By Jude Atupulazi
The Managing Director of Anmabra State Signage and Advertisement Agency, ANSAA, Chief Jude Emecheta, has opened up on the activities of his agency which was embroiled in controversy during the last guber election in the state over its directive to political aspirants to pay N3M for posters and billboards in each of the three senatorial zones. He talks about this and other issues in this interview with Fides Editor-in-chief, Jude Atupulazi.
So, let's begin from the beginning. What is ANSAA all about?
ANSAA is Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency. ANSAA has two roles: one is to control the structures, using outdoor advertising in Anambra. Two is to generate revenue for the State Government. Basically, between 2000 and 2009 in Anambra State, there were many posters and billboards littered in so many places, not accounted for and some not in use anymore and everywhere looked like a junk yard before this law came into place to help sanitize the use of the structures used in outdoor advertisement. So, ANSAA is basically to regulate the indiscriminate use of billboards in Anambra State and then generate funds for the government.
In conjunction, ANSAA is a product of the local government and state government. It is a joint business.
Are you sure your roles are not clashing with the revenue board?
Well, the revenue board is like the mother board; that is like the receptacle of all revenues and levies collected in Anambra State. What we do is to generate and they collect. The system is that we give out notices and people go and pay into the main IGR platform and that goes direct to the board of Internal Revenue. So, it's not a clash. We are helping them to generate funds. Our agency is specialised in revenue accruing from billboards and advertising and that is different from going to collect general levies from the markets and other places.
So we are helping them to generate funds that are accruable to outdoor advertising. It's everywhere in the world. Wherever you go, people pay for signages, so it's nothing new here.
So how far have you been able to actualise your mandate in de-clustering billboards and all that?
We have done that very well. You can never see a cluster of billboards again anywhere in Anambra State now. Anywhere you see it now, you know it must have been done by illegal operators over the night. You know anywhere you go, you have people who are guerrillas; they work in the night. They put up the billboards and run away. Anywhere we see them, we go and uproot them. Unless we don't see them. Maybe they do it in the hidden hinterlands where we have not been able to reach at this point in time, but with time we will get to all these places and every nook and cranny of the state.
Your agency during the elections caused a stir when it directed political parties to pay 3 million Naira for billboards and posters in each senatorial zone and some of the parties reacted. How did it eventually get settled?
First of all, when parties want to contest elections, they start with primaries that are conducted. A lot of people are not serious about it, they just want to pretend they want to run for an election. The print cheap posters. If I have N100, 000 now, I can print as many as 150 posters and paste them everywhere and people will see my name and be calling me His Excellency, Honourable, Distinguished, and yet I'm not serious about contesting for election.
So first of all, what we did was to tell people, according to the law, that there are places you cannot paste posters. So we make it a little difficult for them to go put posters in those areas. The amount of money being asked is quite small, honestly, because eventually, the law says we the agency should remove those posters 10 days after the elections. And when you say 10 days after the elections, there are places that after you remove the posters you have to repaint them and repainting these places cost us money. The under bridge at UNIZIK Junction is being repainted by us and its costing us money. The Nike Lake Bridge that leads to Golden Tulip Hotel in Agulu was in a mess. Politicians pasted their posters there and ran away. We clean them, repaint them and these things are costing us money. So, when we say we need people to pay as much as this, it's peanut really because 3 million times 3 is 10 million Naira and how many parties contested for elections in Anambra State? How much do we spend removing these posters? How much do we spend removing these illegal billboards that they put all over the place in the state? You hire a crane a day, you pay N40, 000 and truck is N10, 000 for a day too. And we need them for a week trying to remove these illegal posters and billboards. It costs us so much money and when you ask them to pay they won't pay. Instead they will try to blackmail the government and all that. So we had to resolve it.
But generally, how was the response from parties then? Did they eventually play ball?
They never played ball. You see what happens: you call a man whose billboards are on the roads and you tell him his billboard is here, he will say he doesn't know who put them there, maybe his supporters. We will say ok, call your supporters to order; they need to pay for all these things. He will say ok. You remove the billboards this night, tomorrow morning they put another one because the guys get these materials cheaply. A lot of them are really not honourable really, I can tell you that. People are running for presidential elections, they cannot budget to pay for their billboards, people are running for senatorial seat and cannot pay for billboards. And these are legislators and executives who want to govern Nigeria and collect tax from people and you cannot pay your own tax. And we have made it clear that we are not arbitrary people. If you come, we can negotiate and you pay a reasonable amount of money and we keep going. We don't want to stop anyone from running an election. People saying we are doing all these to stop them are all lies. What will I gain by stopping you from running an election? It's undemocratic.
So what are the challenges ANSAA is facing and how do you cope with them?
Well, I believe that life is a challenge in itself. That we are alive is a challenge. So, I don't look at challenges, I don't even think about challenges. What I think about is how to overcome those challenges. So I don't call them challenges, I don't even call them problems. I see them as routine, things that one would go through. If I have a car breakdown, I will ask the government to give me more 20 cars. We have about 7 offices in Anambra, and we have 4 vehicles, I will tell the government to give me 7 vehicles. But then we need to manage the one that we have first. It's a challenge that we need more vehicles, but we need to manage the ones that we have well.
I need more staff, but we need to manage the ones we have well to be more productive, so that when we get more staff, we will be adding on top of productivity not on top of problems. So what we are trying to do now is to create a very competent workforce so that when somebody joins, he will join a competent workforce. He won't have to join a haggard workforce. That's why I say I have low staff but it's not a problem or challenge. I am trying to create some knowledge in them so that they can be more innovative and creative on their own to get our job done.
What is your staff strength like?
When we talk about staff strength, we have people in operations, people in management and people in marketing. In total we have about 49 staff. Of the 49 staff we have, we try to put about 3 persons each in each of the offices we have, but it's not enough. Anambra State has about 21 local governments. Only Onitsha North and South alone will need about 50 staff.
Who pays them? The government or your agency?
The agency pays them through the government.
You must have targets every year, how often do you meet your targets?
For the past four years, government has been trying to re-engineer the internally generated revenue platforms in Anambra State. So each time the re-engineering comes, it affects our revenue. At times we slow down to put up a better way of doing it.
I won't say we have met our targets, no, we have not. Most of the times we break even. But I know this agency is not a burden on government. We cannot say that this agency is not generating enough funds to pay our staff and run the agency. But we can do better than what we are doing now, if other things are equal. Like this year right now, from January to June, Government said nobody should collect revenue from the markets. And you know when you make such announcements, you are triggering off a lot of things. Anybody you go to his shop now will say: no, no, no, Government said we should not pay anything. Even those who are not in the marketplace will say they are not paying. And there are things you cannot push too hard for other reasons.
So we started giving out notices just last month, May. We hope that before the end of the year, we will be able to meet at least half of what we planned to do. Our target this year is about five hundred million Naira, but if we can do between two hundred and two fifty, I will be very glad.
How long has your agency been in existence?
The agency, as an agency by law has been in existence for 7 years. But formally it has been on for about 5 years. It was Willie Obiano who funded the agency to start operations as an agency. When it was passed into law in 2011, it was just floating. It was just one of those agencies of Government without Government backing.
Finally, what percentage will you give your agency as per performance?
If I consider what we have and what we are doing, I will give my agency 80% pass mark. You can judge yourself with what you have to work with. If you tell policemen to chase out arm robbers from Anambra State and you don't give them guns and vehicles, they will sit down in the office. But if you give them 2 vehicles when they need 10, you can judge their performance based on the 2 vehicles you have given them; not by the 10 that they need. So if I check what we have, I would say we have done very well.