Contrary to his earlier plan, the President of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Chris Isiguzo, will not be in court for Agba Jalingo’s trial to show solidarity with the detained Nigerian journalist.
Isiguzo told Premium Times on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, that the information about the next court sitting got to him late.
Jalingo is scheduled to appear before a new judge, Sule Shuaibu, this Thursday, February 13, 2020, not on Friday as earlier reported.
Shuaibu is the administrative judge of the Federal High Court, Calabar. He takes the case over from a judge within the same high court, Simon Amobeda, who withdrew from it after a secret recording where he (Amobeda) allegedly made some “biased” remarks against Mr. Jalingo, was leaked to the press late last year.
Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22, 2019, over a report alleging that Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade, diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
The journalist, detained in Calabar prison, is facing treason charges. The court has refused to grant him bail.
Isiguzo, the NUJ president, has all along been planning to fly from Abuja to Calabar with other leaders of the union to show solidarity with Mr. Jalingo during the next court sitting.
“I have asked that they furnish me with information on the next court sitting, I will personally be in court, and once I am in court be rest assured that all the journalists and the leadership of NUJ (in Cross River) would join me to the court,” Mr. Isiguzo told PREMIUM TIMES in December.
The NUJ president, in an interview with AIT on Tuesday, reiterated his resolve to mobilize the leadership of the union to Calabar for Mr. Jalingo.
“By next court sitting, I am going to lead leaders of the union from the national secretariat to the court to solidarity with Agba Jalingo to demonstrate to him that we have not abandoned him in detention, he is one of us and we will be there all through,” he told AIT.
“You know the issue of intimidation, harassment, victimization of journalists, a clampdown on the media, it thus appears it is on the increase,” he added.
But, when PREMIUM TIMES called Mr. Isiguzo at 10:34 a.m. on Wednesday to inquire about his preparation for Mr. Jalingo’s court session, he said he would no longer travel to Calabar because “nobody” told him the journalist’s trial is this Thursday.
“Yesterday somebody called me and said the next court sitting is in two days’ time, I said how come people stay till two days to a court sitting and that’s when somebody is calling me to tell me. What happens to inform me at least a week to that time so that I could easily prepare and get across to Calabar,” Mr. Isiguzo said.
“I have already planned something out of Abuja for tomorrow, nobody told me until two days to the court sitting,” he added.
Jalingo has reportedly been disowned by the NUJ, Cross River State Council.
Victor Dan, the NUJ chairman in Cross River, reportedly said Mr. Jalingo is not a member of the union, apparently justifying why the union at the state level has been silent over the incarceration of the journalist.
While several groups, including the Nigeria Labour Congress and Amnesty International, have been calling on the Nigerian government to free Mr. Jalingo, the NUJ in Cross River is not known to have spoken up or issued a single statement condemning the journalist’s detention and trial.
“It’s true, they told us he (Jalingo) is not their member,” the spokesperson of Amnesty International in Nigeria, Isa Sanusi, said of a meeting he had in Calabar with the NUJ chairman, Mr. Dan, over Mr. Jalingo’s travails.
Sanusi traveled to Calabar and met Dan on November 15, 2019, to press upon the NUJ in the state to speak out on Mr Jalingo’s case. The meeting took place at the Ernest Etim-Bassey Press Centre, Calabar.
Dan declined comment on the matter when Premium Times contacted him.