The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF), on Tuesday charged Ben Ayade, the Cross Rivers State Governor to respect constitutional roles of journalists in the state over the continued prosecution and detention of Agba Jalingo, a Nigerian journalist.
The coalition in a statement issued jointly by all its 15 members also condemned the governor’s arbitrary disregard of the constitutional provisions on press freedom and those that enable the media to serve as watchdog and promote accountability of public officeholders.
“Nigerian journalists should not be charged with any trumped-up criminal offences for holding the government accountable; this is a constitutionally conferred responsibility,” the Coalition said.
“Such actions are absolute ridicule on the law and the freedom of expression, and the charges make absolute ridicule of the Nigerian Legal System.”
It lamented that the “increasing attacks on journalists encroach on the freedom of the press, adding that “it behoves the government and other stakeholders to conscientiously work towards laws and provisions that will guarantee the safety and security of journalists in the line of duty and in holding the government accountable.”
Failure to do this, the Coalition stressed, “is a slight on any democratic society and a disservice to journalism, a profession that is fundamental to sustaining democracy.”
Agba Jalingo, the Publisher of Cross River Watch was arrested on the August 26 in Lagos State before he was moved to Cross River State and has since been charged with criminal offences.
On August 28, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) demanded the release of the journalist as well as a stop to the continuous harassments of journalists reporting corruption cases in Nigeria.
The following week, he was charged by the Nigerian Police with terrorism for criticising Ayade.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) also challenged the state governor to charge the journalist for libel rather than using the apparatus of the state to harass political opponents.
Last Friday, he was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Calabar Judicial Division, on four count charges.
The charges were bordering on “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria from office without due process of law and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 41 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, Section 59 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, Section 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013 and Section 1(2) (a) (b) of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013.”
The CWPPF, however, emphasised on the need for all relevant authorities to ensure justice is served in the case against Jalingo’s arrest and detention.
It stated that anyone or group of persons found complicit should be tried to the full extent of the law and prosecuted.
Meanwhile, the coalition noted that according to its press attack tracker, several cases of unlawful arrest and harassment of journalists from Cross River State have been reported stressing that four of the reports were directly linked to Ayade.
“This reflects poorly on the state and its government.
“CWPPF calls on the Commissioner of Police to intervene and see that this constant harassment in Cross River state is curbed. Holding the government accountable cannot and should not be considered an act of treason,” it stated.
Members of the Coalition included Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Premium Times, Sahara Reporters, OrderPaper, The Cable, Daily Trust Newspaper, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Civic Media Lab and Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC).
Other were International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and HEDA Resources Centre.