Cross River governor, Ben Ayade, has finally spoken about the continuous detention of Agba Jalingo, a Nigerian journalist who is standing treason trial for criticising the governor.
Mr Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, was arrested on August 22 over a report alleging that Mr Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state.
“In court, it is Federal Government versus Agba Jalingo, not Cross River State,” Mr Ayade told reporters on Monday at the presidential villa, Abuja, where he went to meet President Muhammadu Buhari.
“He’s in court for treason, a state does not have power to try anyone for treason, it’s not me.”
Mr Ayade said the journalist’s arrest and trial is in connection with Omoyele Sowore’s #RevolutionNow protest.
“On his Facebook page, he sent pictures where he was being teargassed at the revolution march in Lagos. His own pictures, posted by himself and when Sowore was being arrested, he went back to his Facebook to post that the revolution has just started, ‘we will continue this battle until revolution works’. He admitted this in Court,” Mr Ayade said.
“You are seeing him as a journalist, but he’s not, he’s the chairman of Sowore’s party in Cross River State so he’s a politician. He has a primary calling, which is journalism.
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“Once he started the campaign to overthrow the government of President Buhari, he ceased to be seen from the point of journalist because he has become the state chairman of a party.”
Governor Ayade, however, says he has been working for Mr Jalingo’s release from Calabar prison where he has been incarcerated.
“I am of the opinion that Agba should be released because I think he was just youthfully excited.
“If you ask Agba Jalingo today, I’m the one working with his lawyers for his freedom, I’m the one sustaining him and sending upkeeps,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Jalingo’s lawyer, Attah Ochinke who said, “I can confirm I have been in discussions with officials of the Cross River state government in that direction (Jalingo’s freedom).
Mr Ochinke said he would not comment on Mr Ayade’s claims that he has been sending “upkeeps” to the detained journalists. “It is not through me,” he said.
The governor spoke on his relationship with Mr Jalingo whom he said is his “brother”. He said the journalist betrayed him after he assisted him and his newspaper. He accused the journalist of serial acts of “blackmail”.
“Please don’t get it wrong, Agba Jalingo is not just from Cross River State, he’s not just from Obudu, where I also come from, he’s my brother.
“Please ask Agba Jalingo, that CrossRiverWatch, the first person to give him money to set up the office was myself. His official vehicle, it was me. I don’t have to list all of these, he knows that I have funded and supported him, but journalism stops where blackmail becomes part of your strategy.
“Today you need something, then Ayade is a good man and you start writing all the good things, but if I take my phone and show you our WhatsApp communication, you will call me a godly man. Today I need money to set up a computer school, tomorrow I need money to feed my birds, the other day I need to be INNOSON’s sole distributor in Cross River State, I do all that.
“But when I don’t get a thing right you go to the social media and write something as careless as Governor Ayade has taken N500 million to Russia. You impugned my father’s name, my character, my family name, for just a personal request that I’ve not met, out of many that I have met.
“Please for once, put yourselves in my shoes. All I simply did was to stay out of the issue,” the governor said.
“I have an intellectual background as a professor, I will stand with journalists at all times and I will never prosecute somebody.”