A football competition for inmates of the medium security custodial center of the Nigerian Correctional Service in Nigeria’s port city of Calabar will kick off today.
The first match of the tournament starts by 10:00AM and it is in honor of Mr. Agba Jalingo, a journalist and rights activist who is facing trial for demanding accountability from the Cross River State government over the NGN500 million approved and released for the floating of the Cross River Microfinance bank.
“I got a call from the welfare department about 10 days ago saying Mr. Jalingo wants to speak to me. He requested I hurry down to the custodial center. Upon reaching there, he said something that left the correctional officers laugh at first.
“It was organizing a football tournament for the inmates,” read a statement issued by Jonathan Ugbal, his colleague and News Editor of CrossRiverWatch.
The statement further read: “I have visited him at least once a day since August 22nd. Since September 25th when he was remanded here, we discovered that the inmates engage themselves daily in lengthy football matches. We thought, why not make it more exciting in order to support the correctional system.
“It began as a silly joke and now we are thinking sustainability and increased participation. Who knows, we could have a major league like the college basketball league in the United States which is valued in billions of dollars!”
According to Mr. Ugbal, the tournament has the blessings of the correctional service and despite Mr. Jalingo supporting with Jerseys, Footballs and other logistics, the service controls the structure and organization of the tournament in line with its standing order of procedure.
Four charges bordering on conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and attempt to topple the Cross River State government were preferred against Mr. Jalingo. He pleaded not guilty to the amended charges read to him on October 30th.
The matter is before Justice Simon Amobeda of the Calabar division of the Federal High Court. He is expected to be in Court again on Tuesday for a ruling to modify an order of the Court made on October 23 for the prosecution to mask its witnesses and continuation of trial.
His trial has drawn widespread condemnation and criticism with Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State fingered as the architect of his travails, an allegation he has continuously denied.
Mr. Jalingo was listed as number 9 on the #OneFreePressCoalition “10 Most Urgent Cases” of journalists under attack for pursuing the truth. The coalition is made up of about three dozen media organizations. However, the publication by TIME drew the ire of the Cross River State government which accused the media outfit of practicing “gutter journalism.”
He was invited by the Police in August for an article he wrote in July. The interview date was shifted from the initial August 19th to September 3rd. And, despite making public, his commitment to honor the invitation, an elite squad of the Police stormed his Lagos residence on August 22, 2019 and arrested him.
Staff of his wife were held hostage for over four hours before one buckled under pressure and took the policemen to his residence.
The Police rebuffed pleas to travel by air and took him on a 25 hour road journey to Calabar. They arrived on August 24th and he spent 32 days at a Police black site facility before his arraignment on September 25th.
Justice Amobeda refused granting him bail on two occasions, October 4th and 30th.