SERAP Drags FG, Cross River To ECOWAS Court Over ‘Sham Trial Of Agba Jalingo’

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the government of Nigeria and Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade to ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja “over the prolonged, arbitrary detention; unfair prosecution; persecution, and sham trial of journalist Agba Jalingo.”

Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.

In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/2020 filed last week at the ECOWAS Court, SERAP is arguing that: “The sole objective of the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade is to perpetually keep Agba Jalingo in arbitrary detention and to silence him simply for expressing critical views and carrying out his legitimate job as journalist.”

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According to the suit: “This is not the first time the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade have taken actions to intimidate, harass and suppress journalists through the instrumentality of trumped-up charges and use of overly broad and unjust laws, including section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, 2015, which provides for the offence of cyber-stalking.”

The suit filed on SERAP’s behalf by its solicitor Kolawole Oluwadare, states: “the government of Nigeria and Cross-River state government are using vague laws that give officials massive discretion to undermine human rights. They are punishing Agba Jalingo and other journalists and silencing them for their reporting, thereby undermining Nigerians’ right to information, to public participation, to open and democratic governance in the country.”

The suit read, in part: “If freedom of expression and media freedom are to have true meaning in a democracy, these rights necessarily must include the freedom to criticize the government and its functionaries. Indeed, the idea of a democracy is that the people are encouraged to express their criticisms, even their wrong-headed criticisms, of elected government institutions, in the expectation that this process will improve the process of government.”

“The harassment, intimidation, unfair prosecution and arbitrary detention of Agba Jalingo simply for exercising his human rights violate Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which the country is a state party.”

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy but indispensable to a thriving civil society”

“In circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by human rights treaties upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.”

“The government of Nigeria and the Cross-River state government of governor Ben Ayade have via the charges of terrorism and treason and denial of bail to Agba Jalingo, violated and continued to breach his human rights.”

“SERAP contends that Agba Jalingo is being unfairly prosecuted because of his reporting in his online news outlet, Cross River Watch, which alleged that the Cross Rivers State Governor diverted the sum of N500million, belonging to the Cross-River Micro Finance Bank.”

“On 22nd August 2019, the Nigeria Police, through its special anti-robbery squad arrested Agba Jalingo. On 23rd August 2019, Mr. Jalingo was transferred to a detention facility run by the anti-cult and anti-kidnapping police in Calabar, the capital of Nigeria’s southern Cross River state and was held there for days before his arraignment on 31st August, 2019.”

SERAP is seeking the following reliefs:

1. A DECLARATION that the actions by the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade to continue to arbitrarily detain and unfairly prosecute Agba Jalingo using the Cybercrimes Act, sections 41 & 59 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code Act and sections 1 & 17 (2)(a)&(b) of the Terrorism (Prevention, Amendment) Act, violate his human rights, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

2. A DECLARATION that the arbitrary detention and unfair prosecution of Agba Jalingo by the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade is illegal and unlawful, as it amounts to breaches of Nigerian international obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and information and media freedom, guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

3. AN ORDER directing the government of Nigeria and the Cross-River state government of governor Ben Ayade to immediately and unconditionally release Agba Jalingo and drop all charges against him, consistent with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

4. AN ORDER directing directing the government of Nigeria and the Cross-River state government of governor Ben Ayade and/or their agents to provide Agba Jalingo with effective remedies and reparation, including adequate compensation, restitution, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition

5. FOR SUCH FURTHER orders as the Honorable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this suit.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

I Think Agba Jalingo Should Be Released – Gov Ben Ayade

 

Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River has said he thinks the embattled journalist (Agba Jalingo) should be released from the prison. 

Speaking after a long silence on the matter, Governor Ayade said the journalist who is standing trial for treason and for allegedly criticising his government, acted out of youthful exuberance.

“I am of the opinion that Agba should be released because I think he was just youthfully excited.

“If you ask Agba Jalingo today, I am the one working with his lawyers for his freedom, I am the one sustaining him and sending upkeeps,” Ayade claimed.

The governor also denied being the one who ordered the journalist’s arrest, stating that the case is between Agba Jalingo and the Federal Government.

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“In court, it is Federal Government versus Agba Jalingo, not Cross River State,” Mr Ayade told reporters on Monday at the presidential villa, Abuja, where he went to meet President Muhammadu Buhari.

“He’s in court for treason, a state does not have the power to try anyone for treason, it’s not me.”

Governor Ayade said the arrest and trial of Agba Jalingo are in connection with Omoyele Sowore’s #RevolutionNow protest, adding that the journalist left his core profession and began to meddle into politics.

“On his Facebook page, he sent pictures where he was being teargassed at the revolution march in Lagos. His own pictures, posted by himself and when Sowore was being arrested, he went back to his Facebook to post that the revolution has just started, ‘we will continue this battle until revolution works’. He admitted this in Court.

