Chukwudi Nweje, Lagos
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja against the Federal Government and the Cross River State Government for the continued detention of Agba Jalingo.
Jalingo, who is the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22, 2019, over a report alleging that Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
But, SERAP in the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/2020 filed last week on behalf of SERAP by its solicitor Kolawole Oluwadare, argued that: “The sole objective of the government of Nigeria and the Cross River state government of governor Ben Ayade is to perpetually keep Agba Jalingo in arbitrary detention and to silence him simply for expressing critical views and carrying out his legitimate job as journalist.”
The organisation further alleged that the arrest and continued detention of Jalingo is not the first time the Federal Government and the Cross River State government would arrest and detain journalists in an attempt to stop them from doing their work.
The organisation said: “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 governments of Nigeria and Cross River State government are using vague laws that give officials massive discretion to undermine human rights. They are punishing Agba Jalingo 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 organisation noted that for the freedom of expression and media freedom to have true meaning in a democracy, “these rights necessarily must include the freedom to criticise the government and its functionaries,” and argued that “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.”
SERAP is seeking: a declaration that the continued detention and prosecution of Agba Jalingo “violates his human rights, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
It also seeks a declaration that the detention and prosecution of Jalingo is illegal, unlawful and “amounts to breaches of Nigerian international obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and information and media freedom, guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
It also seeks an order directing the immediate and unconditional release of Jalingo as well as drop of all charges against him, “consistent with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and an order directing the government of Nigeria and the Cross River State government and/or their agents to provide Agba Jalingo with effective remedies and reparation, including adequate compensation, restitution, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.