A Federal High Court sitting in Calabar has adjourned the secret trial of Agba Jalingo, a journalist charges with conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and attempt to topple the Cross River State government to November 14th 2019.
The presiding Judge, Justice Simon Amobeda in his ruling on Tuesday said that the prosecution will present it’s witnesses whether the defense counsel appears or not.
One junior lawyer in the defense team who opted to stay back in Court before the secret trial commenced at about 1:33PM was ushered out of the Courtroom alongside correctional officers, journalists and the public at the instance of the prosecution counsel, Mr. Dennis Tarhemba.
The two police sergeants attached to the Court and a clerk carried out the act claiming it was in line with the order of the Judge. Justice Amobeda had earlier in the day upheld his ruling of October 23, 2019 which granted leave to the prosecution to mask its witnesses.
Earlier, Mr. Jalingo’s counsel, Adeyinka Olumide-fusika, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria while reacting said his argument after moving the motion to modify that order on November 5th 2019 were either “mis-characterised,” or “not captured.”
He requested a verbatim report of the proceedings independent of the Judge as the secret trial commences so that when there are issues, they can been verified.
“I doubt the integrity of the recording of proceedings of this Court. I observed that most of my submissions were either mis-characterized or not captured at all. Now, as we are going into this secret trial, it is essential that my questions to these witnesses are properly captured and recorded in the records of the Court so that the Court does not just records what it likes or what catches its fancy.
“Based on that observation, I will request a verbatim report of the secret proceedings; that is, independent of my Lord sp that when we have issues with what my Lord has recorded, we will have an independent way of verifying what my Lordship has recorded,” Mr. Olumide-fusika submitted.
He also said that, “It does seem to me that there is communication between the Court and the prosecution.”
He said from the decisions and activities of the prosecution counsel which began setting up the facility for secret trial before the ruling of the Court was read.
“I am quite worried about this. It is not for the prosector to anticipate decisions of the Court. I will say my confidence would have been boosted if he would have waited for the determination of the Court. But, he demonstrated quite clearly that he already knows what your Lordship was going to say. And the only inference I can make from it is that he already knew what your Lordship was going to decide,” Olumide-fusika said.
He predicted that the case may go to appeal and for the defense, “to stand any chance of succeeding on appeal, we need correct, appropriate and full recording of this. Now that your Lordship says this trial is going to take place in secret.”
He premised his argument on the fact that despite the open court, they are issues of integrity of recording which only left him wondering what will happen in secret trial.
“Even when they (press and public) are here, we are having this problem. If they are not here, it will become worse. I will then pray your Lordship to ensure that we have some form of verbatim recording,” Mr. Olumide-fusika said citing the Court’s non recording of his reply to the prosecution as an example.
Replying, Justice Amobeda said, “I have taken your arguments.” He stressed that each lawyer and Judge have their “different backgrounds” and insisted that he recorded the arguments of the defense.
However, he left the Court in murmurs when he averred that: “In a matter like this, all we need to do is to do what is needful. And the Court is always known to do the needful.”
The Judge later stood the matter down till noon but resumed hearing on it at 1:33PM. When the press and public stepped out of the Courtroom, Mr. Tarhemba approached the SARS operatives to chase away friends, relatives, supporters, family members and correctional officers who were asked out of the Courtroom from the waiting area. But, after a brief argument, all were allowed to stay.
At the end of the secret trial session, the prosecutor told journalists that he should be given a little time before he addresses them. But, he entered a blue colored Ford Ranger truck with armed Special Anti Robbery Squad personnel and zoomed of.
But, Mr. Jalingo could be heard briefing the lawyer walked out of the Courtroom earlier.
He told the lawyer that one of the two clerks present called the case with Mr. Tarhemba entering appearance for the prosecution. Tarhemba claimed his witnesses were ready to testify. This was after a black veil was used to cover the witness box in a manner that will shield the witness from the defendant.
He said that the prosecution had demanded NGN50,000 be awarded against the defense as cost of transportation but when the Judge asked him what he thinks, he said no and the prayer was not granted.
Mr. Jalingo said the Judge told him that he went ahead to bring a Senior Advocate (Mr. Adeyinka Olumide-fusika) to intimidate him.
He also said that the Judge described Mr. Olumide-fusika as a Lagos boy. The judge also said that he, alongside Mr. Jalingo were ‘Lagos boys’ and so he (Justice Amobeda) cannot be intimidated.
He also told his lawyers that the Judge said trial will continue whether his counsel is present or not on the next adjourned date (Thursday).
This means that Mr. Jalingo will be remanded in the custody of the Nigerian Correctional Service where he has spent 48 days so far after spending 34 days in police custody.
At least two dozen armed policemen from the Anti-Robbery Squad, Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad and Response Patrol of the State command of the Nigerian Police Force as well as a dozen personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps and a handful of State Security Service personnel had surrounded the Court as early as 8:00AM with those going in searched thoroughly.
Mr. Tarhemba is a Deputy Superintendent of Police and Head of the legal department of the Cross River State Police command.
Mr. Jalingo had arrived Court around 9:48AM in a green colored van marked “Calabar Prisons” in the company of three correctional officers; one was armed.
He wore blue jeans, black shoes and a shirt with the inscription “We Must Stand Up To Bullies.” He proceeded to receive a green muffler with the inscriptions “I Love Nigeria” and “Great Nigeria” inscribed on either side of the muffler from Jonathan Ugbal, another journalist facing trial over the #RevolutionNow movement.
The Story So Far …
Mr. Jalingo had in July, published an article where he demanded the Cross River State government comes clean on the whereabouts of the NGN500 million approved and released for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
In August he was invited by the Cross River State Police command for an interview based on a petition against him bordering on his article.
The interview was first slated for August 19, 2019. It was later rescheduled for August 26th and September 3, 2019. Mr. Jalingo went public with his decision to honor the invitation.
However, he was arrested in a gestapo styled operation by Police officers in his Lagos residence on August 22, 2019. He was then driven by road to Calabar, the Cross River capital where he arrived on August 24, 2019.
He was detained for 32 more days at a police black site facility with limited access to him until his arraignment on September 25, 2019 for the hearing of his bail.
The trial has suffered so many setbacks with the Court denying admitting Mr. Jalingo to bail on two occasions; October 4th and October 30th.
Justice Simon Amobeda after hearing both parties fixed the bail application by Jalingo’s Counsel for hearing on 26 November 2019.
After clearing the Court to commence the trial Agba and his Counsel were ushered in accompanied by one Correctional Officer, a DSS personnel and two Policemen.
The Court premises was again flooded with security agents (Police and DSS) with a Police APC stationed at the gate of the Court. Some agents (plain cloth and uniformed men) were stationed outside the Court premises.
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