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Why ARCON is coming after digital content creators in Nigeria

Nigeria's advertising regulator, ARCON has mandated digital creators to request permission before advertising products and services.

Why ARCON is coming after digital content creators in Nigeria
Sabinus, an award-winning Nigerian content creator

As of January 2022, Nigeria had 32.9 million active social media users. WhatsApp is the most popular platform used in the country, with over 90 million users. Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram followed as the most used social media platforms in Nigeria, according to Statista.

Creators across the country have leveraged their influence on these platforms as a source of income—in 2021, some surveyed creators revealed that brand deals are their highest revenue source. For instance, Nigerian skit maker and the 2022 winner of the AMVCA content creator award, Sabinus (AKA Chukwuemeka Emmanuel) said that he makes an average of ₦10 million monthly from brand advertisements on his platforms.

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Most of the ads displayed by these creators are related to sports betting, sexual wellness, cryptocurrency and real estate investment. OctaFX and 1XBet are some of the prominent clients. 

The Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) on Monday (December 12, 2022) asked digital creators—skit makers, bloggers and social media influencers to seek its approval in line with the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice, before advertising any product or service on their social media pages or any other online social channel.

However, the APCON did not disclose how it intends to ensure compliance from millions of creators, experts say that more popular creators might be the target.

According to ARCON's Director General, Olalekan Fadolapo, "[the Council] has received complaints on the advertisement activities of [digital creators]. Most of the advertisements exposed by this group are not only unethical with unverified claims and misinformation, but also in violation of the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice."

In accordance with the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and the ARCON Act No 23 of 2022, these creators are now required to obtain pre-exposure approval of all advertisements, advertising and marketing communications. "ARCON will take necessary actions, including sanctions and prosecution, against violators of provisions of the Act to ensure compliance," Fadolapo added.

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Prior to this latest instruction, ARCON sued Meta Platforms Incorporated—the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and its local advertising partner, AT3 Resources.

The Nigerian regulator queried Meta for illegal publication and exposure of various advertisements directed at the Nigerian market through Facebook and Instagram without ensuring that they were vetted and approved.

"These days, many bloggers and influencers are offering themselves, their services, blogs, and media handle as platforms for products and services to be advertised on without recourse to accepted principles and ethics of the advertising practice. The sharp increase in violation and infraction of the Nigerian Code of Advertising is not only worrisome but also portends danger," Fadolapo said this in May 2022 when the council unveiled its plan to regulate digital media advertising.

"With the increase of digital media activities in Nigeria and accessibility of online media platforms, we have been faced with a new threat of unethical and provocative advertising and marketing communication materials which have every potential of inflaming religious crisis, moral decadence, and misleading information when allowed to thrive with an attendant negative effect on the country, it's economy and value system," he continued.

Recall that during the 2022 Easter holiday, a Nigerian commercial bank, Sterling Bank released social media ad that compared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to locally made bread in Nigeria called "Agege Bread". The message said, “Like Agege Bread, He rose.”

This was followed by a picture of bread divided into two halves. This ad came under public criticism, in fact, ARCON (then APCON—Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria) described the ad as "insensitive and provocative". This was followed by a public apology from the Bank.