2015 Elections: Former LASAA Boss George Noah Recounts Ordeal In New Book
While the 2015 General Elections might have come and gone, psychological scars occasioned by some intimidating events that played out in its build-up, still haunt many still. This subject as it relates to the personal experiences of Mr. George Noah, the immediate past Managing Director, Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) – have been enumerated in his new book titled, “2015 Elections: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Lagos State”.
Noah, a seasoned media guru gave a poignant account of his ordeal at the hands of an ad hoc para-military organisation christened Federal Task Force Of The Subsidy Reinvestment And Empowerment Programme (Sure-P), ethnic militias Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) , Goodluck Lagos Grassroots Project (GLGP), agents of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – in collusion with federal government security apparatus . This, it will be recalled, culminated in threats to his life and officials of the agency – leading to destruction of the agency’s equipment and injuries to staff.
Noah said he was targeted since he was accused of being responsible for denying the PDP and its agents outdoor advertising sites in Lagos State- ahead of the elections. Excerpts from the chapter read: “The more the opposition party in the state parroted platitudes bordering on alleged bias on the part of LASAA, the more I became a target, as the head of the agency supposedly responsible for their invented misfortunes in securing outdoor sites in Lagos.”
He added: “But what at first seemed like harmless banter and standard criticism soon took a more sinister form. It soon dawned on me that I had become a subject of discussion among some politicians in the then ruling party in Abuja, and they had decided to solve the problem by any means necessary, including intimidation and threats.”
He continued: “The grapevine gave indications of this worrying development. An old acquaintance from when I was domiciled in the UK, called me in confidence on the issue. A member of the PDP, he had attended a crucial caucus meeting at which I was identified as the person constituting an obstacle in the way of the party’s ambitions in the outdoor political campaign in Lagos State. Be careful. Your name was mentioned in our caucus meeting in connection with the PDP’s inability in securing billboards in Lagos. You have to be careful,” the acquaintance warned.
”We had barely kept in touch in seven years and I was surprised he got in touch. When you are advised by a politician to be careful during electioneering, you are bound to sit up, Noah emphasized. He quoted his informant as saying: “You were accused of singling out the PDP’s campaign materials in Lagos for destruction, using LASAA’s apparatus, in an orchestrated bid to frustrate the PDP’s campaign.” Noah added that he was further tipped off about plans to put him in “check”, using every means of containment at their disposal.
Noah wrote: “A few days later, I got a call from the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) at Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos, about the controversy surrounding the outdoor campaign of the PDP in Lagos. He warned me not to invite trouble I may not be able to contain. I got the message.”
Exactly two weeks after that call, the then Lagos State police boss read the riot act to LASAA. He warned that no posters or outdoor structures should be removed in Lagos State whether legally or illegally deployed. This was a wake-up call for the author.
According to Noah, “It was becoming apparent at this point that I had to take security matters more seriously. More puzzling questions raced through my mind, as I wondered if it would be foolhardy to seek protection from a police force with unapologetic leanings to the then ruling party. I thought to myself: ‘I could hold out a little longer. All I have to do is be a bit more circumspect and extra vigilant.’ But for how much longer would I have to put up a defence?,” Noah wondered.
“Suddenly, an innocent gaze from an unfamiliar person didn’t seem so benign anymore. Every motorcycle that rode close to my vehicle on the road became suspect – just as every vehicle that kept showing up in the rear-view mirror seemed to be on a sinister mission. In the same vein, every street hawker that sidled up to my vehicle in the notorious Lagos traffic jams, appeared to have malicious intent,” the former LASAA boss explained.
Noah’s sense of alarm was further compounded with heightened security alerts about his safety. He stated: “Their fear was not unfounded. The atmosphere had become very tense; I and other LASAA staff had been running the gauntlet for some time. For example, March, 16, 2015, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) had, in an openly confrontational show of strength and support for the PDP, staged an infamous march in Lagos. In an apparent move to intimidate staff, some of the militiamen congregated in front of LASAA’s head office in Ikeja, brandishing guns and other dangerous weapons as well as charms.”
