When politics colours Lagos State outdoor advertising practice
“I became increasingly suspicious of my surroundings whenever I was outdoors. A sense of paranoia kicked in. Suddenly, an innocent gaze from an unfamiliar person didn’t seem so benign anymore. Every motorcycle that rode close to my vehicle on the road became a suspect – just as every vehicle that kept showing up in the rear-view mirror seemed to be on a sinister mission. In the same vein, every street hawker that sidled up to my vehicle in the notorious Lagos traffic jams appeared to have malicious intent…”
That was the chilling experience of the former Managing Director of Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), Mr. George Kayode Noah, in the cause of doing his job during the political electioneering campaigns of 2015, especially the presidential elections. Suddenly, the tranquil job of outdoor advertising regulation turns a nightmare and he has to look over his shoulders; he was a marked man.
Noah has taken time to document activities of the agency he headed from 2011 and leading up to the 2015 elections in a book titled, 2015 Elections: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Lagos State. He has done so because of their far-reaching implications for civilized conduct, which he recounts, was grossly lacking among the political class in their desperation to outdo each other and subvert the rules and impose impunity and mayhem.
Amongst the two dominant political parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then in power in Abuja and the All Progressives Congress (APC) that won the election, and Outdoor Advertising Practitioners (OAP), Lagos became a battle ground, with PDP riding roughshod, LASAA became the embattled umpire as OAP bore the brunt of a lawless federal might pulling powerful strings from Abuja.
For those who followed the political advertisement campaign war in Lagos, Noah was in the news both to defend the government agency he led and innocent practitioners, who looked up to his agency for regulation and sanity for genuine businesses to thrive. He was a man up against federal might in Abuja, bent on overrunning the rules for orderliness and the good conduct his agency had laid down on how political advertisement campaign materials should be deployed in Lagos State to woo the electorate and avoid chaos. But chaos he had on his hands to deal with; it forms the subject of this enchanting book
He foresaw what was coming, prodded on by his boss, former governor Babatunde Fashola, and was smart enough to read the signs and called a town hall meeting for a stakeholders’ forum of all players in the advertisement and political spectrum. He needed to inform them of the guiding principles of advertisement in the state so that the environment would not be blighted with campaign materials.
Noah swung into action and called the meeting on November 14, 2014 well in advance. At the well-attended meeting, comprising of political parties, advertisement companies, civil society groups and the media, Noah and his team outlined the guidelines to include, “Political campaign (materials) may only be deployed on existing structures owned and operated by Outdoor Adverising Practitioners who are registered with agency, LASAA, and have obtained permits for such sites and structures. Parties interested in deploying political campaigns may contract LASAA or owners of the proposed structures for clarification.”
As Noah further states in 2015 Elections: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Lagos State, “The agency’s Head of Enforcement, Olamide Oyegoke, warned that outdoor campaign materials not conforming to the guidelines would be removed without recourse to the owners. She also reiterated the agency’s readiness to assist and cooperate with all political parties, politicians, campaigners and their supporters in ensuring a hitch-free election campaign and the right to political participation…”
Although mixed reactions followed LASSA’s rules of engagement, it was generally agreed that decorum should prevail. But that was before the actual campaign for dominance began. When it did, the PDP, as Noah submits, took to the path of ‘impunity’ and went on the offensive. From Noah’s account, APC approached the agency for advice on what to do. But by the time PDP and its agents realised it had been wrong-footed, it threw all caution to the wind and invaded the advertisement space and inflicted hefty financial losses to the advertisement sector.
With Transformation Agenda of Nigeria (TAN) in tow, the PDP began indiscriminate advertisement and took up spaces that had been paid for by others. Glo and Hauwei had to cancel their orders for street poles worth N350 million made with two outdoor agencies because PDP and its agents illegally appropriated those structures. A war of words started, and then protest rallies by offended parties to the dispute, led by LASAA. Then the infamous clampdown on federal right of way, and the banning of advertisements along federal roads in Lagos. This brought matters to a head. Suddenly, the life of LASAA boss became unsafe, as he was seen in Abuja to be doing the bidding of Lagos controlled APC-led government. Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Cornelius Aderanti, also joined in the fray on the side of Abuja. Noah had to get two police escorts for his safety.
Noah, at his vintage position, put the cost of outdoor advertisement electioneering campaign at a whooping N5 billion in the state alone. Chisco Motors lost some 25 luxury buses to a fire arising from party clashes. Noah obliquely points at APC supporters for the crime. Some lost their lives, and others were wounded. But worse of all was the severe defacement that Lagos suffered from the unbridled deployment of campaign materials. Noah also recounts post-election strategies deployed to clean up the state of the blight it suffered, its partnership with another agency, Lagos State waste Management Authority (LAWMA), to convert the waste to wealth, the stimulus package to assure stakeholders.
Noah also looks ahead to the future and canvases salient strategies to avert what was obviously a year of political campaign disaster for Lagos State. He also calls for prosecution of offenders and perpetrators of the reign of illegality that happened as a deterrent against future occurrence.
Noah’s 2015 Elections: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Lagos State is an entertaining, informative and engaging narrative, spiced with illuminating photographs that capture the chaotic scenarios he paints in the book. He deserves commendation for this eagle-eye narrative of a turbulent era in an otherwise quiet agency violently jolted from slumber. His predecessor will do well to arm himself/herself with Noah’s experience and plot well ahead against 2019.