Top officials of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCO) have been suspended and their unit disbanded following the “All eyes on the judiciary” billboards which surfaced in Abuja and a few other states.
The director and deputy director of the Advertising Standards Panel of the council were suspended to “enable unprejudiced investigation of the issue,” the director general, Olalekan Fadolapo, said in a statement.
He said that the officials failed to diligently exercise their gatekeeping function.
The “All eyes on the judiciary” billboards have been trending on social media for some days, as the date of judgement in the presidential election petitions draws close.
“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 statement reads.
“The concepts exposed were not approved by the Advertising Standards Panel, hence, the council has directed that all the materials being exposed be brought down immediately and the violators sanctioned.”
Mr Fadolapo said the advertisement is considered a “blackmail against the Nigerian Judiciary, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal and particularly the honorable justices of the tribunal who are expected to discharge their judicial functions without fear or favour over a matter that is currently jus pendis.”
He said that the advert failed vetting guidelines. “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 pends 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 regulatory body said that the advertisement is “controversial and capable of instigating public unrest and breach of public peace.”
Mr Fadolapo also said that the council will set up a committee to unravel “the circumstances leading to the erroneous approval of one of the concepts of the inappropriate advert and the breach of the vetting guidelines.”
However, Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, said the removal of the billboards is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
“There is nothing inciting in this message and no one should be targeted for that,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter.)
“The law allows the courts to be amenable to criticisms and scrutiny.”
Curled from Premium Times