With the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) on the minds of most Nigerians, the Federal Government has played its hand by sacking the Advertising Standards Panel for allowing a billboard advert asking for justice from the tribunal.
A director and one of his deputies in the Federally-controlled outfit have been suspended for approving the advert.
In a statement, the Advertising Regulation Council of Nigeria (ARCON) on Tuesday, announced the dissolution of the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over its approval of billboards with the inscription: ‘All Eyes on The Election Tribunal Judges.’
The statement by the Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, reads: “The attention of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria [ARCON) has been drawn to the “All Eyes on the Judiciary” advertisements exposed on some billboards across the country.
“The Advertising Standards Panel of the Council also erred in the approval of one of the concepts as the advertisement failed to vet guidelines on the following grounds:
“The cause forming the central theme of the campaign in the advertisement is a matter pending before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. Hence, it’s jus pendis.
“A matter being jus pendis and awaiting judicial pronouncement is, by virtue of the Nigerian legal system, precluded from being a subject of public statement, debate, discussion, advertisement, etc.
“The advertisement is controversial and capable of instigating public unrest and breach of public peace.
“The advertisement is considered blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and particularly the Honourable Justices of the Tribunal who are expected to discharge their judicial functions without fear or favour over a matter that is currently jus pendis.”
The ARCON DG said the Council would set up a committee to investigate the circumstances leading to the “erroneous approval” of one of the concepts of the advert and the breach of the vetting guidelines.
“Consequently, the Director and Deputy Director, Regulations have also been suspended. The suspension is to enable an unprejudiced investigation of the issue. The Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) Secretariat failing to diligently exercise its function as the gatekeeper of advertising, advertisement, and marketing communications is hereby dissolved,” he said.
The ASP is the Statutory Panel under the Council saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that advertisements conform to the prevailing laws of the Federation as well as the Code of advertising ethics of the advertising profession.
Reacting Peoples Democratic Party Presidential candidate in the February 25 election, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, lampooned the government, noting, “you can remove the billboards, but you can’t remove all eyes from being on the judiciary.” Atiku’s Aide
He adds, “even the arbiters of justice know that all eyes are on them because of the historic nature of their assignment.”
One of Atiku’s media aide, Mr. Phrank Shaibu, says the destruction of billboards which put up adverts that read, “All Eyes on The Judiciary” was clear evidence of President Bola Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on freedom of speech.
Shaibu said the entire incident reinforced the argument that election cases in court ought to be completed before beneficiaries of questionable elections are inaugurated.
He further wondered how a message like : “All Eyes on the Judiciary” would translate to a threat to society.
“The basic principle of social justice is about the people. The advertisers of the bill boards only did what the norm is in civilized climes. It was the agents working to impress an interest that read meanings to that innocuous advert. Otherwise, it is a basic principle that eyes must be on the wheel of justice. Eyes must naturally be on the wheel of justice because when justice is delivered, it must be ‘seen’ to have been just! In any case, both Tinubu and the APC are before the same court. It is curious how they find this particular message upsetting. Anyway, even if they pull down the billboards, they can never stop all eyes from being on the judiciary at this historic time.”
He said ARCON had already begun acting like the Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency (LASAA) which had built a reputation of denying Nigerians the right to carry adverts which the Lagos State government deemed “unfavourable”.
Atiku’s aide said, “Tinubu has, once again, put his dictatorial tendency on public display. How has a simple message that says “all eyes are on the judiciary” suddenly become offensive? This is a clear case of abuse of office and reinforces the argument that court cases ought to be concluded before inauguration so that beneficiaries of fraudulent elections would not be able to manipulate the system in their favour.
“Billboards are used in displaying educational messages. Is there any offence in alerting Nigerians to the fact that all eyes should indeed be on the judiciary? In any case, is there any Nigerian that does not know that the judiciary is hearing the case challenging Tinubu’s fraudulent victory? Even the justices themselves are aware that all eyes are on them because of the historic assignment that they are saddled with. If Tinubu had nothing to hide, why would he be afraid of such a message?
“Nigerians can now see what the people of Lagos have been facing all these years where LASAA denies the opposition the use of billboards just to please their master. It has become so bad that Tinubu’s son is the one that has exclusive rights to billboards on the Lekki axis. Who can forget that the company where Tinubu’s son enjoys commanding heights admitted to turning off the billboard lights during the #ENDSARS protests? And the only ridiculous explanation for such a dastardly act is that it wasn’t in bad faith.”
Shaibu said it was ironic that Tinubu claimed to be a democrat and even boasted of funding the June 12 struggle only for him to transform into an intolerant authoritarian after the election.
Atiku’s aide added that it was hypocritical for the same man to be championing democracy in Niger while at the same time denying Nigerians the most basic form of democracy which includes freedom of speech and expression. He needs to be reminded that charity begins at home.
He said the statement at the Senate screening by Dele Alake, that ‘social media would be regulated soon’ was just another evidence that Tinubu had no regard for democratic norms.
Shaibu added, “While we keep calling on the judiciary to restore the mandate of the people, we cannot but ask the citizens to be vigilant as the corn-man tries to undermine our democracy. Having failed in his last 70 days in office, which has increased Nigeria’s inflation and destroyed the value of the naira, systematically denied Nigerians the right to protest or go on strike. “Under the watch of this administration, inflation had climbed to an 18-year high.”
“He wants to regulate social media so that his failures would not be amplified. You can’t flog Nigerians, and expect them not to cry. This will never happen.”