In a significant move, the federal government of Nigeria administration led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has taken the decision to dissolve the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP). This action was prompted by the ASP's endorsement of billboards that were deemed to be attempting to exert pressure on the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. The contentious billboard bore the message: 'All Eyes on The Judiciary.'
The Director-General of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Dr. Olalekan Fadoləpo, made an official statement on Tuesday, announcing the dismantling of the Panel. Alongside this, the Council has temporarily suspended both the Director and Deputy Director responsible for Regulations. This move, according to him, has been taken to facilitate a thorough investigation into the matter at hand.
The decision to dissolve the ASP Secretariat comes in the midst of escalating disputes that have arisen following the recent Nigerian general elections. These elections, which encompassed the presidential, National Assembly, governorship, and state Houses of Assembly contests, have attracted a wave of allegations regarding irregularities. Various candidates from different political parties have lodged petitions, contesting the outcomes of these elections. These petitions are aimed at challenging the declared winners as well as the conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
A notable historical context underlines the significance of these election disputes. In the last five general elections held in Nigeria, a total of 3,959 petitions were filed by candidates and/or political parties contesting the election results. The current situation, involving the presidential election, has garnered considerable attention. Around 100 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) have been mobilized by stakeholders to represent the various parties involved, including the declared winner Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, who secured second and third positions respectively as declared by INEC. These contenders are particularly stressing the need for the tribunal (Court of Appeal) to prioritize substance over technicalities, believing that such an approach will uphold justice.
Despite the introduction of innovations such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) through the 2022 Electoral Act, the recent elections still witnessed allegations of irregularities. The BVAS aimed to authenticate voters and enable real-time uploading of polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV). However, INEC failed to promptly upload presidential results to IReV, citing certain technical “glitches” or challenges. The elections were also marred by incidents of violence, notably including the tragic murder of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Campaign Coordinator in Ahoada-West Council, Mr. Chisom Lennard, during the governorship election in Rivers State. Similar complaints were reported in Lagos State, ranging from voter intimidation to ballot box theft.
These issues have prompted concerned citizens to advocate for a transparent and independent judiciary as a fundamental pillar of a democratic society. The "All Eyes on the Judiciary" movement, spearheaded by supporters of the Labour Party's Presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, aims to increase public awareness and scrutiny of the judicial process. They are concerned that the judiciary might be swayed to favour the incumbent President Bola Tinubu in their decisions. To advance their cause, they have adopted creative strategies, including the use of handbags, t-shirts, and billboards to engage the public and drive change.
In recent days, social media has been flooded with images of well-designed bags emblazoned with the message "All Eyes on the Judiciary." This campaign has gained momentum, with many individuals proudly displaying these bag
s. Beyond the use of bags and t-shirts, activists have gone a step further by obtaining approval to erect billboards, particularly in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The presence of these billboards raised concerns within the government, ultimately leading to the disbandment of the board responsible for approving such advertisements.
Dr. Olalekan Fadoləpo, the Director-General of ARCON, clarified the reasons behind the ASP Secretariat's dissolution. He cited a specific concept within the advertisement that failed to meet the vetting guidelines. The ASP, a statutory panel under ARCON, is tasked with ensuring that advertisements adhere to federal laws and the advertising profession's ethical code. The advert's central theme directly relates to a matter pending before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, rendering it jus pendis. In line with Nigerian legal principles, matters awaiting judicial pronouncement are prohibited from being publicly discussed, debated, or advertised. Given this, the advertisement is considered contentious and has the potential to incite public unrest and disturb public peace. It's viewed as a form of blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and specifically the Justices of the Tribunal, who are expected to fulfill their judicial responsibilities impartially in matters that are currently jus pendis.
The ARCON DG declared that a committee will be established to investigate the circumstances leading to the erroneous approval of the advertisement concept and the breach of vetting guidelines. Consequently, both the Director and Deputy Director in charge of Regulations have been suspended. This suspension aims to ensure an unbiased investigation into the matter. The Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) Secretariat's dissolution stems from its perceived failure to effectively uphold its role as a gatekeeper of advertising, advertisement, and marketing communications.