June 13, 2024

As Nigeria’s judiciary gears up to render its verdict on the 2023 presidential election, Wale Igbintade highlights the unprecedented strain the third arm of government is currently experiencing.

The eagerly anticipated decision of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPT) has prompted recent government actions aimed at alleviating the mounting pressure on the judiciary. The dissolution of the Secretariat of the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) is one such move, driven by the government’s concerns about billboards bearing the title “All Eyes on The Judiciary,” which it deemed a form of judicial coercion.

These billboards, displaying the hashtag “All Eyes on The Judiciary,” appeared prominently on major roads in Abuja last week. They were orchestrated by a group called Diaspora’s for Good Governance, coinciding with the upcoming verdict of the presidential election tribunal challenging President Bola Tinubu’s electoral victory.

The intention behind these billboards was clear—to exert influence on the esteemed judges presiding over the panel, with the aim of ensuring their impartiality.

The ASP, a component of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), is tasked with ensuring that advertisements adhere to national laws and ethical codes within the advertising field.

Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, Director-General of ARCON, confirmed the dissolution of the panel in response to this incident. He announced the suspension of the Director and Deputy Director in charge of regulations, pending an investigation. The billboards were also ordered to be taken down.

Fadolapo stated, “The Advertising Standards Panel of the Council also erred in the approval of one of the concepts as the advertisement failed to vet guidelines on the following grounds: The cause forming the central theme of the campaign in the advertisement is a matter pending before the Presidential Election Petition Court.”

Furthermore, the general elections of 2023, with their outcomes declared, directed aggrieved parties to seek legal recourse. With the battle for the elections’ validity shifted to various Election Petitions Tribunals, public scrutiny of the judiciary has intensified. There is a collective insistence that justice be served without prejudice.

Despite the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enhance the credibility of election outcomes, the presidential and gubernatorial elections continued to be disputed. Opposition parties alleged that INEC disregarded BVAS rules, generating controversial results that became subjects of legal proceedings.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has often invalidated governorship elections but has never altered the outcome of a presidential election. This raises questions about whether the irregularities causing gubernatorial election annulments were not also present on a larger scale in presidential elections.

As the pressure on the judiciary persists, various individuals and groups have taken different approaches to influence its decisions. From subtle appeals to direct messaging, the focus is on ensuring that the judiciary delivers justice transparently and impartially.

However, these efforts have been met with criticism, with some arguing that they undermine the independence of the judiciary. One ministerial nominee condemned these attempts, stating that any endeavor to compromise the judiciary could lead to national unrest.

In the midst of these developments, Nigeria’s judiciary stands at a crossroads, facing intense scrutiny and the imperative to uphold justice, credibility, and the rule of law.

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