The once chummy relationship between the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria and Lagos State Advertisement Signage Agency may have turned sour over the control and regulation of advertising in Lagos. Raheem Akingbolu reports

The Lagos State Advertisement Signage Agency, (LASAA) is not new to controversy. Since the year 2006, when the then Lagos State Governor, Mr. Bola Tinubu, established the agency in the twilight of his administration, to regulate and control outdoor advertising and signage displays in the state, it has always moved from one controversy to the other.

Meanwhile, most states in Nigeria have since toed the line of Lagos and established local agencies to jack up the internal revenue generation. Unfortunately, the situation has created more problems for practitioners who now contend with the challenge of multiple taxations.

Following the outcome of the 2015 election, which reunited Lagos State with Federal Government, practitioners heave a sigh of relief. With the victory of the All Progressive Congress at both Lagos State and the center, they thought it would be a better regime but they got it all wrong. LASAA remains a common enemy to stakeholders in the out-of-home industry.

At the beginning, the war was between members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) then headed by Mr. Kole Ademulegun. As a result of what was considered unfriendly policies and rates of the Lagos agency, Ademulegun and his members had on many occasions, confronted the pioneer Managing Director of the agency, Mr. Makanjuola Alabi, a Lawyer, to give the agency a human face. To the operators, the establishment of LASAA was meant to cripple the outdoor sub sector of the advertising industry. Despite the intervention from stakeholders, including APCON, the association and the state agency have since continued to maintain a cat and mouse relationship.

APCON, LASAA Bicker
Few weeks ago, the agency did the unthinkable; it stepped on the toes of APCON, the sole regulatory agency for advertising content in the country. For years, APCON was believed to have been enduring the excesses of the Lagos agency but with the latest development, the council is said to be battle ready to deploy its full regulatory and enforcement powers on the state signage outfit. Officials of the two agencies recently clashed in some parts of Lagos, including Oyingbo market, where LASAA is believed to be arrogating to itself albeit illegally statutory APCON roles of regulating communication contents in outdoor advertisement structures and signages.

While LASAA laws are crystal clear on the issues pertaining to regulation and control of signages and outdoor structures with a view to modernise, standardise and regulate streetscape so as to benefit the state citizens and visitors alike, there is no aspect of the state’s agency laws where it is conferred with the absolute powers to regulate or control communication contents and messages on signages, structures or streetscape. Rather, the powers to regulate and control advertising and advertisement businesses are conferred on APCON, the regulatory agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

In a swift reaction to the allegation, the head of Corporate Communications at LASAA, Temitope Akande, said the agency was shocked with what was credited to APCON as both government bodies have co-existed for years. “This is strange because both LASAA and APCON have always maintained a good working relationship. LASAA is aware of the fact that APCON has the statutory power to regulate contents and we have not for a day contested it. It is sad that this is coming up now after many years of co-existence for the total good of the industry. It is also strange that APCON has suddenly decided to show interest in what goes into signposts of small businesses. These are mere identifiers that the owners of the businesses use to direct customers. To me, this is sharply different from contents that go into campaigns. At a time like this, when the economy is undergoing a critical moment, it will not do the nation any good, if the SMEs are suffocated with unfriendly policies,’’

According to Decree No. 55 1988 that established APCON, the council has the powers to regulate and control advertising and advertisement businesses in all aspects and ramifications. Since its creation in 1990, APCON has faithfully, diligently and dutifully kept to its statutory responsibilities and have greatly guaranteed sanity, decency and ethical practices in the industry.
On why it has taken APCON this long to beam its searchlight on the SMEs, the council explained that it has over the years been kept busy by the challenges posed by advertising agencies and multinational businesses. The council further stated that it is unaware that owners of small scale businesses often inscribe deceitful and unwholesome messages on their signages and outdoor structures in Lagos metropolis to deceive consumers.

APCON’s Position
Since the day one when Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos appointed Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi as MD, a lawyer like the pioneer helmsman of the state agency, some industry players had kicked that Sanusi’s lack of understanding of the industry could be a setback for advertising growth.
Last week, APCON registrar and Chief Executive Officer, Alhaji Bello Garba Kankarofi also concluded that the belligerent and aggressive posturing by the new headship of LASAA, Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi was informed by his poor understanding and knowledge of APCON laws and regulations.
The APCON registrar, a veteran adman lamented the latest outbursts and impunity by LASAA boss whom he said has been holding his present position in deliberate contravention and abeyance of the Nigerian constitution setting up APCON.

