By Jonathan Ugbal
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Calabar Division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday criticized the Cross River State Government over it’s handling of Citizen Agba Jalingo’s trial.
Citizen Jalingo, a journalist and activist is facing trial on alleged terrorism activities over an article he wrote in July 2019 demanding the whereabouts of the NGN500 million approved and released by the Cross River State Government for the floating of a microfinance bank.
At the resumption of the trial on Wednesday, when amended charges were read for him to take a fresh plea, for the fourth time since 2019, Justice Ojukwu inquired whether any witness had testified to which Jalingo’s Counsel, Barrister James Ibor said no. The prosecution led by Barrister J. U Ogban said they were unaware as Ogban had just resumed as Director of Public Prosecution in the State.
“Is there no way one of you would have looked at this charge sheet and see if it is in order?” Ojukwu asked when she discovered that there was an error in the charge number.
The initial charge number is FHC/CA/59C/2019. But, the amended charge sheet reads FHC/CA/59C/2021. This, according to Justice Ojukwu meant it was a new charge and not an amended one.
She had earlier ruled that Citizen Jalingo continue enjoying bail after verifying the surety in Court and, the prosecution not objecting to the verbal application by the defense counsel, which was hinged on the fact that, the accused has not breached any bail condition and the surety remained same.
On the non presentation of witnesses, Justice Ojukwu cautioned against unnecessary delays and subsequently adjourned the matter until 21st and 22nd March for “the prosecution to put it’s house in order and continuation of trial.”
The Case So Far
Citizen Jalingo was invited by the Cross River State Police Command over the aforementioned article, based on the petition of the Cross River State Government. Despite making public, his decision to honor the invitation, he was abducted in a gestapo styled operation at his Lagos residence on August 22, 2019, days before the agreed interview date and driven to Calabar by road while chained.
He was detained at the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad unit for 34 days. He was then arraigned before Justice Simon Amobeda who denied him bail twice and remanded him at the Afokang Medium Security Prison.
The Cross River State Government and the Governor, Benedict Ayade were accused of orchestrating Jalingo’s ordeal. They denied this until the State eventually took over prosecution from the Federal Government and the Police in February 2020 with Justice Amobeda later recusing himself after a backlash following his granting of an order for a secret trial and the release of an audio tape which suggested he had been compromised.
Justice Sule Shuaibu later admitted Jalingo to bail on February 13, 2020. But, delays by Court officials made Mr. Jalingo spend four more days before he was eventually released on February 17, 2020 after spending 179 days incarcerated.
Since then, the case has suffered multiple delays with the ECOWAS court of justice compelling the Nigerian Government to pay him NGN30 million in compensation for the treatment meted on him by the Nigerian Police Force.
During his incarceration, Citizen Jalingo was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and was listed among one of the 10 most urgent cases of threats to press freedom across the world by the #OneFreePressCoalition.