The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the recently-concluded 2023 elections, Atiku Abubakar, has slammed President Bola Tinubu over the destruction of billboards in strategic locations in the Federal Capital Territory drawing public attention to the judiciary as Nigerians await the verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Court.
The Federal Government had disbanded the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel due to its endorsement of billboards accused of attempting to manipulate the verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal with the slogan, ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary.’
A statement by the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria had earlier conveyed the dissolution of the panel on Tuesday.
The ASP, a statutory panel within the council, is tasked with ensuring that advertisements adhere to the prevailing laws of the federation and the code of ethics for advertising professionals.
Pointing out the reasons for which the advertisement should not have been approved, the statement said the concepts exposed were not approved by the Advertising Standards Panel, hence, the council had directed that all the materials being exposed be brought down immediately and the violators sanctioned.
The statement read, “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. 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 statement further stated that the council had temporarily suspended its director and deputy director responsible for regulations, pending an investigation into the matter.
Speaking exclusively with The PUNCH, the Director-General of the ARCON, Olalekan Fadolapo, said sacking the panel became necessary due to its failure to disapprove an advert that did not comply with the commission’s vetting guidelines.
He added, “Before the material gets to the panel, they are the first to review the material, to check its alignment with vetting guidelines and procedures. They failed in their own responsibility to spot that. That is why they were sacked.”
But reacting, Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communications, Mr Phrank Shaibu, described the destruction of the billboards which had the inscription, ‘All eyes on the judiciary,’ as a clear evidence of “President Bola Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on the freedom of speech.”
Shaibu, in a statement, said, “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.”
Atiku said by that act, “Tinubu has, once again, put his dictatorial tendency on public display.”
“This is a clear case of abuse of office and reinforces the argument that court cases ought to be concluded before the inauguration so that beneficiaries of fraudulent elections would not be able to manipulate the system in their favour.”