PRCAN: In The Beginning

By Priscilla Nnaka

WHICH firm was the first Public Relations Consultancy in Nigeria? Or put another way, who started Nigeria’s first PR consultancy? One contender is Publicity Services Nigeria Limited whose founder, Oloye Olanrewaju Dotun Okubanjo (late), fellow of the British Public Relations Consultants Association; Fellow of the International Public Relations Associations and Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, says matter of fact, am proud too that “mine was the first Public Relations consultancy firm ever established and managed by anybody in Nigeria.”

Still located at the Western House, Broad Street, Lagos – although another office is at Osapa-London, Lekki on the outskirts of Lagos, the company was founded on July 1, 1963 but registered April 1964. Okubanjo’s son, Olusegun Olanrewaju, now runs the show.

The other contender is OAB Press – a partnership of late Olabisi Onabanjo, who later became the second republic governor of Ogun State; Ebun Adesioye, a former editor of Daily Times and a third person called Banjo. As you can see, O is for Onabanjo, A for Adesioye and B for Banjo. Going by the recollection of Dupe, Adesioye’s daughter who works with Daily Times (like father, like daughter), OAB was founded soon after her father left Daily Times. Mr Adesioye was editor of Daily Times from 1951 to 1955. He was managing editor from 1955 t0 1957. Dupe thinks OAB may have been founded either 1958 or 1959. It had its offices on the 4th Floor of the Bank Chambers Building on Martins Street, Lagos.

Anyone out there who can solve the riddle? Says Okubanjo of Adesioye: “ I won’t call him a colleague because he was older than I am. I will rather say that we are operating at the same time.” Okubanjo planted the seed of PSN while working in the department of public relations in the First Republic’s Ministry of Information. His first account, Cologne (West Germany) Trade Fair came about while still in the ministry. According to him he did some jobs for the client and discovered that his income was triple his salary. He called it quits with the ministry and founded PSN.

One successful trade fair led to others, for the British Embassy, and of course, for Cologne. You could say that organizing trade fairs was the forte of the consultancy. But, of course, there were other jobs. Okubanjo recalls particularly his firm’s work for UNIC. According to him, the insurance company with headquarters in Lagos wanted something ‘catchy’ that would linger in the minds of the public. And the catch phrase, “ the best insurance address is 53 Marina,” was born.

According to him, it was reflected for many years on the firm’s entire corporate manifestation: letterheads, business cards, vehicles, etc. This won PSN an award from a foreign magazine, although Okubanjo could not remember the details. One remarkable thing about PSN was that it had many overseas accounts; from England, Brazil and Canada. “ They were the ones paying the big money” says Okubanjo.

OAB’s major client was Gulf Oil (the precursor of Chevron). Ms Adesioye notes that Gulf Oil had great respect for her father’s professionalism adding that the Gulf Oil folks always said “ Ebun is the man” whenever there was any attempt by anyone inside or outside of the company for a review of the account. She says OAB’s diaries and calendars were exceptional. Oloye Okubanjo also has a high regard for Adesioye: “ He never did anything without a reason; he was very outstanding and a very honourable man; he worked not necessarily for the money but for the prestige of the profession.” At some point , Adesioye was the only one left in the partnership as others moved on to other things.

In the beginning there was also Walton Solomon and Associates. This is the baby of Mazi Mike Okereke. The story of Walton Solomon, founded in 1970, soon after the end of Nigeria’s civil strife, is interesting. When Okereke finished school in Britain he decided to garner experience through attachment with British Petroleum, Sam Black Consulting and UAC International so as to come home and establish his own consulting firm. But Providence had something else in stock for him.

After one year with UAC International and a desire to return home, he was given the option of joining the Nigeria office. The offer was one he could not refuse. He ended up staying with UAC for 26 years while Mr Bankole Akinyemi, ( the one called ‘Prof’ in PR circuits) piloted affairs at Walton Solomon and Associates. Apart from other PR services Walton Solomon specialized in PR education and research. Athough he could not provide more details, Okereke gave names of other pathfinders including Uloma Nwachukwu and Associates ( Okereke says Mrs Nwachukwu was one of the best PR consultants of her time); Gab Fagbure and Associates and Gab Idigo and Associates – both are defunct as their principals are also dead; Bob Ogbuagu and Associates owned by Bob Ogbuagu who has now retired as a newspaper adminis – trator and a certain reverend gentle – man whose name Okereke could not recall. One thread that ran through these firms was the use of the owners’ names for their companies. Okereke offered a reason: Their names com – manded goodwill. The names were part of what got them accounts.

Another pioneer was Olu Ademulegun who had a company called Practon Partners Limited, first at Alhaji Masha and later at Western House. Toye Ogunnorin, immediate past president of PRCAN, remembers him when he used to come to his old office, NICON, in the mid-1970s. He says: “ He wrote proposals that were too scientific… people didn’t really understand what he was getting at, although he knew what he wanted to do, as many then were not used to public relations practice, and he found it difficult getting clients”. He also did some PR workshops that were well attended because at that time there were only a couple of people into training. Ademulegun was American-trained and “a very good PR consultant,” ac – cording to Ogunnorin.

Okubanjo avers that he too was mis – understood by people. “ They thought I was crazy because of what I did; they wondered how could I be making money from that.” He says , in those days, people who were practicing Public Relations were merely doing ‘messenger jobs,’ athough he believed he was doing the right thing. Maybe we would get to that sometime later.

Add to the pioneers this quartet, who started their own firms in the 1980s: Olu Johnson, Kunle Oyalowo, Lanre Oginni, and Ogunnorin. Those indeed were the foundation members on Tuesday February 8, 1983, of PRCAN. They were later joined by Sir Oluwole Falodun and Nicholas Iyere-Isibor. Late Oyalowo, who was the pio – neer secretary of PRCAN, ran Good Contact which handled jobs for the Ministries of Information, Roads and Transport and NITEL. Ogunnorinde describes Oyalowo as a good planner and strategist. Oginniran Bloomel Public Relations. Falodun ran Wolfa Promo – tions. And, Ogunnorin, Progan Promotions. Johnson ran Philip Johnson and Associates while Nicholas Iyere-Isibor ran Niga Consultants.

Those were the known pathfinders of PR consultancy in Nigeria. There just might be one or two others who were not found during our search; if there is/are, there will be due acknowledgement. These pioneers may have been press agents/publicists, events handlers/managers, printing /production jobbers or even “messengers” but they cleared the path for others to tread. They charted unknown, even unfamiliar courses: in those early years, PR, if at all, was largely an in-house affair. Some of the pioneers fell by the wayside, some others trudged on… and today, PR consultancy is for real. Says Okubanjo: “The field of Public Relations is bottomless; the opportunities now so inexhaustible.”

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