Institutionalising Lobbying in Nigeria as Catalyst for National Development

Texts of a Keynote Address delivered at the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) 3-day (March 4-6) workshop held at Transcorp Hotel in Calabar, River State, Nigeria by Brig. Gen. Sani Kukasheka Usman (rtd). Usman is a Public Relations Consultant and former Director of Army Public Relations until his retirement in 2019.

Institutionalising Lobbying in Nigeria as Catalyst for National Development

Brig. Gen. Usman (rtd).


Institutionalising Lobbying in Nigeria as Catalyst for National Development
By Sani Usman Kukasheka

INTRODUCTION

It is a great honour for me to stand before you to set the ball rolling by way of presenting the Keynote Address for this workshop with a presentation titled “Institutionalising Lobbying as a Catalyst for National Development.” I would like to commence this presentation by thanking the organisers of this important event, particularly, Mallam Mukhtar Zubairu Sirajo, President, and Chairman of Council, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and Professor Emmanuel Dandaura, the Chairman of the NIPR Education Advisory Board. The President and erudite Professor are determined to keep me busy, despite my retirement from public service. I must state that the choice of a workshop on this key but largely misunderstood public relations function, “lobbying” and social change in Nigeria, is very commendable and timely. It is coming at a time when Nigeria has just entered into the third decade of democratic governance with the need to strengthen the tenets further. Although a public relations function, there is no doubt that lobbying plays a significant role in enhancing participation in democratic decision and policymaking particularly in the Presidential system of government.

2. Viewed a new phenomenon in our clime, there is no doubt that lobbying is public relations function, and an essential part of a democratic society which allows different interest groups to give their views and have a say on public decisions that ultimately affect them. Accordingly, it is closely related to universal values such as freedom of speech, healthy debate, and decision-making quality. This is achieved through its provision of channels for expertise input on technical issues or matters to legislators, policy and decision-makers in the society. Lobbying is therefore an outgrowth of democratic practice, especially in pluralistic societies such as ours, as it keeps the government open to those interested and affected by proposed legislation and policies. It is more often utilised in Presidential system of government like ours, where there is a clear separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government. It is legalized by law, for instance in the United States of America (USA) where lobby groups are provided for in the legal status. Lobbying has however been with us over time. It is mostly misunderstood and not appropriately articulated as part of Nigeria’s public relations practice. One other problem affecting lobbying is the lack of capacity within the civil society and an institutionalised lobbying framework in Nigeria.

AIM
3. The aim of this presentation is to discuss lobbying in Nigeria as a catalyst for national development.
SCOPE
4. This presentation will cover the following areas:
a. Definitions of key terms.
b. Lobbying as a public relations function.
c. Lobbying in other climes.
d. Lobbying in Nigeria.
e. Lobbying as a Catalyst for National Development.
f. Framework for Institutionalising Lobbying in Nigeria.


DEFINITIONS OF KEY TERMS

4. In a presentation of this nature, it is essential to clarify some of the key terms or words used. These are Public Relations, Lobbying, Catalyst and National Development.

a. Public Relations: According to Cutlip, Center and Broom, (2005:6), “Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation, and the public on whom success or failure depends.” In October 2019, the International Public Relations Association defined public relations as “a decision-making management practice tasked with building relationships and interests between organisations and their publics based on the delivery of information through trusted and ethical communication methods.” Defining public relations Kanu (1985:1) believes that it is the “business of creating and maintaining public understanding and support through effective communication. Therefore, public relations is about communication to influence decisions and attitude. It is also about cultivating and maintaining relations.

b. Lobbying: Both Franck R. Baumgartner and Beth L. Leech have pointed out that there is no universally accepted definition of the word lobbying. However, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) of the United Kingdom defines “Lobbying services” to mean activities that are carried out in the course of a business to influence the government or advise others on how to influence the government.” It also went further to say that “It can also be known as public affairs or government affairs and includes in-house and agency employees and independent practitioners.” According to Cutlip, Center and Broom (2005:19), lobbying is a specialised part of public relations that builds and maintains relations with activities primarily to influence legislation and regulation. The Council of Europe (2017) also defines lobbying as a “means of promoting specific interests by communication with a public official as part of a structured and organised activity aimed at influencing public decision making.” In Nigeria, however, lobbying is primarily associated with negative connotations. It is mostly associated with unwholesome practices or efforts at currying undeserved favour or preference. It is also associated with undue influence soliciting for favour for someone at the expenses of others. In this presentation, we emphasise lobbying as public relations functions.

