Players in marketing communications are confused by Federal Government’s seeming nonchalance towards the reconstitution of the governing council of APCON
Severally, the smooth running of the Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON) has been hampered intermittently, over the years. This advertising control house has come under the hammer of recurring breaches. Varieties of contravention have been infringed upon APCON by successive governments, subsequent to the enactment of the law establishing the regulatory body by a preceding administrative era.
Twice at different instances with the commencement of the democratic regime in 1999, APCON had been disowned as an agency of government under the premise that government cannot continue to fund ‘a professional institute’ which APCON was depicted to be.
According to industry bigwigs, it took the assiduous representations to government by the then governing council, spearheaded by late Dr. May Nzeribe and Alhaji Garba Bello Kankarofi (who were the Chairman and Registrar respectively) with the support of their contacts in the National Assembly, to secure the reinstatement of APCON as an agency of the Federal Government.
For 18 months, during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the government did not appoint a chairman to constitute the APCON council even though Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi has served out his tenure. After the long wait with APCON which had been immersed in a crisis of leadership, Mr. Udeme Ufot, an advertising chieftain was finally appointed the Chairman of the council. The practitioners breathed a sigh of relief but this was to be short-lived.
Barely four months after the Ufot-led board was constituted, President Muhammadu Buhari’s blanket dissolution of the boards of agencies, commissions and parastatals dealt a mighty blow on the APCON council and the marketing communications industry. A letter dated July 16, 2015, signed by the then Head of Federal Civil Service, Danladi Kifasi, vacated the council and relinquished its powers to APCON Registrar/Chief Executive Officer.
The stakeholders cried foul as they protested strongly that the dissolution contravened the APCON Act. Objections rented the air. “APCON council is a regulatory council with professional seats. It should not be treated as a parastatal for political seats,” the practitioners complained across all nooks and crannies. This wrong move returned APCON to comatose.
For three consecutive times, the Federal Government is believed to have goofed in nominating politicians and non-advertising professionals into the board of the council. The latest on this controversy was in January, this year, when the government announced Hon. Jacob Sunday (Chairman), Chief Dayo Abatan, Aloysius Okafor, Sani Tulu as the newly appointed APCON Council members; two year after the dissolution of the Udeme-led APCON board.
According to the advertising practitioners, the appointment is contrary to the Nigerian Advertising Rules, Laws and Regulation, Act 55 of 1988 (as amended), which states that a chairman, who should be appointed by the President, shall be a distinguished fellow of the profession. The APCON council has remained in limbo, till date.
Players in the marketing communications industry are, however, confused over the Federal Government’s seeming nonchalant attitude towards the reconstitution of the governing council of APCON. Three years down the line, there is still not a functional APCON council and this is said to be affecting the growth of the multimillion naira industry. The advertising stakeholders have since seized every opportunity to engage directly and indirectly with the State House and the Office of the Minister of Information and Culture but government is yet to yield to their demand.
The stalemate of the industry occasioned by recurrent breaches that have continued to deny APCON of an appropriately constituted council has provoked debates to resolve these issues. Advertising practitioners are now divided over divergent as well as radical views in averting these challenges. While some are advocating that APCON should be uprooted from the government’s control, others owe a contrary view. The latter’s view is bent on securing APCON’s muscle for its regulatory task.
Perhaps, out of frustration over the impasse, some of the industry players are clamouring for the removal of APCON from government control, to enable it run as an institute, which of course will be managed by practitioners and ‘free from government interference.’
An advertising chieftain, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that initially, he was of the view that APCON should remain with government because government is giving subventions to support the council but not anymore. “The advertising industry is structured geographically. It is purely private sector led and predominantly based in Lagos and South-West. Almost 65% of ad spends is around Lagos and South-West. This is where the agencies operate from. If you look at the AAAN membership list, about 90% are Lagos based. So if APCON is private sector driven, the operators of APCON will also focus on where their interest lie, which is Lagos, South-West. If you look at the tripod, agencies, media and the marketers, all of them are located down south. This says a lot about the scope of APCON’s operations and infrastructure.”
He further stated that that if the industry really appreciates the need for growth and for the right thing to be done, APCON should disengage from government’s parastatal structure as it actually has capacity to raise enough funding for self-sustenance.
“To be honest with you, when I see how much my agency spends in a month for vetting, for example, for just one brand alone, it was about half a million naira. So, if you ask me, I think APCON has grown appreciably. If they decide to vet all ads, they should have enough money to run it and take the yoke off government and I think they can do it now.
“From the days of Alhaji Garba Kan-korifi, government has been cutting the subventions to APCON and all that they do now is give them just the salaries of the staff. Can APCON generate enough money to take care of those salaries? I think it can. The same answer I will give for the question of institute. If we really want to professionalise the industry, let the institute come. Let it be funded by members and through the vetting fees. It may be difficult initially, but so much advertising is not going through the right channels, by the time even state governments are compelled to do the right thing, because state governments advertise, you will be amazed at how much APCON can raise and can fund its activities across the country. That’s my answer.”
On the other hand, some practitioners claim that APCON was established by an Act of Parliament (Act 55 of 1998 and Act. 93 of 1992). According to this group, the APCON act created a council and not an institute, but then endowed it with a dual role of a practice regulatory, as well as a professional body.
This line of thought stresses that it is important to note that regulatory councils are, more or less, agencies of government. They are not only creations of the law, just like all incorporated entities. They are also creations (agencies) of the government. That explains why the then Federal Ministry of Information and Culture which was the supervisory ministry, facilitated the take-off of APCON, providing it a temporary secretariat at the National Arts Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos, long before the present APCON House was conceived.
APCON has always been an agency of government with its operational policies and guidelines superintended by a governing council appointed as stipulated in its establishment Act under the supervisory oversight of the Minister of Information.
This school of thought stated that in spite of the limitations of the APCON Act, which has necessitated the urge for amendment of the Act to strengthen its regulatory enforcement capacity, APCON to an appreciable extent, has succeeded in enforcing suitable standards in commercial communications across the segments of the advertising industry. “A professional institute stripped of the powers of a government agency will hardly be able to exercise effective control over the operators outside the mainstream practice.” But the opposing group is of the view that if APCON transforms into an institute,
it will still retain its regulatory power because it is backed by law.
APCON is a regulatory council. The governing council of a practice regulatory council such as APCON is appointed by the government, according to the provisions of the council’s enabling law. The best way to resolve this bottleneck once and for all is to persuade government to amend the APCON law in a manner that the council remains strictly a regulatory council under the management of government and also establish an advertising institute. This proposed measure would not only resolve the impasse but also take care of the interests of both the government and the Nigerian public whom it represents, as well as the members of the advertising profession and industry.
For a recommendation, Nigeria Advertising Association, an umbrella professional association of all qualified advertising practitioners similar to the Nigeria Bar Association, the Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigeria Society of Engineers, the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, among others, should be set up. The advertising industry is craving for one. APCON cannot sufficiently fill this vacuum.
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