Title:          Political Advertising in Nigeria

Author:    Sam-Loco Smith

Publisher: PrintMinders, Lagos

Year:        2019

Pagination:  592

Reviewer:  Henry Akubuiro

Remarkable achievers are lionised for making a success of their chosen endeavours. However, the greatest achievers are the trailblazers –those who think out of the box, working their arduous way uphill to create what has not been there before and set a standard for others to follow.

Sam-Loco Smith’s Political Advertising in Nigeria: Creativity, Intrigue & Electoral Outcome lends itself to the latter category: it is the first major book on political advertising out in public domain written by a Nigerian.  The gamut of its contents chronicles Nigeria’s political advertising from 1958 till the present, with dozens of data culled from Nigerian dailies.

Smith’s book does more than that, however. It swells the offering by presenting the views of advertising stakeholders in the country, especially in the area of political advertising, and other matters relating to advertising in general. It also include excerpts of reactions by newsmakers published earlier in national dailies sequel to some controversial political adverts published in the media in 2015.

With a PhD in Mass Communication, Smith shows a mastery in data collation and research, analysing over 2,000 advertisements in Nigeria’s national dailies, spanning over decades, and subjecting, in some instances, the tone of the adverts to expository, discourses by advertising gurus.

Introducing the book in a piece entitled “Political Advertising in Nigeria, 1959-2019”, the author juxtaposes two controversial political adverts –Ayo Fayose’s January 19th, 2015 political advert published in Nigerian dailies and the “Daisy Girl”, a sixty second TV political advert aired in the lead up to the 1964 USA presidential election.

While Fayose’s advert reads like a death wish to Muhammadu Buhari who was then running against the incumbent Nigerian president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as it warns Nigerians to choose between life and death that of the “Daisy Girls” is regarded as a turning point in the history of political advertising globally. Aired by the incumbent President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign team, it was an important factor in the landslide victory over Barry Gold Water by the former.

Smith echoes that various political adverts mounted ahead of various general elections in the country between 1959 and 2019 contributed significantly to the final electoral outcomes, which goes to show the importance of political advertising.

In his assessment of 2019 elections and political advertising, the author submits that, though 97 political parties and 73 presidential candidates participated in the 2019 general election, the poll was a direct fight between the candidates of the APC (Muhammad Buhari) and that of the PDP (Atiku Abubakar).

“Compared to the intense and fierce approach of political advertising campaigns in the 2015 general election, the 2019 political advertising campaign was generally hailed for its less disruptive character,” writes the author on page 27, a development that probably arose from the efforts of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) to ensure an issue-based political advertising campaign.

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In an interview with former APCON Chief Executive, Alhaji Garba Kankarofi, he admits that the aforementioned Fayose’s advert was never forwarded to the regulatory body, ASP, for vetting. If it had been, “…it would not by any stretch of imagination be approved for exposure. It did not meet the basic requirements of the law relating to advertisements …. We condemned it then, and sternly warned media houses to desist for exposing political and other form of advertisement that would incite ethnic, religious or political tension in the country.”

Smith dedicates the next chapter for reactions to that controversial advert, from AFCON to a coalition of civil rights groups under the aegis of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (who described it as being “in extreme bad taste”, and stakeholders in the polity.

For former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, “Ayo Fayose mocked the death of our great heroes. This is too much of politics to play”; while Prof Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) observed that it offended “public decency and violated all known norms and decorum”.

There are some illuminating interviews in this book that do justice to its major preoccupation. One is with Professor Ogwezzy-Ndisika who comes with a rich experience in broadcasting, public relations and advertising. She sums up the 2015 presidential campaign thus: “…we had a lot of wrap-around, huge money in millions and some of them acerbic in nature, and for some of them hate was the content of the advert” (p.75).

In another interview with Feyijimi Awosika, MD/CEO Insight Communications, we are given an overview of the political advertising landscape in Nigeria yesterday, today and tomorrow, among other issues. There is yet another interview with Mobolaji Akeem Sanusi, MD of LASAA (Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency).

Others include Dr Josef Bel-Molokwu, Chairman/Lead Editor, The Biographic and Reference Book Centre, Inc; Pa Chris Doghudje, and advertising practitioner; Modibbo Kawu; Ijedi Iyoha, APCON Acting Registrar; Prof Armstrong Idachaba, a professor of Mass Communication at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu; among other stakeholders too numerous to mention.

There is a touch of history in the book, too, especially the chapter on “Origin of Political Advertising in Nigeria”. The book traces the Obafemi Awolowo era as a watershed in Nigerian political advertising from the 1960s, especially his deployment of helicopter in creating a skywriting effect of “Life More Abundant, AG, Awo”. The ante of political advertising, we are told, upped with SDP and late MKO Abiola political adverts built around the mantra of “Hope 93”.

In the book, you will find samples and analyses of either issue-based adverts, or attack/negative political campaign messages. These are fully thrashed out in the chapter entitled “Review and Textual Analyses of 2015 Newspaper Political Advertisements”.

The book furnishes the reader with data from major Nigerian newspapers detailing how the major political parties in the country performed in terms of political advertising in the 2015 presidential, recorded as the most expensive in Nigerian history, running millions of dollars.

Apart from the major players, we also have analyses of political advert placements by major candidates running for the Lagos governorship election in 2015: Jimi Agbaje of PDP and Akinwumi Ambode of APC.  A chapter in this book also scrutinises outdoor political advertising that caught the eyes in the intervening period.

As you go further the book, you see adverts placed in national dailies to ridicule the person of former INEC boss, Prof Attahiru Jega, who was accused of supporting the opposition candidate in the 2015 presidential election. What is the author’s view on the merits of those adverts? Please, find out for yourself from page 380.

Being the first of its kind in Nigeria, Smith’s Political Advertising in Nigeria: Creativity, Intrigue & Electoral Outcome has, unsurprisingly, been hailed by scholars and advertising stakeholders in the country, one of which is Dr. Josef Bel-Molokwu.

He echoes, “No doubt, Dr. Sam Smith invested a great deal of research effort in this book – a fact I can so freely attest to, having had the privilege of following the author’s mind from the conception and planning to the gathering of materials and writing the draft, and now, proudly, to the completion of an outstanding work.”

In a nutshell, this book is a magnum opus on political advertising, and, as such, would be beneficial to advertising agencies, marketers, politicians, researchers, scholars and the general public needing enlightenment on this issue.

The author, in the next edition, however, should broaden his research base to include political advertising on TV, radio and other channels of mass media, except they are deliberately left out in this debut edition.