The Governor of Cross River state, Professor Ben Ayade, on Monday said the continuous detention of a Nigerian journalist, Agba Jalingo, is as a result of his involvement in “Revolution Now Protest.”
Ayade said this at the State House, Abuja, while fielding questions from journalists after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
On Sunday, a non-profit organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), threatened to sue Cross River government and Governor Ayade, over the continuous detention of Agba Jalingo.
Mr Jalingo, the publisher of Cross River Watch, who is facing treason charges, was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
The governor, while reacting at the Presidential Villa, said the detainee was no longer a journalist but chairman of the African Action Congress (AAC), a party founded by the publisher of SaharaRepoter, Omoyele Sowore.
“In court, it is Federal Government versus Agba Jalingo, not Cross River State. The same Agba Jalingo who is in jail, I send him money….
“But when I don’t get a thing right you go to the social media and write something as careless as Governor Ayade has taken N500 million to Russia.
“You impugned my father’s name, my character, my family name, for just a personal request that I’ve not met, out of many that I have met. Please for once, put yourselves in my shoes. All I simply did was to stay out of the issue,” Ayade said.
Daily Trust reports that Jalingo is facing charges of terrorism, treasonable felony and attempt to topple the Cross River State government at the Federal High Court in Calabar, being presided over by Justice Simon Amobeda.
It would be recalled that the journalist was arrested in Lagos by operatives attached to the Intelligence Response Team of the Nigerian Police on August 22, 2019.
He was first arraigned on September 25, 2019 where he pleaded not guilty to the four-count charge levelled against him.
Atiku Abubakar, a former presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 polls, had also promised in December last year to liaise with relevant parties involved in Jalingo’s case to resolve the issue.
Jalingo has, however, been in detention for 158 days.
Governor Ayade added: “He’s in court for treason; a state does not have power to try anyone for treason, it’s not me. Agba Jalingo is not a journalist, he is the chairman of a political party and so once he started the campaign to overthrow the government of President Buhari, he ceased to be seen from the point of journalist because he has become the state chairman of a party.
“I have an intellectual background as a professor, I will stand with journalists at all times and I will never prosecute somebody. But if you ask Agba Jalingo today, I’m the one working with his lawyers for his freedom; I’m the one sustaining him and sending upkeeps, the same man who once called me a golden brother, that I’ve stood with him through tough times.
“I am of the opinion that Agba should be released because I think he was just youthfully excited, but let him not use the power of the pen, let him not use journalism and hide to blackmail, chastise, lampoon, destroy another person just for personal economic benefit.”
The governor underscored the need to bring the Bakassi Deep Seaport to life to serve the northern part of Nigeria whose solid minerals deposits needed to be transported out of the country with ease.
He said apart from using the project to decongest Lagos Port, it would also serve as a strategic way of putting an end to the insurgency, militancy, kidnappings and the Boko Haram issues.
He said President Buhari would be visiting his state to flag-off a new programme called G-money, which is an empowerment initiative to create jobs for 2,000 women and young people through agriculture.