No doubt that out-of-home billboards situated within the Nigerian Army Barracks across the country is anchored by Medspace Managers. The regulatory agency is saddle with the responsibility of ensuring that outdoor structures erected within the army formations meet up requirements stipulated by the Nigerian Army. In this interview with www.marketingspace.com.ng, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the agency, Mr. Obazua Orhewere pointed out some of the challenges encountered by the agency as well as other related issues. Excerpts…
As a regulator of outdoor billboards situated inside army formations, how successful have you been able to tackle the issue of indebtedness among outdoor practitioners?
First and foremost, it is true that Medspace Managers actually manages all the outdoor structures in the army formations pan Nigeria. Yes, we cannot take the issue of outdoor advertising practice within the military formation out of the Nigerian context. So, what we experience here is still what we experience outside. The few additions are as a result of the security nature of the military barracks where we have the structures that we manage.
Yes, indebtedness is a general thing. It is one of the major issues that I think the government, and the professional bodies need to come together to address. We accept that there is recession in the country and thank God the government has come out to announce that we are coming out of it. But even before then, the master of indebtedness had already taken a very uncomfortable dimension which shouldn’t have been. A very responsive government and virile professional bodies vested with authorities of regulating advertising practice should not have allowed the level of indebtedness to rise to where we are today.
Indebtedness is there because it is the same advertisers that use the structures outside the army barracks that also use the ones inside the army barracks. They cannot take payment to us or practitioners who have boards in our premises different from practitioners who have boards outside the army formations. It is the same thing we feel because people have one reason or the other for not paying. It is a different thing to talk about the economy, but I think the very damaging aspect of it is that, a few staff in those organizations started this about five years ago and by the time a few other businesses like Etisalat and others came onboard things began to change.
There was a point in time when payments were made in advance. They will tell you we will give you the down payment of certain amount and by the end of every quarter we will pay you this amount. This will help to settle all the bills you need to pay to different parties. And that is how it should be because if you go outside of this country that is how it is. But it is unfortunate that here in Nigeria, we have allowed people coming from other countries who will not even bring in money to pay for services. They will use your money to do business and when it is time to pay they will delay. This is not done in other countries. Somebody wants to come on your billboard and he agrees to pay for a year or short campaign, definitely, he has to make payment. Or you might have agreed that this percentage has to be paid and at the end of the campaign he has to pay for the service.
But now because there is recession you are compelled to accept anything. Nobody is giving any down payment before exposure. At the end of the three months, instead of them paying, they will start negotiating again and because you had already done the exposure you don’t have any choice. This is where the government needs to come in. APCON for instance, should rise up because they are the government institution that is regulating this. APCON should let them know that this is a deliberate damage being done to Nigerians.
How have you been able to sensitize outdoor practitioners on prompt payment?
The beauty of our relationship with practitioners who are working with us is best explained by the practitioners themselves. That will not amount to us just blowing up our own trumpet. But I can tell you categorically that not one out of the practitioners working with us can say they are unhappy with Medspace Managers. Our relationship with outdoor practitioners has always been cordial. Because we have been there for them when some state agencies like LASAA in Lagos and other places thought they could just ride over them. We provided the backing for them.
Though, we also have our own standard compare to what other regulating agencies would offer. Once any practitioner paid to us, it is our business to stand in when there is any issue with state agencies. But the beauty of it is that, from day one, we make sure that our principals are being carried along. We cannot collect money and take it in as hundred percent to our principals. We accept that the army is a responsible social institution and they have social responsibility. Though, nobody can stop them if they refuse to give anybody any kobo, but from day one, we convinced the authority that let us show that this institution remains a very socially responsible organization.
Whatever we generate, ten percent of that figure is paid to the local government where that military formation is situated because the constitution of this country says that local government should regulate outdoor advertisement. It took us some time but they saw the wisdom in what we are saying and they approved it.
What makes your operations different from other outdoor regulatory agencies in Nigeria?
