Anger in Nigeria after police charged journalist with treason for accusing Cross River Governor Ben Ayade of corruption

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Anger is rising in Africa’s most populous country after a digital journalist was arrested by the police and charged with treason for accusing a state governor of corruption.

Agba Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, an online newspaper, was arrested in his residence in Lagos, Nigeria, by the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad (FSARS) of the Nigerian police on August 22.

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The next day on August 23, police transferred Jalingo to Calabar, the capital of Cross River State in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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Jalingo’s transfer to Calabar was allegedly on the request of Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State. Police on Monday charged him with treason, triggering anger and condemnation.

Read full reaction from the Center for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL.

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The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, has faulted Police arraignment of Mr. Agba Jalingo, a notable Human Rights Activist and Publisher of an online news website, CrossRiver Watch for criticizing the Governor of Cross River state, Professor Ben Ayade over corruption allegation bordering on misappropriation of over N500mn (Five Hundred Million Naira) belonging to the state coffers.

In a release issued on behalf of Mr. Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of CACOL, by Adegboyega Otunuga, its Coordinator for Media and Publications, he stated, “We have watched with keen interest, the arrest and final court arraignment of citizen Agba Jalingo, a Human Rights Advocate and Publisher the online news medium, CrossRiverWatch, through which he has been educating and informing the grassroots in his state. It is instructive to note that at the inception of Governor Ayade’s tenure in Cross Rivers state, Agba Jalingo used his online news outlet, Cross Rivers Watch to showcase his government’s policies and praise the administration where he felt necessary. However, things seem to have turned sour after he alleged some misapplications of state funds by the state government running into Hundredth of Millions of Naira through what he referred to as ‘elephant projects’ and funds unaccounted for. While we may not be privy to the extent the Publisher had gone through his ‘whistleblowing’ allegations against the governor as related to informing our anti-corruption agencies, i.e. ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) and EFCC (Economic Financial and other Crimes Commission) who have the duty and the wherewithal to investigate such allegations and take appropriate actions, now and later, we are convinced that Police arraignment of Agba Jalingo in court for Treason or acts bordering on terrorism, is ultra vires and far off the marks.

Just as it was noted by many legal practitioners who have responded on this matter, the Governor could not legally resort to ‘self-help’ by getting the Publisher arrested and arraigned for criminal offences over a purely civil matter that borders, at worst on defamation of character.

The best he could have sought was to sue the journalist for libel and consequently challenge him to prove his allegations in a court of law. The Nigerian Police erred by assisting a sitting Governor to undermine the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and publications of a Nigerian citizen. As earlier noted, though no right is absolute, such infringements that border on impingement or abridgement of others’ rights and reputation (if allegations are untrue and character is flawless in the eye of the law), is better challenged through a civil suit and not by the Police arbitrary arrest and arraignment.

The CACOL Boss added, “Under a democratic dispensation and even when Nigeria was in a military rule, such acts as arbitrary arrest and subsequent charge as this, were ultra vires and dictatorial. This is because; no country subsists as an Island unto itself but operates as a veritable member of global community. This is more so, as Nigeria is a signatory to many international Conventions and Treaties on Fundamental Rights and obligations of citizens, especially in a democracy. We therefore call on the Nigerian Police to withdraw such arbitrary charge against Agba Jalingo and set him free immediately, if it has no other criminal offence known to law against him to avoid a situation whereby Nigeria is seen to be sliding to a dictatorship.”

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