Of Saka, porting and logic of history



An interesting debate has been raging on in the communication and advertising sub-sectors in the last couple of weeks. It was stirred by the sudden and dramatic switch of camps by artiste Hafeez Oyetoro, alias Saka, from Etisalat to MTN.  This   controversy is similar to the occasional hullabaloo that always accompanied  the defecting of a notable Nigerian  political figure from one   political party to another.  ‘Saka’ is a popular character that was specially created to market Etisalat by its ad agency, and was highly successful in that regard. But quite suddenly, on the heels of the Nigerian Communications Commission’s   Mobile Number Portability campaign recently, MTN cleverly got  him to “port go” and thus he  deserted  Etisalat in a manner that seems to have left a sour taste in the mouths of not just some people in the advertising world but also many observers.


Yet, the question remains whether any real breach of professional ethics had been committed by either the artiste or   MTN as a company, given the fact that ‘Saka’ is believed to have had no written or verifiable contractual accord with Etisalat.   The lessons that could be drawn from this   include: (a) the need for written contractual understanding or agreement to seal important business relationships between an artiste and his employer.



(b) The need to remunerate artistes adequately so that they would think twice in the face of tempting offers by competitors.



(c) The need to adopt impact measurement as a vital component of any major or successful campaign and



(d) The need to avoid the temptation to underrate any artiste  because in a dynamic world like advertising, the least expected model may prove the ultimate ambassador of a brand.



 But, above everything else, the dramatic “porting” of Saka and its   impact so far on the latter’s portability campaign and the obvious shock and tremor it has left in the other camp count as a big plus for artistes generally who may henceforth no longer be taken for granted by those who hire  them.



Nevertheless, having made great waves in so short a period, not a few observers believe that Saka’s time was really up, because any further campaign on the side of the same brand would certainly be affected by the Law of Diminishing Returns.



All in all, one should salute the regulatory wisdom of the NCC for wittingly or otherwise affording Nigerians an opportunity to let off steam and rewind via a veritable dialogue or discourse as an unexpected result of the introduction of the long-awaited Mobile Number Portability campaign.



In fact, the controversy promises an unintended consequence of boosting the portability campaign at little or no cost to the regulatory body. What’s more, it is all happening at a time when the players in the political arena certainly may be tinkering with what they know best: swapping of political platforms—a situation which in political parlance they variously term “carpet-crossing” and “decamping”



There is no doubt that “carpet-crossing” and “decamping” have  offensive or negative connotations compared with “porting” which has now crept into our political/business lexicon, thanks to the NCC.



The point one is trying to make here is that if for any reason any of our politicians switches camp , we should be sympathetic and charitable enough to see the situation as an act of “porting” and no longer “carpet-crossing” or “decamping,” in order to make the action appear less offensive or dirty by de-emphasising the ugly or negative content. I have digressed.



 But returning directly to Saka’s controversial porting, one would like to posit that there is nothing strange because examples of players in various fields at various times porting forth and back on grounds of better opportunities or quest for self-fulfilment abound in history.



Take two cases.  Sir George Taubman Goldie was a professional soldier in the British Royal Artillery where he rose to be a captain. In that capacity, Goldie had toured Sudan and the lower Nile River area. With his eyes on business, even as a military officer, Goldie developed a good interest in the sprawling country to the west of Sudan, and subsequently played Saka by dumping his military commission and switching to the English Niger Company—an association of English and Scottish merchants spoiling for real colonial exploits in the Niger Delta territory.



The result of this earliest form of porting by Goldie was the emergence of the Royal Niger Company a few years later with the full complement of royal chatter granting the company exclusive trading rights up to and beyond the lower Niger basin.



With that charter, Goldie proceeded to set up a military outfit with whose help he stamped out pockets of resistance to the anti-slavery efforts of the British government and enforced peace apace with flourishing trade in the territory. Thus, before the 1885 Berlin Conference on the partition of Africa, Goldie had on behalf of the British government secured treaties with many communities in his area of operation which eventually helped Britain to effectively lay claim to the whole territory that finally emerged as Nigeria.



 Almost simultaneously, as Goldie was working to secure the Niger area for Britain, Major Fredrick Lugard, another Royal Artillery officer, was also playing Saka, “porting” and joining the league of British merchants and colonialists —an adventure that saw him work at various times in various places including India, Hong Kong and Uganda. Lugard finally “ported” back to the Royal Niger Company in the last days of the Royal Charter after which he “ported” yet again to Her Majesty’s service whereupon it became his place in history to amalgamate Nigeria. So, the whole idea of the creation of a great and prosperous entity like Nigeria under the British Empire is chiefly a glowing tribute to the foresight and good business sense of the British Niger Company which, like in theMTN/Etisalat/Saka scenario, had encouraged both captains.



 Goldie and Lugard opted  to “port go” from a boring and less lucrative career in the military in favour of more profitable exploits in the more rewarding sphere of business and colonial pursuits.



 Therefore, what the heights achieved by people such as Goldie, Lugard and others tend to show today is that there is nothing strange or new in the role  Saka played recently on the marketing or business scene.



In a volatile world like ours, nothing should be expected to be static or sacrosanct and the advertising or marketing scene is, to me, part and parcel of that world—a universe whose beauty, fascination and essence partly depend on the extent to which individual players, playmakers and playmasters can determine the direction of their worlds.



– Adimora, an economic strategic analyst,  wrote in from Lekki, Lagos [email protected]