By Abdulmojeed Salangiwa
Nigerians, especially those who were schooled in the art of Marketing and Communications heaved a sigh of relief two years ago that Nigeria’s creative community had finally gotten off the hook of modern imperialism when the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) embarked on a move towards sanitization and enforcement of global best practice in the nation’s advertising industry.
But currently, the noble idea to rescue the economy, appears to be drifting away due to the pecuniary interests of some individuals and organizations, who have consistently benefitted from the irregularities and poor regulation of the past. Leading the campaign to frustrate the move and return advertising to the old order is the Advertisers Association of Nigeria -a body of mostly multinational firms. Their opposition was initially through a subtle campaign to blackmail ARCON to submission. However, when the group and its backers realised that the Federal Government was not yielding to all their campaigns of calumny, they threatened to drag ARCON and the government to court to reverse the reform. Last week, ADVAN dared ARCON and the Federal government and filed a suit to challenge the reform.
Since last week when the ADVAN President, Osamede Uwubanmwen, announced that his association had finally dragged Federal Government to court, many questions have been asked on why the Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP), which appears a laudable step towards unbundling a promising industry is being targeted for expulsion. Could it be AISOP on media rates deregulation that points out that no sector of the industry should cap or determine what media houses should charge as media advert rates, going forward? Could it be an area that compels advertisers and agencies to accord Nigerian media houses the same mutual respect they accord foreign media, operating in Nigeria and align with best practices? Perhaps it’s AISOP’s position on credit policy which recommends, in line with best practices, that payment for media and other advertisement services should be done within 45 days. But of course, there is a caveat here that payment after 45 days will attract interest at prevailing Central Bank of Nigeria interest rates. It was also stated that advertisers and agencies should honour advertising and marketing communications invoices politely and that all parties must be transparent in their dealings.
A critical look at the issue at hand reveals a strategic gang up against the country’s economy at a time drivers of the economy are struggling hard to protect local businesses and promote local content. But seriously speaking, to many Nigerians, the position being taken by ADVAN is like a deliberate attempt to provoke and foment trouble in the land. If our local Marcom industry is put side by side with what is obtainable in another clime, it’s like Nigeria is enduring where she should act and protect her economy. The popular proverb; “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander ” aptly captures the relationship between agencies and clients in some countries compared to our experience in this part of the world. For instance, Nigerian brands are currently among the most advertised brands on the Cable News Network (CNN) and other global media platforms but their appearances on these platforms come with strict adherence to the media rate and payment regulation of not only the global platforms but the countries where they operate from. Before an ad could appear on CNN, the advertiser must have paid not only before placement but also in dollar currency. The issue we should deal with here is whether the Nigerian brands on CNN for instance adhere to these conditions or not. But sadly, in Nigeria, the Federal Government through ARCON is simply asking for 45 days and payment in Naira not in Dollar, despite the fact that the Nigeria’s Naira has lost a lot of value yet some 5th columnists, acting for their global paymasters think the best thing to do is to ‘kill’ the industry that would have served as a veritable vehicle to boost the economy.
Personally, I’m bothered that a stakeholder like the ADVAN President, Uwubanmwen, is perhaps being used to scuttle a progressive move. Of course, many have argued that as a commercial director of Biogenerics Limited, the ADVAN Boss sees his current move as a desperate move to satisfy two masters; his backers in ADVAN and most importantly his foreign employers. This argument may be too difficult to be dismissed considering the fact that Biogenerics, where he works, has an history of consistent engagement of foreign communications firms and ADVAN, on the other hand, has never hidden the fact that its major objective is to protect foreign interests, over and above any other industry or national interests.
Much as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows freedom of association, freedom of speech and rule of law, sometimes one needs to apply simple emotional intelligence to know when and where to draw the lines. Yes, all over the world, advertisers are like the 3rd leg of the tripod in a country’s Marketing organogram but must submit to regulation. Events in the last 50 years have shown that ADVAN dictates the rule of the game as a referee, where it is also a player. In a country where the dream of every stakeholder is to grow the local economy and strengthen the market, I can’t come to terms with the fact that an individual, a Nigerian, is allowing himself to be used against the Federal Government. Before resorting to this medium of communication, I have tried through various means to alert members of ADVAN that this is not the right time to challenge or oppose the Federal Government on any stand taken by the government to deepen the economy.
While some analysts have argued that the government has what it takes to use its political will to correct every abnormality in the marketing industry, I consider the role being played by a few of our colleagues as not patriotic enough. In the course of my career, I have traversed many countries, especially in Europe and America, I’m yet to see where an American is recruited to frustrate a policy that could protect America’s interest and I’m yet to see where a professional association in China or India works against their governments to protect African or even European interests. This is why I score our dear friend, Osamede Uwubanmwen low on patriotism. A few people have argued that he’s playing the current role for survival but I disagreed. I still disagree.
The Tinubu administration has initiated critical reforms to address macroeconomic imbalances across board and many economic analysts have argued that this window of opportunity could have a transformative impact on the lives of millions of Nigerians and establish a solid foundation for sustainable and inclusive growth. The removal of the petrol subsidy and foreign exchange (FX) management reforms are crucial measures to begin to rebuild fiscal space and restore macroeconomic stability, and the opportunity should be seized to take further, necessary policy reform steps, says the latest Nigeria Development Update (NDU). The June 2023 edition of the NDU, titled “Seizing the Opportunity”, adds that it is critical to implement a comprehensive reform package that encompasses a range of complementary measures, including a new social compact to protect the poor and most vulnerable, to maximise the collective impact on growth, job creation, and poverty reduction.
In the first part of 2023, Nigeria’s economic growth weakened, and real gross domestic product (GDP) growth fell from 3.3% in 2022 to 2.4% year-on-year (y-o-y) in Q1 2023. The challenging global economic context has put pressure on Nigeria’s economy. However, experts have projected that domestic policies play a major role in determining Nigeria’s economic performance and resilience to further external shocks.
To further grow the economy, it has been recommended that specific, critical measures should be put in place to build on the new government’s bold start in making critical reforms, to ensure that Nigeria rises to its full potential. These include: (1) restoring macroeconomic stability by increasing non-oil revenue, reducing inflation through a sequenced and coordinated mix of trade, monetary and fiscal policies, and completing the FX reform, (2) expanding social protection to protect the poor and most vulnerable, and (3) developing and communicating how, as fiscal space recovers, resources will be redirected over time to meet urgent development challenges.
ARCON Director General, Dr. Lekan Fadolapo, a Chartered Accountant and fellow of ARCON among many professional qualifications, like a man who saw tomorrow had started the journey to reform the MARCOM industry since the last quarter of 2021. Fadolapo saw the need to impact the economy through effective regulation and unveiled a new Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP) to deepen the business relationship among advertising agencies, their clients, and the media. I still believe that the industry-standard practice would unravel the lingering debate surrounding credit policy as well as payment of pitch fees in the industry.
Thankfully, in what looked like an endorsement of the ARCON’s position, the Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Mohammed Idris, had during a recent visit to ARCON headquarters encourage the leadership of the regulatory body to promote local content and production, pointing out that presently, many opportunities in the industry are lost to other countries despite Nigeria’s rich capacity, which he said is the pride of Africa.
While describing the current development as nothing but unnecessary capital flight, the minister stated that he was aware of the audience measurement insight being handled by ARCON.
On a final note, and in line with the minister’s position, I am hopeful that ARCON, as pivotal in regulating advertising practices and ensuring that practitioners adhere to the highest standards, has achieved some milestones regarding this important issue, to ensure maximum return on media investments.
Salangiwa, a Marketing Professional, writes from Abuja