Sam Loco Smith: I Made the Best of a Bad Situation

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Growing up, it seemed little Sam Loco Smith was never going to make headway in life due to the circumstance he was surrounded by but he never allowed it to weigh him down. With an unwavering determination and support from a loving mother, he forged on. Today, Smith who wears many caps as a journalist, public relations expert, author and communication consultant, holds a Ph.D in Mass Communications and has written widely on political advertising, a topic that does not enjoy as much documented materials as other fields. In this interview with MARY NNAH he talked about his challenges during his growing up days, achievements and most importantly his recent books

You recently presented two books to the public- Political Advertising in Nigeria and My Stella…One In A Million. Can you talk about the inspiration behind them?

The book ‘Political advertising-creativity, intrigue and electoral outcome’ was inspired by the very chronic scarcity of books on political adverts in Nigeria. There are several books on advertising profession and journal articles on political advertising, but you will hardly find any book on political advertising in Nigeria. You can check all the best and the biggest bookshops in Nigeria, I can tell you that you may not see any book on what transpired during Nigeria`s political advertising space which dates
back to 1958/59 through 2019.

So, basically the book on political advertising in Nigeria is an attempt at chronicling and documenting what transpired within Nigeria`s political advertising space
from 1958-2019. I must confess here that because of the content it is rich in information about the trajectory of

political advertising in Nigeria from the First Republic era to the epochal 2015 presidential elections in which the ruling party lost power for the first time. It also offers a critical perspective from the industry experts and governmental regulating agencies in political broadcast advertising guidelines and codes. It is an attempt at bridging the gap or a diagnostic prescription to the scarcity of books on political advertising in Nigeria.

The book is a 592 -page book that provides or answers the question of what transpired in Nigeria pre-elections activity from 1929, 1959, 1979, 1983, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011,
2015 and 2019. It also reveals experts’ perception on the subject matter and equally provides answers to the number of newspaper political adverts that were placed ahead of the 2015 and 2019 General Elections. In addition the book gives answers to what government regulatory agencies like the APCON, NBC, and LASSA did before, during and after the general election. The intensive research work took about six good years.

The second book, My Stella…One in a Million is also an attempt to chronicle the life of a patriotic and sacrificial Nigerian, wife, mother, a friend indeed, someone you can count on particularly at the most critical moment and also her research works as a scientific researcher.

“My Stella…One in a Million”, also x-rays her orientation, watertight relationship with the mother, waiting for the cry of a baby, trials, acts of victimisation, maltreatment, backstabbing; her determination, persistence, firmness and total trust in God.

The whole idea of writing the book is also to document what Stella has done over the years and she has been a blessing to humanity. This September makes us 28 years in marriage. In October last year, Stella brought honour to the Institute where she works as a Convener of the first ever Humboldt Kolleg in a Research Institute which saw the gathering of prominent scholars for three days with over 130 participants in attendance out of which 25 were Humboldtians.

In addition, in the bid to impact knowledge Stella has consistently held Molecular Biology hands-on- training workshops from 2009 to 2019. A visit to her lab is evidence of an extremely hard working lady. In addition, from her grants/ contacts she has sent a reasonable number of her PhD students to Germany, Ivory Coast and
Senegal. From her grants she has also carried out extensive renovation of her lab over the years. Stella is a star and she is completely different. You cannot come in contact with Stella and remain the same.

As a Public Relation expert, how would you describe the impact of political advertising on the average Nigerian vote?

The essence of any political advertising campaign is the fact that it gives the voter or the electorate the right to choose a politician or political party to vote for or against. Another factor that will influence the voting judgment or where the pendulum will swing to is the mass media tools deployed in creating the exposure and visibility of the political party ideologies and political manifestos.

In Nigeria, political advertising campaign has become not only part of the constitutional electoral act but cultural phenomena in which Nigeria and particularly politicians,
political parties and their support groups also look forward to, since the use of the popular “Daisy Girl” a sixty second political advert ahead of the 1964, United States of America presidential election which gave president Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Berry Goldwater.

The use of political advertising campaigns has witnessed various transformations from analogue political advertising approach to what could be regarded as a digital/social
media political advertising campaign strategy.

In the 1959 parliamentary elections in Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo applied a more advanced and probably scientific political advertising campaign strategy; although he did not win that election, he certainly made a very loud and strong statement in the place of strategic and innovative political campaign strategies
with the sky- writing concept even at that time. That was the Action Group’s (AG) political advertising campaign fulcrum which revolved around-immediate
termination of British Rule in every phase of the political life of the people, education of all children of school age and general enlightenment of all; provision of health and general welfare for all the people and total abolition
of want in the society through the variable economic policies.

Also ahead of the 1979 General Election, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political advertising campaign philosophy under the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), revolved around the popular four cardinal programme which included: Free education at all levels; integrated rural development; the provision of free health service and full employment for all Nigerians.

Another political advertising campaign slogan that had a direct link with the people’s desire was that of Chief MKO Abiola “Hope 93” and “Farewell to Poverty” particularly the radio and TV jingles.

The radio and TV jingles had melodious lyrics like ‘na wa for this life o, na so so palava, I tire for this problem, I tire for life oh” another was MKO, MKO, MKO!!! Action! Abiola, Abiola, Abiola!!!!, Progress!. There was also the 8 pm – 9 pm MKO vs Tofa live presidential debate on NTA Channel 10, in which Nigerians were glued to their
TV station from the beginning of the debate to the very end.

We also had the President Goodluck Jonathan’s political advertising campaign slogan, “We need a breath of fresh air” and “I had no shoes to wear?”

