2015 Elections: Former LASAA boss, George Noah recounts near-death experience in new book
While the 2015 General Elections might have come and gone, psychological scars occasioned by some uncharitable events that played out in its build-up, still haunt many till this day.
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 Chapter 11 of his new book, titled, 2015 Elections: The Politics of Outdoor Advertising in Lagos State.
Titled: Enemy Combatant, the chapter gives a poignant account of his ordeal at the hands of agents of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – in collusion with state 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 by agents of the PDP since he was accused of being responsible for denying it and its agents outdoor sites in Lagos – 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 reportedly 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 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.
The same question was always playing on his mind as he became increasingly suspicious of his surroundings whenever outdoors. A sense of paranoia kicked in.
“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.
Credible sources advised that he temporarily relocate from his place of abode and change his vehicle. This was with a view to give any persons on his trail the slip. He complied.
Noah, had by this time come under immense pressure from friends, family members and state government colleagues to sign up for round-the-clock police protection.
“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.
Being in company of both armed policemen, did ease his concerns about security. He was however quick to point out, it might have been a placebo effect. “In all honesty, I entrusted my care and that of the gentlemen to God. No one could have offered better protection than God,” Noah concluded.
Comprising 22 chapters, the book chronicles the sordid intrigues and high stakes politicking that characterized events that played out in Lagos State’s outdoor advertising sector, in the build-up to Nigeria’s historic 2015 General Elections.
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 election campaigning – while highlighting the positive and defining narratives that unfolded.
A technocrat, and political activist, Noah was a founding member of Radio Kudirat and 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.