4:53 pm - Thursday May 24, 1173

FREEDOM AT LAST: Court frees Nigerian Journalist, Activist AGBA JALINGO after 30 months in jail …acquitted of Terrorism, Treasonable Felony and Cyber Crimes *Framed up by Cross River State government for daring governor to account for stewardship, ECOWAS court awards N30milion damages against Nigerian government for injustice *“Relying on the provisions of Section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, I hereby acquit Agba Jalingo on all four charges. Therefore, the charge is hereby dismissed” – Justice Ojukwu, Federal High Court, Calabar * “Acquittal of journalist Agba Jalingo on trumped-up charges is welcome, but he should never have been arrested, detained for nearly six months, prosecuted for his work in the first place”-Angela Quintal, Committee to Protect Journalists Africa program coordinator *BY AHMED RABIU/JUDICIAL Reporter, Cross River State

FREEDOM AT LAST:

Court frees Nigerian Journalist, Activist AGBA JALINGO after 30 months in jail

…acquitted of Terrorism, Treasonable Felony and Cyber Crimes

*Framed up by Cross River State government for daring governor to account for stewardship, ECOWAS court awards N30milion damages against Nigerian government for injustice

*“Relying on the provisions of Section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, I hereby acquit Agba Jalingo on all four charges. Therefore, the charge is hereby dismissed”- Justice Ojukwu, Federal High Court, Calabar

* “Acquittal of journalist Agba Jalingo on trumped-up charges is welcome, but he should never have been arrested, detained for nearly six months, prosecuted for his work in the first place”-Angela Quintal, Committee to Protect Journalists Africa program coordinator

*BY AHMED RABIU/JUDICIAL Reporter, Cross River State

AGBA JALINGO IS AN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, ACTIVIST WHO HOLDS THE FEET OF PUBLIC HOLDERS TO THE FIRE. In Cross River State, he was seen by the administration of Governor Ben Ayade as a ‘thorn in-the-flesh’ for constantly asking the leadership in the state to account for his leadership and explain his ‘shady lifestyle.’ Not willing to transparency, Ayade allegedly set up trump up charges against Jalingo and had to use state power abuse to lock the media practitioner up in cell. But, freedom has come finally for this journalist as a had been set free and acquitted of all crimes few days ago.

A Federal High Court sitting in Calabar discharged a journalist and activist, Jalingo, of the terrorism, treasonable felony and cyber-crimes preferred by the federal and Cross River State governments. Jalingo has been a strong critic of Governor Ben Ayade and his style of governance.

The discharge and dismissal of the case was sequel to the withdrawal of the charges by the state government. The state had taken over the prosecution of the case from the federal government in February 2020 when he was admitted to bail after spending 179 days in incarceration.

At the resumed hearing of the case yesterday, the state Director of Public Prosecution, John Ogban, told the court that he received the directives from the counsel to the Attorney General of the Federation, Tanko Ashang, to discontinue the case.

Ogban, who was slammed by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu at the last adjourned date, said they had filed a further amended charge before now, but made a verbal application for the withdrawal of the case.

When asked if he was withdrawing the case totally and would no longer prosecute the charge, Ogban answered in the affirmative.

The defence, led by Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), did not object to the verbal application and commended the directive.

“We commend the Honourable Attorney General of the state for taking this decision. We are happy that our harassment has ended,” Olumide-Fusika who was accompanied by F. Baba Isa and Kehole Enya said.

He further prayed the court to release the sum paid as the bail bond into an interest yielding account by the defendant. The matter was then stood down for the court to verify the payment date among other items.

And, upon resumption, Justice Ojukwu while relying on the provisions of Section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, acquitted the Jalingo, “on all four charges. Therefore, the charge is hereby dismissed.”

On the application for the refund, the court held that the sum and the interest should be paid to him.

This draws the curtain on the case so far with the federal and State governments failing to provide a single witness in the 30 months the trial lasted, despite an initial order to mask witnesses.

