With the magnanimity of the Lagos State Signage & Advertisement Agency (LASAA), to reduce billboard rates as well as agreeing to waivers and discounts on outstanding debts owed by practitioners, better days ahead for out-of-home practitioners. Raheem Akingbolu reports.
Outdoor practitioners, under the auspices of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria, (OAAN) and other players in the out-of-home sub sector of the advertising industry, crossed a major hurdle recently when the Lagos State Signage & Advertisement Agency (LASAA), approved reduction on vacant board policy percentage from 100 per cent to 20 per cent. This was said to be the highest of its kind since almost twelve years of the agencyâ€™s existence. The decision is in line with the determination of the Akinwumi Ambode led administration in Lagos State to create an enabling atmosphere for businesses in various sectors of the economy.
The process began in April when the leadership of LASAA, in collaboration with OAAN President, Tunde Adedoyin, initiated and held a crucial stakeholdersâ€™ meeting, with the aim of resolving knotty issues between the agency and the association.
At the end, it was discovered that the meeting was not just to talk, but to act as well. At the end of the meeting, they both agreed to setting up of a 15-member committee to resolve their differences and chart a new way forward. The committee met on 12th and 17th of April respectively and agreed on various issues, which included media buyers, rate review and vacant board policy. Others were 12.5 per cent provision in section 39(1) of the Environment Management and Protection Law and outdoor structures general wellbeing issues.
The olive branch
However, in a genuine move on the part of LASAA to appease OAAN members and other operators, the leadership of the government agency had offered its olive branch by looking into the recommendations of the committee.
According to a member of the committee, who spoke to THISDAY on conditions of anonymity, the agency, in line with the Ambodeâ€™s administration stance to create an appealing atmosphere for investors in Lagos State, agreed to reduce vacant board policy percentage from 100 per cent, to 20 per cent. This was said to be the highest of its kind since almost 12 years of the agencyâ€™s existence, which is in tandem with its enabling laws, to take decision capable of moving the sector forward.
The member also revealed that the agency agreed to the 35 per cent downward review of L.E.D structures and gentries as well as 30 per cent on the other structures rate reductions. It was also disclosed that the agency agreed to several waivers and discounts on outstanding debts owed by many practitioners for previous years.
The committee member stated further that all the aforementioned had been passed to OAAN and the agency, in tandem with the governmentâ€™s policy of constructive engagements with investors.
Meanwhile, a source within the agency also revealed that LASAA had extended its hand of fellowship to Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria, (MIPAN) and other stakeholders in the outdoor industry to deepen businesses and collaborations.
OAAN asks for moreâ€¦
In what looked like a subtle pressure on the agency to do more, OAAN was said to have written a letter to LASAA, seeking clarification on some areas covered in the new Santa Claus as agreed upon by the committee, which comprised representatives from both sides.
In a letter dated May 16, 2018, and received by LASAA on May 17, 2018, in respect of the stakeholdersâ€™ meeting, OAAN referred to its letter of April 25 in pursuant to the impression that definite agreements were reached on all the issues referred to, in the 15-man committee set up by LASAA.
In the letter, the association sought clarification on some issues, especially as it concerns the import of the phrases â€œdesignated or redesignated dateâ€ and â€œ20 per cent of annual permit fee on billboardâ€ as stated in the letter.
Through the letter, the association also pressed for explanation of the significance of â€˜annual permit fee on billboardâ€™ in relation to the issues discussed at the meeting.
In a telephone conversation with THISDAY, OAAN Secretary General, Mr. Femi Ogala, though admitted that LASAA had made some reductions, he however urged the agency to do more as well as work in accordance with the law that established LASAA to enhance better operation.
â€œThe law that established LASAA is explicit and I think the industry will be better for it if followed accordingly. Yes, LASAA made some reductions but they are very minimal.
â€œThat is our challenge and that is why we will continue to clamour for more friendly rates and waiversâ€
In a letter dated May 21, 2018, with reference no: LASAA/L/18/05/05, which was sent to OAAN and copied the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Lagos, State, LASAA acknowledged the associationâ€™s letter and stated that the agencyâ€™s letter dated 3rd May, 2018, was explicit and straightforward. It further stated that it reflected the agreement reached by the 15 man committee during its meetings of 12th and 17th April respectively.
LASAA stated that it attached with the letter, OAANâ€™s response to the committee meetingsâ€™ consensus and also the agencyâ€™s response, which it claimed give illumination to the ostrich between the association and the agency.
In the letter, LASAA reminded the association that the idea of setting up committee was at the behest of the president of OAAN and supported by the agency with its insistence that the names of the committee members should immediately be announced and the committeeâ€™s report submitted within one week.
Issues to be addressed by the committee include media buyers, agency rate review, vacant board discount policy; 12.5 percent in the harmonised law, health and safety concerns, structural stability, among others.
LASAA also used its letter to explain to practitioners that the agencyâ€™s rate has to do with the ability to judge billboards based on their worth, location and size amongst other.
According to LASAA, â€œOn the associationâ€™s questioning of the power of the agency to revoke structures, we clearly view such as unnecessary and diversionary in a state in which His Excellence has always upheld the primary of the Rule of Law.
â€œThe conditions under which outdoor structures can be revoked have been well spelt out and should not be compromised under the guise of â€œindustry relationshipâ€.
â€œIndustry relationship from the â€˜Nigeria factorâ€™ perspective is not sufficient a reason to flout provisions of a duly enacted law of a state House of Assembly which might compromise the regulatorâ€™s integrity if care is not taken. So, the power of the agency, as an objective and focused regulator, should not be sacrificed on the altar of â€˜industry relationshipâ€™,â€ the letter stated.
LASAA also pointed out through the letter that the environment aesthetic of Lagos State was of utmost importance to government and that it was non-negotiable, adding that any structure not meeting its approval essence or had become perilous to public safety shall have its approval revoke and also be removed where necessary.
The Agency, in accordance with its enabling laws, said it still reserves the power of revocation at its discretion.
Beyond the relief the new development will bring to the outdoor industry, it is believed in some quarters that LASAA has simply demonstrated the ideals of the Ambode led administration. To this end, OAAN members and other stakeholders in the industry have been urged to work with the regulatory body for effective outdoor practice.
Meanwhile, since the day the committee was inaugurated, not a few observers have commended the move, in the hope that it would create a symbiotic relationship for both the regulator and the practitioners.
A Lagos based Lawyer, Mr. Suleiman Salawu, while commenting on the development commended Lagos State Government for being a listening government. He also called on both OAAN and LASAA to see the development as a launch pad for better future.
â€œThe recent development that led to reduction of billboard rates in the outdoor corridor has simply laid credence to the fact that the current administration in Lagos responds to public yearning.
â€œFrom what has happened, we have seen stakeholder engagement, we have seen collaboration, we have seen processes and we have seen their positive results. I have no doubt that this will be the beginning of greater days and business boom for both the operators and the regulator,â€ Salawu said.
Also speaking on the development, the Deputy Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba, Lagos, Dr. Jide Johnson, said the reduction will boost business in the outdoor sector.
â€œConsidering the cat and mouse relationship between the agency and LASAA in the years past, the new Managing Director, Mobolaji Sanusi and his team have simply broken a new record by responding positively to the demands of the practitioners. All over the world, business is good when it is carried out in a friendly environment and this appears to be a step towards achieving that,â€ he said.