Agba Jalingo, the Nigerian journalist who has been incarcerated for 172 days for alleged acts of terrorism and cybercrime following an article he wrote in July 2019 seeking accountability for half a billion Naira alleged to have been diverted by the Cross River State government will on Thursday be docked before a new Judge.
This follows the order of the former trial judge, Justice Simon Amobeda who in his ruling of Friday, February 7, 2020 recused himself. The new Judge is Justice Sule Shuaibu who
is the administrative judge of the Calabar division of the Federal High court.
Jalingo who risks a death sentence if convicted, is expected to take a fresh plea on the four count charges preferred against him while sources say his counsel hope to move a motion for bail on the same day. Family members say they are wary if a warrant to produce him has been signed especially after his last appearance before Justice Amobeda was delayed by 48hours due to the failure of the judges to sign the document.
He has been denied bail twice while Justice Amobeda had ordered a secret trial, a ruling which drew condemnation from local, national and international pressure groups.
Meanwhile, a lawyer in his defense team, Daniel Kip had while addressing journalists in Calabar after an Amnesty International event on human rights, berated the Cross River State government for denying claims that it was behind Jalingo’s ordeal.
The Governor, Benedict Ayade had also denied this and accused Jalingo of blackmail, an allegation he later retracted claiming he got his “facts wrong.”
But, Kip averred that: “There is no way anybody can run away from the fact that Agba Jalingo’s ordeal is strictly tied to Cross River State and not the Federal Government.
“The amendment that was done subsequently to the charge to make it Federal Republic of Nigeria against Agba Jalingo was just to escape that impression which was glaring. It was to make it seem that it was the Federal Government that was prosecuting Agba Jalingo.
“If it was the Federal Government that was prosecuting Agba Jalingo, why wasn’t the Attorney-General of the Federation prosecuting him? Why were legal officers from the office of the Inspector-General of Police not prosecuting him? It is an irrefutable fact that the government of Cross River State is involved in Agba Jalingo’s ordeal.”
Also, the Cross River State government officially took over prosecution from the police with the Attorney General, Tanko Ashang announcing appearance on Friday. He told the court that a letter to that effect had been filed and was in the court’s record.
And, Kip said that: “If you read one of the counts preferred against him, it is that he made an allegation against the governor of Cross River State in relation to about N500m channelled towards a microfinance bank. Was that allegation made against the Federal Government?
“To me, the inclusion of the counts in relation to Omoyele Sowore and the RevolutionNow protests that were planned in other places was just to deviate from the actual substance of why Agba Jalingo is being prosecuted.
“He is being prosecuted in Cross River State because he has been questioning a lot of executive actions taken by the government of Cross River State. This trial is to intimidate him so that he can keep quiet.”
Jalingo who was listed at number 9 by the One Free Press Coalition in its October 2019 ranking of the 10 ‘Most Urgent’ cases of threat to press freedom across the world was arrested at his Lagos residence despite repeated public commitments that he will honor a police invitation to answer to a petition against him bordering his article.
He was driven to Calabar by road, a distance of over 766 kilometers – a journey family and colleagues said was a 25 hour tortuous trip.
Amnesty International in a press conference in Calabar on Thursday had declared that his trial is a “sham” and did not meet the basic standards.