As the judgment to be given by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) draws closer, a group of Nigerians, known as Obidients (supporters of LP Peter Obi), have been mounting a campaign known as #AllEyesOnTheJudiciary on social media. Beyond that, this group had sponsored the erection of several billboards with the inscriptions “All Eyes On The Judiciary” boldly shown. This is because the dispute over the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner of the 2023 presidential election has been taken to court by both Peter Gregory Obi and Atiku Abubakar.
When the former governor of Lagos State was declared the president-elect, Peter Obi had instructed his supporters to shun any call for protests since the matter will be taken to court. So, the focus has been on the judiciary (the PEPT) to get a favorable judgment. So, the message to focus on the court has been passing around since then. However, the situation took a bit of a turn when one of the billboards erected in Abuja was removed by government officials.
Outcry as FG dissolved the advertising panel over the billboards.
Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, had announced that the Federal Government has dissolved the secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) over its approval of billboards with the title “All Eyes on The Judiciary.” He also noted that the council suspended its director and deputy director in charge of regulations to allow relevant authorities to investigate the issue. The secretariat was dissolved for what the government described as failing to diligently exercise its function as the gatekeeper of advertising, advertisement and marketing communications.
This resulted in Nigerians heavily criticizing the Federal Government for dissolving the panel. In response, the government accused sponsors of the billboard of blackmailing the PEPT and ordered that all adverts, wherever they were placed, should be brought down immediately and violators sanctioned. The ARCON boss said that 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.
Billboards destruction assault on freedom of speech, says Atiku.
Regardless, Nigerians have slammed the government’s action, describing it as misplaced and a violation of citizens rights to freedom of expression. Similarly, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, said that the destruction of the billboards was clear evidence of President Bola Tinubu’s authoritarianism and assault on freedom of speech. Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communications, Phrank Shaibu, said in a statement that 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. According to him, 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 that the Lagos State Government deemed unfavorable. “Tinubu has, once again, put his dictatorial tendency on public display,” he stated. He added that billboards are used in displaying educational messages and there is no Nigerian who does not know that the judiciary is hearing the case.
Sponsors vow not to be cowed by the government.
Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, who faulted the government for ordering the removal of the “All Eyes on the Judiciary” billboards said that the message was not inciting and no one should be targeted for that. He said it was equally a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression. Other Nigerians also took to twitter to express their anger with the government. Meanwhile, the sponsors of the billboards, through UC Maxwell, said they would not be cowed or intimidated. They insisted that free speech was a constitutional right of every Nigerian.
Nigeria Court of Appeal: Website