This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Excitement, Doubt As APCON Releases Fresh Guidelines

Stakeholders who have consistently pushed for new guidelines to streamline advertising practice in the country crossed the first hurdle recently when the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) came out with new reform, but the question now is whether the new regime can be sustained or not, Raheem Akingbolu writes

A breath of fresh air swept across the Nigerian advertising landscape recently when the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), through its Committee on Advertising Practice Reforms (ACARP), came up with new guidelines, aimed at redefining the practice as well as ensuring strict professionalism in line with global standard.

Though the reform was long overdue, considering the series of challenges facing the industry, it was still trailed by mixed reactions. While it was hailed by some as a solution to the age-long problem facing the industry, a few people wondered if it can be sustained.

With Nigeria's market being adjudged as one of the fastest growing economies in this part of the world, it has, in recent times been attracting foreign practitioners more than ever before. Aside the fact that the situation is beginning to tell on the business of local practitioners, the belief that the foreign agencies are not following due process is already generating controversies.

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As stated in December 2010, when the ACARP was inaugurated that the condition for entry into the profession must be reviewed and that local and foreign practitioners must be properly registered before being allowed to practice, the report spelt out hitherto the condition of entrance and practice.

Rolling out the recommendations, the committee's chairman, Willy Nnorom, emphasised the need for all corporate firms to be licensed. Based on Decree 55 of 1988, that established APCON, is that all practitioners, whether individual or corporate, shall consider Nigerian content as an important element of their overall business management, project development and execution.

The recommendation went further to state that qualified Nigerian practitioners shall be given first consideration in any advertising project. It also indicated that APCON shall be responsible for verifying compliance, among others.

However, concerning the deadline on licensing of firms, which was initially put at January, the report indicated that it has now been shifted by three months to give enough time to all stakeholders to meet with conditions of the new licensing regime.

The reform also indicated that no foreigner or foreign group would own a majority stake in any of the components of the advertising industry. It also pushed for a percentage of the staff members of foreign firms to be Nigerians.

Chairman Explains

Giving the highlights of the reform, the APCON chairman, Mr. 'Lolu Akinwunmi, stated that going forward, foreign agencies and practitioners must be properly certified and regulated the same way Nigerians are.

"This would present a level playing ground and would also ensure that Nigeria was not turned into a dumping ground for all manner of unqualified practitioners," he said.

The APCON boss said his council decided to control the operations of foreign agencies because of the danger it capable of causing for the local industry.

According to him, "APCON in pursuance of its statutory obligations, and within the laws establishing it, and working with its various professional components, has taken a decision to review various parts of the advertising professional practice laws with a view to ensuring that they conform to global standards and compensate local interests. In addition, APCON will exercise its mandate in ensuring that the advertising profession was allowed to grow and mature within an equitable environment.

"As part of the need to ensure strict professionalism within the advertising industry and the practice of it, it has become necessary to consider the current operating rules and environment with a view to ensuring that advertising, like other recognised professions, was regulated in such a way as to protect the integrity of the local interests and global standards," he said.

Mixed Reactions

As many practitioners continue to comment on the issue, the Pioneer Registrar of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Professor Charles Okigbo, in an online interview described the council's decision as apt, lawful and timely.

He said: "APCON is empowered by law to regulate and control advertising practice in all its ramifications and aspects, and thus it is within its purview to provide such guidelines as it has done now with regarding to the massive invasion from the 'North' (i.e. Europe mostly but also the US remotely)".

The University don is also of the opinion that the craze by Nigerian ad agencies to seek affiliations with international agencies needed to be moderated by APCON, AAAN, and other industry-regulatory organs, adding that these do not necessarily serve the interests of the country and profession.

Corroborating the position of the committee on censorship, he said: "Communication (including advertising) is an important field of practice which has national security implications and so should not be left completely unchecked. APCON as a government agency that looks out for the interests of advertising practitioners is right in the new move to check the pervasive influence of international agencies some of which do not offer wholesome benefits to local advertising practice," Okigbo said.

To drive home his point, he added that the control of national communication practices was common practice all over the world. He disclosed that Nigerian communication regulation agencies have been invited to a UNESCO meeting in Rabat Morocco on May 23-26, where the issue would be discussed extensively.

To the Executive Secretary of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Lekan Fadolapo, the recent reform is the second biggest thing that ever happened in the industry.

"From any angle we chose to look at it, the new reform will show the positive way to go in our local advertising practice. With this, compliance will not be at the individual level again and our regulatory body will be at par with other bodies like ICAN or CIS. In my own opinion, this is the second biggest thing that has ever happened to advertising in Nigeria. Of course, the first was the establishment of the regulatory council itself", Fadolapo added.

Although an analyst and publisher of Marketing Edge, a wholly marketing communication magazine, Mr. John Ajayi, agreed that the new development might affect some practitioners negatively, he however hailed it as a good step towards sanitising the industry.

The position of the Managing Director of Chain Reactions, a Public Relations firm, Mr. Jaye Opayemi, is not entirely different, but he emphasised the need for stakeholders to work hand in hand to sustain the reform.

"It is going to help advertising and by extension the entire business of communication but my fear is sustainability. If all the sectoral bodies can come together and see to its success, the marketing communication terrain will be better for it. But if it is sabotaged, it will be likened to killing our local economy," Opayemi said.

How it Started

Unlike many disciplines that have well spelt-out guidelines on entry requirement and professional qualification, advertising started in Nigeria with little or no blueprint of operation. As a result of this, it was seen as a profession where anything goes.

But by the time Nigeria got her independence in 1960, the industry had produced some local practitioners, especially among educated Nigerians, who have since travelled and discovered that advertising was a serious business. It was also during this time that some Nigerians had to leave broadcasting to begin building careers in advertising.

In retrospect, Prof. Okigbo told THISDAY that the industry didn't achieve much in the early years of independence until when the Federal Government promulgated the Indigenisation Policy in 1972 through the popular Promotion Decree between the agency with Unilever and Nigerian Breweries.

A former AAAN President, Mr. Kola Ayanwale, also lamented in a recent interview with THISDAY that the advertising industry was facing some challenges as a result of weak regulation.

He said "We are yet to get to the Promised Land as a result of few hitches but I am optimistic that things would still be alright. A major problem that we face is that of regulation.

"Brazil's advertising is thriving now, not because they are magicians but because they are supported by their government by law and their incomes are guaranteed by law. And there are certain things you cannot do by law in Brazil. Hence in terms of power of advertising, and in terms of great work, Brazil is beginning to take over from UK and US.

"Let come down to West Africa, we all know what happens in Ghana and some other places. You cannot walk into any media house in Ghana and say you want to place an advert; they will refer you back to the agency that created that ad. But here, it is a different kettle of fish altogether. Even the provision of APCON decree is being manipulated," he had stated.

At the end of the day, the onus is on all stakeholders in the advertising industry to join hands together to sanitise and improve the vital sector. The benefits of collective positive action can only be imagined.

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