“You are seeing him as a journalist, but he’s not, he’s the chairman of Sowore’s party in Cross River State so he’s a politician. He has a primary calling, which is journalism.

“Once he started the campaign to overthrow the government of President Buhari, he ceased to be seen from the point of a journalist because he has become the state chairman of a party,” Governor Ayade stated.

The governor reiterated that he has been working for Mr. Jalingo’s release from Calabar prison where he has been incarcerated.

Until his arrest, Mr. Jalingo was the publisher of Cross RiverWatch.

He was apprehended was on August 22 allegedly over a report suggesting that Governor Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state, a claim which the government has strongly refuted.

CROISEC Boss Denies He Was Pressured By PDP To Bar APC From Elections

The Chairman of the Cross River Independent State Electoral Commission (CROISEC), Patrick Otu, has denied allegations that he called APC chieftain, Obono Obla, to say that the PDP led state government was pressuring him to bar the APC from contesting.

Following protests by the All progressives Congress (APC) that the recently concluded local council election in Rivers State was ‘a sham’ and ‘mere charade’, Mr Otu has replied stating that people will always debate and argue about elections when they come.

“Merger of parties is a novelty in our political system and so no law contemplates the merger of parties” he said adding that CROISEC does not register parties.

Speaking about APC’s inability to contest in the elections, Otu stated that shortly after APC was registered, INEC “referred us to the electoral act, section 84(6), which states that a newly registered party shall only participate in elections after 90 days”.

CROISEC did not make the electoral act, he said, adding that “we cannot keep a party out of elections”.

On shifting the date of election, in order to allow the APC participate, the CROISEC boss said the commission can only shift elections “when there is an imminent breakdown of law and order”.

He also said only the State Assembly as well as the Chief Executive of the State can raise the issue of shifting elections. “That is what the law states,” he said.

Responding to allegations made by Agba Jalingo, who had observed the election process, Mr Otu denied calling APC chieftain, Obla, informing him of the pressure mounted on him by the PDP, to ensure that APC was unable to contest in the elections.

However, he admitted that the APC had applied for an extension of the election date, stating that “APC did not write to us to extend, referring to any law

Their letter was an appeal”.

He disclosed that NCP, PPA, APGA participated in the election.

C/River LG Polls: Observer Caught Police, CROISEC, PDP Members Thumb Printing

A public affairs analyst, Agba Jalingo, who monitored the local government elections in Cross River state on Friday said that there was no election in the state as the electoral process was ‘a PDP affair” adding that police officers, PDP officials and members of the Cross River Independent State Electoral Commission (CROISEC) were caught thumb printing on ballot papers.

Controversies have trailed the recently concluded the local government elections in Cross River state and Mr Jalingo further fueled the controversy with statements he made while speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.

“Even though it was a one party election, PDP officials, the police including CROISEC officials – we caught them on video, thumb printing”

“They were thumb printing by themselves”.

Mr Jalingo, who said election did not hold in some parts of certain local governments, averred that people were unable to vote, due to violence and yet results were announced.

“There were few places in the mainland where people could not vote” he said.

At the Bakassi refugee camp, “there was uproar in the morning. The camp commander said they got some information that some politicians were going to come hire some people to go and do violence.

Ita Giwa came in the morning and move over a thousand of them to Day Spring Island where some of them actually voted.” Those who could not meet the voyage could not vote.

Mr Jalingo who was an observer at the elections said “it was a one party election”.

There are 18 local governments in cross river state and only the PDP featured candidates in the 18 local government chairmanship positions.

He said that State Independent Electoral Commissioner “is telling a lie”

The commissioner had said that almost all the other political parties pulled out of the race leading to PDP being the only party standing.

Mr. Jalingo faulted this assertion, adding that “if anybody said the parties pulled out, the person is telling a lie”.

According to him, there are 196 political wards in the state and “the PDP had all of them but seven”.

He disclosed that defunct parties such as ACN and PPA also had their logos on the ballot paper.

“APC, the new party that wanted to contest the election was disenfranchised by CROSIEC”. He continued by saying that the electoral body had called a press conference to say that APC does not qualify to contest because “the cross river local government elections electoral acts says that elections must be conducted 90 days before the expiration of the incumbent tenure and APC was registered later than 90 days”.

He also said that APC chieftain, Obono Obla had revealed that the CROSIEC boss had told him (Obla) via a telephone call that the PDP led state government was pressuring him to bar the APC from contesting.

The CROSIEC chairman, Patrick Otu, then told Obla that APC should write a letter demanding for an extension of time.

The letter was written, however, three days later CROISEC called the conference disqualifying APC from the election.

Mr Jalingo said Otuh, who is yet to confirm the allegation, has been unreachable.

Mr Jalingo stated that the said video is on crossriverwatch.com