A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Zainab Abubakar has remanded a journalist and publisher of an online medium, CrossRiverWatch, Agba Jalingo, at the Medium Security Custodial Center in Kuje, for allegedly publishing an article that was deemed ‘insulting’ to Mrs Elizabeth Ayade.
Mrs Elizabeth Ayade is wife to the younger brother of the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, whose administration, Jalingo’s Cross River Watch has been critical of.
Present in court during Jalingo’s arraignment was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the 2023 general elections, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and other activists and members of the Nigerian Civil Society.
It has been reported that two charges bordering on alleged false publication intended to cause annoyance, ill will and insult to the person of Mrs Ayade, wife to Mr Frank Ayade, were preferred on Mr Jalingo in suit number FHC/ABJ/CR/565/2022.
He is alleged to have committed an offence punishable by Section 24 (1)b of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act 2015.
Mr Jalingo who was arraigned on Monday, March 27, pleaded not guilty to both charges.
The prosecution counsel, Fidelis Ogbobe, sought an adjournment for trial which the defense counsel, Baba Isa, did not oppose but pleaded that the matter be stood down as the lead counsel, Marshal Abubakar, was on his way.
However, Ogbobe opposed Isa’s application, citing Section 354 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which stipulates that when parties are called, the court shall proceed to hear the matter.
He argued that, “The excuse is a calculated attempt to postpone the arraignment,” and asked the court to not take the defence seriously.
Meanwhile, Isa pleaded that the sins of the counsel should not be visited on the defendant, in the interest of justice.
However, Justice Abubakar indulged the prosecution counsel, and did not grant Isa’s application.
When Mr Marshall Abubakar appeared in court, Justice Abubakar noted that in her records, he was absent from court, this was as she also declined the defense’ request to move the motion for bail.
Justice Abubakar subsequently ordered that Jalingo be remanded at the Kuje Medium Security Custodial Center, and adjourned the matter until March 30, 2023, for the court to take the bail application of the defendant, and May 31, 2023 for trial.
Background of the case
Mrs Elizabeth Ayade who was also in court on Monday, had in July 2022, through her lawyer, Uyi Obayagbona, written to Mr Jalingo, seeking a retraction of an article that queried why a suspended staff of the University of Calabar, Paschal Aboh, was facing trial for allegedly impersonating a student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja campus (Mrs Ayade), while the person (Mrs Ayade) who allegedly contracted him walks free.
Mrs Ayade had demanded that an apology be published in two national dailies, including, but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, and “Cross River Watch” (not CrossRiverWatch), as well as a payment of NGN500million in damages.
Jalingo was given a 14-day ultimatum to comply, otherwise legal proceedings will be instituted against him. However, police operatives from the FCT Command on August 19, 2022, stormed Jalingo’s Ogudu residence in Lagos State and arrested him, several hours after holding his wife and daughter hostage.
He was subsequently detained at the Alapere police station and later at Area F Command in Ikeja before he was flown to Abuja the next day where it was revealed that Mrs Ayade had petitioned the police and accused Jalingo of allegedly defaming her character.
Jalingo was later released at night and was asked to return two days later on August 22, but was later told by the police to return back to Lagos since Mrs Ayade failed to show up at the FCT Police Command.
Meanwhile, our correspondent gathered that civil proceedings that were secretly filed in September 2022 at the High Court of the FCT, were served via substituted means at the gate of Hit FM 95.9 in Calabar where Mr Jalingo is not a staff member.
However, in January 2023, the police reportedly abandoned the criminal defamation allegation, and opted to sue Jalingo for alleged cybercrime.