By Edwin Madueme
For some time now, there have been a number of articles in key Nigerian newspapers bordering on whether or not a reform regime instituted by the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) was a disincentive to foreign direct investment to Nigeria.
Those who are sponsoring these series of articles premised their argument on certain provisions of the APCON Code of Practice 2013 which states that: “Foreign Practitioners…shall be certified and licensed by APCON.”
In addition, APCON also requires that such practitioner must show: evidence of work permit obtained from the relevant agencies of government, a letter of attestation from the organization intending to employ the expatriate to demonstrate the genuineness of the offer, remuneration proof that the foreign practitioner is filling an identified labour shortage and proof that such a foreign practitioner will create new job opportunities or help retain jobs for Nigerians, among other provisions.
It comes as a rude shock to find that Nigerians, who are supposed to be the direct beneficiaries of this regime, are making themselves available as tools to ridicule an initiative that should not only be commended but should also be seen as a roadmap towards ensuring that those who come to the country under the pretensions of being foreign investors are actually adding value to the economy as well as not dislocating Nigerians in the process.
The thing our government must do and urgently too, is to properly define who a foreign investor is. And for the avoidance of doubt, foreign investment does not include someone coming into the country to feed from values already developed and milk a market already ripe while funneling proceeds to his or her home country. A foreign investor is one is one (either an individual or a body corporate) with capital in terms of finance, technology or product capable of boosting the economy, generating income for the citizens and raising the standards of life in the country of destination. A foreign investment that dislocates and deprives citizens of opportunities must be seen as flying in the face of overriding national interest.
Those who are arguing that APCON’s Code of practice negates the FDI drive of the present government appear to be negating the very reason for the deliberate posture of government, which is to attract new values that will improve the lot of the economy. In the case of advertising in Nigeria, the question must be asked, what new values foreign investors are bringing? This is because there is no real investment that will come from them in any form. This is because they are not launching any new brand or product or service but on the contrary will benefit from businesses that are already entrenched in the country.
Here is how it would play out: A foreign agency will come into the country, rent an office, pitch for businesses that are already in the country and which were probably being managed by indigenous agencies, win the account, make profit and repatriate same back home. In the final analyses, the Nigerian economy bleeds because this investor brought nothing but would succeed in taking a whole lot away. There is no value for the economy in this.
Foreign Direct Investment, it must also be said, does not deter the government from protecting the interests of segments that make up the economy. Matter of fact, countries that today are the biggest capital destinations take deliberate measures to ensure that values are trapped within while protecting interests that could be harmed by unhindered capitalism.
A recent case happened in India where Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Norvatis lost a landmark case it has been fighting in Indian courts since 2006. Norvatis claimed it wanted to patent a cancer drug called Glivec. But knowing that granting the patent on the drug for the Indian market would prevent local manufacturers from making and marketing drugs with similar active ingredients and thereby make it too expensive for the poor to afford, the Indian Supreme Court denied this patent.
The interesting outcome of this judgment which was delivered on April 1, 2013 was that Norvatis did not shut down operations in the Indian market. On the contrary, Norvatis stated soon after the judgment that it was going to continue playing in the Indian market.
Why would a Norvatis not try to blackmail India by threatening to move its capital elsewhere? The answer is in the over two billion Indians that constitute a vast market for anyone, irrespective of how harsh and protectionist the regime might be. India is a huge market and they know it. But they are not throwing their doors open to all everyone. Most importantly, they take deliberate measures to ensure that the interest of the economy is given pre-eminence. When an investor decides to move capital, the very first thing he sees is the market and the opportunities for his resources to multiply. It is after this that he begins to access and weigh the risks against his capital and balance his interest before making a move.
Nigeria may not be as large as India, but it is Africa’s biggest market. As a result of this, both genuine and opportunistic capitalists are eyeing the country. Such an investor must therefore be seen to represent, not just an opportunity for himself but also for the growth of the national economy.
In accessing the critical need areas of this economy, one would be able to see that advertising and marketing communications ranks lowest in importance. Nigeria is looking for investors in the power sector, manufacturing, information technology, public infrastructure downstream petroleum and perhaps even in housing development. The country’s advertising industry is mature and world-class. Even then, as respected Prof Charles Okigbo stated in a recent
interview, “Communication (including advertising), is an important field of practice which has national security implications and so should not be left completely unchecked. APCON as a government agency that looks out for the interests of advertising practitioners is right in the new move to check the pervasive influence of international agencies some of which do not offer wholesome benefits to local advertising practice”.
It must have been for reasons relating to this that made Brazil tighten the rules against the influx of foreign agencies to the country. When Brazil noticed that foreign agencies were practically shooting all their commercials in the beautiful landscapes of the country, it created a regime of heavy taxation on such agencies, a policy that left these foreigners no choice but to partner local agencies.
Any foreign agency, just like other potential investors in other fields and sectors of the economy, intending to play in Nigeria must, as a matter of policy, be made to demonstrate in advance, what values are inherent for Nigeria and Nigerian in his investment. He must be seen to represent new values in terms of ideas, technology, and industry development as well as guaranteed opportunities for Nigerians.
I am sure that why some of these foreign interests are attempting to blackmail APCON is because they see Nigeria as a country without standards; a nation where virtually anything is tolerated. I say this because in most countries, for you to practice certain trades, a licensing agency must endorse and approve you as qualified to practice. Even in Nigeria, the National Council on Legal Education licenses people to practice Law. It does not matter if you had been in practice in other climes. Once you want to appear in a Nigerian courtroom, you must have to meet the standards and requirements of the Nigerian Law School.
The same is the case with medical practice. I have not seen a doctor that opened shop in the country legally without first of all registering with the Nigerian Medical Association. Engineers are also made to go through the rigorous registration and pre-qualification procedures of the Council for the Registration of Engineers in Nigeria (COREN). Any engineering firm in the country that did not comply with COREN’s codes and standards of practice is doing so illegally and faces sanctions when found out.
It is therefore strange for anybody to question the effort to begin to fully and properly professionalise advertising practice in Nigeria. What Nigerians should do is not just to rally behind the advertising regulator but also to put pressure on government so that investors in other areas of the economy are made to ensure that there are benefits to the overall economy in any portfolio they are bringing in. Lowering standards and throwing the gates open for individuals who are bringing nothing new and would be leaving nothing behind on departure will hurt, rather than heal the current travails the economy is going through.
Edwin Madueme, a communications specialist, lives in Lagos