By Ushang Ewa
Human rights activist, Chidi Odinkalu has said he declined an interview with a national daily in Nigeria following the paper’s decision to award a sitting Governor who allegedly orchestrated the arrest and incarceration of journalist, Agba Jalingo.
Odinkalu, who is currently the senior team manager for the Africa Program of Open Society Justice Initiative, in a brief chat said that people have to be held accountable for their actions as it relates to the Nigerian civic space which reports show is shrinking.
Nigeria currently ranks 115 out of 180 countries on World Press Freedom Index as compiled by Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières). The last report issued in April 2020 cited the killing, detention and brutalisation of journalists as well as deliberate attempts to shrink the civic space by the Nigerian Government as reasons for the ranking.
And, Odinkalu, while explaining the reason why he turned down an interview with Daily Independent earlier in the week, said; “We are not stupid people. We have to hold everyone to account.”
A top level editor of the paper had reached him to comment on the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. But, Odinkalu in his reply said: “I’d wish to do respond but I am not sure I can.”
According to Odinkalu, the daily’s editor “went go Calabar to give an award to Ben Ayade while he was detaining Agba Jalingo. I personally decided I would have nothing to do with Independent for at least 1 year.”
Who is Agba Jalingo?
Jalingo is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, an online newspaper based in Nigeria’s southern port city of Calabar. He was arrested on in his Lagos residence on August 22nd 2019, about a month after he published an article wherein he demanded that the Cross River state government comes clean on the whereabouts of the NGN500 million it approved and released for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
He was then driven to Calabar by road in a journey that lasted about 26 hours. He arrived on August 24th and was detained at a Police black site for 32 more days before he was arraigned on September 25th before Justice Simon Amobeda of the Calabar division of the Federal High Court. He was remanded at a medium security custodial center in Calabar.
Justice Amobeda denied admitting him to bail twice and following a leaked tape of him allegedly threatening that Jalingo will be meted the ‘Dele Giwa’ treatment, the defense team wrote the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment of the case; the judge later recused himself.
Now, Cross River Governor, Benedict Ayade was fingered as the architect of his travails, an allegation the state has continuously denied and accused Time Newspapers of practicing “Gutter Journalism” after it published the November 2019 list of the #OneFreePressCoalition “10 Most Urgent Cases Of Injustice Against Journalists,” wherein Jalingo was listed on number 9.
On January 13, 2020, a news story emanating from the office of Mr. Ayade’s spokesman, Christian Ita said the Governor has “bagged the Independent Newspaper Governor of the Year award for 2019.”
The story quoted the newspaper as saying that; “by his sterling performance so far in office, amidst paucity of funds, Governor Ayade has effectively distinguished himself as one of the most outstanding governors since the advent of the current democratic dispensation since 1999, and also a pathfinder of good governance in Nigeria.”
As at this time, Jalingo’s fate remained unknown until February 13, 2020 when he was eventually admitted to bail by a different judge, Justice Sule Shuaibu. He will spend four more days before he was eventually released on February 17, 2020; same day, the Managing Director and Editor- In-Chief of Independent Newspaper, Mr. Steve Omanufeme visited Calabar and presented the award letter to Governor Ayade as the Daily Independent Newspaper Governor-of-the-Year.