“I think that teachers are not well remunerated and they could be better handled and managed in terms of salary and treated as a brand.”
The greater part of the working life and career of Nkechi Ali-Balogun has been spent in the field of Public Relations, where she has put in more than 30 years, starting from her days as the pioneer Corporate Affairs Manager of the Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM), which she got into after leaving Nigeria Television Authority. From NEXIM, she moved on to Equitorial Trust Bank Limited. In all these years, she has chalked up a long list of successes. She is a Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations and council member.
Despite her success in PR, she has not forgotten about the 14 years of teaching in the school system. That is why she is pained by the way the country now treats teachers like second class citizens. In this interview, she sheds light on this, the role of women in national development and other issues.
What do you find most interesting about Public Relations and why do you have particular interest in it?
I have always loved people and the field of public relations gives me opportunity to relate with people. Like the profession suggests, you relate to the public. I find it particularly exciting when I have to segment my publics. It is exciting for me to know that one public may be different from another. A layman probably will not know or understand this because he may think that public relations is something we do with everybody. Even with a segmented public, you need different skills, strategies, approach and different messaging, to actually relate with them. It takes you so far and you are astounded by what it entails and what you can accomplish. I also find it exciting when I am able to know how people think and respond to issues. With my professional background, I am able to analyse or assess what their response or behavioural pattern would be. Based on that, I will be able to judge their next move and use it to connect to people. Public relations as a profession exposes me to tools to do all these things I mentioned. So I find public relations very exciting.
How long have you been involved in public relations practice?
I have been involved in this field for over 30 years.
So you got into it right after graduating from the university or did you work in another organization before focusing on public relations?
I would say I stumbled into it. I started working with Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, after I left the teaching profession. I became a producer at NTA. Then I got a job at the Nigerian Export Import Bank, NEXIM, as the pioneer Corporate Affairs Manager. That was when my career in public relations started and I have not looked back. From NEXIM, I moved on to Equatorial Trust Bank (ETB). When I left ETB, I set up my own firm, Nec Consulting Limited. One thing I have known is that the pay-off line of ETB at the time, Partnership That Works, is a life slogan that is relevant anytime, any day. I have been on my own since 1996 – about 22 years. I have had to deal with all kinds of clients, publics, organisations and communities.
In the course of all these activities, what would you say you learnt about life and people?
Life is dynamic and people are not static. Ideas and behavior are not static. I have learnt that culture is dynamic. Everything keeps evolving and you cannot say categorically that this comes to an end. There are innovations and disruptions. A lot could happen, you never say that is the end of it. In all this, you are prepared, because anything can happen. Even in crisis that you have managed so well, there could be positive or negative fallouts. But as a professional in public relations, you must always be ready to take care of the fallouts when they happen.
You just mentioned disruptions. Have you had any disruptions in the public relations space?
Well, in our profession today, disruption is something that happens every day. It goes with innovations. People are not doing things the traditional way. The reason is that a lot of young people are coming into the profession. That are coming with young ideas, they are very innovative and creative. I cannot categorically give you an example but it is happening every day.
How long did you teach?
I served for 14 years, in both primary and secondary schools.
How do you feel about the situation of teachers in Nigeria?
I think that teachers are not well remunerated and they could be better handled and managed in terms of salary and treated as a brand. I believe that the more you give to teachers, the more you will get from them. For as long as the government keeps making teachers look like second class citizens (who do not matter), they will not be motivated to handle our children with the kind of passion you would expect from them. The kind of passion I had in my time. Even though the salary was not much, the learning environment was much better. The children were not as many in a class. The regard for teachers was much higher and the outcome was so rewarding because there was some kind of selection before they came to school. Free education is good as it gives every child opportunity to get education, but I still believe that there must be a selection.
If there are 30 children in a school, it does not mean that all 30 of them must automatically go into a secondary school. The ones that show signs of academic excellence should naturally be encouraged to go further. The others can go to a vocational school. There is nothing wrong with the vocational schools. It is not every child that must get a university degree or every child that must sit for senior school certificate examination. When you have lumped everybody together (over 100) in one class it becomes a herculean task for the teacher – while some pupils are following, the others are looking on like morons – because you have all kinds of intelligence quotients (IQ). You have some with high IQ mixed with many that have very low IQ. Expecting a teacher to manage such situation effectively is giving the teacher a herculean task. Coupled with this is the fact that the teacher is not well remunerated and not keen to actively give the best. I believe that the state of teachers could be better improved. I believe in making people own whatever they are doing. The ownership mindset is very important. If the teacher is well taken care of, she will then consider it a responsibility to ensure that he delivers. A situation where the teacher is not well remunerated, you will find the person trading, giving extra lessons and other things while teaching, all in an effort to make ends meet. Definitely, you will not get 100 per cent attention from that teacher.
When you look back at your days at NTA, what would you say was your most memorable experience there?
When I was in NTA, I was engaged in programme production. At the time I worked under Mr Jimmy Atte and we were in-charge of Grade ‘A’ Broadcast, which involved interviewing high profile personalities like the Head of State, wife of the Head of State, ministers, state governors, etc. We were also in-charge of producing documentaries and I learnt quite a lot from producing documentaries. I grew up to the point pf having my own programme called ‘Women in Development” but I did not quite develop properly because I left NTA soon after. To do documentaries, you have to read a lot and do extensive research; that opened my eyes to so many things. Doing Grade ‘A’ broadcast gave us access to many high profile personalities, but unfortunately I was not wise enough to make good use of them.
How do you mean?
I know people who used those contacts to take care of themselves and acquired material benefits from the opportunity. Several people got other jobs, placements, allocation in housing estates, plots of land with title (certificate of occupancy) and even got contracts. A lot of things.
Looking at our nation today, where would you say our women are in national development?
Women are everywhere. I think that they have broken the glass ceiling and they are competing favorably with their male counterparts. Whether we like it or not, women are at the forefront of development.
What can they do more to meet the needs of the society?
Women need acknowledgement of the society for their contribution to national development. Our society is still a patriarchal environment, where it is believed that male is everything. But it is no longer like that – we must acknowledge the inputs of the woman, whether in government, corporate world and in the home. Rather than suppress the woman, we need to encourage her to come out because the woman is naturally created to provide solution. A nation that does not tap into this spiritual power and the physical capacity of the woman is a nation that does not want to develop. Even if you do not want the woman to be at the top, you must put her in a place where she can put her capacity to work for the nation and show forth the glory of God put in her. There is no need hiding any more. God created her to be needed and called her a helper. So any nation that wants to thrive must put a woman in a place where she can help.
The Constitution says nobody should be discriminated against on the basis of gender. Now the parties made the nomination fee for presidential aspirants very high knowing full well that most interested women would not be able to muster the amount involved. Isn’t that a form of discrimination against women?
Which of the women want all these concessions that people talk about? Women are not asking for concessions. We don’t want them because we are good for the job. We want to compete on our own merit.
Some people said that political parties hold important meetings in the dead of the night, between 1.0am and 3.00am, when most women members won’t be able to participate. This is seen as part of the discrimination against women in political parties. What is your view?
There is nothing politics or any other aspect of governance can do to change who the woman is meant to be. The woman is created for a purpose. And because of this purpose, the woman has some peculiarities. Why would a woman be attending a meeting at 3.00 or 4.00am? The fact that a woman respects her husband and her home and has another responsibility towards her family does not make her less qualified to do other things. Why should parties hold nocturnal meetings, what exactly are they doing at such time that cannot be done during the day? Night is for sleeping and God made it way. But I want to say that all that will change. Some men do not want to get into politics because of all these nocturnal meetings.