Lawyers , Nigerians Slam Tinubu's Govt For Dismantling ‘All Eyes On Judiciary’ Billboards

In a bold and thought-provoking move, billboards emblazoned with the phrase ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ recently sprang up across Abuja, capturing the attention of passersby.

Similarly, on the streets and in the markets across the country, it has become fashionable for the youths and women to adorn T-shirts and carry bags with ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ message. This development sparked a heated debate within Nigeria’s advertising and legal communities.

However, the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria, ARCON, swiftly deemed the billboards offensive and issued an order for their immediate removal. The council also suspended its top officials for allowing the erection of the billboards while also disbanding their unit. Director General of ARCON, Olalekan Fadolapo, said, “the advertisement is considered a blackmail against the Nigerian judiciary, the presidential election petition tribunal and particularly the justices of the tribunal who are expected to discharge their judicial functions without fear or favour over a matter that is currently jus pendis”.

This has left many pondering the implications of the council’s action for free speech and the upcoming judgments on the 2023 election petition cases. The controversy surrounding the erection of the billboards has therefore ignited a nationwide discussion on the delicate balance between freedom of expression and responsible advertising.

Some former state attorney-generals, lawyers, and activists who reacted to the action criticized the Federal Government, saying nothing was disparaging about the billboards, and the message conveyed, while some citizens defended the government, insisting the billboards were unnecessary.

Nothing odious about the message- Nwoko, SAN

A former Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko, SAN, said: “As a lawyer, I see nothing offensive about the billboard or the message that it carries. I do not see why the government should take offence about such a billboard, except if there is anything in their conscience that makes it offensive.

Otherwise, I believe that if anybody says, ‘All eyes on you,’ it is for good because they are expecting you to do the right thing. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with the message of that billboard. I believe those who find the message offensive may think it is putting the judiciary on edge. However, this is truly my opinion.

Usman Dan Fodio said conscience is an open wound, and only the truth can heal it, so for me, if you work with a clear conscience and somebody says ‘all eyes are on you’, you should be happy and say ‘expect I will deliver on it’. I will not find myself as attacked or antagonized by that.

But if I have anything to hide and I do not intend to do the right thing, once somebody says ‘all eyes are on me,’ I will get jittery, and worried because what I will deliver will not be the expectation of the right- thinking members of the society. That is why I am worried the government is worried about that message”

Legal luminary, Chief Ukpai Ukiro, described the pulling down of the billboard with the inscription “ All Eyes Are on The Judiciary”, by the Federal Government as the beginning of dictatorship in Nigeria.

Ukiro who spoke with Saturday Vanguard in Umuahia said:”It’s a breach of right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression. That is the beginning of dictatorship. Once the Government is jittery or afraid of expression of free speech it begins to drift towards dictatorship. By the action of the Federal Government, the first step on the ignoble path of dictatorship has been taken. And that is why everybody who is a lover of democracy in Nigeria must rise up to condemn this and stand against it, otherwise we are doomed democratically “.

Danger signal to our democracy —Austin Mbaka

Another Abia-based legal practitioner, Mr Austin Mbaka, also condemned the action of the Federal Government, describing it as a danger signal to democracy in Nigeria. Mbaka further said it was a sign that the Federal Government was already uncomfortable over the possible outcome of the Presidential Election Petitions Court.

“I think the Federal Government is apprehensive about the outcome of the Presidential Election Petitions Court. Otherwise, I didn’t see any reason it would have dismantled the billboard that says all eyes are on the judiciary.

The message is not offensive in any way. Are all eyes not on the judiciary now? The bitter truth is that all eyes and of course, all ears are on the judiciary. We are all listening and watching to know what the judiciary will come up with concerning the pending election matter.

It’s also a violation of the right of freedom of speech of those who erected the billboard. We have freedom of speech in Nigeria. If those behind the message had made the necessary payments and got their receipts, the federal government had no right to act the way it did”

Message not offensive to right-thinking person —Atedo Peterside

In his own contribution, Atedo Peterside, founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc and Anap Foundation, argued that the “All Eyes On The Judiciary” slogan recently seen on billboards across the country is far from being offensive.

In a tweet last Friday, Peterside said the slogan should not have been offensive to a right-thinking person. He said, “For the record, methinks #AllEyesOnTheJudiciary is a neutral slogan that should ordinarily not offend a right-thinking and sincere person in a civilised society.

I can understand someone rejecting a negative slogan like let us turn our noses up at the judiciary. Enough said.”

It is proper that eyes be on the judiciary–Ogwuche, lawyer

A legal practitioner, International Law advocate, and social activist, Festus Ogwuche, said: “The people responsible for billboards have their rights to freedom of speech and there is nothing in the publication that entails the withdrawal or derogation from that rights that is fundamental.

Indeed, it is a clarion call to the judiciary to understand the depth of feelings of the vast generality of the populace on the sacredness of the duty upon them to dispense justice with fairness and objectivity, and we make this call daily to remind the sector of this responsibility.

There is no social advocacy greater than this, particularly, as we are experiencing great failures and downturns in the judicial system that are becoming a huge threat to our existence as a nation.

