A number of prominent civil society groups have petitioned the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, urging her to immediately enforce a visa ban on Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and all others involved in the unlawful detention and persecution of journalist, Agba Jalingo.
The groups while stressing that Jalingo was being unjustly detained for asking genuine questions about the state’s finances, said that a visa ban can contribute to reversing the current terrible climate of fear and repression that Cross River State was turning into and curb the tyrannical tendencies of Governor Benedict Ayade and his allies.
The petition reads, “We write to request your consideration of a visa ban on the governor of Cross River State, Benedict Ayade, and his immediate associates, as well as the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for gross human rights violations and media repression especially as related to the continued arbitrary detention and prosecution on trumped up charges of journalist and human rights advocate, Agba Jalingo.
“Mr. Jalingo is being prosecuted for publishing a report exposing how Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State approved and immediately diverted N500million meant for Cross River State Microfinance Bank. Police bundled Jalingo in Lagos on August 22, 2019 and travelled with him by road to Calabar despite protestations about his ill health. He was kept in a dingy and crowded Police Cell under the directives of Ben Ayade with no formal charges for over one month.
Jalingo was eventually arraigned before a Federal High Court on September 25, 2019, on a four-count charge of treasonable felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross River State Government.
These charges are not only unfounded and frivolous; they are also meant to secure a capital punishment status thereby deny the journalist bail.
“Agba Jalingo has since pleaded not guilty to the four charges but has continued to be denied bail for flimsy reasons, despite his failing health. He is routinely brought to court and taken away in handcuffs, even though there is nothing to indicate that Mr. Jalingo has been violent or has attempted to escape since his arrest - clearly a deliberate ploy to humiliate, denigrate, and psychologically batter him into recanting his journalistic and advocacy work. This is in contravention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
“Most recently, following Jalingo's request to the Chief Judge for the matter to be reassigned relying on a leaked audio where Justice Amobeda was caught on tape saying the journalist would be treated like Ken Saro-Wiwa (the late Niger Delta environmentalist who was murdered by Nigeria’s military junta also for speaking up against bad governance), the judge recused himself from the case but refused to pass on the file to a new judge. This is obviously a design to frustrate the case and keep the activist in prison longer than necessary.
“His continued detention grossly violates his human rights and is an affront to press freedom and investigative journalism in Nigeria. It constitutes a violation of Jalingo’s rights to a fair trial as protected by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Banjul Charter, his right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the Banjul Charter, and his rights as a human rights defender as outlined in the 1999 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and 2017 African Commission Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa. Since Nigeria is a signatory to these treaties, Jalingo’s ongoing detention constitutes a direct violation of international law.
“It is important to note that the repression of activists and journalist is becoming a pattern in Nigeria’s Cross River state. Another activist, Joseph Odok, is also standing trial for speaking up for good governance. The onslaught against the media and human rights defenders in the state is fast growing into a worrisome pattern, resulting in a climate of repression in the state and pushing many hitherto vocal citizens into hiding. It is now close to 5 months since Mr. Jalingowas arrested and denied his freedom, yet his trial has not begun, an indication that the authorities are bent on making him serve a prison sentence without due process or the sentence of a court.
“Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign government officials, and their immediate family members, who are responsible for severe violations of human rights, are inadmissible for entry into the United States. Your immediate intervention through a visa ban can contribute to reversing the current terrible the climate of fear and repression that Cross River State.
“It is upon the foregoing that we the undersigned organizations seek a Visa ban against the governor of Cross River State Governor, his close associates and the Attorney General of the Federation.”
The groups that signed the petition include We the People, Take it Back Movement, Citizens Enlightenment and Accountability Programme, Association of Cross River Online Journalists, Faculty of Peace Organization, Rivers State Civil Society Organizations, Coalition for Revolution, Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neo-Liberal Attacks.