As Nigerians await the decision of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal or PEPT, controversies continue to emerge from many sources.
Both Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) are suing to overturn President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress’ victory.
The PEPT adjourned the matter for judgment on a date to be specified after taking a final address from the parties in the claim.
The events leading up to the conclusion of arguments by all parties in the case at the tribunal were, predictably, illuminating and frightening.
The growing challenges have increased political awareness and consciousness among Nigerians, especially those who were previously uninterested in the political process.
The tribunal’s troubles have also kept Nigerians on their toes, as their anxieties and aspirations have grown by the day.
However, as tensions and worry rose, some Nigerians decided to launch the campaign “All eyes on the judiciary.”
The campaign originally trended on social media, but as apprehension grew, “All eyes on the judiciary” campaigners erected billboards with the slogan plainly engraved on them across key cities, including the FCT.
Their goal is to continually remind the judges that Nigerians want nothing less than justice from them. The billboards are meant to act as a continual reminder to the judges to be firm and unwavering in their decisions, and to do it without fear or favor.
The approach, however, did not sit well with the APC-led federal government, which ordered the total removal of all such billboards through its agency, claiming that the billboard sponsors were blackmailing the presidential election petition tribunal.
The government issued an order to clamp down on such billboards across the country through the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), which also granted the authority to fine violators.
As a result, the Council dissolved the Advertising Standard body, ASP, which is the statutory body under the agency entrusted with ensuring that commercials comply with the federation’s applicable laws as well as the code of advertising ethics.
The Council also suspended ASP’s Director and Deputy Director for failing to perform their duties as gatekeepers of advertising, advertisement, and marketing communications diligently.
Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), stated in a statement that the council will form a committee to investigate the circumstances that led to the acceptance of one of the ad concepts and the violation of the vetting requirements.
“The Council’s Advertising Standards Panel also erred in approving one of the concepts because the advertisement failed to vet guidelines on the grounds that the cause forming the central theme of the campaign in the advertisement is a matter pending before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal,” he said. As a result, it’s jus pendis. The Nigerian legal system prohibits an issue that is jus pendis and pending judicial declaration from becoming the topic of public statement, debate, discussion, and advertisement, among other things.
“The advertisement is contentious and has the potential to incite public unrest and breach of public peace.” It is regarded as blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and especially the Honourable Justices of the Tribunal, who are supposed to carry out their judicial powers without fear or favor, in relation to a subject that is currently jus pendis.”
However, protests against the government’s decision have continued, with many implying that the administration was concealing something from Nigerians.
Some argue that the government’s justification for the crackdown is thin and that there is more to the action than meets the eye.
Others, however, welcome the government’s action, seeing the billboards and their slogans as a threat and blackmail on the judiciary and judges.
However, some have expressed concern that the action shows all the hallmarks of authoritarianism and tyranny and should not be permitted.
Phrank Shaibu, Atiku Abubakar’s Special Assistant on Public Communications, is one of those arguing that the action is evidence of autocracy, despotism, and dictatorship.
He characterized the entire incident as evident evidence of President Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on free expression.
He stated that the entire episode has only served to bolster the argument that election proceedings in court should be completed before the beneficiaries of questionable elections are inaugurated, and he questioned how the message “All eyes on the judiciary” could be a threat to society.
“The fundamental principle of social justice is about people.” The billboard advertising was simply following the usual in civilized climates. It was the agents attempting to pique attention in that harmless advertisement that read meanings into it; otherwise, it is a basic principle that all eyes must be on the wheel of justice.
“When justice is delivered, it must be seen to be just, so all eyes must naturally be on the wheel of justice.” In any case, Tinubu and the APC are both in front of the same court. It’s interesting how people find this message distressing. Anyway, even if they take down the billboards, they will never be able to keep all eyes on the judges during this historic time,” he argued.
He compared the ARCON’s move to that of the Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency, LASAA, which, he claimed, has created a reputation for denying Nigerians the right to carry advertisements deemed unfavorable to the Lagos State Government.
