Human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has condemned the arrest of a journalist, Agba Jalingo by the police on the orders of the Cross River state governor, professor Ben Ayade.
Falana in a statement issued on Sunday said the decision of the police and the governor to charge the detained journalist with treason instead of defamation was a gross violation of judicial process and called for the immediate withdrawal of charges of treason against the journalist.
“A Nigerian cannot be charged with any criminal offence for criticising a governor or any other public officer in Nigeria. In Nwankwo v State (1985) NCLR 247, the Court of Appeal held that any public officer who feels defamed by any publication should sue for libel as it is illegal to use the machinery of the state to harass political opponents in Nigeria.
“But in utter disregard of the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Nwankwo’s case, the Nigeria Police Force has just charged Mr. Agba Jalingo with terrorism for criticising Governor Ayade of Cross River State.
“Since the charge constitutes a gross abuse of judicial process, we call on the Inspector-General of Police to discontinue or withdraw it without any delay. If Governor Ayade feels offended by any statement made by Mr Jalingo, he is advised to sue for libel in the High Court of Cross River State” he said.
Jalingo was arrested for a publication he made on an online news website that he manages, Cross River watch where he accused Ayade of misappropriating the sum of N500m belonging to the state.
Ayade had in July at the National Broadcasting Summit, themed, ‘Broadcasting and Democracy: Emerging Security Imperatives,’ organised by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in Calabar called for the regulation of social media. He said Nigerians are using it to spread rumours and insult their leaders.
The chairman emeritus and founder of DAAR Communications PLC, high Chief Raymond Dokpesi disagreed with Ayade at the event. He said if public officials embrace transparency in governance that it will curtail the spread of misinformation.
He said; “Governor Ayade has made a very useful presentation as a governor in the driver’s seat where he has experienced the devastating effects of the impact of social media on the peace and stability of the state through the dissemination of falsehood.
“I am happy he has been able to limit it to the social media and not the traditional media. That notwithstanding, it is my belief that it calls for more openness and transparency in the management of the affairs of the country.
“A lot of the governors believe that the duty of governance is their personal right. If you are passing a budget, it is only fit and proper for it to be debated in the House of Assembly and the National Assembly.
“The media is fully involved and the people are well educated because that will eliminate the possibility of rumour being disseminated.
“You remove the possibility of disinformation and misinformation.”