ABUJA, NIGERIA – The presiding judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Zainab Abubakar, on Monday, March 27, 2023, ordered the remand of journalist and publisher Agba Jalingo at the Kuje Correctional Center.
Jalingo, who runs the online medium Cross River Watch, faces charges for allegedly publishing an article deemed insulting to Mrs. Elizabeth Ayade, the sister-in-law of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade.
Jalingo was arraigned on two counts of alleged false publication, which prosecutors claim was intended to cause annoyance, ill will, and insult to Mrs. Ayade.
The charges are punishable under Section 24(1)b of the Cybercrimes Prohibition and Prevention Act 2015. Jalingo pleaded not guilty to both counts.
The prosecution counsel, Fidelis Ogbobe, requested an adjournment for the trial. Although defense counsel Baba Isa did not oppose the request, he asked that the matter be “stood down” because the lead counsel, Marshal Abubakar, was en route. Ogbobe opposed Isa’s application, leading Justice Abubakar to deny the request.
Upon Marshal Abubakar’s arrival, the trial judge noted his absence in the court records and declined the defense’s request for bail. The case was adjourned to March 30 for a bail hearing and May 31 for trial, and Jalingo was ordered to be held at the Kuje Custodial Centre.
In response to the article in question, Mrs. Ayade, through her counsel Uyi Obayagbona, demanded a retraction, an apology in two national dailies and on social media, and N500 million in damages. Jalingo was given a 14-day ultimatum to comply, after which he was arrested by police operatives on August 19, 2022, and later transferred to Abuja.
Agba Jalingo, the journalist and publisher of Cross River Watch, is no stranger to controversy and legal challenges in his career. Over the years, Jalingo has faced multiple instances of arrest and detention for his journalistic work, which often exposes alleged government corruption and misconduct.
One of Jalingo’s most prominent legal battles took place in 2019 when he was arrested and charged with treason, disturbance of public peace, and cybercrimes for publishing an article that accused the Cross River State government of diverting N500 million meant for a microfinance bank.
Jalingo’s arrest and detention sparked widespread outrage and calls for his release from local and international human rights organizations. After spending about five months in detention, Jalingo was granted bail in February 2020.
In another incident, Jalingo was arrested in 2016 for alleged defamation after he published an article about the Cross River State’s debt profile.
Although the case was eventually dropped, the experience demonstrated the risks and challenges faced by journalists like Jalingo who seek to hold public officials accountable in Nigeria.
Despite these legal battles and threats to his safety, Jalingo continues to be an unwavering advocate for press freedom and government accountability in Nigeria.