The Media’s Responsibility in Representation By Amina Banu

There are deep wounds that run through the length and breadth of this country, that divide us across communities big and small. The true causes of these wounds are steeped in history, multifaceted, and complex. Yet these recurring and open wounds are exacerbated by our daily, sometimes self-inflicted partitions: tribe, class, faith, language, location, etc. These are the tools we use to separate one from the other, the tools politicians use to shoebox us, the tools we hold when we inflict permanent injury upon each other. Perpetuating these tools in any way can be unspeakably dangerous.

From the Biafran Civil War to the recent uproar regarding nomadic herdsmen, ethno-religious violence has marred Nigeria’s history. Even in this month there have been violent clashes between Hausa’s and Igbo’s in Jos, Plateau State. It is no laughing matter. It is not a witty anecdote to squeeze into a short advert. It is the very real existence of your fellow countrymen.

Yet these tools have become a shortcut in advertising to make comical points to consumers. There are 371 tribes in Nigeria yet the most inclusive adverts are aimed at Yoruba, Hausa, and/or Igbo, and never intelligently. Instead we rely on ugly stereotypes: the barely literate Hausa man with a taste for blood; the loud Yoruba woman; the Igbo man whose industrious business sense borders far too much on greed. In an attempt to appeal to “the man on the street”, advertisers resolve to use loud and garish voiceovers and only ever in Pidgin English. These adverts get a reaction: a chuckle, the roll of someone’s eyes. However, there are real dangers in stereotyping entire groups of people for entertainment and profit. 

There is something almost insidious about pandering to obvious divides in your society to sell a product. Dismissive marginalisation of entire groups is no way to communicate your brand to a country. It fosters dissent, especially considering that it is an absolutely unnecessary trope. There are obviously better ways. We should expect better from content producers. We should always hold them to higher standards. We cannot ask for more stringent regulations or for strict adherence to pre-existing ones without challenging the issues in the content we are currently being given. 

It is not unusual for outlined regulations to be less faithfully followed in practice. However, according to the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), advertisements should be “respectful and mindful of Nigeria’s culture”, have “a high sense of social responsibility” and “avoid misinformation”. How many of the advertisements you come across daily actually adhere to these regulations?


Amina Banu