He added: “In one incident, members of our staff were assaulted, some were injured, others arrested. One of our ad hoc staff almost had his leg amputated as a result of injury, and eventually lost a toe. The agency’s vehicle they were in was severely damaged.”
Bowing to pressure, Noah, explained he later signed up for police protection and was assigned two armed mobile policemen – which he initially found a bit unsettling.
Covering a broad array of subjects and themes, which expounds the issues that transpired – Noah sifts through the labyrinth of complexities – distilling facts from fiction. In so doing, he sets the record straight and offers a refreshingly unique and insightful perspective of the narratives – applying his upfront yet inventive style of writing. Noah gives an overview of the outdoor advertising sector in Lagos State.
He further sheds light on LASAA’s guidelines geared towards ensuring decorous outdoor campaign during the period; the fault lines that exposed initial cracks in enforcing the guidelines; and complicity by law enforcement agents in the spate of impunity that marred outdoor political campaigns.
The author dwelt on measures that may be taken to guard against a partisan stance by law enforcement agents in future elections; the role played by groups such as the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and the Goodluck Lagos Grassroots Project (GLGP) in escalating the crisis. He also addressed issues related to the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Jimi Agbaje’s open letter to LASAA.
The roughshod approach adopted by the PDP-led Federal Government – which culminated in the termination of all forms of outdoor advertising along major federal government roads in Lagos State, is perspicaciously detailed in the book. Noah also beamed the spotlight on protests that occasioned the federal government’s actions.
It was a period of great intimidation, and the threats made against the author and how he addressed them, are elucidated in the book. The author gives an analysis of the cost of the outdoor campaigns in Lagos State including billboards, wall drapes, bus shelters, street lampoles, hat boxes, branded buses and cars, branded T-shirts, posters, banners, experiential activities and stick-in-the-ground.
The book also sheds light on tit-for-tat battles that inevitably occasioned some unpleasant incidents in the course of the outdoor campaign and as well focuses on media coverage, with narratives from print and online publications and outlets that reported on the standoff.
Noah gave details of LASAA’s determination to restore sanity following conclusion of the elections – with the implementation of an Aegean task – to rid Lagos of the visual blight caused by unrestrained use of posters and other political campaign materials.
The recycling initiatives undertaken by LASAA to dispose of over a million campaign posters deployed, with support from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and stimulus packages introduced thereafter – in a bid to rekindle investment in the outdoor sector – also form topics of discourse.
The popularity of A-Frames during the campaign period and airborne mediums that were overlooked, also form the backdrop of discourse. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The 2015 political campaign period was also a time for thinking big in the outdoor industry, with innovative and ambitious structures that broke the mould, some of which had never been displayed before in Nigeria. This is also worth remembering and is summarized in the chapters.
There is of course a need for reflection and forward thinking, now, even as the electioneering wounds inflicted on the out-of-home advertising industry are yet to heal. It is in view of this that the concluding chapter underscores the need for proactive steps to be taken to foreclose a reoccurrence.
The book also looks into challenges faced by outdoor regulatory agencies during the period of electioneering, as well as the potential personal risks faced by personnel of these agencies. In addition, it seeks to prevent a repeat of the controversial events that engulfed the outdoor industry in the course of campaigning for the 2015 general elections in Lagos State – while highlighting the positive and defining narratives that unfolded.
A technocrat and political activist, Noah was a founding member of Radio Kudirat, a pirate radio that fiercely fought the draconian junta of late General Sani Abacha. Noah has over 35 years experience in virtually all aspects of the media. A pioneer member of Made In Nigeria (MAIN) Festival Group, Noah is also Publisher of Island News and Chief Executive Officer that midwifed TV Continental (TVC) and Radio Continental in Lagos.
Noah previously worked for Insight Communications Limited in Nigeria, the Greater London Council (GLC) and British Telecom International (BTI) in the UK and Media Empowerment for Africa (MEFA) in Norway. Whilst domiciled in London, Noah was appointed Chairman of the London Borough of Southwark Co-operative Development Agency (SCDA) in 1992. In June 2014, whilst at LASAA, Noah was awarded the honorary title Lagos State Man Of The Year.