Dada: Politicians Abusing Advertising Rules on Political Campaigns

Mike Dada

The Managing Director, PRM Africa Marketing and Communications Limited, Mike Dada, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, condemns the way Nigerian politicians have been flouting basic advertising rules since the electioneering campaign commenced, calling on regulatory bodies to be more assertive in the future

How would you assess the political space in Nigeria as it regards electioneering campaign in the last few months?
There is no doubt that during electioneering process, some of the key elements of elections are voters’ education, political marketing for the candidates and of course media management through the process. This is important because candidate needs to market and communicate their programs, messages, ideas and party ideologies to the electorates. And as such, the discipline or the practice of political marketing profession will come into bear.

Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), rolled out the calendar over a year ago, there has been planning and strategic meetings by various political parties and their candidates on how best to educate and engage the voters. Be that as it may, a lot of things have happened in-between in an attempt to deplore and execute these political campaign successfully or otherwise. Of course, the success or failure of such move can be measured today by what has been achieved thus far through the kind of confusion or cacophony that have been created through different communication platforms. It will be apposite at this point to use two or three states as case study in analyzing this, while I will also look at the build up to the Presidential and National Assembly elections that was concluded over a week ago. As professionals in the field of marketing and Public Relations, a few of us have had to sit down and study the trend and concluded that it would take a miracle for some candidates to win because of the nature of campaigns they run and the counter campaign deplored by their opponents to counter whatever strategy they tend to execute. For instance, the other party that lost the presidential election, in my opinion could have done better in terms of the strength and scope of its campaigns. I was privileged to be in many states while the campaign lasted and I saw that one party was more prevalent in terms of brand awareness, presence and strength. One was stronger than the other. Political marketing is both Science and Arts and so the level of awareness, affinity with potential voters and engagement can be measured. Through their campaign mantra; ‘Let’s get Nigeria Working Again’ and ‘Move to The Next Level’, one can also measure which one resonates more with the people. Coming to the state, we also found out that many politicians have not imbibed the idea of engaging professionals to undertake their political marketing strategies and execution. Many politicians are still at that crude method of inviting their family and friends to put things on posters without necessarily dissecting and developing deliberately a political marketing strategy for the brand of the politician. It is also impressive that some have raised the bar by engaging professionals, who execute their campaigns and it shows in the way they approach the public.

In Lagos for instance, politicians like Bola Tinubu, Raji Fashola, Jimi Agbaje, Akinwumi Ambode and Babajide Sanwo-Olu have all worked in this direction. For these set of politicians, one easily sees some levels of sophistication and uniqueness in the way their campaigns were conceptualized and executed. Handling campaigns professionally was also noticeable in the way the young presidential candidates like; Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye and Omoyele Sowore deplored their strategies. They all leveraged on many platforms, especially digital media to connect with the public. Though they got minimal votes but their messages were clear and directed at the right audience. Unfortunately, running a campaign professionally is just a factor to win election in this part of the world because party structure and funding play bigger roles. What all these have thought us is that political campaign in Nigeria has improved over what it used to be but it can get better when it is compared with what is obtainable in the advanced world.

Every election year, Nigerians are bombarded with a debased environment as a result of indiscriminate placement of posters by politicians. Are there no ways through which this can be done professionally?

I quite agree with you that the streets were littered with posters during the build up to the elections but it is not as a result of not having environmental laws in place to guide such conduct. In fact, some states move a bit further by having state-owned outdoor regulatory agencies under which issues like these are addressed. A good example is Lagos State that established Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) and in the last 10 years, the agency has consistently insisted that rules and regulations guiding placement of posters should be followed. The essence of this is to maintain some level of sanity in the state to avoid tacky environment that will not appeal to the eyes. The major problem is that some states are not enforcing the laws objectively and this often leads to criticism from other parties and other stakeholders. Let’s take Ogun State for example, in the last few months; candidates of other political parties have had to cry out that the ruling party in the state was allegedly not providing a level playing field for all politicians, in the area of deploring campaign materials.

These set of politicians allegedly believe that government of Ogun State was blocking them from displaying their campaign materials so that they would not compete with their candidates. I have only used Ogun State as a case study but truth is that that is what is obtainable in almost all the states because some of our government officials rarely act objectively in Nigeria. Politicians are the problem, especially those already in the office, who will want to stifle oppositions and deny them the opportunity of having access to public platforms and even state own media houses. Moving forward, I think the National Broadcasting Commission should be harder in its approach to regulation of the state-owned radio and television stations to create a level playing field for all politicians regardless of parties. The bottom line is that the laws are existing but the problem has always been in the area of enforcement and abuse of office by politicians who always want to take it all. If the regulators are firm and the take-it-all mentality is discouraged, then things will be in order.

Are you saying enforcement was weak during the build up to the elections?

To some extent, it was weak but beyond that I think the politicians too didn’t play it responsibly. There is impunity everywhere and this is arm-twisting the regulators. In the quest of competing and battling for the hearts of the electorates, the environment suffers and this is very dangerous for our image. I say this because if foreigners enter any of the Nigerian cities during election, they will think we are living in the jungle and this is bad for our international rating. In other climes, there are rules that guide all these but we abuse it here. At this stage, Nigeria as a nation should be thinking more about building and respecting institutions and not personalities. Over the years, we have been contending with weak institutions but strong personalities and this is not good for the polity.

In this election year, deploring of A-Frame structures on major streets becomes more pronounced than previous years. As one of the early promoters of this system of advertising, how will you rate the quality of those structures?

Like you have rightly said, our firm, PRM Africa has been credited for pioneering the use of A-Frame on the major roads as a form of exposing advert contents for political marketing. Why did we do that? I’m sure that will be the next question but the truth is that as at the time we did as part of the execution platforms for the political campaign of the incumbent governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode then 2014/2015, we wanted to raise the bar and create a unique platform that would better sell our client. We realized that there was huge vehicular and human traffic in Lagos and we wanted to leverage it. We wanted to take the advantage and create huge top of mind awareness for the candidate who possess many unique qualities that were unknown to the people at that time, where it would be in the faces of the people by placing the A-Frame in the median of many roads in Lagos. We started with Ambode and replicated same during the Lagos at 50 celebration and for other candidates in other states and other cities in Africa. Let me quickly add here that before we embarked on the campaign, we got necessary approval from LASAA and we played by the rules all through. Coming to the question of whether the structures out now meet the standard or not, the rules of professional conduct will not allow me to do that. Besides, it will be arrogant and unfair to start commenting or running down the contents or works of other professionals. It is the client and the voters who are the target that can determine whether they are okay or not. Having said that, I think what differentiates one platform from the other is the content and the message and how far they resonate with the public or prefer solutions to the communication challenges. For it not to be abused too, I think in future, it may be regulated by government.

What was the feedback your agency get when A-Frame was first deplored as a political marketing strategy?

The feedback was positive, especially on the part of our client, his party and the electorates. As at the time we used it in 2014, Ambode, though an accomplished professional and public officer, was relatively known in the political space and he had a Jimi Agbaje that already had certain level of brand equity. Besides, the outgoing governor then, Mr. Raji Fashola was equally a popular person. With that, we had an outgoing governor who was popular, we have an opposing candidate who was popular and we needed to differentiate Ambode and register his brand in the minds of Lagosians where necessary in Lagos. We felt that the first thing to do was to create a top of the mind awareness before moving to the next level of building the brand and that informed the use of A-Frame structures as an outdoor platform. Of course, we also leveraged other platforms like the radio, television, digital and billboard but we were excited more about A-Frame because of the feedback we got afterwards. For instance, I still remember that some top industry players, including a former President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), Mr. Chido Nwakanma wrote articles to commend the A-Frame platform.