By Afolabi Joseph
Outdoor operators have accused the Lagos State government of strangling their business following its refusal to pay them N1 billion resulting from allotted sites for President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode 2015 election campaign. They say non-payment of the debt is choking their business.
Major outdoor operators in Lagos said the state contracted them to rent out the spaces for the All Progressives Congressâ€™ (APC) 2015 general election.
The operators said Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), the agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating outdoor practice in Lagos, had embarked on â€˜save our soulâ€™ agreement on behalf of the APC to rally support for its candidates both within the state and at the federal level through the provision of sites for adequate exposure.
Although the agreement was said to have been reached by both the regulator and the operators prior to the election, the new administration of LASAA led by Mobolaji Sanusi has denied any arrangement or deal claiming that the former helmsman, George Noah, acted on his own.
Sanusi while denying the claim stated that the party made available some funds for the execution of the campaign and as such the immediate past head should be held responsible to account for it.
Another source who has been tracking the development, however, said rather than the agency allowing reason to prevail, the surprising part of the issue is that management of the agency appears not to be disposed to the idea of paying the operators as it maintained that no single document was issued to that effect.
While LASAA under Sanusi is insisting that it was the operators that owe it for the stated period, the operators believe the new administration was being unfair by asking them to go after Noah for the payment when the agreement was reached.
To the operators, it was quite surprising that the same LASAA whose staffers were privy to the agreement could make a U-turn on the issue.
Inside source from the operators further revealed that some members had to relinquish previous agreement reached with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in order to key into what the regulator proposed to them.
Part of the agreement reached between both parties, according to a source, include defraying the cost incurred by each of the operators on the usage of their sites for Buhari and Ambode campaigns by clearing off either part or all the debt owed. Independent gathered that the erstwhile Managing Director, George Noah, had raised a media order through a company, Media Worth, on behalf of the party, where it assured outdoor operators that it would use whatever cost incurred by each member on the campaign to offset or clear off some or all the previous debts being owed to it, to which many of them complied.
No less than 50 outdoor agencies are being owed as each of them was said to have provided at least 3 major sites for the campaign.
With the management of the agency now taken a volte face, this may have forced operators to demand for the payment of the services rendered as they urge the agency to pay every member its own due. While the operators seem to be laying claim to the debt, the regulator has gone ahead to demand for payment for the aforementioned period.
One of the operators, who preferred anonymity, because he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the aggrieved operators, expressed frustration on the approach being used by the regulator to handle the situation.
The source condemned what he described as crass display of power by the new government. In his view, since government was a continuum, whatever agreement that might have been reached by previous administration should be allowed to stay.
The source further stated that failure to abide by the agreement should be considered as a clear breach of trust.
On his part, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, who spoke in confidence with Independent, said the action of the agency was rather unfair considering the fact that the support offered by outdoor operators contributed immensely to the emergence of Ambode and Buhari as governor and president, respectively.
He said, â€œThis is not fair. Everyone knows the contribution of these outdoor operators to the campaign. We know how much they invested in showcasing the APC candidates most especially Buhari and Ambode. You can imagine what would have happened if the operators didnâ€™t make their sites availableâ€.
Continuing, the Assemblyman said, â€œYou can see the difference in the election that brought in the governor and imagine what could have happened if his opponent was given the required exposure. Despite the level of exposure, the party did not have a wide margin. So, I think the agency is not being fair if it is not ready to abide by the agreementâ€.
Sanusi, who assumed office after Noah was sacked, had allegedly been on the trail of some operators recently clamping down on various sites over unpaid debts. However, sources within the industry outraged by some of the steps being taken by the administration are wary that the act if allowed to continue may kill the industry.