The secret trial of Agba Jalingo, a Nigerian journalist and human rights activist stalled again on Wednesday after the defense counsel asked for a short date to respond on points of law to three counter affidavits filed by the prosecuting counsel, Dennis Tarhemba.
The defense had filed two applications; bail and for the provision of a verbatim recorder on the 13th day of November. Both were served on the prosecution in Court on November 14th.
However, the lead counsel for the defense, Kehole Enya told the presiding judge, Justice Simon Amobeda that the counter affidavits filed by the prosecution on November 22nd were only served on the defense moments before the Court sat.
Enya said there was also a third counter affidavit responding to a further affidavit for the lead counsel for the defendant, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, a senior advocate of Nigeria.
But, Tarhemba accused the defense team of evading service and asked the Court to award costs of transportation to the tune of N100,000 against the defense team.
He further submitted that two lead counsels who are deponents of affidavits sworn before the Court were absent without any notification and asked the Court to take steps to ensure that does not occur again.
However, Enya objected and described Tarhemba’s submission that they were evading service as “preposterous.”
“Counsels have chambers. The delayed service is actually a deliberate action by the prosecution as I got a call from the office that they were there to serve us these processes while I was in Court,” Enya submitted.
He further submitted that should they have evaded service, the Court’s bailiff would have deposed to an affidavit to that effect. He said the law permitted the defense to respond on points of law.
And, on cost, he argued that the defendant was “not in default” of any known rule and asked the Court to discountenance the submissions of the prosecution.
In his ruling, Justice Amobeda held that the matter was a criminal trial which as per the Administration of Criminal Justice Acts, enjoys the opportunity of going on a “day-to-day trial.”
He also held that the defense was entitled by law to respond to the counter affidavit filed by the prosecution on points of law.
Furthermore, he ruled that there was no record of a bailiff showing that the defense has evaded service and adjourned the matter until December 2, 2019 for hearing of the motions and continuation of trial.
This means that he remains remanded at the medium security custodial center where he has spent 63 days so far with colleagues contemplating a Court action after the state controller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Imaikop Ndaekong ordered that all visitation to him be stopped.
He had arrived court in the company of other inmates and about half a dozen correctional officers at about 9:04 AM. Sporting black shoes and blue jeans, Jalingo who wore a grey shirt with the inscription “Our democracy in dire need of defenders” waved his cuffed hands to those who trooped out to welcome him before proceeding to collect a green colored muffler with the inscriptions “I love Nigeria” and, “Great Nigeria” printed on both sides from Jonathan Ugbal, another journalist facing trial over the #RevolutionNow movement.
The cuffs were later removed and he proceeded into the Court room where he was greeted by a group of family, friends, colleagues and allies who carried posters with messages demanding for his release and the release of pro-democracy activist, Olawale Bakare and another journalist, Omoyele Sowore.
The posters also bore messages demanding that government obeys court orders as well as called for a stop to the social media and hate speech bills currently been discussed on the floor of the national assembly.
As with the past three court dates, a detachment of armed police officers attached to the Armored Personnel Carrier squad of the MOPOL 11 Squadron in Calabar, the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad and Response Patrol arrived the Court premises before 7:30 AM. They searched everyone going in and out of the premises.
They were later joined by a team of operatives of Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS.
Jalingo risks a death sentence or at best, a life sentence as four charges bordering of terrorism, treasonable felony, conspiracy and attempt to topple the Cross River State government were preferred against him.
Jalingo, whom alongside Bakare and Sowore have been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International had in July published an article where he demanded the whereabouts of the NGN500 million approved and released by the Cross River State government for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
He was invited by the Cross River State command of the Nigerian Police force to answer to a petition bordering on that article. The interview was first slated for August 19th before it was rescheduled for August 26th and September 3rd 2019.
He had in several statements, announced his intention to honor the invitation. But, He was arrested in a gestapo styled operation at his Lagos residence on August 22, 2019 after the police held his wife’s staff hostage for four hours until one broke under pressure and took them to his residence.
Driven by road to Calabar where he arrived on the 24th despite pleas to travel by air, Jalingo spent 32 more days at a police black site facility where his health failed several times before he was eventually arraigned on September 25th.
The court denied admitting him to bail on two occasions; October 4th and October 30th.
An October 23rd ruling by Justice Amobeda drew the ire of the public as he ordered that the witnesses listed by the prosecution be masked and made to testify in an enclosed screen.
An application to vary that order by the defense was also dismissed by the Justice Amobeda in early November forcing the defense to apply for a verbatim recording of the arguments independent of the Judge.
The trial has drawn mixed reactions with the Cross River State government continuously denying its involvement on the matter despite initially claiming Jalingo’s arrest was in connection with his planning of the #RevolutionNow movement.