Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Police seek witness protection, charges amendment in case against Journalist, Agba Jalingo charged with terrorism



Mr. Dennis Tarhemba, the prosecution counsel in the case against journalist and rights activist, Agba Jalingo who is facing charges of terrorism, treasonable felony and attempt to topple the Cross River State government has asked the Court to grant it leave to amend the charges and an order to protect its witnesses.

Tarhemba, a Deputy Superintendent of Police in his opening statement on Wednesday at the Federal High Court in Calabar presided over by Justice Simon Amobeda said though the matter was adjourned to today and tomorrow (Thursday) for accelerated hearing, the prosecution has filed for amendment of charges and sought an order to protect its witnesses.

The lead counsel to the defendant, Mr. Attah Ochinke told the Court that despite the prosecution filing the amendment on October 11th, they were served hours to when the Court sat.

And, Justice Amobeda adjourned the matter to tomorrow (Thursday) to entertain the plea of the prosecution and commencement of trial.

"The defense counsel shall file and serve his reaction before trial tomorrow," Justice Amobeda said.

The defense counsel declined speaking to the press. But, the prosecution counsel told journalists to wait till the next adjourned date to get details on the amended charges.

"They are matters before the Court and it (was) not taken today, it is tomorrow. So if you come to the Court tomorrow, you will now know the type of charge we intend to amend," Tarhemba said.

When pressed for the reason behind approaching the Court for an order to protect its witness, He averred that: "You know such application is not yet heard. We cannot in any way give any information on what the Court is yet to pronounce. You wait till today."

Mr. Jalingo arrived the court premises at about 9:26 AM in a green colored van marked "Calabar Prisons" in the company of another inmate and four correction officers. Two were armed and the other two unarmed.

Decked in in a black tee shirt with the inscription, "Dictators Perpetually Fear Our Pens," Jalingo also wore a blue jeans and grey colored shoes.

Cuffed, He raised both hands in response to chants of "The Citizen" from colleagues and supporters before proceeding to collect a green colored muffler clothing from Jonathan Ugbal, another journalist facing trial over the #RevolutionNow movement. It had the inscriptions "Great Nigeria" and "I Love Nigeria" boldly printed on both sides.

The cuffs were then removed before he was led into the courtroom.

The Story So Far...

Mr. Jalingo had in July, written an article demanding the Cross River State Governor, Mr. Benedict Ayade explains the whereabouts of the NGN500 million approved and released for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance Bank.

The Police command in Cross River State had in a letter dated August 14, 2019 titled; "Conspiracy To Cause Breach Of Public Peace" and signed by Mrs. Tami Peterside, a Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the State Criminal Investigation Department invited Jalingo to report to her on August 19, 2019 at 2:00PM for an interview.

The letter was delivered by the Investigating Police Officer, Mr. Benjamin Ajala, a Deputy Superintendent of Police. 

And, Mr. Jalingo had in a post on Facebook, disclosed that the interview had been rescheduled for August 26, 2019. He was arrested four days before the due date. 

However, a former Attorney General of Cross River State and Justice Commissioner, Mr. Eyo Ekpo had in a Facebook post said Mr. Jalingo had duly informed him that the interview was rescheduled for September 3, 2019 as DCP Peterside had traveled for an official assignment.

But, Mr. Jalingo was arrested in his Lagos residence on August 22, 2019 and was driven to Calabar by road where he was detained in a black site facility. He spent 34 days in police custody before he was arraigned in Court on September 25, 2019 for his bail hearing. He was remanded in Prison custody.

After two more court dates, the presiding Judge, Justice Simon Amobeda declined admitting Jalingo to bail on October 4, 2019. He has spent 21 days in prison custody so far.

Mixed reactions have continued to greet Mr. Jalingo's arrest and incarceration with many pressure groups accusing the Cross River State government for his travails, an allegation, the State has continued to deny.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Cross River State has reportedly not risen to align with the mounting pressure that what Agba Jalingo is passing through is suppression of media practitioners and journalism practice in the state. 

However, the national leadership of the NUJ in a letter dated September 26th, 2019 with reference number NUJ/NS/10/P/1/VOL .1 addressed to Mr. Ayade and with the heading, "Drop charges against Agba Jalingo" said it is "worried" that "a harmless publication" attracted such response from the State.

"Agba Jalingo who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch is facing charges of treasonable felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross River State government. These allegations are not only incongruous but portray Nigeria in bad light before the international community.

"Sir, while we agree with the desire for responsible journalism, yet we disagree with the way and manner your government reacted to the said publication by Agba Jalingo… We are worried that a harmless publication will attract such harsh action".

"We are afraid that this new security situation increases risks of Journalists' safety at work. It also means that journalists, their organizations and employers are at risk of being muzzled and restricted. It is instructive to note that Journalism is not a Crime," the letter, signed by the national secretary, Comrade Shu'aibu Usman Leman read.

Meanwhile, Governor Ayade had in a veil reference to Agba Jalingo before his arrest; while delivering his address at the opening of the Green Carnival event on the 30th of July 2019, less than 100 meters away from CrossRiverWatch office said, "In Cross River, a man who is begging and does not get what he wants becomes a journalist and starts blackmailing the State. That is not journalism. Unfortunately, the period of blackmail is over. The period of writing nonsense and earning a living is over. Because no matter what you write, you don't change the truth."



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