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Nigerian journalist, Agba Jalingo, who has been in police cell for more than a week, in respect of a report about an alleged diversion of N500 million by the Cross River State governor, has been charged with treason.
Mr Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, a Cross River State-based newspaper, was arrested and detained over a petition by the government’s owned microfinance bank following the report in his newspaper.
Mr Jalingo’s newspaper has relentlessly criticised Ben Ayade, the state governor.
The journalist who was arrested in Lagos and driven by road to Calabar, the capital city of the Cross River State, had sued the police over his arrest and detention, which he said were illegal and a breach of his fundamental human rights. He is asking a court to order the police to pay him N150 million as damages for the manner he was allegedly maltreated.
But while a judge is yet to hear Mr Jalingo’s fundamental human rights case, the police have instituted a four-count charge of treasonable felony, terrorism, cultism, and the disturbance of public peace on the journalist.
The charges which were filled at the Federal High Court in Calabar, also indicated that Mr Jalingo was working with the #RevolutionNow movement of the detained publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, to destabilise the government and “undemocratically” force the government of Mr Ayade to end through violent means.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) accused Mr Sowore, a former presidential candidate, of planning to forcibly topple the government through his #RevolutionNow protest. Mr Sowore who was arrested by the State Security Security (SSS) is being held on court-ordered extended detention for 45 days.
The first count of the suit filed on August 30, claimed that Mr Jalingo carried out acts of treasonable felony by using his newspaper to instigate the removal of the state governor.
“That you Agba on or about the 2ndof July 2019…did carry out acts of treason and treasonable felony by threatening through various publication on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria from office without due process of law and thereby committed an offence punishable under the Section 41 of the Criminal Code of Act, Cap C38, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
The second charge alleged that through the publication of the story titled: “How Ayade approved and diverted N500million for Cross River Micro Finance”, the journalist intended to “cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace in Calabar, for the purpose of bringing down the reputation of the Executive Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade.”
The charge stated that the alleged offence was in breach of Section 59 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, 2004.
Mr Jalingo was also accused of working with Mr Sowore, Ekanem Ekpo, and others at large of terrorism. The charge did not, however, state the specific act of terrorism the accused was involved in.
Lastly, the journalist, alongside Mr Sowore, was accused of meeting with cult leaders in the state to “instigate them to commence acts of terrorism” on Mr Ayade with the aim to “undemocratically force his government to end through various acts of violence.”
“Release him unconditionally,” – Lawyer
Monday Ubani, counsel to Mr Jalingo, in a statement on Saturday, described the charges as “contrived”. He said Mr Jalingo should have been charged not more than 48 hours after his arrest in line with the law of the country adding that the police intend to use the excuse that courts are on vacation to further detain his client.
Mr Ubani, therefore asked that Mr Jalingo be released immediately and without conditions.
“We demand the unconditional release of Agba Jalingo from the unlawful custody of the police as it is obvious that the Governor and Police are not ready to arraign him yet for his alleged crime of treason. However, if they have a case against him, the best thing and option available to them is to charge him to court on Monday and allow the judiciary to decide his guilt or innocence.
“We must resist Nigeria being governed like a banana republic or like a dictatorship. Nigerians are awake!”