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Advertising is a marketing communication that employs an openly sponsored, non-personal message to promote or sell a product, service or idea. The advertisement has undergone considerable changes and evolutions over time inform and target audience, this is predominantly due to digitization and technological advancements over time.

In a bid to regulate the advertising industry and ensure compliance of advertisers with extant legal provisions, the Advertisement Protection Council of Nigeria was established. The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), established by the Advertising Practitioners act 55 of 1988, was a logical outcome of the above and accords legislative recognition to advertising as a profession in Nigeria.

Functions of APCON

The overall functions of APCON are provided for in Section 1 of the Advertising Practitioners Act 55 of 1988 which set up APCON. The functions are:

  1. Determining who are advertising Practitioners.

  2. Determining what standards of knowledge and skill are to be attained by persons seeking to become registered as members of the advertising profession, and reviewing those standards from time to time.

  3. Securing in accordance with the provisions of the Act, the establishment and maintenance of a Register of Practitioners, and the Publication from time to time, of lists of those persons.

  4. Regulating and controlling the practice of advertising in all its aspects and ramifications.

In furtherance of its functions and powers, the governing council of APCON approved and issued the 5th Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice & Sales Promotion which became effective in January 2013. The Code is enforced by the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP); they carry out their duties through a vetting process to ensure that all advertisements conform with prevailing laws as well as the code of ethics of the advertising profession. The Code also prescribes a minimum penalty of N200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Naira) for the publication or exposure of an advertisement without the ASP’s approval.

Operations of the Advertising Standards Panel

APCON carries out a vetting process on advertisements to ensure they conform with the standards of best practice and in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Advertising Practice, and the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

Following the rules set down by the Council, it is mandatory for all advertisements to be submitted for pre-exposure vetting and approval. Organizations and persons wishing to place advertisements in any media must first present the concept(s) for pre-exposure vetting and approval. The cost of vetting ranges from N25,000 to N250,000.

Irrespective of the ASP’s propositions, The Court of Appeal has held in the case of APCON v. The Registered Trustees of International Covenant Ministerial Council & Ors. (2010) LPELR (CA) 3630 that the provisions of the rules only apply to people and entities who are members of the council and labeled as “Advertisement Practitioners”. Thus, it was held that APCON’s powers did not extend to persons who are not advertising practitioners. The decision, in this case, was also upheld in MIC Royal Limited v. APCON (CA/L/1140/2016). By this, the Courts have expressly narrowed the scope of application of the APCON Act and regulations.

Regulation of Online Ads by APCON

In exercising her powers and ensuring compliance, the council recently released a memo wherein its Acting Secretary-General (ASG) stated that the Council will commence the regulation of online ads. This means that the vetting fees and sanctions applicable to advertisements under the code will now apply to online advertisements as well. 

The enforcement of this new proposition by APCON has been in doubt because of the reality of its enforcement. However, the ASG mentioned the council has plans in place on how to ensure compliance with the rules.

From the reports of the ASG and chairperson of the council, the ASP will meet twice a month to review and confirm ads that can go up on the internet. This will pose a problem with the effectiveness of online ads and will defeat the purpose and problem that the Panel initially sought to solve. Also, the proposed time frame is unreasonably long compared to other agencies outside the country and global best practices. For example, companies like Google and Facebook review and confirm ads now in less than 20 minutes without imposing unreasonable vetting fees, if any.


For this new proposition to be effectively followed, the council must clarify issues relating to:

  1. The definition and scope of who an advertising practitioner is.

  2. The provision(s) expressly stating that APCON regulations apply to people who are not Advertising Practitioners.

  3. Review of their laws to cover social media and internet ads.

  4. The time frame for vetting and verifying an ad.

  5. The cost implication of vetting an ad (which currently starts at N25,000).

Social media influencers and advertisers have expressed utmost displeasure with the development by APCON. The proposition by APCON tends to turn away from facilitating the ease of doing business for and medium scale businesses looking to expand since the free platform which social media offers has become their only means of marketing their goods and services.

Most countries that regulate the online space globally do so with the intent to protect vulnerable people and appropriately limit children and young people’s exposure to age-restricted ads in particular sectors. The new APCON regulations seem to pay attention to everything but the immediate persistent problems online while focusing more on the fees for vetting and those to be paid by offenders.

The role the internet plays in the business expansion of small businesses in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized, from its cost effective to almost instantaneous review and publication of ads. APCON will have to ensure the above-mentioned issues are resolved and they meet up to global standard if the Council will effectively regulate the online ad space.