FG sacks Advertising Standard Panel over ‘all eyes on the election tribunal judges’ billboards

* Destruction of billboards an assault on freedom of speech – Atiku’s aide

By Fatai Ahmed with Agency reports



As Nigerians eagerly await the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), the Federal Government has moved against those calling on the tribunal to deliver justice.

On Tuesday, the Federal Government dissolved the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over its approval of billboards which it claimed is blackmailing the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal with the title: ‘All Eyes on The Election Tribunal Judges.’

One the billboards with the hashtag, #AllEyesonTheElectionTribunalJudges, was sponsored by a group, DIASPORA’S FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE.

The ASP is the Statutory Panel under the Council charged with the duty of ensuring that advertisements conform to the prevailing laws of the Federation as well as the Code of advertising ethics of the advertising profession.

A statement by the Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, confirmed the dissolution of the panel.

Fadolapo said the Council has also suspended its Director and Deputy Director in charge of Regulations to allow investigations into the issue.

It said: “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.

In a swift reaction, Phrank Shaibu, the Special Assistant on Public Communications to the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 elections, Atiku Abubakar, described the Federal government action as clear evidence of President Bola Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on freedom of speech.

Shaibu stated this in a statement issued Tuesday.

He said the entire incident reinforced the argument that election cases in court ought to be completed before beneficiaries of questionable elections are inaugurated.

Shaibu stressed that 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 advertisements, which the Lagos State Government deemed “unfavourable”.

He noted that 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.

Shaibu noted: “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.

He further wondered how a message like: “All Eyes on the Judiciary” would translate into a threat to society.

Shaibu stressed: “The basic principle of social justice is about the people. The advertisers of the billboards only did what the norm is in civilised 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.”


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