The Cross River State government on Friday took over the prosecution of Agba Jalingo, publisher of news portal, CrossRiverWatch.
The state’s attorney general, Tanko Ashang informed Justice Simon Amobeda who presides over Court 2 of the Calabar division of the Federal High Court that a letter to that effect had been filed and is in the records of the court.
This puts to an end, speculations as to who has been behind Mr. Jalingo’s arrest and incarceration for 169 days so far. The Governor of the state, Benedict Ayade had denied claims from different organisations and individuals that he was behind the journalist’s ordeal.
But, on Friday, when the matter was returned to Justice Amobeda’s court 57 days after he had recused himself, Mr. Ashang said they were ready to go ahead with the matter.
Then, counsel to the defendant, Attah Ochinke moved a motion to vacate an order of the court which paused all proceedings until an electronic verbatim recorder is provided.
And, in his ruling, Justice Amobeda who held that the prayers of the defendant were vague, however granted the prayers of the defense and recused himself for the second time, referring the matter back to the administrative judge of the division, Justice Sule Shuaibu who had referred the matter back to him to entertain the motion filed by the defendant.
This means that Jalingo will be docked before Justice Shuaibu by the next court date with the matter likely to start all over where he will be made to take a fresh plea which will make it three times in less than five months.
The courtroom was filled to capacity with dozens of supporters, family members, associates and civil society organizations waiting outside to cheer Jalingo on.
He had arrived the court premises at about 9:36AM in a green van marked “Calabar” with two correctional officers accompanying him.
He wore a black shirt with the inscription “Free Nigeria’s Prisoners Of Conscience,” blue jeans and black shoes. The shirt was produced by Amnesty International which had on November 20, 2019 declared him alongside #RevolutionNow convener, Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare prisoners of conscience.
He then proceeded to receive a fez cap with the trend ‘#IAmAgbaJalingo’ inscribed on it and produced by civil society organization, ‘We The People’ from Jonathan Ugbal, another journalist being tried for allegedly participating in the #RevolutionNow protest.
Chants of “Free Agba Jalingo” rented the air when he was driven away by correctional officers back to the custodial center where he has spent 135 days so far since his first arraignment on September 25th 2019 after spending 34 days in Police custody following his arrest on August 22, 2019.
As at press time, it remained unclear when Justice Shuaibu will issue a hearing notice for the matter.
Jalingo who was listed at number 9 by the One Free Press Coalition in its October 2019 ranking of the 10 ‘Most Urgent’ cases of threat to press freedom across the world was arrested at his Lagos residence despite repeated public commitments that he will honor a police invitation to answer to a petition against him bordering on an article he wrote and published in July 2019 wherein he asked the Cross River state government to come clean on the whereabouts of the NGN500 million it approved and released for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
He was driven to Calabar by road, a distance of over 766 kilometers – a journey family and colleagues said was a 25 hour tortuous trip.
Amnesty International in a press conference in Calabar on Thursday had declared that his trial is a “sham” and did not meet the basic standards after Justice Amobeda had ordered that witnesses testifying against him should be masked and the trial held in secret.