Specifically, Kankarofi disclosed that under Part IV privileges of Registered persons and Offences by Unregistered Persons (Advertising Practitioners (Registration etc) Act C Cap 7 LFN 1990 (Act Cap A7 LFN 2004 states that: sub-titled (Appointment not to be held by unregistered person:- “subject to the provisions of this Act, no person, not being registered in accordance with this act, shall be entitled to hold any appointment in the public service of the federation or of a state in any public or private establishment, body or institution, if the holding of such appointment involves the performance by him in Nigeria of any act pertaining to the profession for gain”.

In other words, the managing Director of LASAA, being an unregistered advertising professional as stated by this Act is unqualified to head the agency as he occupies the public office for gain by virtue of being a public servant with salaries and emoluments.
The registrar pointed out in Lagos during a media chat with select journalists that previous helmsmen at LASAA had always registered and complied with APCON rules upon assumption of office but wondered why the current chief executive officer of LASAA has remained adamant and recalcitrant in obeying the laws of the land despite claiming to be a lawyer and a journalist. He stated that APCON has written several letters to Sanusi to register with the council as the constitution dictates but that he has ignored this advice.

His words: “APCON never had issues with past chief executive officers of LASAA. From the inception of the agency by Makanjuola Alabi, to Hon. Tunji Bello and George Noah, the immediate predecessor of the current managing director, they have always complied with APCON laws by being registered upon assumption of office. We have written several letters to Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi to register but he has refused”.
“In the case of Tunji Bello, he was LASAA boss for a brief period, even at that, he co-operated and complied very well with APCON, we have all chief executive officers of outdoor signage agencies across the different states of the Nigerian federation as registered members”. Kankarofi stated that the current myopia by LASAA boss is due to his being a non-registered member of APCON as the regulatory body is in no way encroaching on his boundaries.

He stated that what the council has just initiated in Lagos State has long being in operation in other states of the federation and yet none of the agencies in charge of outdoor advertising businesses in the states have objected nor resisted. He however counseled Mobolaji Sanusi to go and study the APCON laws and desist from his hallucinatory postures.
Besides, he enjoined LASAA boss to heed APCON letters requesting that he perfects his membership registration with APCON before the long arm of the law catches up with him as APCON may be forced to evoke its powers over his position.

LASAA vs XL Billboards
Before now, LASAA had on several occasions, been in the news for wrong reasons over its clashes with companies and operators. On few occasions, the agency has also been criticized by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party that it was being used to frustrate politicians outside the ruling party in Lagos. While some cases were interpreted in the court, some were settled out of court.

For instance, shortly after a multinational company dragged the agency to court few years ago, another crisis surfaced in 2008 when XL Billboards and the Lagos agency disagreed over control of the Naval Jetty at Outer Marina, Lagos. The problem started when XL Billboards was given a franchise by the Ministry of Defence to beautify and maintain the surroundings of the Naval Jetty at Outer Marina and advertise on its walls in 2008 as a private-public sector partnership. According to THISDAY findings, the company signed a lease agreement with the Ministry in 2009 and wrote LASAA for approval to advertise on the said walls in 2009

A source from LASAA had disclosed that the agency, however, withheld its approval while the company proceeded to adorn the walls. LASAA thereafter wrote XL Billboards on September 10, 2010 to remove the boundary wall signs noting that the structure contravene section 27 (3) of the Lagos State Structures for Signage and Advertisement Law 2006 (as amended).

After meetings between XL, the Ministry of Defence, the Navy and LASAA over the agency’s insistence that XL Billboard remove its adverts, LASAA eventually agreed to give XL a provisional approval if it re-applies for the structures. But the approval came with a caveat; “Structures to be positioned along the Outer Marina must complement the scenic view associated with the ocean front and should not pose a threat to motorist or pedestrian,” noted LASAA fully aware of its plan for the Outer Marina.

The agency was later forced to revoke its approval, advancing proliferation of structures on military formations as its reason. Sources at LASAA revealed that former Governor Fashola had earlier written the Chief of Army Staff on clutter across military formations. The Army in a letter made available to THISDAY, assured the State of its cooperation.