By Jonathan Ugbal
Agba Jalingo, the Nigerian Journalist facing trial for alleged acts of treason and terrorism over an opinion article he wrote in July 2019 will on Thursday speak on prison reforms at the F-18 Day summit of the National Association of Seadogs (NAS) in the country’s port city of PortHarcourt.
Mr. Jalingo spent 144 out of the 179 days he spent incarcerated at the Medium Security Custodial Center popularly called Afokang prisons at Nigeria’s southern port city of Calabar.
And, he told this reporter that; “When I received a call to speak on the Nigerian prison system even though it is now called correctional system which is mere semantics as there is nothing correctional about it, I did not ponder for a second and accepted because there is a whole lot that needs to be brought up for discourse.”
The theme for the 2021 edition of the annual event is; “Gaps in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria”, with the sub theme, “Towards Ending the ‘Awaiting Trial’ Phenomenon in Custodial Centers”. NAS Cap’n, Abiola Owoaje will be the keynote speaker while Mr. Jalingo will make a presentation.
The NAS F-18 Day seeks to remember the massive arrest and illegal detention of pro democracy activists in Rivers State by the General Sani Abacha’s regime on February 18, 1997.
Most of those arrested were said to be members of NAS and participated actively as sponsors and members of pro democracy groups such as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Radio Democrat Nigeria International or Radio Freedom which was renamed Radio Kudirat following demands from NADECO and the National Liberation Council of Nigeria (NALICON) after Mrs. Kudirat Abiola was assassinated on June 4, 1996.
NAS, including its founder, Professor Wole Soyinka were among dozens of organizations and individuals who demanded for Jalingo’s release while he was incarcerated.
In December 2019, Soyinka, a Nobel Laurette told Nigeria Info FM that the charge of treason preferred against Jalingo was an “anomaly.”
When asked about his position on the leave granted to the prosecutors to mask their witnesses, Soyinka averred that; “In that case the State should be accused of treason. It is the State in such circumstances which is for me, potentially guilty of treason because it’s a travesty of justice. And there is no State or no Government without a blimp of justice. Because, how can you be talking about a secret trial?”
In a letter dated January 7, 2020 the Jokaina Deck of NAS in Calabar wrote Governor Ben Ayade who was accused of orchestrating Jalingo’s trial likening the situation to a fly in the ointment of Mr. Ayade’s administration.
“It is a matter which has become truly worrisome in several quarters and borders on human rights.
“We are concerned that the longer that this detention lasts, the bigger the risk of distraction which your government faces,” read the letter signed by the Deck’s President, Maurice Ibok.
A few days later at Lagos State on January 13, 2020, Professor Soyinka while speaking at the “Never Again” conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War sought for Jalingo’s release again.
The Nobel Laureate who recalled Jalingo’s activities at PRONACO (the Pro-National Conference Organisation), said; “Among the participants, I remember one young man called Agba Jalingo. I have always asked myself, was he the one that was kidnapped recently by the police? Nobody seems to know his whereabouts up till now. The civil society tiers very quickly here. One we managed to get (Omoyele) Sowore away from the mad dogs, we quickly forget Agba Jalingo.
“So, let me use this podium to ask or call on the security boss to produce him.”
Press kits shared by the organizers, Olympus Marino Deck of NAS show that the public can participate virtually via the Zoom platform using the link: http://bit.ly/NAS-F18
The meeting ID is: 869 3447 0229
The password is: G9UQkW
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