Now, from that prediction, why would anybody think that it is offensive for one to demand that eyes should be on the judiciary? Are there guarantees that the present judicial officers that have churned out mind-boggling and unacceptable decisions that do not meet the minimum criteria or standards of justice have turned new leaves and the prospects of a wholesome adjudication devoid of useless technicalities and travesties are now workable? Is there any sign that the high-level corruption which the ICPC 2022 report finds the judicial sector deeply mired in has abated one bit? Yes, all eyes must be on the judiciary that has derogated from the nobility of its sanctity into the enclave of murk and putrid mockery disdain, and stench.

Eyes must be on the judiciary, which failure to stand up to its constitutional duties has resulted in the current doom and hopelessness that currently engulfed our dear nation.

We must not only put our eyes on the judiciary but also point fingers menacingly at it, for it is the abdication of justice stable for the esoteric lure, fascination of judicial drudgery, and lucre that impugn its integrity”.

The billboards didn’t say ‘All Guns on the Judiciary’ — Effiong, legal practitioner

Mr Inibehe Effiong, a prominent public interest and human rights lawyer emphasized the significance of the message conveyed by the billboards and the importance of closely monitoring the judiciary ahead of the upcoming judgements on the 2023 election petition cases.

According to him, “in the context of the upcoming 2023 election petition cases, it is paramount that we keep a close eye on the judiciary. Openness, accessibility, and accountability are the bedrocks of justice in any society, and citizens have the right to demand them from all branches of government.

Even the judiciary knows that all eyes are on it regarding the presidential election petitions. It is unacceptable and pathetic for some partisan individuals to abuse government power and deploy government agencies to clamp down on a harmless message.

Are not all eyes on the judiciary? Is there anyone in Nigeria who is not watching to see the outcome of the presidential election petition proceedings? This does not amount to a threat against the Justices of the Court of Appeal who are handling the cases; rather, the billboards merely express citizens’ interest in electoral litigation. The public was granted access to observe the proceedings, which were not held in secret. Justice is not afraid of the scrutiny of the people or the public’s interest in the administration of justice.

I fail to see how the phrase ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ is sub judice. The billboards did not say ‘All Guns are on the Judiciary.’ The position of ARCON, stating that the billboards were taken down because the cases are in court, lacks legal basis.

The law does not prohibit lawyers from commenting on the cases they are handling in court, as long as they do not do so in a manner that prejudices the outcome of the case. The inscriptions on the billboards are not even couched in a partisan manner; they don’t mention any political party. The eyes of all politicians are on the judiciary, including President Bola Tinubu and the Director-General of ARCON. Thus, this is just sickening hypocrisy.

If people have something they are hiding, they should be straightforward about it and stop trivializing such a serious matter. The government’s action amounts to a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The fact that some people are offended by those billboards is not enough reason to have them removed. The courts have ruled that the right to free speech is meaningless if people are not allowed to express views that may offend others, as long as they haven’t crossed the bounds of the law.”

Nigerians not bereft of creative ideas —Monye

Moses Monye, a rights advocate emphasized that the billboards served as a reminder for Nigerians to pay attention to the judiciary, particularly with regards to the upcoming judgments on the election petition cases.

He expressed disappointment at their removal and highlighted the necessity for stakeholders to engage in open discussions regarding the state of the justice system and to hold the nation’s institutions accountable.

Monye emphasized that the utilization of alternative methods by Nigerians to bypass the restrictions on billboards reflects a deep-rooted yearning for effective governance and a sense of order within the country.

He stated, “If you remove billboards, Nigerians will resort to posters; if you remove posters, they will resort to stickers; and if you remove stickers, people will end up becoming walking billboards, much like the style of the Lords Chosen. This highlights the level of frustration currently experienced by Nigerians. Do you know why? All eyes are on the judiciary.”

Erect more billboards–Dr. Mudiaga-Odje, constitutional lawyer

Constitutional lawyer and activist, Dr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, asserted, “This present scenario is a fallout of the outcome of the 2023 elections, which is expected in any democracy, especially where the main contenders and even pretenders to the elective offices, have surrendered themselves before the judiciary. The judiciary is now in focus and they expect its judgments to be just and fair in the circumstances.

To my limited knowledge of the law, I see nothing and absolutely nothing wrong with the erection of the said billboards, except they have not paid the required fee for erecting same.

I recently delivered a lecture to the University of Benin Alumni, Association, Warri Chapter, titled” The Judiciary In The Eyes Of The Storm”. Therefore, if I erected this lecture title, perhaps the regulatory authority will bring the billboard down as desecrating the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.

That is completely incongruous with Section 39 of our 1999 Constitution as amended, which guarantees an unmitigated right to freedom of expression for all Nigerians. The words, ‘All Eyes on the Judiciary’ are indeed much wider than the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, and include all courts in Nigeria hearing any matter relating to the 2023 elections. A militant bar and/or citizenry heralds a vibrant bench and/or judiciary.

Indeed, it is very axiomatic even without erecting it on a billboard that all eyes are actually on the judiciary now. It is the judiciary that will finally validate the election results and that automatically has put the same in the spotlight.

Before the announcement of the election results, ‘All eyes were on INEC’. After INEC, rightly, all eyes are on the judiciary. After the announcement of results, all eyes naturally are now on the judiciary, as people have filed petitions and cases for judicial determination. The erection of the said billboards is a welcome development and also a veritable means of arousing the sensibilities of our people.

That will make the judiciary sit up and live up to expectations. Therefore, the average person must now take such steps in erecting more of such billboards to protect their interest and indeed save the judiciary”.



Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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