c. Catalyst: A catalyst is essentially a substance that increases the chemical reaction rate without undergoing any permanent chemical change. For example, in chemistry, chlorine acts as a catalyst promoting the breakdown of ozone. A catalyst is someone or something that causes or influence certain things or decisions. Therefore, a catalyst for development is someone or reason that engender positive change in a society, community or nation. However, in this context we are talking of a person or thing that precipitates an event that brings about or prelude something. For example, the inability of a student to pass an examination could be taken as a catalyst for his misfortune. Therefore, lobbying in this instance is being viewed as an agent of national development.
d. National development: National development, means a specified state of growth or advancement of happenings relating to a nation. Something at a particular stage that is common to a whole nation or country, or something that is affecting the entire country or a state.

LOBBYING AS A PUBLIC RELATIONS FUNCTION
5. Lobbying is a branch of public relations practice. However, most people misunderstood the concept of lobbying as public relations practice and democratic governance, especially in this clime. Although there is no universally accepted definition of lobbying, Franck R. Baumgartner and Beth L. Leech (2008) pointed out that “the word lobbying has seldom been used the same way twice by those studying the topic.” They define lobbying as “an effort to influence the policy process”, while A. J. Nownes (2006) states that “lobbying is an effort designed to affect what the government does.” The term “lobbying” is a public relations function, that represents specific interests which could be “private” interest, such as a corporation that may wish to see their public policy preferences reflected in legislation. Lobbying is also a specialised part of public relations that builds and maintains relations with the government, primarily to influence legislation and regulations that affect an organisation. Lobbying has been with us over time.

In the United States and the United Kingdom parliaments, companies engaged the services of public relations practitioners. In turn, they conduct research and engage influencers to talk on their behalf or influence policies and legislations that favour them. Lobbying is also used in international relations, especially during conflicts and crisis.

LOBBYING IN OTHER CLIMES
6. As noted earlier, lobbying started with the parliament. In other climes like the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU), lobbying is a specialised and critical part of public relations function that influence legislation and regulatory decisions of the government. The essence is to promote and increase transparency in governance. However, lobbying is much broader than what most people tend to believe. It goes beyond commercial lobbying as it pertains to all forms of lobbying on public decision making. The USA and the western countries recognise lobbying as a legitimate and essential part of the democratic process within political systems. It also concerns the activities of all social actors, public and private. It therefore transcends paid, professional lobbyists acting on behalf of private business interests, as it encompasses civil society’s activities and any other person or body that lobbies public officials.

7. In the United States, both the Federal and State governments have professional register for lobbyists, and such professionals report income and sources and expenditure. The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act 1946, which regulates lobbying, was repealed by the Lobbying Act of 1995. The United Kingdom also has such similar legislation called Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaign and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, which prohibits consultant lobbying unless registered. In 2015, the United Nations Global Compact Initiative, in it’s released a report entitled “Towards Responsible Lobbying”, which examines issues around political lobbying and proposes a comprehensive framework that companies and Non-Governmental Organisations can use to access the responsibility of their lobbying activities.

LOBBYING IN NIGERIA
8. Little is understood about lobbying in Nigeria as a public relations function. In most cases, just like public relations practice, it is mostly associated with wrong or negative concept. Hence such pejorative remarks as “it is PR” or let us do PR, refers to insincere communication and issuance of the brown envelope to the journalist or financial assistance to someone, respectively.

9. Lobbying has long been in existence in Nigeria with varying form and context. Every culture and society practice lobbying. This take the form of mediation in which individual or groups curry support for a particular issue to be deliberated by the community or leader. Usually, it aims at bringing about change of mind or favourable disposition in contentious issues towards another party that advocates so. It is about influencing a decision, policies, and legislation favouring those advocating for such through positive and convincing dialogue or arguments. Unfortunately, the modern practice and understanding of lobbying is negatively connotated as it is ascribed another name for corruption.

