Monday, 16 December 2019

Agba Jalingo: Justice Amobeda Recuses Self, Orders Provision Of Electronic Verbatim Recorder


16 December 2019 

Justice Simon Amobeda of the Calabar division of the Federal High Court has recused himself in case number FHC/CA/59C/2019, referring the case file to the administrative Judge of the division, Justice Sule Shuaibu.

Amobeda in his ruling on Wednesday also granted the prayers of the defendant, Agba Jalingo, a journalist and rights activist who is facing trial for alleged acts of terrorism, conspiracy and attempts to bring down the reputation of the Cross River State government and the Governor, Benedict Ayade for the provision of an electronic verbatim recording device which will be independent of the long handwriting of the court.

However, he held that the the facts stated in the affidavits supporting the motion were "false, unfounded and misguided."

He said the accusations made therein were "erroneous" and "a fiction of the imagination of the deponent" as they were not supported by any material evidence. 

According to him, the defense never applied for the record of proceedings to tender before the Court but rather resorted to "cheap media blackmail" and inciting the public against the court.

He said that he found two counsels in the defense team; Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and James Ibor guilty of misconduct but that he will not refer them for disciplinary trial.

He held that the annexures to the further affidavit deposed to by Olumide-Fusika and dated November 19, 2019 were electronic generated evidence that did not meet the requirements of section 84 subsection 2 of the evidence act 2011 and were therefore expunged as prayed by the prosecution counsel, Dennis Tarhemba in his counter affidavit. 

Amobeda who also held that "one cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand," averred that it was "regrettable" that Olumide-Fusika who according to him does not have the record of proceedings will rely on "media catastrophes and baseless accusations."

An online newspaper had published a leaked audio of the judge who made remarks that have forced the defendant to seek a reassignment of the case.

He further held that the Court sympathises with the defendant and dismissed the prayer of the prosecution not to grant the prayer of the defense as it failed to show evidence how granting the provision of an electronic verbatim recorder would have affected the case.

On recusing himself, Justice Amobeda who held that it is the administrative judge of the division that assigns cases and that this was assigned to him, said it was only proper, given the attention accorded the case by the media which according to him, in comments after the ruling, were untrue, he will refer the case back to the administrative judge, Justice Shuaibu.

The defendant, according to him, will be remanded at the medium security custodial center in Calabar where he has spent 77 days so far after spending 34 days in police custody before his arraignment on September 25th.

This means that Jalingo's fate remains unknown until Justice Shuaibu acts on the case file.

Jalingo who was awarded the Gani Fawehinmi Award for integrity in absentia on Tuesday in Lagos, wrote an article in July demanding the whereabouts of the NGN500 million approved and released by the Cross River State government for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.

He was initially invited by the Cross River State Police command in a letter dated August 14, 2019 to answer to a petition bordering on the article. The interview was slated for August 19. It was, however rescheduled for August 26 and later September 3rd 2019.

But, he was arrested in a gestapo styled operation at his Lagos residence on August 22nd after staff of his wife were held hostage for over four hours.

His arrest, subsequent incarceration and trial has been condemned by individuals, right groups and civil society organizations with Amnesty International declaring him alongside #RevolutionNow convener, Omoyele Sowore and pro democracy activist, Olawale Bakare as prisoners of conscience.

He was listed as one of the 10 most urgent cases of threats to press freedom by the One Free Press Coalition in October. The Cross River State government accused TIME, a member of that coalition which reported the story of practicing "gutter journalism."

Also, the Cross River State government has been fingered by many as being behind his travails, an allegation the government has continuously denied.



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