Jalingo was arrested on August 22, 2019, over an article published in July of that year wherein he demanded the whereabouts of the N500 million approved and released for the floating of the Cross River State Microfinance Bank.

After 34 days in police custody, he was arraigned for alleged acts of terrorism, cultism, treasonable felony and attempts to overthrow the State government. He pleaded not guilty and was remanded at the Afokang prisons.

Denied bail twice by Justice Simon Amobeda, who was presiding over Court 2 of the division, he was eventually admitted to bail by Justice Sule Shuaibu, who presided over Court 1 after Justice Amobeda recused himself following allegation compromise.

The charges preferred against him were amended several times during the trial and he took four pleas within the duration of the trial – twice under Justice Amobeda, once under Justice Shuaibu and once under Justice Ojukwu.

Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“Today’s acquittal of journalist Agba Jalingo on trumped-up charges is welcome, but he should never have been arrested, detained for nearly six months, and prosecuted for his work in the first place,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Nigerian authorities should compensate Jalingo for his mistreatment, in compliance with a 2021 regional court decision, and ensure that journalism is not criminalized, and the media can report freely.”

Jalingo was arrested on August 22, 2019 and charged for his writing and social media posts about Cross River state Governor Benedict Ayade, according to CPJ documentation and media reports.

“At every point in time, I knew I was innocent,” Jalingo, publisher of the privately owned news website CrossRiverWatch, told CPJ by phone. “I have always known this day will come.”

In July 2021, the ECOWAS Court of Justice, a West African regional court, ordered the Nigerian government to compensate Jalingo for his prolonged detention and mistreatment in custody, according to media reports and CPJ calls for compliance. As of Monday, Jalingo has not been paid, he told CPJ.

ECOWAS court awards N30m damages against FG:

The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has “ordered the Federal Government to pay a journalist, Agba Jalingo, N30 million as compensation for ill-treating and torturing him while in detention in Cross River state.

Delivering judgment in the suit, yesterday, the court held: “Agba Jalingo was arrested and chained to a deep freezer for about 34 days without being charged to court, brutalised and dehumanised. This action taken on Jalingo’s behalf by SERAP seeks from this court reparation for inhuman treatment and torture meted out to him. We have looked at the evidence before us. There was no answer as to the fact that Jalingo was arrested and illegally detained, brutalised and dehumanised.

“This is against international human rights treaties, particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party. The Nigerian government has flouted the provisions of these treaties on international fair trial standards.

“For these reasons, on the claims of compensation for ill-treatment and torture, SERAP has been able to establish the claims. We condemn the Nigerian government for these acts, and hereby award compensation of N30 million to Mr. Jalingo for violations of his human rights. The Nigerian government must comply with the order of the court within three months and file a process to this court to this effect.”

Reacting to the judgment, Femi Falana (SAN), said: “In view of the ongoing brutalisation of hapless Nigerian citizens by the police and other security agencies, this judgment could not have come at a more opportune time than now.

“It is to be hoped that the federal and state governments and all law enforcement agencies will study the terms of the judgment and desist from further infringing on the human rights of the Nigerian people, including criminal suspects who are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the state.”

The judgment followed the suit filed by SERAP against the federal and Cross River State governments at the ECOWAS Court over the prolonged, arbitrary detention, unfair prosecution, persecution and sham trial of Jalingo.

CERTAINLY, Good journalism costs a lot of money. Without doubt, only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government. We are ready to hold every corrupt government accountable to the citizens. To continually enjoy free access to the best investigative journalism in Nigeria, we are requesting of you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavor.

By contributing to NAIJA STANDARD NEWSPAPER, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all without fear or favor.

Your donation is voluntary — please decide how much and how often you want to give. For offline donation, email: letters@nigeriastandardnewspaper.com or call +2348037128048 (Nigeria) or +16825834890 (United States of America)

donation

* are compulsory
cardlogos

Filed in: Media

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply