Two journalists are standing trial in Cross River State, South-South Nigeria, besides Agba Jalingo who is charged with treason for criticising the state governor, Ben Ayade.
The two journalists are Jonathan Ugbal and Jeremiah Archibong, news editor and managing editor respectively for CrossRiverWatch, an online newspaper owned by Mr Jalingo.
They are charged with “unlawful assembly” for covering a protest and are being prosecuted by the police represented by Dennis Tarhemba, a deputy superintendent of police who is also prosecuting Mr Jalingo’s case.
Messrs Ugbal and Archibong were arrested by the police in Calabar on August 5 this year, alongside Nicholas Kalu, the Calabar correspondent of The Nation newspaper, while covering the #RevolutionNow protest called by Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian activist.
From the information gathered by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Ugbal was arrested at the entrance of the Calabar cultural centre by officials of the anti-cultism and kidnapping unit of the police in the morning, on the day of the nationwide protest.
Mr Archibong and Mr Kalu were arrested by the police when they went over to ask why their colleague, Mr Ugbal, was arrested.
The three were detained briefly inside the police facility in the cultural centre before they were taken to the then commissioner of police in Cross River, Austin Agbonlahor, who is now an assistant inspector general of police, force headquarters, Abuja.
The Nation correspondent, Mr Kalu, was later released around 10 p.m, while Messrs Archibong and Ugbal were detained for two nights before their arraignment on August 7 in a magistrate court.
The court presided over by chief magistrate Rita Marshall released the journalists on bail.
PREMIUM TIMES, Monday, asked The Nation correspondent what could have possibly caused the police to arraign his two colleagues, while he was set free.
“Well, I can’t say,” said Mr Kalu who was posted out of Calabar to Abuja by The Nation immediately after his encounter with the police. “That evening at about 10 p.m the head of the CID just came out and said I am free to go.”
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On August 26, a few hours before commencement of their trial, Mr Ugbal said on his Facebook page: “As I go to court today, I leave you with the words of Julius Malema: ‘They can lock me up, I don’t care. I will go there and come back. You cannot silence political debate through scaring tactics’.
“The mind is where the strength and weakness lies. You can arrest me but you cannot arrest my ideas.
“To those who prank called, who try to discourage, who feel the elites are too powerful, who say nothing ever changes and that we will remain pawns in the game while the players feed fat. Well, truth is, someone will always feed fat which is the reason why something ought to be done.
“To those whose goal is to bury us, take note, we are fertile seeds – you want to throw me in the air? I fly like a bird: you want to drown me? I am a fish. You want to lock me up? I am a key. Want to burn me? Oh, you forgot I am the flame!
“You sue me? The courtroom is not firing squad! Don’t bother with scare tactics, fear has and will never be a part of my DNA,” he wrote.
The trial of the two journalists continues on January 21, 2020.
See below for the charges against the two journalists:
COUNT I: That you, Ugbal Jonathan ‘M,’ Archibong Jeremiah ‘M’ and others now at large, on the 5th August 2019, at Cultural Center Calabar, within the Calabar Magisterial District, did Conspire among yourselves to commit unlawful purposes to wit: Unlawful Assemble (sic) and thereby committed and offence punishable under Section 520(6) of the Criminal Code, CAP C16, Vol. 3 Laws of Cross River State of Nigeria, 2004.
COUNT II: That you, Ugbal Jonathan ‘M,’ Archibong Jeremiah ‘M’ and others now at large, on the 5th August 2019, at about 0935hrs, at Cultural Centre, within the aforesaid Magisterial District, did assemble yourselves in such a manner as to cause persons in the neighbourhood to fear on reasonable grounds, that you would tumultuously disturb the peace and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 70 of the Criminal Code, CAP C16, Vol. 3 Laws of Cross River State of Nigeria, 2004.
COUNT III: That you, Ugbal Jonathan ‘M,’ Archibong Jeremiah ‘M’ and others now at large, on the 5th August 2019, at about 0935hrs, at Cultural Centre, within the Calabar Magisterial District, did conduct yourselves in the Public place in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 249(d) of the Criminal Code, CAP C16, Vol. 3 Laws of Cross River State of Nigeria, 2004.