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SERAP Threatens To Sue Cross River Governor, PDP Over Detention Of Journalist Agba Jalingo

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Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade

Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade

A non-profit organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has threatened to sue Cross River government and the state governor, Ben Ayade, over the continuous detention of a Nigerian journalist, Agba Jalingo.

Mr Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, is facing treason charges.

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He was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.

“We’re suing Cross River State government, @senatorbenayade & @OfficialPDPNig if journalist Agba Jalingo is not unconditionally released by Tuesday 28, Jan. 2020,” SERAP said in a message posted on Twitter on Friday.

“Rights to freedom of expression & the media must be upheld. Impunity for attacks on journalists must end,” it added.

Mr Jalingo’s trial was in November listed among 10 “most urgent” cases of threats to press freedom around the world.

Amnesty International and several other organisations have been calling for Mr Jalingo’s release from prison.

Nigerians have been putting pressure on Mr Ayade’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to speak up against Mr Jalingo’s incarceration.

The pressure on the PDP became pronounced after the release of SaharaReporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore, and a former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, from detention in December.

Some Nigerians, using Governor Ayade and the Jalingo’s case as a reference, have questioned the integrity of the PDP as an opposition party in Nigeria.

“Going by what is playing out with Agba Jalingo and the way @OfficialPDPNig has not intervened to ensure Ben Ayade drops all charges, Nigerians should not trust them with any position anymore, especially at the center,” a Twitter user, @Intergrity56, said in December.

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“If they are against tyranny, they would have stopped Ayade,” he added.

The former Vice President of Nigeria and the 2019 PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, while responding to SERAP’s request for his intervention, said in December that he was “working with all parties to get a resolution” in the journalist’s trial.

“As soon as the court is back from its recess, the matter will come to a much more desirable outcome,” Abubakar said through his media office.

“The Agba Jalingo case is most embarrassing and extremely regrettable,” he added. “Please be assured that everything is being done. Intimidation and harassment of any Nigerian, let alone a journalist is unacceptable.”

Another critic of Governor Ayade, Joseph Odok, who had been detained in Calabar prison, was freed on bail on January 21.

Odok, a Nigerian lawyer, was charged with terrorism for criticising the governor.

“I am yet to appreciate those who stood up for my release and feel first thing I should do is to ask for the immediate release of an innocent man and my friend, Agba Jalingo,” Odok wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.

“We got so close as cell mates in prison and would have felt better if we were both released together but as fate made it, I was granted bail before him not for any reason but for what only God knows why.

“Agba Jalingo is innocent and the prison should never be his home. I join all lovers of democracy to call on the CRS government to immediately release Agba Jalingo,” the lawyer said.

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