The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release of journalist Agba Jalingo after 174 days in detention and calls on the Nigerian authorities to drop all charges against him.
Agba Jalingo, Publisher of the Cross River Watch newspaper, who is on trial for treason, was granted bail on February 13, 2020. The Federal High Court in Calabar granted the journalist 10 million Naira (about US$ 27, 300) bail, following an application by his lawyer, Attah Ochinke.
The journalist was arrested on August 22, 2019, after he published a report alleging that the Cross River State government had diverted monies allocated in the State budget for the establishment of a community bank. He spent a total of 174 days in police cell and in prison as his trial raged on.
Despite having been arrested after the said publication, Jalingo is charged with treason in connection with his alleged support for political activist, Omoyele Sowore’s call for a revolution in Nigeria. He is facing charges of treasonable felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross River State Government. The prosecution is led by the Attorney General of Cross River state, Tanko Ashang, and the Director of Public Prosecution in the State’s Ministry of Justice, Greg Okem.
The granting of the bail by trial judge, Justice Sule Shuaibu, comes after two previous applications were denied by Justice Simon Amobeda, who previously handled the case at the Federal High Court in Calabar. Justice Amobeda was forced to withdraw from the case after his private remarks, which was judged to be prejudicial against Jalingo, was leaked.
Justice Amoeba’s remarks triggered a clarion call from several organisations, including the trade unions, for Jalingo to be freed. In a letter to Nigeria’s Attorney General dated February 10, 2020, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, said “Mr Jalingo’s travail appears to give off the scent of persecution and not prosecution.”
On his second appearance on October 4, 2019, Jalingo was brought to court in handcuffs, and in an episode that offends the most basic principles of fair trial, Justice Amobeda on October 23, allowed witnesses to testify against the accused without disclosing their identity.
In the light of these outrageous proceedings, the MFWA cannot but agree with the Nigeria Labour Congress that Jalingo’s trial is a persecution. The entire process represents a blatant case of abuse of power to intimidate and silence a critical journalist. We therefore welcome Jalingo’s release on bail and further call on the authorities in Nigeria to drop all charges against the journalist who should not have been arrested in the first place.