Rights Groups Fault Treason Charge against Jalingo, Accuse Gov Ayade of Abusing Power

Rights Groups Fault Treason Charge against Jalingo, Accuse Gov Ayade of Abusing Power

.. Describing it as Shameful, Ridiculous Trivialization of Our Criminal Laws …Call for His Immediate Release Two frontline rights groups, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the Centre for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) have called for the immediate release of Mr. Agba Jalingo, a journalist with the Cross River Watch, describing his arrest and

.. Describing it as Shameful, Ridiculous Trivialization of Our Criminal Laws

…Call for His Immediate Release

Two frontline rights groups, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the Centre for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) have called for the immediate release of Mr. Agba Jalingo, a journalist with the Cross River Watch, describing his arrest and detention since August 22, 2019 as unlawful.

They also slam the charges of treason preferred against him on August 30 for criticising Cross Rivers State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade on social media as a “shameful and ridiculous trivialization of our criminal laws”.

In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe said: “It is rather unfortunate that in the face of such massive and widespread insecurity of lives and property in Nigeria, rather than gear up to perform its primary duty of ensuring the security of the people, the Police has chosen to make itself a willing tool of oppression in the hands of politicians against innocent citizens that it has failed to protect and who are victims of the bad governance of the same politicians.”

He described the arrest and detention of Mr. Jalingo for over a week simply for writing a story that displeased Governor Ayade as a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution as well as regional and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.

Mr. Longe noted that having held Mr. Jalingo without charge for over a week in violation of the Constitution, the Police decided to charged him with “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria from office without due process of law” under Section 41 of the Criminal Code Act.

He said: “These charges make a mockery of our legal system. They amount to a shameful and ridiculous trivialization of our criminal laws. They have the effect of undermining the integrity of the Nigeria Police and will ultimately result in robbing the State of the ability of using these legal provisions in deserving cases as both the State and the laws would have lost credibility in the eyes of the people.”

Mr. Longe argued that if anyone is on the wrong path at all, it is not Mr. Jalingo but Governor Ayade and the Nigeria Police in Cross Rivers State who are violating an injunction long established by the Court of Appeal in Nwankwo v. The State (1985) NCLR 247, where the Court held that any public officer who feels defamed by any publication should sue for libel, as it is illegal to use the machinery of the State to harass political opponents.

He called on Governor Ayade, as a public figure, to learn to withstand criticisms, saying “if he the Governor cannot stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen”.

According to him, the mere fact that Governor Ayade considers an expression of opinion insulting to him or even damaging to his reputation, cannot justify abusing his powers and misusing the Police and criminal law for his personal aggrandizement.

Mr. Longe therefore called on the Inspector-General of Police to prevail on the Commissioner of Police in Cross River State to withdraw the unjustifiable criminal charges against Mr. Jalingo and ensure his immediate and unconditional release.

He also advised Governor Ayade against using the Police and public resources to suppress and punish critical voices, urging him instead to thread the path of constitutionality by bringing a civil suit for libel against him if he truly feels that he has a reputation to protect.

While also faulting the charges of treason preferred against Jalingo, for criticising Gov Ayade., the CDHR demanded that Jalingo be released forthwith..

The organisation said the charges were “clearly by private legal practitioners who did not disclose their sources of authority.”

President of CDHR, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, in a statement in Abuja, said, “The charge was just filed on August 30, 2019, several weeks after the abduction of Agba Jalingo without a detention order and in violation of his rights to liberty and movement under Sections 34 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution respectively.

“The charges filed are clearly by private legal practitioners who did not disclose their sources of authority in filing charges against Jalingo, either as Police officers or legal practitioners acting on behalf of the Commissioner of Police or Inspector-General of Police, except their claim as ‘legal/prosecution,’ whatever that means.

