The Police at the federal headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, have December 8, 2022, arraigned Agba Jalingo, journalist and publisher of CrossRiverWatch, before court for allegedly defaming one Elizabeth Ayade, the sister-in-law of the Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade.
Jalingo was hit with a two-count charge on cybercrime in the suit bearing charge number FHC/ABJ/CR/565/2022.
The latest development comes about five months after the police arrested the journalist over a publication that alleged that Elizabeth paid one Paschal Aboh to impersonate her during an examination at the Nigerian Law School. Jalingo was arrested at his Lagos home on August 19, 2022, and released on bail the following day.
The alleged impersonator and law lecturer at the University of Calabar (UNICAL), Aboh, has been arrested for impersonation during an examination at the law school in May 2022. He is being prosecuted since the scandal broke out.
Jalingo, in his publication dated June 24, 2022, said he sought enquiries from the law school about the dealings between Elizabeth and Aboh, but that the school declined to furnish him with the details.
However, Elizabeth, through her lawyers, Uyi Frank Obayagbona & Co, denied the allegation that Aboh impersonated her in the exam. She then filed a defamation petition against Jalingo, seeking NGN500 million (US$1.1 million) damages from the journalist.
The petition followed Jalingo’s refusal to pull down his June 30, 2022, Facebook publication on the scandal as demanded in a July 6, 2022, letter from Elizabeth’s lawyers, Uyi Frank Obayagbona & Co.
The charge sheet shared with the Media Foundation for West Africa by Jalingo showed that the complainant and Commissioner of Police in Abuja, Sadiq Idris Abubakar, filed the suit before the Federal High Court on December 8, 2022.
The suit read: “That you, Agba Jalingo, male of No 14 Oremeji Street, Ogudu Alapere, Lagos, on 30th June 2022, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did intentionally publish online at CrossRiverWatch and alleged that one Mrs Elizabeth Ayade procured the services of one Pascal Aboh to sit the Nigerian Law School Examination Bar Examination for her, information you know to be false for the purpose of causing her annoyance, ill will, and insult. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 24(1)b of the Cybercrimes (Protection, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015.
“That you, Agba Jalingo, male of No 14 Oremeji Street, Ogudu Alapere, Lagos, on 30th June 2022, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did intentionally publish on your Facebook page, known as Agba Jalingo, that one Mrs Elizabeth Ayade procured the services of one Pascal Aboh to sit the Nigerian Law School Examination Bar Examination for her, information you know to be false for the purpose of causing her annoyance, ill will, and insult. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 24(1)b of the Cybercrimes (Protection, Prevention, etc) Act, 2015.”
Jalingo said he stands by his report and is not shaken by the trial. The police headquarters in Abuja has not responded to MFWA’s enquiries.
In an earlier statement, Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and MFWA board member, said harassing Jalingo based on the alleged defamation of the governor’s sister-in-law is the height of official impunity in a democratic society.
Victim of unending harassment
Jalingo was arrested in August 2019 and detained for six months, following a series of investigative reports he published on alleged corrupt practices in the administration of the Cross River State governor. He was arrested and subjected to a marathon trial that lasted 30 months.
At the time, the governor accused the journalist of terrorism, treason, treasonable felony and attempts to overthrow his government.
Jalingo was abused and dehumanised while in prison. He alleged during interviews that at a time, prison warders chained his two hands to a deep freezer for more than two weeks. On February 13, 2022, the journalist was released on bail after 174 days in detention.
On March 21, 2022, the case was finally dismissed after a marathon 30-month trial. Upon his release, Jalingo, with the help of a social rights group, SERAP, sued the government over the abuse of his rights. On July 9, 2022, the ECOWAS Court gave its ruling ordering the Nigerian government to pay the journalist NGN30 million (US$65,000) as compensation for subjecting him to dehumanizing treatment in prison. Jalingo told MFWA recently that the compensation has not been paid.
MFWA strongly urges the authorities of the police and the Cross River State government to stop harassing Jalingo for doing his job as a journalist. The authorities must drop all charges filed against him immediately and allow him to exercise his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in Section 39 of the Nigerian constitution.