By Joseph Ushigiale
It is been about a month now, since August 22, when Agba Jalingo, publisher of Crossriverwatch.com, an online platform covering major events that shape Cross River State was arrested and has been in police custody. Operatives from the State Criminal Investigation Division, on the orders of the the Cross River State Police Commissioner, Austin Agbonlahor stormed Lagos and arrested Jalingo. He was brought back to Calabar to answer charges bordering on incitement, treasonable felony etc. He has since remained in police custody despite his deteriorating health condition.
A week into his incarceration, the police on August 30, filed an affidavit against Jalingo leading to his eventual arraignment before the Federal High Court, Calabar Judicial Division, on charges bordering on “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and the 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.”
One of the charges is, “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 affidavit 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.”
Last week, I got a call from a friend resident in Abuja. In that conversation, he wanted to know why very little was being done to push for the release of Jalingo who had remained in detention for several weeks. He queried why the body of journalists under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was silent over the matter and also why individual journalists like us from the same state who should be in the forefront of this fight remain silent in the face of this apparent tyranny by the Cross River state governor, Ben Ayade?
As a fact, I had adopted a wait and see attitude towards Jalingo’s present predicament given the information I am privy to. As far as I am concern, the spat between Ayade and Jalingo might just possibly be a smokescreen because the duo have had a long standing symbiotic relationship. I therefore, choosed not to get involved so as not to become an item of discussion when they eventually reconciled.
Jalingo and I were first introduced by our mutual senior, the former Peoples Democratic Party, National Publicity Secretary, Barr. Venatius Ikem around 2003/2003. At that time, Jalingo was deeply involved in human rights activism with his cohorts in Lagos axis.
Around 2013, after losing contact with Jalingo for several years, I received a call from then Chief Press Secretary to Governor Liyel Imoke and my former colleague, Christian Ita pleading with me to help him talk with Jalingo whom he claimed published an unsubstantiated story about the then Deputy Governor, Efiok Cobham and his wife.
I intervened and called Jalingo who told me he stood by his story and that they had no case to defend. To be sure, I was unaware Jalingo had morphed from being a human rights activists to a citizen journalist and had floated an online platform – Crossriverwatch.com.
We again drifted apart until 2015 general elections. I had come down for the governorship election and was at the security check of the Margaret Ekpo airport to board my flight back to Lagos when my mobile phone suddenly came alive. I picked up the call and behold it was Jalingo on the other side.
After exchanging pleasantries, he said he was with Senator Ayade who asked him about me because he was shopping for a suitable candidate to man the Information ministry and wanted to know if I had been contacted and was interested.
I told him I had a full time job and was not interested in an appointment and nobody had also contacted me. At that time, I worked as the Head, Corporate Communications of Visafone Communications Limited which was then promoted by Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia.
However, unknown to Jalingo, I had been in direct communications with Ayade in the run up to his elections. Many times in the course of our discussions, he had asked me what I wanted and I said I did not want an appointment so I could not fathom what agenda Jalingo was pushing.
There are unconfirmed stories circulating among his colleagues around Calabar of how Jalingo used his reportorial cover to extract information from people to leverage their opponents. These sources claim that the Ayade campaign organisation was the greatest beneficiary in these covert operations.
It was therefore not surprising that when Ayade was inaugurated, Jalingo quickly floated the Association of Cross River Online Journalists (ACROJ). With ACROJ and his medium, Jalingo became an instant hit and the darling of the administration. While the doting lasted, Jalingo was reportedly the first individual to accompany Ayade abroad at the outset of the administration. The governor gifted ACROJ an official vehicle. He had such a very cosy relationship with the first family to an extent that, at some point his aloofness pitched him against his colleagues in the state.
Apart from renting and furnishing an office for Crossriverwatch.com, there are also stories of a contract for the supply of Innoson vehicles awarded by Ayade to Jalingo’s company. At the last count, allegations are flying all over the place between the Ayades and Jalingos over another N1m gifted Jalingo’s wife.
I have taken the pains to go through all these details so that for posterity sake, we should all know that when we are dining with the devil we should be mindful and do so with a very long spoon. For those familiar with such relationships, it was only a matter of time that the bubble was going to burst and it has.
Jalingo is not a good student of history, if he is, he would have be well guided by a similar treatment meted out to Paul Ifere by Ayade. For being a thorn on his flesh, operatives of Nigeria police stormed Abuja and arrested Ifere and brought him to Calabar to answer to trumped up charges against him. He managed to extricate himself only after he entered a commitment not to maligned the governor again.
Yet, we have to still grapple with the prospect of how to secure Jalingo’s release from police custody, the question is: who is holding Jalingo- is it the police or the Cross River State government? The Special Adviser to Ayade, Christian Ita exonerates the state government and points fingers at the police stating that he is being held for his role in #RevolutionNow protest. It was reliably gathered that Mohammed Etsu, the director of public prosecution at the Federal Ministry of Justice, had directed the filing of the charges against Jalingo for his role in the #RevolutionNow protest.
So far, all hope is not lost as hope for his eventual release is finally underway. In a telephone chat with the President of NUJ, Christopher Isiguzo yesterday, the President assured that a high level meeting had been initiated up to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, where its chairman and governor of Ekiti state, Kayode Fayemi had intervened.
I also reached out to the President, Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN), Austyn Ogannah who is currently in San Francisco, he assured that a lot had been done and more would still be done locally and internationally until his release is secured. We also appeal to the conscience of both the police and Ayade to temper justice with mercy and effect Jalingo’s release to enable him travel for medical treatment.