“We do not think they are sufficiently covered by the Supreme Court authorities in Federal Republic of Nigeria vs Osahon (2006) 2 S.C (Pt.11); (2006)5 Nigerian Weekly Law Report (Pt.973)361 or the earlier case of Sunday Olusemo vs CP (1998) 11 NWLR (Pt.575) 547 either.

“Assuming without conceding that they are also Police officers (who are also legal practitioners), their situations are made worse in terms of filing and prosecuting those charges by virtue of Section 106 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

“I understand that Cross Rivers State, like Lagos State, has promulgated their own Administration of Criminal Justice Law.

“The well established principle of law by the Court of Appeal in Arthur Nwankwo v State since 1985 renders counts 1 and 2 patently indefensible.

“Counts 3 and 4 loosely refer to him (Agba) as an associate of Comrade (Omoyele) Sowore, as though Sowore were already a convict, an ex-convict, fugitive or an outlaw; forgetting that Sowore is still a free citizen of Nigeria in whose favour the presumption of innocence under Section 36(6) is, while Jalingo retains his right to freely associate.

“We hope they still don’t shift from charges of terrorism against Sowore to another, having disclosed here that, that is the allegation they have against him.

“The Certified True Copy of these charges will be obtained to establish that.

“Recall that the initial allegation against Sowore was treason and treasonable felony.

“Paragraph 2 of their deposed Affidavit of Diligent Prosecution discloses that the deponent has the consent of the complainant to depose to the affidavit.

“Who is the complainant in this matter and by what means did he complain and to who?

“The Nigerian State has no option than to release these political prisoners unconditionally or face the embarrassment of the process that they’ve initiated,” he said.

Jalingo was arraigned on Friday at the Federal High Court, Calabar Judicial Division, on four counts bordering on “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria from office without due process of law and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 41 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

Count Two of the suit states: “That you, Agba Jalingo, ‘M’ on or about the 2ndof July 2019, at about 10am at No. 2, Marian Road, Calabar, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did make and publish false statement on crossriverwatch.com and facebook.com/story titled: “How Ayade approved and diverted N500m for Cross River Micro Finance” in order to cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace in Calabar, for the purpose of bringing down the reputation of the Executive Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 59 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

Count Three states, “That you, Agba Jalingo, ‘M’ (an associate of Mr. Omoyele Sowore) on or about the 2nd day of July … did conspire with Prince Ekanem Ekpo, ‘M’ and others now at large to commit unlawful acts, to wit, terrorism and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013.

The fourth count added that Jalingo, “an associate of Mr. Omoyele Sowore,” “did hold meeting with leaders of cult groups across Cross River State, instigate them to commence acts of terrorism on the person of His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade … to undemocratically force his government to an end through various acts of violence and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2) (a) (b) of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013.”

The affidavit was dated Friday, August 30, 2019.

However, Human Rights Activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, stated that a Nigerian citizen cannot be charged with any criminal offence for criticising a Governor or any other public officer in Nigeria.

Falana, also national chairman, Peoples’ Alternative Front (PAF), argues that, “In Nwankwo V State (1985) NCLR 247, the Court of Appeal held that any public officer who feels defamed by any publication should sue for libel, as it is illegal to use the machinery of the State to harass political opponents in Nigeria.”

Continuing, he said, “In fact, the court (in Nwankwo V State ) advised Nigerians to resist any official move to wipe out the freedom of expression fought for and won from the colonial regime.”

Slamming the charges preferred against Jalingo, Falana said, “in utter disregard of the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Nwankwo’s case, the Nigeria Police Force has just charged Mr. Agba Jalingo with terrorism for criticising Gov Ayade of Cross River State.”

Urging for discontinuation of the case, Falana stated, “Since the charge constitutes a gross abuse of judicial process, we call on the Inspector-General of Police to discontinue, to withdraw it without any delay.”

He then advised, “If Gov Ayade feels offended by any statement made by Mr. Jalingo, he is advised to sue for libel in the High Court of Cross River State.”

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