The judgement of the Federal High Court of Justice Ibrahim Buba, in the suit instituted by the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) against a French company, JC Decaux over its illegal practice in the Out Of Home (OOH) advertising sector may have set the standard for all practitioners to henceforth operate by the rules.
The French company reputed to be one of the biggest in the world in OOH recently launched its operation in Lagos without any registration with the regulating authority for advertising practice in the country: Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and was not also known to the body supervising the sector, OAAN. This was the basis for OAAN to approach the court to question the existence of JC Decaux which incidentally will not be the first foreign company to enter the industry in the country. Before the arrival of the French outfit, others such as Global Outdoor System and Prime Media, have been practicing and adhered strictly to the laws as stipulated by instruments setting up APCON and by extension OAAN.
Members of OAAN who have been practitioners in the industry for decades who spoke on this issue questioned the audacity of JC Decaux, who in spite of being a global player in the industry, abused the laws, trampled on the rights of Nigerians, what no Nigerian company could have done and escaped the wrath of the law in France.
OAAN President, Mr. Tunde Adedoyin said: “There is always a procedure for anything you want to do in life. What we have been saying is they can enter this market but they must follow a due process like any other person. They should not take advantage of either the government or just rubbish our policies.
“ You cannot go to France and bypass their laws to start doing business. So, if they cannot do that there they shouldn’t do it here. That is our position. I can tell you that this is not the first time a foreign outdoor company will come to Nigeria. We have Global Outdoor System, Prime Media also. They came in properly, observed all the rules and regulations. So, we see no reason why JC Decaux should do otherwise. They should follow due process. In the court of law, they asked for more time to go and change the name but they were refused. That strengthens our position. We are not saying they cannot come in but they must do the needful.
“As I said earlier, whoever is coming must follow the law. That is what OAAN is saying and our position has not changed and the court has affirmed it. I don’t want to focus on whether we are being strengthened or not.
“The truth must be said. For them to even have started put- ting boards everywhere it means some powerful people must have been behind them. I’m not very clear on who exactly is supporting them, probably the Lagos State government is also backing them. I am not sure. Otherwise, there is no reason why LASSA would give them approval for space to erect their boards. They ought to have checked all their papers to ensure that they have fulfilled all righteousness which I think they did not.
The Vice President of the association, Mr. Emmanuel Ajufo, further reinforced this position adding; “We are hoping that someone will see reason and see that the intention is not to fight JC Decaux but to ask them to do what is right, and I think the government should support us for that. So we do not expect any backlash.
“You will recall that a few years back we made a reform that created two ways of becoming an Outdoor practitioner i.e. through the secretariat body or standing alone, so all the ones that are not our members have been taken to APCON.
“APCON in their own way has also done a few things. Last year, they were effective in trying to visit companies in order to regularize them including those you are talking about but a lot of them are briefcase owners whose addresses we don’t know, we just see their boards out there.
“So, a few times, APCON has posted some removal notices on their boards and have also written to the media buyers telling them to not deal with people who are not certified. So we are taking all of them together not just JC Decaux. “JC Decaux is being addressed in this manner because we feel they were not even properly registered as a company before coming to the
Nigerian OOH sector.”
Ajufo also dismissed the claims that the indigenous operators cannot meet the standards of the foreign firms in the sector saying: “If you cast your mind back, when Global Outdoor came, it was as if they were going to take over the entire industry, but now we are operating in the same market and at the same level.
“I really do not see any new thing that JC Decaux has brought in that our people have not done here. I think the undue advantage they have is coming from seemingly powerful people but when the playing ground is level we will now see how far they can go. But I really do not see anything different than they are bringing, we have had LEDs before they came.”
“As I said, we are not afraid of them coming in, we are saying they should come legally. If you must come into our country, obey the laws of the land. I hope that with what they have seen, before they come back they will try to perfect their papers.
“To that extent, I believe we have sent the right signals and I hope that JC Decaux is also doing theirs because we will continue to talk about it until they have. We are happy that the court saw what we saw and also that the truth is constant.”
Apart from JC Decaux, the judgment is also seen as a way of strengthening the role of OAAN in checking the activities of other firms operating illegally within the sector simply because they have one link or the other to those in government.
According to Ajufo, “It’s the rat inside that will show the one outside how to come in. I cannot take-off from here and go to France to open a shop if I do not have people there to back me up. So, to that extent, I can say that there is a reasonable ground to suggest that they have some backings. But we are saying that regardless of the backings they have, they should do things properly.”
The General Secretary of OAAN, Mr. Femi Ogala also agreed with the views of his colleagues on the issue of JC Decaux ‘s entry into the sector without any regard to due diligence as enshrined in the laws governing the operators in the sector.
“There are laws about how a company can come to practice in Nigeria and we’re not against anybody practicing in Nigeria, all we are saying is follow the law. And again, the government does not also have to give them preferences over us. We have other foreign companies here who are practicing, who are even members of OAAN.
“We have PRIMEDIA, we have GLOBAL OUTDOOR, they are with us, and when they came in, they never got any preferential treatment, they came the right way and they joined the association, and they are practicing without any problem. On the JC Decaux issue, why we are against them is because they came in on the back of some powers that be in Government. That is why sites that had been given to our members before were revoked and now given to them. The laws that stipulated the required distances between two billboards have been relaxed for them. The main issue is the fact that they are not properly registered; the law says for you to practice advertising in Nigeria, you must be registered with OAAN or APCON. But they do not belong to either of the two. So, why should they come in and start practicing? One would have expected APCON to act on it. “We cannot go to France and do that anyway because they respect their laws and when people have been put in charge of certain things, you should be able to take authority and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not wait for anybody to come and instruct you, that’s what we expect APCON
to do, that’s why they are there. “We know they must have some-
one high up in government because for you to have an approval on some of the routes allocated to them, It must take more skills. Some of such locations had been denied Nigerian companies before now.
“Here is a company that does not even have the Federal Ministry of Works approval. Before you can do most of those things, the law says you must have the owner’s consent, the owner of that road is not Lagos State Government, it’s Federal Ministry, the Federal Government. Before you can put anything on that road, you need to approach the Federal Ministry and get an approval.
“This matter started, initially like a rumor. We wanted to have concrete evidence, we tried to get pieces of evidence from LASSA, and nobody was willing to give us. It was like a rumor until they started construction, so when we approached APCON, it was not forthcoming either. That was during the tenure of Alhaji Garba Kankarofi. We met him on a number of occasions on this issue, that ‘’you cannot be here and this thing is happening’’. Since he left, we’ve written to APCON several letters on this matter, and when we also found out, that they were not willing to do anything, that was when we decided to go to court. If APCON had acted by the powers vested in them, we would not have the need to go to court. Our going to court was also to compel APCON to act because in the case against JC DECAUX, we also joined APCON so that they can act.”
They went to Ghana, and they also tried what they are doing here, by going through Government, and were told, if you want to come and invest here, we want you, but this is not the kind of investment we are looking for. Our people are already doing this one, if it’s billboard you want to come and do here, that’s not what we want, come and do proper investment. If you want us to give you areas where you can invest, we’ll tell you where and where we need your investments, not to come and put billboards here’’ and that was how they were denied. They will want to ride on the back of the Government saying they will build bus stops, they will build toilets, they will build this, they will build that. That’s what they’ll come to do, that’s what they’ll do, and Nigeria being the kind of country we are will allow them, offering so many things they say they will do, which indigenous operators can do.”
A strong voice in the Outdoor Advertising sector and the Chief Executive of one of the oldest firms in the sector, Mrs. Ify Onukwuba of Nigeria Advertising Service (NAS) painted a gloomy picture of deliberate attempt by government operatives to kill the Nigerians companies in the sector where Nigerian are employed when there is no alternative employment yet they are being offered by the foreign firms given the open invitation to invade the industry.
