The National Association of Seadogs, otherwise known as Pyrates Confraternity, has appealed to Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade, to intervene in the case of the detained Nigerian journalist, Agba Jalingo.
Mr Jalingo, who is facing treason charges, was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
The journalist spent Christmas holiday, as well as his birthday, January 2, in Calabar prison where he is incarcerated.
Several individuals and organisations, including Amnesty International, have been campaigning for his release.
Mr Jalingo’s detention and trial is a drawback for Mr Ayade, the Pyrates, Cross River chapter, said in a January 7 letter to the governor.
“(It is) some fly in the ointment,” said the letter which was signed by the chapter president, Maurice Ibok.
“It is a matter which has become truly worrisome in several quarters and borders on human rights.
“We are concerned that the longer that this detention lasts, the bigger the risk of distraction which your government faces.
“We do not believe that your government desires or even would enjoy any distraction at this or any other point in time. Besides, it is not heartwarming to experience negative mention in relation to matters of human rights,” the group said in the letter.
The group said Mr Jalingo’s case is an “unnecessary controversy that Governor Ayade has the capacity to bring an end to”.
‘Why we wrote Ayade’
Mr Ibok told PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday, that Mr Jalingo is not a member of Pyrates. “We are just doing one of our social advocacy,” he said.
Nigeria’s Noble Laurette, Wole Soyinka, December, reportedly described Mr Jalingo’s treason trial as an ‘anomaly’.
“I must tell you that I was horrified to read of treason charges levelled against a citizen for criticising a state government,” said Mr Soyinka who, together with six other students of the then University College, Ibadan, founded the Pyrates in 1952 to fight for human rights and social justice.
“I wasn’t aware that it’s possible to commit treason against a state government. And that obviously is an anomaly.
“It will be one of the most absurd political arrangement which made it possible for a non-sovereign government, because the state government is not a sovereign government; so how can you commit treason against a non-sovereign government, to begin with?”
Protesting voices at Calabar Carnival
Meanwhile, a group, Coalition of Cross River Civil Society Organisations, miffed by the continuous detention of Mr Jalingo, staged a street protest during the just concluded Calabar Carnival.
It is unclear what impact the protest had on the carnival which usually attracts hundreds of tourists from within and outside Nigeria, but there are people who believe that Mr Jalingo’s case may have taken some shine off the event.
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“The poor human rights has overshadowed the tourism attraction that Cross River once offered,” Nsikak Akpabio, an Uyo-based campaigner for human rights and good governance, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Before now, whenever you mentioned Cross River or Calabar, what usually pops up in the mind was tourism, Calabar Carnival, Tinapa, Obudu Cattle Ranch, and all that.
“I’m an alumnus of the University of Calabar, I remember how I used to brag about the beauty and serenity of Calabar to friends and relatives. I remember how we used to look forward at this time of the year to travel to Calabar for the carnival.
“It’s quite sad that the detention and trial of Agba Jalingo seems to top the discourse whenever Cross River is mentioned today,” Mr Akpabio said.
He appealed to Governor Ayade to bring an end to Mr Jalingo’s trial in order to redeem the image of Cross River.
Siege on critics
Apart from Mr Jalingo, another critic of Governor Ayade, Joseph Odok, is being held in Calabar prison.
Mr Odok, a lawyer, was arrested on September 26 in Abuja and taken to Calabar where he is facing terrorism charges.
His arrest and incarceration is believed to have been instigated by the governor because of his constant criticism of the Cross River government.
“We are on his bail application, there are few documents we are putting together,” Mr Odok’s lawyer, Oliver Osang, told PREMIUM TIMES, on Christmas Day.
Mr Odok’s Facebook page contains critical remarks on Mr Ayade.
In one of his posts on the social media site in September, Mr Odok described the governor as a ‘joker’.
“Ayade keep getting it wrong with lofty projects. Why talk of Spaghetti flyover when you have not maintained or completed a single road project from your first administration?
“A man that can’t complete a single road keeps talking Super High Way, Deep Sea Port and now Spaghetti flyover. This joke is getting out of hands,” he wrote on Facebook.