For LASAA, I am sure they have basis for which they are being set up. But I think it suppose to be just regulatory but economical thing I do not know. But for us when we started, we knew how Ikorodu Road was in those days. We knew that Ikeja Cantonment was part of a bush all these structures you are seeing now were not there.
So, what we realized is that these barracks are no longer in the bushes. We felt that if we are to regulate outdoor practice in these areas and to make it look attractive to would-be-advertisers and would-be-practitioners who want to put up their structures we have to thoroughly regulate what to come in there. What value do we need to add so that the advertiser would be interested in advertising there? What value do we need to add so that the practitioner will be willing to come and invest a structure there?
So, you will find out that today, if you go to Ikeja Cantonment, Abati Barracks, Ojulegba, Ashanti Barracks, Apapa, Officers Mess, Marina or Military Hospital, Awolowo Road, you will see what we have done with landscaping. These are things we have done to create beautification in army barracks. When we came onboard, there were about one hundred and twelve billboards scattered about six barracks in Lagos which means that there were a lot of clutter billboards and we said no, this cannot work. We reduced all the structures in Lagos to twenty eight and this is the quality we want.
What are the challenges in regulating outdoor billboards situated inside Army formations?
The challenges will be both internal and external. As an institution, let me start with the internal before I speak about external. Because the top hierarchy of the army is always time-bound, you must get to an age where you must retire. There will always be change at army headquarters. As it affects the chief of army staff, so also affect generals who head various departments that we work with.
As long as there is turnover of officers on that sit, there will always be challenges because some can go through all the files we submitted and some may not have the patience of going through, so you have to be called to explain. Each time there is a fresh appointment, we are going back to start the process of educating whoever is taking over. I have worked with a lot of fine officers since inception. It is the same turnover at various army formations. We need to start putting them through certain documentations. So, that settles the internal challenges.
For the external challenges, starting from the professional body, OAAN is for outdoor and they are under APCON. The executive of OAAN came to us and said they didn’t understand what we are doing. We said to them that yours is an association and we are working for our principals and this is what they want. Some of them went back to LASAA and asked LASAA to fight us. At end of the day, some of them came back to ask for favourable locations. We said to them that we are not reserving any location for anybody. If you are interested in any site, take a drive around the barracks in Lagos State and other part of Nigeria and come back to apply to us. We will inspect the place and discuss with the authorities of the barracks if it is acceptable to them.
What is the process of putting up structures in army formations?
This is a very simple process. You can drive around army formation in the country and go back as a practitioner to do your home work. If I put up structures in these barracks in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna or Port Harcourt will I sell? Will advertisers come and display their campaigns there? What will they be willing to pay? What is going to be the cost implication of the structures I want to put up? If I do that, what is the time frame for me to recoup my investment?
When you have done that and you are ready to go, you will do an application to us. We will do inspection with the army engineers at a fixed date. You will go and design a structure from foundation to completion. When they approve the structure, you will be asked to pay certain fee for the type of structure and the size. You will pay the fee to us and we will give the authorization to go and commence foundation work.
How do you monitor billboards outside Lagos?
This is quite easy for us. Though, we have an office in Part Harcourt and we believe that outdoor practice outside of Lagos even Abuja does not command one quarter of what Lagos commands in terms of billboards. The next city to Lagos is Port Harcourt, whether Kano, Benin or Enugu you will be shocked at what people pay to advertise on Unipole in these areas. It doesn’t really make economic sense but we have staff in Port Harcourt who runs Port Harcourt – Enugu axis. Some billboards in Enugu as I speak have not been carrying campaign for over five years.
What do you think outdoor practitioners in Nigeria are not doing right compare to what is obtainable in other parts of the world?
Without any iota of doubt, outdoor practitioners in Nigeria have been doing great. The terrain may not have provided the right platform for them to exhibit their competency. If it is the intelligence and capacity, I am very confidence that they have it.