“The government makes it easy for them to come in, they encourage them. That is what baffles me about this country; we are a very peculiar nation. They push us to the wall and we still survive because we are hard people.
If only the government can encourage us the same way they encourage foreigners coming in, we would do much better than we are currently doing.
“We run on generators from morning till night and we fuel these generators using part of our profits and earnings. At the end of the day, it is all on our rate because the client will underpay you so much and you will just accept it because you do not want your board to be vacant.
“Meanwhile you are fuelling the generators, paying salaries and you are not considering these. All you want is for something to come in. At the end of the day, you are just feeding yourself because that is the only expense you can afford. Whereas the government encourages foreigners to come in because of what they are going to gain from it, they relax the conditions for them, grant them waivers and give the preferential treatments not extended to Nigerians. JC Decaux went to Ghana, why are they not there?
“They have driven away from that place. So, how come we are opening up our doors to them? It is you and I that would give them information on how to come in and how to circumvent our laws.
“They come in and thrive better than us. Even within OAAN, we have people who sell out just because they want favors from either the government or the visiting agents. They give them the secret on how to survive.
“On OAAN, it was a major victory but then are we going to maximize it?” All I pray is that we maximize this victory. We cannot do it alone; we need everybody to help us. Today I might be in outdoor advertising, tomorrow you never can tell where one will be. So, this fight is not just for now but also for the future. But Nigerians can be very short-sighted, we want whatever we are doing to be for today not thinking about our children and tomorrow. We should not limit it to today. Because we are selling the future of our children.
The government is the one encouraging them to come in. We are the ones opening our doors and giving them secrets to circumvent our laws. They could not have gone to Ghana without an invitation from somebody but the association there rose up, met the government and told them what would happen if they were allowed to come into the country and the government listened to them. That was why they did not survive in Ghana.
“I want to believe they did not go to APCON.
“If you want to come into a foreign country you have to go through the government. The government will now direct you to the appropriate quarters. Then, when they get to the appropriate quarters, maybe the ministry of commerce or industry they will go to APCON but will then direct them to OAAN. They will come in through us. They will now tell them the necessary forms to fill. If they want to have affiliations with one or two people, fine.”
Another stakeholder in the matter is the Managing Director of MC&D, a key operator in the OOH and who is passionate about the development in the industry, Mr Wole Odubanjo, who like others called for the respect for the laws and standard guiding operators in the industry for which he said there had strict compliance before the sudden emergence of the French firm in the country.
According to him; “when GLOBAL OUTDOOR came, they were equally monitored to ensure that they played by the rule, they conform with the rules that will enable them to practice in Nigeria and the rules are that you are to register with CAC, and you have to have local directors, your principal officers will have to be registered with APCON, because that’s the only body that regulates advertising in Nigeria.” So, I think in the case of Global Outdoor and Primedia, efforts were made to monitor them, to ensure that they kept to the rules that will enable them to practice in Nigeria. Then secondly, they were also not given supportive incentives as against what we saw in the case of JC DECAUX. We were able to accommodate them, and that shows, that those of us who are local players are not afraid of global competition, as long as there is a level playing ground for all. This is why it will appear that we were just suddenly rising up to vehemently oppose and protests.
“The business of Outdoor is the business of sites and so in a situation where we have some of the sites which are deemed as closed, some of the areas that were denied some of our members the local players, now handed over to JC DECAUX on a platter of gold, then you begin to feel something is wrong with this arrangement and have are to kick before the whole thing fester beyond our control. That probably accounts for why OAAN is taking the measures that it is taking at the moment. Why we would feel that he is reacting to it too late it is because they wanted to be sure about the situation that is given to JC DECAUX, so it will not look like they were running ahead of the exact situation of things.”