• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Evaluating agitations over status, future of APCON

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Long delay by Buhari-led government in appointing the board for Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON has generated other issues in the public including possible replacement of APCON with Institute and removing the council from government control. Daniel Obi assesses the development and writes on the dangers of weakening APCON.

Non-appointment of the governing council of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, in the last three years by Buhari administration has led to frustration and agitations in the advertising industry.

The vacuum of the governing council which has been a recurring decimal has naturally encumbered normal operation of the advertising industry. The previous administration led by former president Goodluck Jonathan also behaved in like manner of delaying and playing with the appointment APCON governing council.

The cyclical development has forced the public and some advertising operators to demand for the removal of APCON from government grip in order to obviate distortions in running the about N150 billion advertising industry.  They are conceivably advocating for a professional advertising Institute in place of APCON or to have both exist side by side. Top professionals who spoke in the past supported an independent apex body while others believe that as long as APCON collects yearly subvention from the government, it shall continue to remain a lackey on government political chess board.

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The desire in some quarters to, perhaps, have APCON run as an Institute instead of a Council is strong even among some advertising practitioners and other stakeholders as they compare APCON with some professional institutes which they desire APCON to operate like.

The call, without first understanding the difference between a Council and Institute and their respective roles clearly justifies the frustration with the current impasse over the government delay in the appointment of APCON council.

Between Council and Institute

APCON was established by an Act 55 of 1988 and Act 93 of 1992. The provisions of Act 55 of 1988 are not significantly different from the Act establishing many professional institutes but APCON Act, however created a Council rather than Institute. The difference, according to experts is that whereas Institute is strictly a professional body; a council has the dual role of a practice regulation as well as professional body.

Also governing council or boards of professional institutes are elected by members, the governing council of a regulatory body such as APCON, NAFDAC, SON are appointed by the government, according to the provisions of the council’s enabling law. Regulatory councils are agencies of government supervised by relevant Federal Ministries.

Therefore, in-the-dark call informed by government induced frustration to transform APCON to Institute will not only require the amendment of the law, but it has its immediate and long term implications for Nigerian advertising industry. Naturally, if APCON becomes a professional Institute, it will therefore be stripped of its powers as a government regulatory agency. This means that the advertising industry will be bare without control over operators. This will be similar to the food and drug industry operating without NAFDAC.

Again, advertising industry is a peculiar case for the creation of an Institute. Institute is a professional body that deals with those who are practicing that profession but in advertising, there are people who are not necessarily practicing advertising but they have something to do with advertising. It would therefore be difficult to compel somebody who has something to do with advertising but not practicing advertising to become a member of the institute.

Way forward

Similar to Nigerian Bar Association, ICAN, Nigeria Medical Association, NIPR, an Institute could be established in the industry with proper definition of who is an advertising practitioner. But this is not to replace APCON with the Institute. When this happens, APCON can cede its professional functions including member registration and professional development roles to the body while it maintains its regulatory functions.

Alternatively, the status quo can be maintained but with proper education of government functionaries to respect the APCON law by appointing advertising practitioners to the council. In this case government should therefore not see APCON as another patronising board appointment. Government created the law establishing APCON which requires appointment of advertising practitioners to the council; therefore government should abide by it. This however requires industry stakeholders and sectoral groups to properly educate government on this understanding.

But the quagmire here is, as politicians, government as funders of the council, wants to have a say in the board as it is applicable to NAFDAC, BON, SON among others. It should therefore amend the law establishing APCON to have it as a solely regulatory body. In this case, government can appoint into the council whoever it considers fit to handle the regulation of the advertising industry. This will necessitate the industry on its own, if it desires to form a professional institute for its affairs.

In spite of the limitations of APCON Act, which has necessitated the urge for amendment of the Act to strengthen its regulatory enforcement capacity, APCON has, to an appreciable extent, succeeded in enforcing suitable standards in commercial communication across the segments of the advertising industry.

A government that appreciates the power and influence of advertising in determining perceptions, behaviour and choices of millions of people who are daily exposed to ever-growing advertising message and the consequential need to regulate the practice in public interest, is not likely to abandon this role. Advertising wars, hate-advertisement during political campaigns and offensive and indecent adverts underscore need for regulation.

As it is, APCON has to remain as government agency if it has to be effective and successfully carry out its functions of regulation of the advertising industry.