Why APCON is Still in Limbo

When you promote a product, service or an idea through non-personal messaging, it is called advertising. It is a form of communication that is as old as when town criers were directed by village heads to make announcements with the aid of a gong to draw the attention of everyone in the community. Advertising may be used by individuals and organisations to inform and influence the target audience for whom the message is intended – it can be described as a medium of “marketing communication” that is paid for unlike PR that is “earned” media. The messages may be conveyed through newspapers and magazines, radio and television, out of home (outdoor), directories, direct mail, catalogues, leaflets and online including other media not listed. However, in Nigeria, advertising practice in all its ramifications is regulated by the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

The law setting up APCON says the body should operate with a Governing Council but what has happened is that APCON does not have a Governing Council or Chairman since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration five years ago. This is strange. According to Steve Babaeko who was elected recently as President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), APCON without a Council is like flying a plane without a control tower. “The plane will crash,” Babaeko, who is also the chief executive of X3M Ideas, explained to me with a note of urgency in his voice. “It is imperative for the Council to be in place without further delay,” he added.

What is the issue? The answer is simple: government interference. The law says the President of Nigeria has the prerogative to appoint a chairman of the Governing Council of APCON. APCON’s enabling law made provisions on who may be appointed chairman and members of the Governing Council and how the Council will be constituted. Following the need to compliment self-regulation being exercised by various sectors of advertising in Nigeria and the desire to harmonise central issues prevalent in the industry, APCON was established in 1988 by Section 1 of the Advertising Practitioners (Registration, etc) Act No 55 of 1988 (now CAP A 7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004) and charged with several functions.

The act was amended by Act No 93 of 1992; Act No 916 of 1993 and in 2016 to reflect the exigencies of the times they were made. Until the Council Chairman is appointed, the Minister of Information and Culture is empowered to give directives on the affairs of APCON. This has been the situation for the past five years; APCON is operating without a chairman and Council. Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration appointed Udeme Ufot, chief executive of SO&U, as chairman of APCON but he served for only three months due to government interference. His tenure was subsequently aborted.

The law setting up APCON says only an advertising practitioner shall chair the Council but on two separate occasions, the federal government appointed people who are not advertising practitioners to chair the Council which is against the letters and spirit of the law. So between the advertising practitioners and the federal government, it has been a contest of who will blink first since 2015. Upholding the rule of law and the provisions of our Constitution are cardinal principles of the Buhari administration and I’m therefore wondering why Lai Mohammed, the Minster of Information and Culture, has allowed this anomaly at APCON to drag for so long.

Prior to Udeme’s appointment which was short-lived, APCON’s Governing Council had been chaired since inception by Chief Sylvester Moemeke, Chief Olu Falomo, Chris Doghuje, Dr May Nzeribe and Lolu Akinwunmi. The APCON Governing Council, by virtue of Section 2 of the Act, is composed of 21 members. The members consist of a chairman who shall be a distinguished fellow of the advertising profession to be appointed by the President based on recommendation by the supervising Ministry; seven persons to be appointed by the Minister one of whom shall be from the Ministry and others from among other interests in the field of advertising which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be adequately represented; ten persons to be elected by AAAN in the manner for the time being provided by its constitution; and two persons to represent institutions of higher learning in Nigeria offering courses leading to an approved qualification, to be appointed by the Minister in rotation, and the two persons shall not come from the same institution.

The Governing Council has powers to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the carrying out of its functions subject to any directions of the Minister of Information and Culture. Apart from the crisis of leadership, APCON is also suffering from inadequate funding which hinders the procurement of necessary tools such as the Monitoring/Logging and Archive machine; operational vehicles and other essential working equipment to perform its functions. The enabling law gives the Council statutory powers to make certain rules in the interest of the industry. The absence of a Council makes reflection on policy matters of the industry difficult.

Since advertising is dynamic, the industry requires pro-active regulatory laws that need to be reviewed from time to time to strengthen its functions in order to meet up with new challenges. These reviews are not taking place because the Governing Council has not been constituted. When there are no reviews, it hinders the scope of regulatory responsibilities of APCON which it needs now more than ever before especially if we take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the advertising industry. APCON currently lacks the capacity to establish presence in every state of the federation and it affects the body’s regulatory progress and scorecard which illegal advertising practitioners have continued to exploit.

In spite of these challenges, APCON has recorded achievements in its regulation and quality intervention in the advertising industry. There is a convergence of the various sectors of the industry for the improvement of advertising practice. Professional examinations have been conducted since the inception of APCON and many advertising practitioners have been registered which has improved the quality, scope, creativity and professionalism in the industry. Materials submitted by advertising agencies are vetted regularly by the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP). Harmful and distasteful advertisements are not approved to protect consumers and enhance the integrity of the industry.

The robust collaboration and engagement among registered advertising practitioners and the collective contributions of every sectoral group has supported APCON’s drive to improve standards for the overall benefit of the industry. Information available at APCON’s website indicate that advertising reforms, especially on corporate licensing, has witnessed significant improvement in terms of value creation, from domestic and foreign participation in Nigeria’s advertising space. The purpose of introducing corporate licensing was to review every entry qualification into the profession; register domestic and foreign advertising practitioners; ensure that registered practitioners receive first option in employment consideration; promote local content; ensure that proper sanctions are applied when and where necessary, especially in financial transactions in the industry and to promote research.

Advertising is a key growth driver for employment opportunities and its contribution to Nigeria’s GDP. The industry’s activities have helped to shape and promote our investment potential through different media channels. As we tell our stories to promote Nigeria as a notable investment destination, advertising practitioners are also playing their part by deploying their creative talents and skills to execute campaigns that showcase our ability to persuade, attract and retain foreign investors.

For example, there are several campaigns and programmes running on CNN that are sponsored by Nigerian corporate organisations. From the perspective of nation branding, these advertisements and programmes have helped to promote local brands and position Nigeria positively as the biggest economy in Africa. When the “Good People, Great Nation” campaign was launched some years back, the whole idea was to tell the Nigerian story in a compelling manner. If we expand the campaign theme further, it means we need to constantly remind ourselves that no matter what, Nigeria will always be blessed. From agriculture to blue economy, steel development, marketing communication, entertainment, ICT, sports, journalism, arts and culture, tourism, medicine, science and technology, entrepreneurship and the extractive industry just to name a few sectors, Nigeria has what it takes to conquer the world.

To drive home the message on vigilance and to raise awareness on the security challenges in the country, the Ministry of Information and Culture launched the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. This campaign and others that may follow can be amplified through viral marketing by using social media to reach a wider audience – no one can tell the Nigerian story better than us.

The law setting up APCON seeks to determine who advertising practitioners are; establish what standards of knowledge and skills are to be attained by persons who wish to be advertising practitioners; create a register of practitioners; regulate and control the practice of advertising and to refer to the Minster of Health for approval advertisement that relates to foods, cosmetics, beverages and drugs, and to conduct prescribed examinations in the profession and award certificates or diplomas to successful candidates.

Hopefully, the Governing Council of APCON will be constituted soon as stipulated by the law setting up the industry regulator. To make it easy for the Honourable Minister, he should ask for at least three nominees from industry practitioners under the auspices of AAAN and recommend one of them as chair of Council to President Buhari for approval.

Five years is a long time for APCON to be in the limbo and I agree with Babaeko, AAAN President, that there is no need delaying this matter any further. The federal government should summon the courage and do the right thing by giving the advertising industry its due – this matter needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.

  • Braimah is a PR and marketing strategist based in Lagos
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