Agba Jalingo, publisher of the privately owned CrossRiverWatch news website, was arrested on August 22, 2019, by police in Lagos. Authorities charged him with disturbance of the peace, treason, and terrorism on August 30.
CrossRiverWatch, based in Cross River State, in southern Nigeria, primarily publishes news online and occasionally prints editions to mark national holidays, according to its website. Jalingo is also the Cross River State Chairman of the African Action Congress, a political party headed by former presidential candidate and publisher of the online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, according to CPJ reporting.
On August 22, 2019, officers with Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad arrested Jalingo in Lagos, according to CPJ reporting. On August 23, Jalingo was brought to Calabar, the Cross River State capital, where he has been detained after police obtained court orders to hold him pending investigation, according Jalingo’s lawyer, Attah Ochinke.
Before his arrest, Jalingo told CPJ over the phone that on August 16 he was summoned for questioning by police in Calabar regarding a written complaint, reviewed by CPJ, made by the state-owned Cross River Microfinance Bank. On July 17, CrossRiverWatch reported about alleged corruption involving the Cross River Microfinance Bank and Benedict Ayade, the governor of Cross River State.
According to a copy of the police invitation, Jalingo was summoned on August 16 because his name was mentioned in a police investigation into alleged “conspiracy to cause unrest and conduct likely to cause breach of peace,” which was reported to the police by the Cross River Microfinance Bank.
On August 27, Ochinke filed a complaint at the state high court claiming Jalingo’s fundamental rights had been violated by the police because he had been neither released nor charged at that time, Ochinke said.
On August 30, federal authorities in Cross River State charged Jalingo with disturbance of public peace and treason for his writings and social media posts about Ayade, according to a copy of the charge sheet and CPJ reporting at the time. Authorities also charged him with terrorism, stemming from Jalingo's alleged plans to work with Sowore, "cult members," and a local prince to "commit acts of terrorism" and unseat the Ayade, according to the charge sheet.
Police arrested Sowore on August 3 for allegedly planning protests throughout Nigeria, as CPJ reported at the time.
On September 18, 2019, the Cross Rivers State high court in Calabar heard Jalingo’s fundamental rights suit, but declined his request for release on bail because of an application by prosecutors that claimed the state high court lacked jurisdiction, according to Ochinke and another lawyer representing Jalingo, James Ibor, who saw the journalist in detention and spoke to CPJ via phone and messaging app.
The state high court decision led Jalingo’s lawyers to withdraw their fundamental rights case and instead prepare to take the case to the federal high court, where Jalingo's charges were also filed, Ochinke said. By October 2019, Jalingo’s had not re-filed the fundamental rights case.
If found guilty, Jalingo could face up to three years in prison for the disturbance charge and up to life in prison for treason, according to the Nigerian criminal code.
On October 4, 2019, Jalingo was denied bail by Judge Simon Amobeda in a federal high court in Calabar on grounds that the charges included a capital offense and the defense’s claim that Jalingo’s was unwell was unsubstantiated, accordan to Ugbal Jonathan, a CrossRiverWatch reporter, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
In a phone call with CPJ in August 2019, Christian Ita, Ayade's spokesperson, declined to comment on CrossRiverWatch’s corruption allegations and said he read in the press that Jalingo’s arrest was related to his alleged involvement in the #RevolutionNow protests, held on August 5, and denied Ayade’s involvement in the arrest.
CPJ’s calls to the Cross River state police commissioner, Austin Agbonlahor, and his spokesperson, Irene Ugbo, went unanswered on August 24.
A member of the board of the Microfinance Bank, Godwin Akwaji, told CPJ via phone that he was not in a position to speak about the corruption allegations or the bank's allegations against Jalingo.