27 June 2017

Nigeria: 'For Media to Survive, Companies and Agencies Must Pay Debts Owed'

He formerly served as Commissioner for Information with former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, and also briefly with Governor Udom Emmanuel, and so understands the under-currents of media business and inter-relationships. And he has insisted that for the Nigerian media industry to continue to survive and serve its useful purpose of informing and educating the people, governments, companies and agencies that transact businesses with the Nigerian media must pay every debt owed to it.

These were the views of Mr. Aniekan Umanah, in a recent interview with The Guardian. Umanah, currently the Chief Executive Officer of African Media Network, expressed concerns over the debilitating effect of debts in the media industry among other issues.

According to him, "The days of trickery are gone. It must be doing what you can do and paying for what needs to be paid for. Why do we have to get people to borrow money from banks and buy space and airtime, run advertisement and owe them for six months or one year? That's killing the industry. That's why several media organisations can't pay salaries as at when due. Agencies must be responsive to their bits and clients responsive to theirs. So when these relationships come together with truthfulness and sincerity, the media would survive."

He also expressed serious concerns on effect of recession on the media industry. Saying, "I must say that the advertising and media industry, like every other business in Nigeria, got hit by the punch of recession. For a country that lost over 60 per cent of revenue and income base, you can see that it was almost like hanging on a cliff, which was further compounded by dwindling oil prices at the time. Many things went wrong; our GDP went below expectation. Oil prices went down, income erosion and all that. So, an industry like media and advertising became the first to be hit. The industry is in comatose, but we are happy that it is beginning to show signs of improvement. And we hope that this will be sustainable."

On building brand Nigeria, Umanah said the country lost it a long time ago due to bad leadership.

On his achievement while in public service, he stated, "I thank the almighty God for the privilege to work in the public sector at the level of a member of the executive from 2008 to October 2016. I worked with the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State and minority leader of the Senate, Governor Godswill Akpabio. He appointed me first and I worked with him for seven years. That has offered me the opportunity to understand a lot more the workings of government and the opportunity of coming face to face with managing public sector information.

"From day one, we were busy; too many actions and projects to tell the world about. I have always said to people that Akpabio is a super active man. And if I have to borrow his language, he came into government 'an angry man.' So, everything he pursued with anger to make sure he got results. It was about result; not the effort or process. We went through that period, which was called 'uncommon transformation' era, the most stupendous development that anybody can imagine in this country by any state governor. I can be quoted on this. We ran a government that commissioned flyovers, government houses, free education, health care and every indices of development that we can think about. And Akpabio was pushed up as a super brand in this country and everyone who followed his government can attest to what I'm saying."

And when it came to succession, Umanah stated that Emmanuel was another exceptional leader he worked with, adding, "I thank him for finding me worthy of being in his administration. We also needed to be around him to help him stabilise the new administration. He hit the ground running and came with an excellent manifesto, which focused on industrialisation, wealth creation, citizens' empowerment, youth empowerment, political inclusion and, of course, infrastructure consolidation and expansion."

Reacting to life after public office, Umanah stated, "Those of you who know me knew clearly what I was doing. I was a reporter and I delved into advertising, publishing and public sector PR consulting. I ran an organisation that was functional and I never owed salary. So we have to return to our beat. We can begin to chart new direction without necessarily leaving the environment, which is our primary constituency - the media.

"The organisations that I led, Executive Options Media and Milword World are still there running and I, strategically with a team of compatriots, established African Media Network, which is a continental organisation set up to create growth and opportunities in the continental media, to create the synergies needed and compel a new discussion, particularly content, advocacy and knowledge building within the continental media. We wanted to see how we could build big time content entrepreneurs across Africa. Content is key and it is mega dollars for anybody who understands what it is. We are trying to create a bridge between the new, traditional and the unseen media.

"African Media Network is a trusteeship with membership from different parts of Africa. We have members from South Africa, facilitators from Kenya, network partners from Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria, with the leadership coming from Abuja and coordinating the continental activities. We are currently building a content app, which will make content creation a very big deal for those who need to understand. We would also be involved at the very basic level, a lot of training programmes that would create knowledge. We are also partnering with organisations that are relevant to what we are doing. We would also be holding a programme sometime in July."

On how Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) can achieve the elusive digital switchover, Umanah argued, "Government must create funds deliberately for digitisation and allow qualified organs to tap into it. So that when you are launching Jos and Abuja first, and other segmented areas, the compliance level will be same. NBC needs to be helped and supported. They need a lot of money to do this and government must provide it."

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