In 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari came with “Change” and “Change” became a greeting language as against “Good morning”. And in 2019 it was “Next Level”. For the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar the 2019 political advertising campaign slogan was anchored on, “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again” this slogan was supported with a strong political advertising theme song, “Articulated”.

Looking at the development of political advertising from pre-independence till now, has it impacted the country’s democratic growth?

One of the major pre-electoral activities before any major elections is the lifting of the ban on political advertising campaigns. That automatically validated the potency of
political advertising in our electoral system and globally.

Political advertising is very important and has contributed phenomenally and astronomically to the country’s democratic growth that is one of the first things that must be done before the election itself. Political advertising is about communication, information, education, visibility, exposure, understanding, acceptance, rejection, making a choice between several choices.

If you don’t embark on a political advertising campaign using the right mass media tools and strategies it is simply a walkover for the other party and politician.

Ahead of the 2015 General Election, Nigeria saw a keenly contested type of political advertising campaign like no other in the annals of the nation’s history. 2019 was fair and not comparable to that of 2015. However, 2015 and 2019 saw the development of
multiple intense political advertising campaign tools-outdoors, posters, branded
bridge, street lamp poles, A- frames, hat boxes, branded cars, buses and
vehicles, branded bus shelter, t-shirts, face and hand bandies etc. All these
and other pre-election activities contribute immensely to Nigeria`s democratic
growth because without political advertising, elections will not be colorful, it
will be boring and very dry. It is the icing on the cake of every election.

Is there any nexus between political advertising and election rigging?

There is no link or connection between the two subject matters. Basically political advertising is about the application and the use of various mass media tools, newspaper adverts, billboards, flyers, radio, branded vehicles and any other means of mass communication tools/media for the purpose of appealing, influencing,
seeking support, adverts all in bid towards securing the vote of the electorates.

On the other hand, election rigging is simply about electoral fraud, manipulation and winning by any means. It is an unauthorized or illegal interference.

The election rigging revolves around manipulation of demography, disenfranchisement, intimidation, attack on polling booths, coercion, vote buying, hijacking of electoral
materials, snatching of ballot boxes, incumbency and control of state
securities instruments, political grassroots structure, market association,
National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). The purposes, objective and
goal of any political advertising and election rigging are completely miles
apart. There is no nexus between the two. It will remain so because of the
strong merits over the demerit and don’t forget the fact that it’s a global phenomenon.

Tell us a bit about your growing up days?

I was born in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State but I am from Nnung Uso Ekon, Usung Inyang Eket, Akwa Ibom State. I am a mummy’s boy. This was a sequel to a disturbing and frightening scenario when my mom’s twins (boy and girl) were mysteriously killed on the same day.

After that horrifying incident she was without a child for many years but she
made a request to God and God granted that request, God Almighty gave me to
her. And she and my father named me SAMUEL (EBENGHE) ABASI. Shortly after, we
moved to Lagos and some years after the civil war, my dad decided that all his
children will relocate to Eket, but my mother strongly objected to that
decision. Her argument was that she did not want any harm to befall me considering
what happened to her years back.

So it was Chief Bryson Etukudoh, my uncle, who convinced my mother under the condition that no harm will befall me in Eket. Few years after we settled in Eket, I started appreciating why my mother never wanted me to come down to Eket. After about two years in Eket, most of those staying with us at 3 Hospital Road left the
house.

After the sudden departure of my dad’s relations and cook, I now became a houseboy in my father’s house. I was now responsible for doing what five to seven people used to do
daily. It was an experience I will never forget. I must confess that I learnt a lot about domestic work. What I was exposed to at a very tender age helped me till date.

It was in Eket I confirmed that God speaks to certain people but not everybody. It was in Eket I knew what it meant to be miles away from your mother. I will never forget the
years I stayed in Eket. Any time I visit Eket the video rolls back. It was a
very interesting experience.

Who influenced you the most? Your mother or your father?

My mother, as she was responsible for paying my school fees at the most critical period when my father was conditioned to stop my school fees of N23.50.

How come you have lots of qualifications and academic degrees?

That is what God can do. That is one of the by-products of my Eket experience. So in reaction to that I promised God, my mother, Chief Bryson and any other person that I will read to the zenith of education. Honestly I discovered that after Ph.D, that is when reading and studying actually starts. So I am still reading and studying. The product of
that decision is the books-“Political advertising In Nigeria creativity Intrigue and electoral outcome and My Stella …One in a Million”. So, I made the best of a bad situation.

How did you meet your wife?

We are members of the same Church, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM). I saw her for the first time at the closing of the Kingdom Life World Conference (KLWC) 91. We have been married for 28 years now.

What makes her special?

At the most critical period, you can count on her. She is wonderfully patriotic and sacrificial.

Against all odds, she remains a star. A good wife, a mother and unbelievably
kind hearted.

What lesson has life taught you?

Put your trust in God at all times because at the most critical period the best of men will fail you.

You appear so fashionable. What influences your sense of fashion, especially the choice of your perfumes?

I like perfumes. I just put on what I think is attractive to my eyes and complexion. I don’t know any design.

What’s your most memorable moment?

Historical moment was when my wife got delivered of a baby boy after close to 13 years and also when I defended my PhD thesis and was pronounced a doctorate degree holder to the glory of God.

My most embarrassing moment was when a brother of mine, asked the most senior member of the family not to stand up to give testimony about my mom during the burial of my mother right in front of people and when I was not given an offer of appointment
because I had HND and so I had to go back to school to read for my BSc.

Who are your role models?

Bishop Mike Okonkwo, Rev. Uma Ukpai, Dr. DK Olukoya (my wife’s Egbon), Prof. Ike Ndolo and Dr. Bel Molokwu are my role models.