10. Lobbying as a public relations function is therefore not properly understood, in the country let alone being practised professionally in Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is the same in most African countries. Thus, recognising and strengthening lobbying as part of professional public relations would smoothen relationships and enhance democracy in Nigeria. Consequently, there is a need to recognise and integrate lobbying as part of public relations practice and legislative decision and public policy-making process in this country. It will therefore be good if Nigeria imbibes the lobbying culture because of its inherent advantages in enhancing democracy alongside the culture of debate and transparency in governance. Adopting standard rules regarding lobbying in Nigeria will no doubt strengthen its practice and institutionalise it.
LOBBYING AS A CATALYST FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

11. When the individual or group can acquire and practice and practice specialised skills that will enable them to help develop the society, then the society becomes developed. Nigeria has substantial natural and human resources. Despite these endowments, the country can hardly satisfy it’s citizens socially, economically and politically. Nigeria cannot attain any reasonable national development level without meeting the vital indices of development, particularly in strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing debate and participation in decision and policy making such as lobbying. Lobbying helps raise a company’s or nation’s profile based on recognition within the government and policymakers. It creates employment and funding opportunities and secures long-term policies and legislations that favours the organisation. Indeed, the right to participate in public affairs is one of the fundamental principles of democratic governance worldwide.

FRAMEWORK FOR INSTITUTIONALIZING LOBBYING AS PART OF PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE IN NIGERIA

14. Lobbying must be carried out transparently, guided by clear and enforceable ethical standards. Additionally, equal participation for all interest groups in political decision-making should be guaranteed. Only then can public policy serve the public good, and the term “lobbying” can be associated with participatory democracy. We should intensify efforts and those initiatives that work towards improving the lobbying process’s integrity, for example, by exposing unethical behaviour. These efforts may promote lobbying transparency to know who is influencing political decisions, what resources, and what outcomes—initiatives that seek to level the playing field among interest groups. By engaging the public sector, private sector, civil society, media and citizens, lobbying can be institutionalised. There must be policies that promote lobbying as part of public relations to enhance national development. However, it is essential to note that the implementation of such policies needs to be done holistically.

15. To institutionalise and regulate lobbying in Nigeria will require the establishment of public registers of lobbyists, institute ethical behaviour standards for practitioners and sanctions for erring members, and review. However, it is not enough to legitimise and institutionalise lobbying, but there should be proper transparency and accountability. This will undoubtedly strengthen public confidence and respect in the nation’s democracy and political systems.

16. To institutionalise lobbying as part of public relations activities in Nigeria, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) as the lead organisation in public relations practice in the country, need to commence activities towards the nation recognising lobbying in its context. It will be necessary to get all the major stakeholders in the public relations domain in the country to support the sponsoring of a bill to establish the essentials of lobbying in Nigeria. It is important for the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture as a matter of urgency to develop a policy framework for lobbying as a public relations function in the country. This could also be used as the linchpin for the legislative move enumerated above.

17. A body for the regulation of the practice of lobbying will be required as the issue cannot be left open for all comers and allow for abuse. The body, among others will also assist in the development of a Code of Conduct for lobby groups or practitioners. This will assist in upholding the principles and integrity of the concept and practitioners alike, while ensuring accountability and transparency in the practice of lobbying in Nigeria. This framework should include other regulatory bodies, civil society organisations and other bodies to promote lobbying transparency. There is a need for regulation of lobbying to avoid conflicts of interest.

18. It is essential to understand that regulating lobbying will undoubtedly strengthen its legitimacy, integrity and provide a transparent framework in which all stakeholders can contribute to public decision making devoid of bureaucratic bottlenecks. However, in the process, it should be understood that regulating the practice of lobbying activities in our society should not prevent the consideration of technical advice or individual opinions in public decision-making in Nigeria. All those interested in making a career out of lobbying as part of public relations function need to understand that lobbyists succeed or fail in part based on their traditional public relations skills. Their ability to construct and present persuasive communication to government officials, grassroots constituencies, and clients goes a long way to enhance their performance. In addition to these abilities, practitioners need to have sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the government’s working, its officials, public policy, and public opinion processes.

CONCLUSION
19. Lobbying is an incredible source of information and an advocate that persuades the government, legislature, or policymakers to favour the lobbyist’s cause espoused. Undoubtedly, lobbying and other public relations efforts play a significant role in shaping perception, legislation, public policy formulation and implementation. However, there is a need to effectively manage and regulate the practice of lobbying as a specialised public relations function in our society, even though no law or legislation could prevent criminally minded persons or groups from abusing lobbying. Nonetheless, lobbying should be accorded a rightful position as part of public relations functions and the democratic process in our society.

RECOMMENDATIONS
20. Given the preceding, it is recommended that:
a. The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations should push for the recognition and the establishment of lobbying as essential public relations function.
b. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture should develop a policy framework for lobbying, promoting its principles, transparency and integrity as public relations function in Nigeria.
c. The National Assembly should amend the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations Practitioners’ Act to include the establishment of a legal framework for the practice of lobbying in Nigeria.
d. The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations should draw up a Code of good conduct on lobbying.

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