The rapidly declining trust in the Nigerian advertising industry has taken a new twist due to the controversial, unilateral and furtive decision by the outgoing board of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) to not to allow international investors to own more than 25% stake in any advertising agency in the country. The outgoing board has followed up the decision with a media war against not just international advert agencies but also multinationals operating in the country, a development informed by autarky which is out of sync with contemporary economic realities around the world.
The decision is controversial because, among other things, advertising is not one of the areas like security where foreign investment is prohibited. The proclamation also violates Nigeria’s economic policy since the mid-1980s, which emphasizes liberalization and attraction of international investments in different sectors of the national economy. What is more, it negates all the work enthusiastically carried out by the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council. APCON’s proclamation is unilateral because it has clearly been done without the consent of the Ministry of Information which could not have approved it because it runs counter to the government’s economic policy. It is surreptitious because it has been done without the support of the National Assembly, the only body authorized by the Constitution to make laws for the Nigerian Federation. As though to exacerbate the crisis of confidence in APCON, the regulatory agency is charged the unethical refusal to register two employees of an international agency who successfully wrote APCON’s examination. In addition, APCON is accused of the unprofessional behavior of refusing to vet advert materials of the same agency so as to frustrate it out of Nigeria.
True, the Nigerian advert industry has been going through challenging times. The challenges range from poor capacity to poor use of technology, to outright unethical and unprofessional conduct like their flamboyant CEOs and directors purchasing luxury and swanky homes overseas even when the staff are owed salary arrears. The notorious refusal of many advert agencies to pay media establishments even after being paid by clients has on occasion compelled the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) to blacklist practically all local advert agencies. In fact, the perennial debt is largely responsible for the collapse of many media establishments and the poor financial performance of those still managing to survive.
The unprofessional conduct of the local agencies has forced many Nigerian companies to seek the services of marketing communication agencies in South Africa, Kenya and Dubai. It is, therefore, regrettable that APCON, which should have been in the forefront to sanitise the industry, has itself become a major problem. Still, APCON’S current unenviable status has not come to perceptive observers as a surprise. Researchers have long pointed out that the practice where the CEO of an advertising agency is appointed the APCON chairman and he holds both positions at the same time is tantamount to an incestuous relationship. Frankly, it does not make for fairness and equity for someone to be both a player and the referee in the same game. It is like making someone a lawyer and the judge in the same case. Can Nigerians tolerate a situation where a commercial bank chief executive is also the chairman of the Central Bank of Nigeria?
But this is what has been going on in the advertising industry. APCON is the regulatory body of advertising practice, and its outgoing chairman, Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, is the chief executive, managing director and founder of Prima Garnet, an advertising agency. This is a perfect example of conflict of interests.
Instructively, Prima Garnet is in court with a new agency over its loss of major advert accounts like Airtel to it and has since championed a bitter media war against international agencies. Mr. Akinwunmi’s many critics, therefore, believe that APCON’s ongoing industry reforms limiting international investors’ stake in ad agencies in Nigeria without approval from the Ministry of Information and without consultations with the National Assembly are meant principally to drive out business rivals out of Nigeria under the guise of patriotism.
The first critical step to the restoration of public confidence in the advertising industry is the appointment of individuals without vested interests in the industry to APCON’s board. In the light of above, the Federal Government deserves commendation for reconstituting the APCON board. The Minister of information, Mr. Labaran Maku, in particular deserves special kudos for advising President Jonathan to appoint someone Ngozi Enyioma, who has no invested interests in the industry, as APCON chairman.
The National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Information owe our people the sacred duty of rekindling both national and international investor confidence in the Nigerian advertising industry by doing the right thing. The first step has been taken by reconstituting the APCON’s board. the new board must work hard to earn the trust of all stakeholders. As has been demonstrated convincingly throughout the world, trust is not just a social virtue, but also the basis of the creation of economic prosperity.
Ms Aguiyi-Ironsi, former editor of Newswatch magazine, is executive director of Network for Responsible Communication.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters