The Managing Director, Lagos State Signage & Advertisement Agency, Adedamola Docemo, in this interview speaks about contending issues in the outdoor sector, especially as it relates to vacant board discount policy and proper engagement of stakeholders. Raheem Akingbolu presents the excerpts:
You came in as LASAA MD at a time the state government is deepening the mega city project, what are you bringing to the table as the manager of the state’s out-of-home sub-sector to build on the city’s aesthetics?
It is important to understand that Lagos State occupies an important position in outdoor advertising practice in Nigeria, having been in the lead by accounting for about 70 per cent of advertising spend and revenue in 2017 alone. You will also agree with me that the state is playing a critical role by pioneering technological advancement in many fronts; from the establishment of an autonomous agency for the control and regulation of advertising to the introduction of several innovative platforms for the growing community of advertisers in Nigeria. Lagos State is the commercial nerve centre and economic capital of Nigeria. Therefore, the quality of our visual communication and signage systems is critical to defining the emerging status as a mega city. In order to properly align with the vision of the State viz; the project T.H.E.M.E.S (an acronym for the administration’s six strategic development agenda namely; Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology,, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism as well as Security and Governance), and specifically the Environment regeneration Agenda of His Excellency, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, we are fully prepared to bring considerable improvements to the quality of advertising practice and display structures in our environment in line with global best practice and smart city initiative of the government. My agenda is to find a critical balance between helping the state government to attract investment to the outdoor adverting subsector and improving aesthetics and city architecture of Lagos State. In terms of the look and feel of the city, outdoor advertisement compliments the environment so much so that, it becomes a tourist attraction with the presence of iconic structures as you would find in other climes. So, to bring you back to the question, my plan is to align our agency’s policies and programmes with the administration’s agenda on one hand by ensuring that the environment is clean and devoid of visual blight by working with other relevant ministries and departments so as to create an enabling environment which is clean, safe and conducive for consistent growth and investment in the outdoor advertisement industry in Lagos State. As you may be aware, there are many outstanding projects which are currently being executed by the State. These include the recently commissioned LAGFERRY boats, Lagos Bus Services Limited, Lagos Rail Project and ongoing transformation in the transportation sector, urban renewal and other infrastructural development projects. As an agency of government saddled with the responsibility of controlling and regulating the operation of signages and advertsing billboards, we have identified the need to participate in the process of deepening the conversation around the SMART city concept where outdoor advertising plays a critical role. Yes, since we assumed office in the last quarter of 2019 we have made giant strides to reposition LASAA. We are making deliberate efforts to forge a new level of collaboration with all stakeholders by creating a win-win situation where investment will grow, business will thrive and the economy will experience a quantum leap within the shortest time possible. Under my leadership in LASAA, we are introducing corporate governance to ensure transparency and accountability. In order to increase our contribution to the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR in the State, we must devise smarter ways of doing business, adopt a seamless operation through the use of ICT which will improve efficiency in the entire business process. In this dispensation, I expect practitioners and partners to conduct their businesses with a mindset of a smarter future. What do I mean by a smarter future? This is the future where we see billboards doing much more than just expressing a brand. I want to see super structures and iconic platforms that will be controlled from the remote location of our offices; and a smarter future where billboards will form part of the architecture of a smart city.
With considerable experience and my background in outdoor advertising technologies, I want to encourage investment in outdoor advertising where billboards will not only display brands but also carry out diverse functionalities like collecting data, supporting intelligence for the industry on traffic count, audience measurement, as well as the security architecture. Internally, we are already implementing a process review and general upgrade of our information management system. The LASAA you will see under my watch will exhibit considerable improvement in operational efficiency, ease of doing business, automation and optimization of our revenue collection process while employing smarter ways to monitor advertising structures remotely for enforcing compliance. We have embarked on a transformational journey and I have the confidence that with a robust team of experienced and capable professionals that we have at LASAA, and the support that we enjoy from His Excellency, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, the agency will soon become one of the preferred places to work in Nigeria, as a whole.
During electioneering campaign, LASAA was always in the news for bad reasons, as agency that operates double standard in favour of the ruling party, how do you think this can be avoided as we move towards another election era?
I would like to state clearly that LASAA is a non-partisan institution. We do not take sides when it comes to political matters; we are neutral. It is unfortunate that some politicians, and of course, the general public have misconceived our operations as we do not operate double standards. What we are saying is that, we do not want our public walls defaced because LASAA spends a lot of resources to clean them up. We must play by the rules, otherwise our city will be defaced and suffer greatly after every election. Well, I am quite aware that during the last elections, LASAA tried in so many ways to create a level playing field for all political parties, but, unfortunately our political players often display flagrant disobedience to established norms. Going forward, we would ensure there is adequate engagement to ensure that political parties adhere to the guidelines released by the agency. I am quite aware that before the last elections, Mr. Governor demonstrated his willingness to participate in a fair process when his campaign organisation wrote formally to our agency to request for approval to deploy election campaign materials across the state. This has always been our stance. I must also say to you that, I saw records of Mr. Bankole Wellington (Banky W) requesting for same approval from LASAA to deploy campaign materials for his legislative office campaign, and this was not denied likewise other political parties. The truth is that we all need to work together to change the narrative by aligning with the process so as to ensure that when laws and guidelines are established, we agree together that the guidelines are workable and we will go through the process together. When we do that, we will have a safer and orderly election process. So, we will guide against the pitfalls we had in the last election periods by also working closely with INEC and LASIEC to ensure that we have an itch-free election campaigns in Lagos State. Before we have the next election campaigns in 2023, the agency will organise a Town Hall meeting in conjunction with INEC/ LASIEC and with all registered political parties so that we can sign a memorandum of understanding on the need to register all political advertisement displays because the agency operates on enabling Laws. We are also going to increase our designated locations across the state where only posters will be allowed, the truth is that even when we remove posters for the ruling party, we are called names by the opposition. As citizens and stakeholders of this state, we must have conversations on how to do it better. Furthermore, we will ensure that the public and political associations are well informed to comply with the law through the media via radio jingles, television and the newspapers. This way, no one will be seen pasting posters anyhow in Lagos and there will be enforcement of this Law. We will ensure that all political are made to pay a certain amount to be used for removing all their posters at those designated points at the end of the election. You will recall that the Governor’s campaign organisation through the volunteers joined LASAA in cleaning up the city immediately after the last election. This is quite commendable.
LASAA and OAAN are major stakeholders in the industry, but in Lagos, they are always at loggerheads, what should we expect from you?
Rather than say loggerheads I will choose to say poor engagement. During my tenure, I will ensure that there are quarterly meetings between LASAA and OAAN to strengthen and deepen relationship between both bodies. Few weeks ago, we met with the OAAN Executives who came on a courtesy visit and we had very constructive discussions and moving forward from that, we have set up the OAAN/ LASAA committee to ensure that we have regular parleys so that we can constantly discuss issues that affect the growth of the sector. Although both organisations have obligations that must be carried out mutually; we are ever willing to listen to their agitations or concerns. Sometimes it is not unusual to look at issues from our individual perspective but three things have now been fully established; and they are standards, innovation and debt management. These issues will be our focus in subsequent meetings.
The issue of vacant boards and rates has remained in the front burner for many years, with OAAN calling for rate reduction in view of vacant boards that litter the city, what is your stand?
Part of the handover notes I got was clear and explicit on the recent rate reduction the agency gave to members of outdoor advertising industry in Lagos State, that is, owners of billboard both OAAN and non-OAAN members. My stand is that, we will look at the vacant board discount policy and possibly fine-tune it for better clarity. I am aware my predecessor gave discounts of varying degrees to outdoor advertising practitioners in the last two years, we are currently reviewing documents so as to give succor to all. In essence, LASAA is not out to kill any business; rather we want to support our investors by providing enabling environment. Outdoor advertising business is not insulated from what is happening around the world; the business has experienced a bit of downturn. Of course, Nigeria experienced some level of recession recently and this cascaded to every sector in the country. But, more importantly, the issue of debt and prompt payment for services rendered must be encouraged. Our agency will take the conversation further by engaging other sectoral bodies like AAAN, MIPAN and ADVAN and agree on a workable roadmap for moving the industry forward. On the issue of vacant boards, there are conversations going on at the moment. If a board is vacant, LASAA will play its role by ensuring that value is given back to the industry; value in the sense that, we will create a demand and supply system that will work for the industry. We are not denying the fact that we have our revenue objective, but we will ensure that our interest does not jeopardise the value derivable from the industry. So, we will have engagements with OAAN. By this, I mean, practitioners must also be ready to let go of some billboard structures that are not yielding dividends, rather than to continue to incur debts. They must be ready to embrace the future decisively, cut their losses by doing away with selfish business ideas. To achieve this, we must continue to engage and encourage outdoor advertising practitioners to look at their business model, look at their indebtedness to our agency and take strategic business decisions to move my business forward. I can assure you that even though we gave some discount on our rates in the last one or two years, we will look at vacant board discount issue again and we will establish a standard process for claiming discounts on such boards in future.
There was an allegation against your predecessor that the agency allocated sites in juicy areas to a foreign agency under his watch, will you revisit the issue?
I am sure there was an ongoing discussion about it before I assumed office which must have been settled. I think there is a bit of misinformation out there about allocation of sites to a foreign company, but in answering the question properly, it is important that we find more information about the foreign company and what role they are here to play. The truth is that the last administration entered into an agreement with JCDecaux so as to attract foreign direct investment. There is no doubt that such foreign investment will drive growth by stimulating the economy, and local companies must be open to it and be ready to compete. While I agree that foreign investors must play within the ambit of the law, the state government must also be seen to have respect for contractual agreement. As local players, we need to step-up our game and be ready to compete with global operators. This can be achieved through mergers and acquisitions so as to produce a stronger, bigger and more formidable business operation.
To many people out there, LASAA thinks more of revenue generation than growth of outdoor industry, what measure are you putting in place to change this perception?
The primary function of LASAA is to regulate and control outdoor advertising structures in the State so that signs are not haphazardly displayed, and when erected, they do not constitute dangers to lives and properties. We also want to ensure that Light Emitting Diodes (LED) do not cause visual blights to members of the public. As we carry out our regulatory functions, we are expected on the other hand to generate revenue for the Government. The amount payable to Government is to cover lease of land and right of way, approval process as well as both capital and recurrent expenditure of the agency. This is the practice all over the world, and Lagos is not an exception. As part of our CSR initiative, LASAA engages in corporate philanthropy by means of sponsoring events we believe promote social causes like breast cancer, walk against domestic violence, sporting events etc. by giving discounts or sometimes wave applicable fees completely for the display of advertising materials. We have some of these campaigns displaying at different locations in the state. This is part of how we give back to the community. It may interest you to know that for every approval, the agency gives a moratorium of between one and three months to develop the structure without making any payment. As regulators, we must always find a balance between regulation and revenue and I think it is important for practitioners to make our job easier by paying amount due based on approvals. The problems of debt are associated with permanent structures and as a responsible organ of government, we would like to resolve this permanently. That is why we are engaging all practitioners either directly or indirectly through OAAN to fulfil their obligations so as to avoid possible enforcement. Unlike permanent structures, approval for tactical or temporary advertising is given on PAY AS YOU GO basis. These days, outdoor advertising is highly dynamic; there is activation, experiential marketing, mobile advert etc. and we need to be both creative and innovative in order to survive the onslaught from both social and digital media. I feel that my coming will be a wake-up call to many practitioners who have refused to think about the future, think smarter and think better about their businesses. For us at LASAA, we are focused and determined to give the needed support for the growth of the sector, and I have no doubt in my mind that this is achievable with the cooperation of the members of the outdoor advertising industry and the public. Very soon, we will initiate an annual award night for practitioners wherein the best advertising practitioner in Lagos will be honoured based on certain criteria like the best innovative advertising structure, full payment of outstanding bills and compliance with rules and regulations. As I have mentioned earlier, there will be a quarterly parley and annual stakeholders’ meeting between the agency, OAAN and other relevant sectoral bodies in the industry. This, no doubt enhances cordial relationship, boost confidence, attract further investment, reposition the sector and grow the advertisement industry in Lagos State.