Prince Tony Momoh is the former Minister of Information between 1986 and 1990 under the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda and was instrumental to the establishment of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) by Decree 55 of 1988.
In this interview with UCHE AKOLISA, Momoh traces the history of the body that regulates advertising in Nigeria, challenge of government interference in the running of the body and other topical issues affecting the mass media:
You were the Minister of Information at the time APCON was established. What was the vision behind the establishment of APCON?
I was the Minister of Information from 1986-1990 and APCON Law was established in 1988. You know, for instance, Advertising, Public Relations and the Media are areas of communication which are not necessarily verbal but written and communication which is written is covered by laws. When you have laws that are not understood, there is a problem. But when you have a profession like Law, Medicine, Media, all these are professions that have bodies of areas of imbibing studies, you have some knowledge to imbibe that qualifies you as a member, you have a register of members, a disciplinary body, you have a code of conduct. That code of conduct will tell you what to do and if you breach the code, you will be dealt with by a council established for the purpose. This is true of all professions.
So, as the Minister of information I decided to professionalise all the different areas of media practice. I said that I would professionalise journalism` and there would be a media council decree. I said that I would professionalise Public Relations and there would be Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. I said I would professionalise Advertising through the establishment of APCON. All these areas came after recommendation following a meeting we had with practitioners in Badagry.
Public relations practitioners, advertising practitioners, Commissioners of Information from all over the country, journalists, editors, newspaper owners, former Ministers of Information were all there and we decided on a document we called, Mass Communication Policy. It was based on this Mass Communication Policy that we decided to have the Press Council and a broadcasting board.
So, the NBC of today that regulates broadcasting was established as a result of the Mass Communication Policy which was initiated in 1987 and approved by the Armed Forces Ruling Council in April 1990. So, later all these decrees were promulgated. The one of interest to you is APCON – Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria. APCON has a council. As I speak to you know, there is a delay in the announcement of a council. I know that the letter is on the table of the Minister and he has sent it to the President’s Office and because the President was abroad, it was sent to the Vice President.
I know there is work on it to have members representing all the different groups like the AAPN (AAAN) and all that, to stabilize the council. Beside the Executive Secretary of the council, Garba Kankarofi, . You know you must have a chairman and other member of the council. Their work is to ensure that the body is in place to regulate advertising.
If you read the law itself you’ll see the strict requirement for you to be a member. You have provision for members, associate members and so on. So, the impunity in putting all sort of things in the papers in the name of advertising are all cleared by the regulation that guides advertising now.
It is exactly 25 months that APCON has been without a Chairman…
(….interrupts) That is what I am telling you that the proposal for Chairmanship and the packaging of members of the council is on the desk of Minister of Information who has sent it to the President for approval.
Running without a Chairman is becoming a pattern for the regulatory agency. It happened during President Jonathan’s time, it is happening now. As somebody who has been there at the beginning when the document on APCON was articulated, what do you think are the implications of having an APCON without a Chairman?
Why are you asking my opinion? I established the council, packaged and inaugurated it and it has been operating. Such a question shouldn’t come to me(laughs.) I do not support irregularities in operationalising affairs of the council. But then, these are decisions taken by the government following due process. I am not the Minister of Information nor am I the Vice President or the President.
Before this government came in, there was already a Chairman but when the council was dissolved alongside boards of parastatals and agencies, he was removed in contravention of the APCON Act which states that a Chairman must serve for three years. APCON is more like the Medical and Dental Council and such like councils. I am not sure that they change their boards with every change in government. They run without interference by the government. Why is APCON’s case different?
APCON is one of the agencies that the Ministry of Information relates to. The government puts money in APCON. So, if the government puts money in APCON, then all these delays are expected. Many of these councils were only passed by law; government does not put money there. Have you ever heard of government putting money in Nigeria Bar Association?
But APCON is not the same thing as NBA?
(..Interrupts) What I am saying is that where a particular profession is passed by law and they operate on their own and have their own disciplinary body, code of conduct and they are not asking for government subvention, there is a difference. In APCON, the Registrar is appointed to be the Chief Executive and he reports to the Minister of Information. It is the same thing with NIPR, Press Council. All these are like agencies supervised and funded by the Ministry of Information. So as long as government money is there, you are bound to have delays of this nature.
In fact, there was a time when the Press Council was populated by people who were not qualified to be there. The person who is supposed to be the Chairman of the Press Council is supposed to be somebody who has been a practising journalist who has practised for at least 16 years but the politicians went and put an accountant there.
So the Press Council seized to exist because, all the members who are professionals refused to participate in the affairs of the council. So we only had the Registrar/Executive Secretary operating the council with the staff, no members from the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria(NPAN). All those who ought to be members refused to be part of the council because it was headed by an accountant. Politicians just put people there without looking at the law. So, that is what has been happening simply because government put in money.
Recently, media reports had it that the Military has decided to be monitoring the social media for hate speeches. As someone who was once involved in the management of public communication of the government, what would be your reaction to development?
That one will not work. The military has no business doing that type of thing. Hate speeches? If there is anybody who has any action with regards to hate speeches, then those who are guilty of it would be prosecuted. Military being there will not work. It is just like the time we had Decree 4 in 1984.
Decree 4 was there to punish those who speak the truth as long as that truth embarrasses public officers. Then we said that we won’t obey it. It didn’t work. When IBB came that was the first law he annulled. There are certain things that cannot just work. On hate speeches, nobody can do anything outside due process.
What do you think of the public communication management of the President by his media handlers? Recently Nigerians were told the President could not work from his office as it was under renovation after rats invaded it.
If they said they were refurbishing the office and you ask why and they tell you, rats have eaten up things, are you not aware that that is possible? Don’t you know that rats eat up clothes?
To warrant a renovation?
If rats eat up my carpet, can’t I remove it? If rats eat up my clothes? Or don’t you know that rats eat up people’s clothes? Or are you saying that the gentleman who gave that briefing was lying? It is up to you journalists to interpret it the way you like. He has given information.
It is not now a question of journalists interpreting; Nigerians are now free to express their views on social media.
There is freedom of expression; you can express your view on an issue the way you like. You can say, for instance, it is stupid to say that rat ate up a place. That is your view. You can say it is unconvincing. That is your view. You can say, ‘Oh, sorry oh!’ That is your view but within the law. Freedom of expression is freedom of expression within the law. Whatever opinion you have, it is an opinion.
When I was Minister of Information, I was criticised by everybody. My own (responsibility) was to manage government information. The management of government information is a professional work. I was doing public relations for the government. I provided information on anything and everything. But it is for you to do what you like with the information.
For ideological reasons, some people will use the information for what they like. If, for instance, they have held a particular view, my giving them information will only arm them, give them the opportunity to still criticise. It is just like this government, anything you say, people will still say what they want to say. But they have a right to say what they want to say but within the law.