Nigerian government refuses to compensate journalist a year after ECOWAS court ruling

Despite a judgement of the ECOWAS Court of Justice on  July 9 ,2021, ordering the Nigerian government to compensate journalist Agba Jalingo for his prolonged detention and mistreatment in custody, the journalist has not been paid.

“They haven’t paid the compensation. They haven’t paid anything,” Jalingo told the MFWA

Arrest and trial

Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, a privately owned news website, was arrested on  August 22 2019 over a report alleging that Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River state in south-southern Nigeria, diverted NGN500 million (US$1.2 million) belonging to the state’s coffers.

On August 30 2019, federal authorities in Cross River state, under Section 24(b) of the Cybercrime Act, charged the journalist with breach of peace and treason for his writing and social media posts against the governor.

According to the charge sheet, the disturbance charges stem from a July 12, 2019 article published on CrossRiverWatch that alleged corruption involving Ayade and the Cross River Micro Finance Bank.

The treason charges alleged that, Jalingo agitated for Ayade’s removal through “various malicious publications” on CrossRiverWatch and social media.

Jalingo was thereafter remanded in custody in Calabar but was released on bail on February 17, 2020, after spending 179 days in detention.

After his release at the time, the journalist told reporters that his jailers made life unbearable for him. He said at a period in the prison, his two hands were chained to a deep freezer for more than two weeks.

The ruling

In response to a suit filed on the journalist’s behalf by a civil rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the ECOWAS court in Nigeria’s capital Abuja ordered the Nigerian government to pay Jalingo a sum of NGN30 million (approximately US$73,000) as compensation for dehumanising him while in detention.

The court ruled at the time that Jalingo was illegally arrested, detained, tortured, 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,” the court said.

“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 NGN30 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.”

However, the Nigerian government has despised the ECOWAS court’s order to compensate Jalingo within three months of the judgement.

Jalingo told the MFWA that his lawyers are still in court to enforce the judgement.

“My lawyers have filed for enforcement of the [ECOWAS] court judgement at the Cross River State High Court. It is on record that they are owing me. Anytime they want to pay me, they should pay,” the journalist said.

He, however, said the monetary compensation was not as important as the acquittal of all the charges levelled against him.

Justice comes through

On 22 March 2022, a federal high court in Calabar, the capital of Cross River state, dismissed the terrorism, treasonable felony, and cybercrime charges against Jalingo.

The judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, dismissed the charges after the Cross River state government withdrew the charges against him, according to a report published by CrossRiverWatch.

Jalingo’s lawyer, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, commended the Cross River state attorney general for withdrawing the charges against his client.

“We are happy that our harassment has ended,” said Olumide-Fusika, who was accompanied by two other lawyers, Baba Isa and Kehole Enya.

Reacting, Jalingo said he is glad that the court has exonerated him of all charges.

“The court has told the governor and the police that arrested me that what they did was wrong. The court said the trial was a waste of its time. These are the things that gladden my heart,” he told MFWA.

Jalingo stressed that in a shrinking democratic space, it was time for journalists to be united and push back at those using power to silence those who stand for truth.

“Despite the risk that comes with this, we must not relent, which is why the work that media rights organisations [like the MFWA] are doing to protect journalists and look out for them is very important,” he said.

MFWA hails the Cross River high court ruling exonerating Jalingo from all the charges against him and demands that the government pay the NGN30 million compensation awarded to the journalist by the ECOWAS court.

Nigerian authorities should also desist from arbitrarily arresting and illegally detaining journalists as the constitution gives them the freedom to do their job without fear or favour.

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