APCON’S Debacle and the Enemies Within

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APCON

Close to four years after, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria has remained like a ship without a captain. Raheem Akingbolu writes on how the development has dealt a blow on the operations of the regulatory agency

It was thought to be a temporary setback but four years after, stakeholders in the marketing communications industry are battling to explain why their regulatory body – the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), has been left in the limbo.

There have been many questions but no concrete explanation has been given on why government has not constituted a council for APCON.

As a result of this, concerned advertising practitioners are daily expressing the pain of not having a council.
To them, while the profession is growing in the area of creativity and market acceptability, regulation is becoming weaker than before.

The council has been without a constituted board for over three years and this is said to be affecting the growth of the multi-billion-naira industry as many advertising practitioners and operators in other sectoral bodies are showing reluctance in fulfilling their professional responsibilities.

The council comprises the Advertising Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), the Association of Advertising Agencies in Nigeria (AAAN), Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MIPAN), Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Federal Ministry of Information, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as universities/polytechnics offering advertising-related courses.

Meanwhile, fresh fallout from the crisis is that it has fuelled suspicion among stakeholders on whether there are individuals or organisations, within and outside government working to frustrate various efforts being made to get a council.

It has also forced top players in the industry to come out of their shells and demand for better understanding of APCON status.

Between 2014 and now, the leadership of various sectoral bodies have explored many opportunities, including visiting the state house and the office of the Minister of Information and Culture, to impress it on the federal government on the importance of the council, but nothing has been achieved in this regard.

As the highest regulatory body in the advertising industry, operations are believed to have become weak in the last three years because of lack of constituted authority to sit down and take decisions on sundry issues.

In 2014, the administration of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, appointed a non-practitioner as APCON Chairman and the appointment was rejected by stakeholders in the industry as an affront.
President Jonathan, had immediately reversed the appointment and constituted another one headed by the Group CEO of the SO&U, Mr. Udeme Ufot.

Despite the acceptability of the Ufot-led council, it was dissolved again alongside other parastatals boards in July 2015. As a result of the strategic importance of the council to the effective operation of APCON, pressures were mounted on the Buhari administration to quickly reconstitute the board, but nothing was done until December last year when another set of non-advertising and marketing practitioners were again appointed into the board.
Those appointed then were Hon. Jacob Sunday (Chairman), Chief Dayo Abatan, Aloysius Okafor, Sani Tulu, Akor Sunday, Ismaila Umar Sifawa and Murtala Adamu Atiku.

The appointment was said to have run contrary to the APCON law which demands that council members must be fellows of the regulatory body.

The Nigerian Advertising Laws, Rules and Regulations Act 55 of 1988 (as amended), states that a chairman, who should be appointed by the President, shall be a distinguished fellow of the profession.
Immediately the announcement was made, practitioners in the country were quick to condemn, in strong terms, the alleged appointment of non-advertising and marketing practitioners into the council and move ahead to advocate autonomy for APCON.

Top practitioners had stated that the exercise was in clear breach of the Act setting up the institution, insisting that government should not be seen to be flouting the constitution of the country.

Knotty issues
Having experienced same problem under the previous administration, whereby the appointment of APCON council was delayed, the habitual development has forced the public and some advertising operators to demand for the removal of APCON from government grip in order to obviate distortions in running the multi-billion-naira industry.
Today, players in the industry are advocating for a professional advertising institute in place of APCON or to have both exist side by side.

Top professionals who spoke in the past supported an independent apex body while others believe that as long as APCON collects yearly subvention from the government, it shall continue to remain a lackey on government political chess board.

The desire in some quarters to, perhaps, have APCON run as an institute instead of a council is strong among some stakeholders as they compare APCON with some professional institutes that are run independently.
The call, without first understanding the difference between a council and an institute and their respective roles clearly justifies the frustration with the current impasse over the government delay in the appointment of APCON council.

Speaking on the issue, the Deputy Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, Mr. Jide Johnson, said the development was worrisome as the Registrar, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the can only perform administrative function.

“It is unfortunate because the roles of the registrar are different from that of APCON chairman.
Registrar oversees the secretariat while the chairman has executive power to lead the council, take decision and liaise with government at the centre on issues that would boost the image of the industry, just like in any civil service set up.

Succinctly speaking, going by the laws setting up APCON, there are certain key decisions and regulatory approvals that cannot be taken or effected without a substantive chairman of council in place.

“APCON was established by the Advertising Practitioners act 55 of 1988, as amended by Act No. 93 of 1992 and Act No. 116 of 1993 (now Advertising Practitioners Registration Act Cap A7 of 2004).

“Specifically, the law specifies that APCON shall have a council consisting of a chairman who shall be a distinguished fellow of the profession to be appointed by the President; seven persons to be appointed by the Minister, one of whom shall be from the Ministry and others from among other interests in the field of advertising, which in the opinion of the Minister ought to be adequately represented,” he stated
He stated further that the acts also stipulates that ten persons are to be elected by the Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (in this Act referred to as “the Association”) in the manner for the time being provided by its constitution; and two persons to represent institutions of higher learning in Nigeria offering courses leading to an approved qualification, to be appointed by the Minister in rotation. He however pointed out that the two persons shall not come from the same institution.

Going by this provision, a former APCON Chairman and Group CEO of Prima Garnet Africa, Lolu Akinwunmi, emphasised that whoever that would become APCON chairman must be a registered practitioner and a fellow of the profession; not even a honorary fellow but a professional Fellow.
“The government appointees must come via the Minister for Information. The other members must come from the sectorial groups, with the AAAN supplying the majority,” Akinwummi said.

Stakeholders’ Concern
Now, that the law is being ignored by government by its failure to re-constitute the council, it is believed in some quarters that it is intentional since government has not indicated that it cannot find competent person among the marketing communications professionals in Nigeria to be appointed.

There is also the fear by some practitioners that government may be looking for someone within the advertising community that is pro-APC or a practitioner that is sympathetic to the current administration.
As the debate continues, some concerned stakeholders have blamed the Ministry of Information and Culture under whose purview APCON resides for negligence.

An industry analyst, Mr. Adekanmi Fadare, specifically heaped the blame on the current Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, for not taking active move to restore back the glory of the regulatory body.
“It is retrogressive and a slow poison for advertising community to remain without a council for close to four years, especially when the minister in charge is supposed to be a friend of the industry, considering his background as a communication person.

“We shouldn’t forget that Mr. Lai Muhammed started off as a communication person before venturing into politics. One would have expected him to champion the course of the industry by mounting pressure on the federal government about the implications for APCON not having a council.

“It is also sad that Mr. Muahmmed has not for once considered it important to explain to the Nigerian advertising community why the long impasse in the APCON council.

“I also share the believe of some practitioners that the delay in constituting the APCON council is as a result of fifth columnist within the industry who is working assiduously to frustrate the agitation.

“These are powerful individuals who also have close affinity with some persons in power. These individuals believe that APCON is too powerful and therefore need to be checkmated and reduced to just regulating the practice and vetting of advertisement materials before exposure, while the other professional affairs such as licensing, registration and membership should be left for a body like Nigerian Institute of Advertising Practitioners, just like the NIPR, NIMN, NIM among others,” Fadare stated.

As things stand, some industry players have called for the establishment of bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria ICAN and Nigeria Medical Association to determine who and who are advertising practitioners. They, however, expressed displeasure at any attempt to replace APCON with the institute. When this happens, they believe APCON can cede its professional functions including member registration and professional development roles to the body while it maintains its regulatory functions.

Another suggestion being pushed by some concerned members is that the status quo can be maintained but with proper education of government functionaries to respect the APCON law by appointing advertising practitioners to the council.

Those who believe in this have advised the government not see APCON as another patronising board appointment since it created the law that established APCON which requires appointment of advertising practitioners to the council.