If there is any move which the Goodluck Jonathan administration has taken which is remarkably path-breaking for the Nigerian advert industry, it is the decision to do away with the awful practice of making the serving chief executive of a local agency the chairman of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).


Recently, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation announced the president’s approval of Ngozi Enyioma as the new APCON chairman, taking over from Lolu Akinwunmi who doubles as the managing director of Prima Garnet Advertising. Enyioma is not the CEO of any agency. Therefore, his appointment is a welcome departure from a controversial tradition. It is a breath of  fresh air. Both President Jonathan and Information Minister Labaran Makun deserve kudos for charting a different direction for the industry.


Every communication researcher has always known that all has not been well especially in recent times with the Nigerian advertising industry, like many aspects of our national existence. But I, for  one, did not imagine that the mess is on a grand scale. Of course, it has always offended public morality and our notions of justice and fair play that every APCON chairman has all along been the chief executive of a local advertising firm.


There is nowhere it is permissible that a person plays the role of an operator and the role of a regulator simultaneously. It is like making the chief executive of a pharmaceutical or food firm the director general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and he holds both positions at the same time.  Can the CEO of, say, an indigenous oil producing company serve concurrently as the director of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the agency which regulates the  Nigerian petroleum industry? Can a player be the referee in the same football match?


If any evidence was needed to demonstrate the inherent conflict of interest  in the terrible practice of the chief executive of an advertising agency doubling as the  APCON chairman, it has come with dramatic force in the past few months. Immediately Prima Garnet, an agency founded and owned by the outgoing APCON chairman, lost the huge Airtel account to an international firm, APCON began to roll out measures to drive away all multinational agencies from Nigeria. It did not matter to APCON that the steps are diametrically opposed to the Federal Government policy on foreign direct investment (FDI).


All manner of nasty tricks in the book have been employed to create an atmosphere of unprecedented xenophobia. The outgoing APCON leadership claims that it has been fighting for indigenous firms. Yet when the Airtel account was given to STB MacCann, a wholly owned indigenous firm, APCON refused to let go; it has refused to this day to vet and approve the Airtel advert materials sent to it! In other words, the outgoing APCON leadership would approve Airtel adverts only if they come from Prima Garnet, owned by the APCON chairman!


Moral turpitude is not the only cataclysm befalling the Nigerian advert industry. Take capacity. The chief executives of three advert firms a few days ago syndicated an article entitled “Advertising Wars: Separating Facts From Fallacy”; it is being run in different newspapers.


Signed by Kelechi Nwosu, Celey Okogun and Jenkins Alumona, the article is a response to the eloquent comment on the industry by Louisa Aguiyi-Ironsi against the background of APCON’s capping of international investment in Nigerian advert agencies at 25%. The article by the trio is full of grammatical errors, and the few sentences without serious grammatical howlers are dull, drab and jejune in a way that makes them pretty meaningless.


Here is a typical example of a paragraph written by the troika who are supposedly communication specialists: “ A multinational entered the Nigerian market about four years ago and took an office space in Victoria Island, Lagos. Its 10-member  staffs (sic) were involved in B-to-B high level product marketing to a small clientele in the construction and agriculture sectors.


At this stage, the company did not see the need for FDI protection from government. But today they are keen on setting up a factory in Nigeria and are in the process of approaching government with a (sic) $180m FDI and seeking some investment concessions. This is understandable and straightforward”. No, it is neither understandable nor straightforward.


It is instead communication and English at their lowest ebb anywhere in the world. Frankly, is there a person able to  puzzle out any message in this paragraph? Any nine-year old primary four child who writes like this must be an average pupil, even if he or she is in a rustic village. Put succinctly , the local advert industry is in dire need of technical capacity building.


In her famous article on the Nigerian advert industry, Aguiyi-Ironsi, an erstwhile Newswatch editor, raised significant questions about ethics and values in the practice of advertising in our country. She took exception to the infamous practice of agencies refusing to pay news media  for published adverts and  refusing  to pay staff salary while the CEOs “live large like the Joneses”, buying exotic and swanky houses abroad.


This practice has over the decades pitted the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the  Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), on the one hand, and advert agencies, on the other. Rather than address this unprofessional practice in a frank and fruitful manner, Nwosu, Okogun and Alumona went into phantasmagoria, a voyage of fanciful irrelevances. They fell short of openly endorsing the practice where Nigerian advert executives live like Hollywood stars while staff are not paid.


As you are reading this piece, some agency staff are owed for months, and these employees go to neighbours, friends, colleagues and relatives to borrow money to pay utility bills, medical bills, eat, pay rents, fuel their vehicles, and pay school fees of their children and wards.It is a quintessential case of “monkey dey work, but baboon dey chop”.


It is regrettable that the outgoing APCON leadership has failed woefully to tackle serious issues like this which hurt the reputation of the industry profoundly. Rather than provide a solution to the nasty practice, the APCON leadership has been preoccupied with undermining the entry of international agencies which will inject much needed foreign capital into the industry, enhance technical capacity and raise professional and ethical standards.


Worse, vested interests are fighting ferociously to retain the ancient regime, that is, to force the Federal Government to bring back the outgoing APCON board so that the status quo or the decadent order will remain in the advert industry. These characters must realize, in the name of all that is decent, that Nigeria is no Banana Republic, a country where anything goes, a nation where values and the common good have absolutely no meaning.  The advert industry has been in an inelegant state. It must now go in a different direction.


— Ndibe is a Lagos-based legal researcher



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