In recent time, Nigeria has launched more re-positioning and attitudinal change campaigns than any other country in the world but none seems to soar up the Nigeria brand image. To get this right, the former Commissioner for Information & Strategy in Akwa Ibom State and media/communication practitioners, Aniekan Umanah, says Nigeria should consider her diversity as a tool for strength to build a formidable Brand Nigeria
You served two governors for almost nine years. How easy was it for you, especially as Commissioner for Information?
I thank the Almighty God for the privilege to work in the public sector at the level of the member of the executive from 2008 to October 2016. I worked with the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State and minority leader of the Senate, Governor Godswill Akpabio. He appointed me first and I worked with him for seven years. That offered me the opportunity to understand a lot more of the workings in government. It gave me the opportunity of coming face to face with managing public sector information. Of course, I was able to fit into the delicate political manoeuvrings and manipulations and thunderbolts and games associated with public life. It was interesting and intriguing in the sense that I worked with a performing governor. He made the role easy for me because he was not difficult to market. He was able to meet the expectations. From day one, we were busy; too many actions and projects to tell the world about. I have always said to people who care to listen that Akpabio is a super active man. And if I have to borrow his language, he came into government ‘an angry man’. So, he pursued everything with anger to make sure he got results. It was about result; not the effort or process. As long as you can get result, that was what he cared about. We went through that period which was called ‘uncommon transformation’ era; the most stupendous development that anybody can imagine in this country by any state governor. I can be quoted on this. We ran a government that commissioned flyovers, government houses, free education, health care and engaged in developmental projects which were important to the people. And Akpabio was pushed up as a super brand in this country. Anyone who followed his government can attest to what I’m saying. And when it came to succession, Akpabio narrowed down on yet another capable Akwa Ibom son and Nigerian, who was also occupying an exalted position in the banking industry at the time. He first came in as secretary to the government, and later heeded the clarion call and followed the people, working closely with the governor, who, as a father, had the divine mandate through which Governor Udom Emmanuel emerged as the governor of Akwa Ibom State. I also have the opportunity of being appointed commissioner by his Excellency and I thank him for finding me worthy of being in his administration. We also need to be around him to help him stabilise the new administration. He also hit the ground running with an excellent manifesto which focused on industrialisation, wealth creation, citizen empowerment, youth empowerment, political inclusion and, of course, infrastructure consolidation and expansion. He hit launched a very notable philosophy: the DAKADA philosophy which is like a moral reawakening programme to re-gig the thinking of the people towards working for themselves. We had gone through an era that created super performance. So, he now said let’s build on this and see how we can change the mentality of the people to work towards industrialisation and wealth creation. Don’t forget that he came from a background of wealth creation; the financial industry is about profit. So, for him, the bottom line is development and he has pursued that with vigour. In two years, we can say he has performed creditably well. He has been able to attract private investment that has created industries. Some are almost completed; like the syringe industry meant to produce millions of syringes every month. He has also established an electric metre manufacturing plant which is also very far in terms of progression. And of course, there is agricultural development through which tomato and rice are being produced on larger scale. If you aggregate that with the infrastructural base that he has created within two years, by the time he finishes his first four years and move into the next, he would be able to show Nigerians that he came as a man ready to develop the state. So, to that extent, I want to say I have been privileged to have worked with two very visionary governors. One I served for a longer period, the other I served for about a period of a year and five months. I have been able to build that confidence around the political process in the interest of Akwa Ibom State and to further the development of the state. So, I thank the two governors and the people of Akwa Ibom for the confidence and support during the period. Talking about life after public office, those of you who know me know clearly what I was doing before; I was a reporter and I delved into advertising and publishing and public sector PR consulting, which also worked for me. I ran an organisation that was functional and I never owed salary for one day for almost twelve years, even in the face of recession. It’s still managing to stay afloat and survive. So, we have returned to our beat. We can begin to chart new direction without necessarily leaving the environment which is our primary constituency – the media. The organisations that I led, the Executive Options Media and Milword World are still there running. I strategically in partnership with a team of compatriots established the African Media Network, which is a continental organisation set up to create growth and opportunities in the continent’s media space, to create the synergies needed and compel a new discussion, particularly on content, advocacy and knowledge building. We want to see how we can build big time content entrepreneurs across Africa. Content is key and is mega dollars business for anybody who understands what it is. We are trying to create a bridge between the traditional, new and the unseen media.
I heard you talk about advertising. What are the other things this network will be doing?
The advertising business that we are in is a totally different thing. The Executive Option and the Billboard World are the advertising business. The African Media Network is a trusteeship with membership from different parts of Africa. We have members from South Africa, facilitators from Kenya, we have network partners from Ghana and Cameroon, we have partners within Nigeria and the leadership from Abuja coordinates the continental activities. The key for us is stimulating growth and opportunities within the continental media. And we would do that by driving synergies, building knowledge and closing skill gap for media people and organisations. More importantly, we will stimulate and grow content for the continental media. We are currently building a content app which will make content creation a very big deal for those who need to understand. We would also be involved at the very basic level; and engage in training programmes that would create knowledge, as well as partner with organisations that are relevant to what we are doing.
Tell us more about your newly established company – African Media Network
Yes, very soon, we would be announcing a new media optimisation interactive programme that will enable people understand how we can create the hybrid between the traditional and the new media. We will see the possibilities and challenges and know how to curb the electronic vandalism that has become a problem to organisations and families. How do we cage this new form of terror within the cyber space? These are some of the discussions that will take centre stage in the discussion we would be holding sometime in July. That’s where we are going with the African Media Network.
You spoke about being in the media and advertising before moving into politics. Now, you are back to the private sector. How do you see the advertising industry and the impact of recession on the industry?
I must say that the advertising and media industry like every other business in Nigeria got hit by the punch of recession. For a country that lost over 60% of revenue and income base, you can see that it was almost like hanging on a cliff. And it was compounded by dwindling oil prices at the time. Many things went wrong; our GDP went below expectation, oil prices went down and there was income erosion and all that. So, the industrial and financial base of the country witnessed erosion. When that happened, we saw an unstable foreign exchange regime which got to a point that the Naira was exchanged for over N500 to a Dollar. So, for an industry like the media and advertising, it became the first to be hit and was hit badly because almost every input is foreign exchange based. So, advertising like every other business plummeted but it was hit badly because it’s the first budget that is cancelled when there are no sales. So, rather than pump up advertising to see if could add to sales, difference is always the case in a market like ours. When you are in trouble is when you tell your story more to find a rescue, but unfortunately, it’s the reverse here. This is something we must bring to the consciousness of budget operators of the different sectors. For instance, from 2014 to 2015, the advertising spend stood at about N97 billion, but towards the end of 2015, it started going down. By mid 2016, we recorded less than half of that amount. We can see clearly even in terms of TV, radio and outdoor, Most global organisations including the telcos cut down on their outdoors spend, which accounted for almost 60% of the spend at the time. In 2014, we had N93.1billion; in 2015 the amount grew a little, perhaps, because of political activities. So, this now calls for serious concern for industry operators who must start to reinvent the processes. Take a look at the newspapers; how many of them get five pages of full colour adverts in a day? Many are on batter. We are industry operators, so we know the batter ads. Several others are fillers while some are paid for. How does it impact on the media? Look at television, prime products running on prime time are coming down. You find like one insert staggered over a period not creating the desired impact. This means that the revenue base is not helping that. The return from sales is not helping investment. It’s a double edge sword. So the question is where do we get money to invest in more advertising? It’s a tricky situation but there are several ways of doing it. So many companies have had to look at experiential marketing, unorthodox means and digital platforms.