Nigerian journalist and rights activist, Agba Jalingo, will on November 25 make a plea for the fourth time in his alleged criminal trial over an article he wrote in 2019.
Jalingo had spent five months in custody after he published a story on how Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River, allegedly approved and diverted N500million meant for the state’s microfinance bank.
Following an outcry, Ayade denied involvement in the trial of Jalingo, but said the Nigerian government was behind the journalist’s case over his involvement in the #RevolutionNow protest led by human rights’ activist, Omoyele Sowore.
He was charged with conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and an attempt to topple the state government.
The journalist was denied bail on two occasions by Simon Amobeda, a judge, who was caught in a leaked audio saying the journalist’s life was in the court’s hands.
After the recording was made public, Jalingo asked the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to reassign his case.
Amobeda later recused himself from the matter following allegations of a lack of fair trial by the journalist.
“Monday will be the first time the journalist will be taking a plea before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu whom he appeared before, 613 days after he was admitted to bail on February 13, 2020, by Justice Sule Shuaibu,” SaharaReporters was told.
Jalingo pleaded not guilty to four charges preferred against him when he was first arraigned on September 25, 2019. The then prosecution counsel, Dennis Tarhemba filed amended charges dated October 11, 2019 which were read to him and he pleaded not guilty.
Also, on February 13, 2020, upon the hint of Court and after the Cross River State government had taken over prosecution from the Federal Government, the State’s Attorney General, Tanko Ashang reverted back to the generic charges filed on August 30, 2019 which were read to Jalingo and he pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, the case was adjourned to November 25 for Jalingo to take a fresh plea on amended charges filed by the State on February 28, 2020.
The Court also ordered that the prosecution ensure the defendant is served the amended charges and proof of evidence.
The case has received widespread criticism with Amnesty International declaring Jalingo alongside activist, Sowore and Olawale Bakare as prisoners of conscience while the #OneFreePress coalition said it was one of the 10 most urgent cases of threats to press freedom in the world in 2019.