The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the government of Nigeria and Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade to ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja “over the prolonged, arbitrary detention; unfair prosecution; persecution, and sham trial of journalist AgbaJalingo.”
Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/2020 filed last week at the ECOWAS Court, SERAP is arguing that: “The sole objective of the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade is to perpetually keep AgbaJalingo in arbitrary detention and to silence him simply for expressing critical views and carrying out his legitimate job as journalist.”
According to the suit: “This is not the first time the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade have taken actions to intimidate, harass and suppress journalists through the instrumentality of trumped-up charges and use of overly broad and unjust laws, including section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, 2015, which provides for the offence of cyber-stalking.”
The suit filed on SERAP’s behalf by its solicitor KolawoleOluwadare, states: “the government of Nigeria and Cross-River state government are using vague laws that give officials massive discretion to undermine human rights. They are punishing AgbaJalingo and other journalists and silencing them for their reporting, thereby undermining Nigerians’ right to information, to public participation, to open and democratic governance in the country.”
The suit read, in part: “If freedom of expression and media freedom are to have true meaning in a democracy, these rights necessarily must include the freedom to criticize the government and its functionaries. Indeed, the idea of a democracy is that the people are encouraged to express their criticisms, even their wrong-headed criticisms, of elected government institutions, in the expectation that this process will improve the process of government.”
“The harassment, intimidation, unfair prosecution and arbitrary detention of AgbaJalingo simply for exercising his human rights violate Nigeria’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which the country is a state party.”
“The government of Nigeria and the Cross-River state government of governor Ben Ayade have via the charges of terrorism and treason and denial of bail to AgbaJalingo, violated and continued to breach his human rights.”
“SERAP contends that AgbaJalingo is being unfairly prosecuted because of his reporting in his online news outlet, Cross River Watch, which alleged that the Cross Rivers State Governor diverted the sum of N500 Million, belonging to the Cross-River Micro Finance Bank.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.