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Nigerians blast FG over clampdown on ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ billboards

Nigerians have slammed the Federal Government for dissolving the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over the ‘All Eyes on The Judiciary’ billboards erected in some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), reports News Express.


The government accused sponsors of the billboard of blackmailing the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) and ordered that all adverts, wherever they were placed, should be brought down immediately and violators sanctioned.


It similarly suspended the Director and Deputy Director in charge of Regulations of ASP and dissolved the ASP secretariat for what it described as “failing to diligently exercise its function as the gatekeeper of advertising, advertisement and marketing communications.”


A statement by the Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, yesterday, said the council would set up a committee to investigate circumstances leading to the approval of one of the concepts of the advert and the breach of the vetting guidelines.


He said: “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 just 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.


Regardless, Nigerians have slammed government’s action describing it as misplaced and violation of citizens rights to freedom of expression.


•Atiku knocks Tinubu


Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, yesterday, said the destruction of the billboards was a clear evidence of President Bola Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on freedom of speech.


Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shaibu, in a statement, 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.


“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.


He said 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.


“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.”


•More reactions


Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, who knocked the government for ordering the removal of the ‘All eyes on the judiciary’ billboards said: “There is nothing inciting in this message and no one should be targeted for that. The law allows the courts to be amenable to criticisms and scrutiny. It is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.”


Other Nigerians also took to twitter to express their anger with the government. Omotayo Williams in his tweet said: “Nigerians put up banners saying ‘All eyes on the judiciary” without making mention of any political party and it is being pulled down. I thought we all wanted a fair judiciary? Keep pulling it down, we will keep erecting. Meanwhile, give us judgement date.” Morris Monye said: “If you remove billboards, Nigerians will do posters, if you remove posters, they will do stickers, if you remove stickers, the people will become walking billboards (Lords Chosen style). This is how frustrated Nigerians are at the moment. You know why? All Eyes On the Judiciary!”


Adetutu Balogun said: “The FG has dissolved the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over its approval of billboards termed ‘All Eyes on The Judiciary.’ Oh wow! They cannot go lower than this,” while Urchilla said: “If they’re gonna deny us the right to create awareness using billboards, then we will have to activate our constitutional rights to peaceful assembly. I think it is time for a nationwide All Eyes On TheJudiciary rally across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.”


•We won’t be cowed


Sponsors of the billboards, through UC Maxwell, said they would not be cowed or intimidated, insisting that free speech was a constitutional right of every Nigerian.


“We consider this attempt as a violation of the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and the press as guaranteed under Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as altered. Responding to the Four (4) outlines in the said Memo, we respond as follows.


“The central theme of the billboard ‘All Eyes On The Judiciary’ is not a matter before the court. The issues before the court are as they relate to the presidential election held in February 2023 and do not in any way affect the citizen’s duty to keep track of the exercise of governmental powers as provided for by the Constitution.


“Of the many issues for determination before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and various Election Tribunals in Nigeria, the petitioners and respondents to the suits before the various tribunals did not present ‘All Eyes On The Judiciary’ as an issue for determination.


“The call on Nigerians to be committed to holding the government accountable through the ‘All Eyes On The Judiciary’ theme does not in any way instigate the breach of public peace. The duty to criticise government officials and hold them accountable is established by law. It is instructive to note vehemently that the only thing that can and in fact will instigate public unrest and breach of public peace is where the government through any of its arms, particularly the Judiciary manifests grave injustice against the people.


“The Nigerian people will not accept the deliberate attempt to regard their duty of holding government officials accountable as blackmail. We consider this attempt as cheap blackmail in itself that will be resisted in all its forms. We must remind ARCON that it has an obligation under Section 22 of the Constitution to uphold the fundamental objectives of the Constitution and ‘uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people’.


“We call on the leadership of ARCON to weigh the issues before it and take its actions circumspectly with equity, fairness, and justice at the very fore. We reiterate our commitment to keeping checks on all arms of the government and we will not cower to any intimidation or blackmail from any agency,” Maxwell said.


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