co-existence, the pursuit of academic excellence and inter-personal relations required in academic community. However, students are not prevented from forming social groups like clubs and other social gatherings but when the groups turn into culture of violence; posing as factors detrimental to democracy and inimical to the development of manpower required for the emancipation of Nigeria, then they should be discouraged. It is against this note that this research study is anchored on investigating how public relations management of conference could be used to eradicate cultism in order to create acceptable social order in Nigerian tertiary institutions with a focus on Nasarawa State University, Keffi. In doing this, the researcher drew inspiration from George Santayama’s quotation that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”. For the purposes of empirical analyses in the later part of this study, a secondary survey of the history of public relations, cultism, and its various names, mode of operations, objectives and modes of initiation has been conducted.
The development of public relations practice in Nigeria originated from the British colonial government. As a result of the unpopularity of government policies and measures (conscription, taxation, scarcity of essential goods, etc.) and growing tension among the populace, the British colonial government felt the need for an organ to create a favourable local image for its war efforts. During the colonial period, a lot of government activities were shrouded in secrecy, which made the words and actions of the government very suspicious. Consequently, it established the first information office in Lagos in 1942 with the aim of disseminating war messages in which many Nigerian service men were involved. As a result, the colonial government deemed it fit to establish public relations unit known as War Information Office. In 1944, the Information Office was renamed Public Relations Office under the leadership of D.C. Fletcher. In 1947, the Public Relations Office was renamed Public Relations Department under the leadership of Harold Cooper. The Public Relations Department introduced regular press briefings and issued news releases frequently. It also published magazines such as the Nigerian Review, etc. According to Asemah (2011), the public relations department established branch offices in the regional capitals of Ibadan, Kaduna, and Enugu in line with the regional set-up brought about by the Richards constitution. The aim of the public relations department was to calm the tension of Nigerians and to create an atmosphere where British colonial policies could face no resistance. During this period, 64 Nigerians (most of whom were former journalists) including Cyprian Ekwensi, Peter Enahoro, Ayo Lijadu, and Sam Epelle were employed as publicity officers. In 1954, the public relations department was also renamed to Nigerian Information Service and this was the predecessor of the present day Nigerian Ministry of Information. British colonial government led the way in setting up public relations practice in Nigeria. This was closely followed by statutory corporations and agencies, The Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) now Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was one of the first government parastatals and agencies to establish a public relations unit when in 1950 it established public relations department to carry out its mutual relationship with customers. The Nigerian Railway Corporation set up a public relations department with late Sam Epelle as the public relations officer. Other government institutions that contributed to the development of public relations in Nigeria included the University College Hospital, Ibadan (1956) with Scott Emuakpor as the first PRO, the Customs and Excise (1960) with Alex Akinyele as the PRO (Asemah, 2011).
Within the private sector, the United Africa Company (UAC) played the pioneering role in establishing public relations department in 1949. The department was located at the old Niger house, Marina Lagos, and from there, it spread out to other branches of the company at Kaduna and Enugu. Contributions of UAC to the growth of public relations is reflected in the fact that most of the public relations experts in Nigeria and who can be referred to as the foundation members of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations once worked for UAC (National Open University of Nigeria, 2010).
Asemah (2011) posited that the enviable position that public relations has attained in Nigeria today can be ascribed to the efforts of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). To help create ethical standards in the fledging profession, Sam Epelle, one-time director of information in Nigeria, Tonye Willie-Harry, Ilhaz Yakubu, H.K Offonry and Bob Ogbuagu founded the Public Relations Association of Nigeria (PRAN). With the formation of PRAN, public relations developed and assumed professional status (Asemah, 2011). After PRAN was launched in Lagos in 1963, it gradually spread to regional headquarters beginning with Enugu and Port Harcourt. The effort put in place by Sam Epelle in 1961 when he initiated the formation of a body that would “professionally think, plan, practice and live public relations in Nigeria” finally bore fruit with Sam Epelle as the Coordinator of PRAN. As the number of practitioners increased with better objectives, PRAN widened and developed into the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in 1972, again with Sam Epelle as the first president. The promulgation of the institution’s decree No. 16 of 1990 under the leadership of Mike Okereke placed public relations on a higher status. The practice of public relations is so important that every corporate social responsible institution now take the operation of public relations seriously including tertiary institutions (Asemah, 2011).
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The Ritualistic tendencies, display of acts of terrorism and the wanton destruction of lives and property perpetrated by members of secret cults have become grave social malady on and outside university campuses. According to Hamza (2012) cited in Egwu (2003, p.4) the phenomenon of campus cult is negative development in tertiary institutions and has destroyed the value of academic life, meaningful co-existence, pursuit of academic excellence and inter-personal relations required in academic community. Cultism has created a dangerous sense of insecurity due to destruction of lives and property in Nigerian tertiary institutions. Secret cult activities in Nigerian universities are creating fears in the social interactions among students and lecturers. Many researchers have suggested ways in which cultism can be eliminated in tertiary institutions and the society at large but the problem of cultism keeps increasing. Therefore, the problem this study seeks to resolve is that how can public relations management of conference be used as a tool for eradicating cultism in Nigerian tertiary institutions especially Nasarawa State University, Keffi?
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The aim of this research study is to use public relations management of conference to eradicate cultism and its activities in Nigerian tertiary institutions especially in Nasarawa State University, Keffi. In order to achieve this aim, the following objectives were formulated to:
1. Investigate how public relations management of conference can be used to eradicate cultism in Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
2. Find out the extent to which public relations has been used in eradicating cultism in Nasarawa State University.
3. Investigate the factors that can hinder public relations management of conference as a veritable tool for eradicating cultism in Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
4. Ascertain other means in which cultism can be eradicated in Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
To guide this research study, the following questions were used:
1. How can public relations management of conference be used to eradicate cultism in Nasarawa State University?
2. To what extent has public relations been used as a veritable tool for eradicating cultism in Nasarawa State University?
3. What are the factors that could hinder public relations management of conference as a veritable tool for eradicating cultism in Nasarawa State University, Keffi?
4. What other PR strategy could be used to eradicate cultism in Nasarawa State University, Keffi?
1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
According to Asemah, Gujbawu, Ekareafo and Okpanachi (2012) there are two types of scope of study. The first scope of study in any research work is content scope while the second scope is the geographical scope. Thus, this research study has public relations conference and cultism as its content scope while Nasarawa State University stands as the geographical scope. This study is anchored on Nasarawa State University as a scope because cases of cultism have been seen around High-Court and Angwan-Lambu residential areas of the institution.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
According to Asemah (2011) knowledge is gained in every research work because researchers in no small measure add value to existing knowledge in different fields of studies. As the study investigated how public relations can be used to eradicate cultism in tertiary institutions, the results of the study are of significance to the myriad of groups and individuals whom are exposed to these activities and practices. The implications for education and human resource development in tertiary institutions, their communities, the law enforcement agencies, policy makers are that the cult activities and practices undermine the functions and activities of these institutions and policy makers would be in better position to formulate and enforce preventive measures to cultic activities.
For tertiary institutions especially Nasarawa State University, the findings provide information on cultism and violence which they may need to come up with informed policies to address the issue of cultism on their campuses.
Further, the findings bring out the ills of cultism and its effect on students, the learning process and the communities, thus creating awareness in the minds of all stakeholders in education and galvanizing them for positive action to end the menace and create awareness for change of attitude and behaviour.