Observers of the 2015 electioneering communications are concerned about the pedestrian, combative, and insensitive language and style of several campaigns which portend a grave danger for Nigeria’s democracy and security.
The activities of political parties, their agents, and the media also cast a dark cloud on the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) fifth Code of Advertising Practice gazetted by the federal government in early 2014.
The code is meant to sanitise the industry, create a strong local practice, promote local agencies against foreign incursion, as well as promote healthy competition and professionalism.
But professionalism has evaporated since the 2015 electioneering began in December last year.
This has taken place in the full glare of APCON, practitioners, and other stakeholders without restraint. Until Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, sponsored advertisements in some national newspapers which became the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Much of political communications, particularly in print media, have been based on hate, not issues.
The two main parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) – have been engaged in combative and insensitive campaign, portraying the advertising industry as arbitrarily managed.
Fayose’s wrap around advertorial on page one in Punch and The Sun last week drew full attention to the menace.
Former APCON Chairman, Lolu Akinwunmi, described the advertisement on his facebook page as “unconventional, shocking and controversial.”
Election is not complete without communication through advertisement on the electronic media, print, online, and outdoor. Political parties can also deploy advertorials beyond creative advertising.
Leap Communications Chief Executive Officer, Muyiwa Akintunde, noted that “it has been more of hate than issue-based campaign.
“The pull-him-down-syndrome remains an albatross to our politics and the public space is therefore beclouded by who is the worse sinner and not which candidate has a master plan.”
According to him, this applies to the two major political parties. In the end, the electorate is confused about what rational choice to make.
Absolute PR Lead Consultant, Akonte Ekine, also criticised the PDP and APC, saying: “The two campaigns are theoretical campaigns and no practicality in the message.
“I believe, at this point of our democracy, that parties should be stating clearly what they will do to save the country or states, not making vain statements like ‘I will end insurgency within 60 days’, ‘I will create jobs’.
“It should be ‘I will be doing XYZ that will ensure job creation’. Fundamentally, I am not seeing the practicality of the campaigns of the APC or PDP.”
What is happening in the marketing communication industry is not common in other sectors of the economy – telecommunication, banking, oil and gas, insurance and manufacturing.
The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) cannot watch telecommunication operators breaching the code of practice without sanctioning them. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would swiftly wield the big stick at any slightest error made by banks. An airline cannot risk negligence.
Marketing communication is the only arena where the practitioners are more powerful than the regulator. It was anticipated that the fifth code of practice would give APCON enough teeth to bite. But the situation remains the same.
APCON denied the knowledge of Fayose death wish advertisement. But how did it escape Advertising Standard Panel (ASP), an APCON body that vets advertisements?
The new code says an advertisement has to be vetted and approved by ASP before it is exposed. But over 90 per cent of political adverts so far have not been vetted.
The sources of the adverts are also suspect. Most are not created by professionals.
A practitioner who prefers anonymity said “it is either APCON is not doing its job or the law establishing it is weak.”
APCON charges for two types of vetting, express and normal. The inability of ASP to vet these materials has resulted in loss of an estimated N10 million to it.
Sources in APCON said the agency is helpless because “we are dealing with the government one side and the opposition on the other.”
Wielding the big stick
Stakeholders agree that this is time for APCON to act like its counterparts in aviation, banking, insurance, manufacturing, and telecommunication.
“The tendency by marketers (in this case, political candidates and their supporters) to abuse their freedom of speech and engage in spurious promotional campaigns that exploit consumers and the public and sometimes undermine societal harmony and wellbeing, necessitate the enactment and enforcement of various regulations to check the excesses of such marketers and protect the public from unsavoury effects of unwholesome communications,” APCON President, Bello Kankarofi said in a statement.
But APCON hardly barks, let alone bite.
By law, political parties and their supporters should
• Deal with issues (campaign manifestoes, promises, et cetera).
• Avoid negative reference to opponents; other than criticise policy.
• Avoid the use of foul or abusive language as well as false, distorted or unsubstantiated claims or misrepresentation of facts.
• Not exploit or incite ethnic, religious, or other sectional interests,
• Clearly identify the sponsors of advertisements. Anonymous or unidentifiable advertisers are not allowed to place advertisements in the media.
• Submit adverts to the ASP for approval before exposure.
However, Kankarofi lamented: “What we see today is a clear manifestation of mindless abuse of freedom of speech and flagrant breach of these regulations which, if unchecked, is capable of plunging our country into an orgy of violence and anarchy.”