“Tinubu has once again displayed his dictatorial tendencies in public,” he added. How did a simple sign saying, “All eyes are on the judiciary,” become offensive? This is a clear case of misuse of office, and it just underscores the idea that court cases should be resolved before to inauguration so that beneficiaries of fraudulent elections cannot manipulate the system in their favor.
“Educational messages are displayed on billboards.” Is there any wrong with reminding Nigerians that all eyes should be on the judiciary? Is there any Nigerian who is unaware that the judiciary is hearing the case challenging Tinubu’s fraudulent victory?
“Even the justices are aware that all eyes are on them because of the historic task that they have been assigned.” Why would Tinubu? scared of such a message if he had nothing to hide?”
Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, believes the content on the billboards is not provocative, but cautions that no one should be targeted for it.
“The law permits the courts to be open to criticism and scrutiny.” It violates the constitutional right to free expression,” he added.
Nigerians on social media were not left out, as Omotayo Williams wrote, “Nigerians put up banners saying ‘All eyes on the judiciary'” without naming any political party, and they are being taken down. I thought we all wanted a fair system of justice. Keep tearing it down, and we’ll keep building. Meanwhile, please schedule a hearing.”
Morris Monye further stated, “If billboards are removed, Nigerians will do posters.” If you take away posters, they will replace them with stickers, and if you take away stickers, people will become walking billboards (Lord’s Chosen style). This is how angry Nigerians are right now. Do you understand why? “All Eyes on the Courts!”
In response, the billboard sponsors, through UC Maxwell, stated that they would not be frightened or cowed because free speech is a constitutional right of every Nigerian.
“We consider this attempt to be a violation of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and the press, as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended,” he stated.
He stated that the sponsors had responded to the memo’s four key concerns, stating, “The central theme of the billboard, ‘All Eyes On the Judiciary,’ is not a matter before the court.” The concerns before the court concern the presidential election on February 25, 2023, and do not in any way influence the citizen’s constitutionally mandated obligation to monitor the use of governmental authorities.
“Of the many issues for determination before Nigeria’s presidential election petitions tribunal and various election petition tribunals, 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 for Nigerians to commit to holding the government accountable through the ‘All Eyes On the Judiciary’ theme does not incite a breach of public peace.” The need to criticize and hold government officials accountable is mandated by law. It is essential to observe that the only thing that may and will cause public unrest and breakdown of public peace is when the government, through any of its arms, particularly the judiciary, commits gross injustice against the people.
“The Nigerian people will not accept the deliberate attempt to portray their responsibility to hold government officials accountable as blackmail.” We regard this endeavor as cheap blackmail in and of itself, and we will reject it in all forms. We must remind the ARCON that it is required under Section 22 of the Constitution to uphold the core objectives of the Constitution as well as the government’s responsibilities and accountability to the people.
“We urge ARCON’s leadership to weigh the issues before it and act with caution, with equity, fairness, and justice at the forefront.” We reiterate our commitment to maintaining checks and balances on all branches of government, and we will not be intimidated or blackmailed by any agency.”
However, Chief Frank Kokori, a labor leader and former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, believes the government was correct to prohibit such billboards because the sponsors were blackmailing the judiciary.
“How can people just put up billboards warning the judiciary to be careful: all eyes on the judiciary?”
“Has that ever happened in this country since 1959, when elections were first held?” “How can you just walk around with billboards and blackmail the judiciary?” He was perplexed.
He backed the government’s claim that billboards and the slogans on them amounted to judicial blackmail, saying, “How can you do that in a country?” Don’t you realize the judiciary is sacred? You’re blackmailing them because the judges won’t respond? “Why should anyone attempt to blackmail the judiciary?”
He went on to say that if it happened in a country where the government is harsh or dictatorial, everyone behind the billboards would be apprehended and locked up.
“They will be imprisoned, tried, and sentenced to long terms in prison.” “You can’t just blackmail or abuse the judiciary like that,” he remarked.