Image: Abga Jalingo / @KickThemOut2015
Fears are mounting that authorities will detain Nigeria-based news site Cross River Watch's Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Agba Jalingo for another 90 days. He is currently being held by police on charges that include treason, inciting hatred and conspiracy to commit terrorism.
According to local media, Nigerian police discreetly approached the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on September 8, 2019, seeking to obtain an order to detain Jalingo for another 90 days. This just one day ahead of his second court appearance before the federal High Court in Calabar, scheduled for September 9. He first appeared before Justice Isoni Francisca on September 5.
Jalingo has been detained since his arrest in Lagos on August 22, after being summoned to an interview by police over an article he had written. In the article he urged southern Nigeria’s Cross Rivers State Governor Benedict Ayade to come clean on corruption allegations involving the Cross River Micro Finance Bank.
According to his lawyers, Jalingo had promised to honour the interview meeting with police on September 3, but had four charges were filed against him in the Federal High Court in Calabar on August 30.
The first charge filed against Jalingo relates to “acts of treason and treasonable felony by threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media”, allegedly committed on July 2. The second crime he stands accused of relates to the publishing a Facebook story that said Governor Ayade should come clean on the allegations, which was allegedly done “in order to cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace.”
On the third count, Jalingo is alleged to have conspired with the chairman of the Cross River State Safety Commission, Prince Ekanem Ekpo, and other individuals now at large, “to commit unlawful acts to wit: terrorism.” The fourth count alleges he met with leaders of various cult groups across the Cross River State and instigated them to carry out these acts of terrorism.
Outrage over Jalingo’s arrests continues to grow, with the Association of Cross River Online Journalists starting a change.org petition for his immediate release. In the petition the association’s chairman, Edem Darlington, shares concern about the conditions Jalingo is being detained under while in police custody.
“We are concerned about the deteriorating health condition of Mr. Agba Jalingo. His hands and legs are swollen most likely due to handcuffs and restraints as well as his loss of appetite," reads the petition. The petition also says that “access to him has been largely controlled, while the few who have seen him have expressed concern for the need for him to have immediate access to health care.”
The association says that both journalists and government’s critics have become endangered. “Cross River State has taken a huge leap backwards in terms of the protection of journalists,” explained Darlington.
Iso Bassey, the founder of Academix, an Africa-focused digital library, has also started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Jalingo's release. Bassey says Jalingo’s articles merely demanded “better financial accountability” of the governor.
Director for Amnesty International Nigeria , Osai Ojigho, told Punch.ng that freedom of expression is under threat in Nigeria. “We have been observing this for over a few years now and the pattern shows that the government is intolerant of opposing and dissenting views and this is a cause for concern,” she is quoted as saying.
She adds that this is worrying, especially given Nigeria pivotal role in the West African region, the continent and the world, and says dissent should be tolerated. “Oftentimes, when people raise the alarm, they are saying things are not going well, you need to check this, you need to fix this.”
Author Elias Ozikpu, has also added his voice to the outrage over Jalingo’s arrest, describing it as “undemocratic and extremely tyrannical.”