Secret Trial of Journalist Agba Jalingo: Court Rule On Providing Electronic Verbatim Recorder December 9

…As Lawyers, Public Will Not Be Allowed With Phones From January 2020

Agba Jalingo in courtJustice Simon Amobeda of the Calabar division of the Federal High Court has set aside Monday, December 9, 2019 to rule on the application of the defendants in suit no FHC/CA/59C/2019 for the provision of an electronic verbatim recording device.

The defendant, Agba Jalingo, a journalist and human rights activist is facing four count charges bordering on terrorism and conspiracy. He risks a death sentence or at best, a life sentence if convicted.

The defendant had in a motion filed on November 13, 2019 brought pursuant to Section 36 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, sought the leave of the Court to provide an electronic verbatim recorder independent of the long handwriting of the trial judge.

The motion is supported by an 18 paragraph affidavit, a four paragraph affidavit of urgency; all deposed to by James Ibor, a lawyer and counsel to Mr. Jalingo, as well as a further affidavit deposed to by Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and lead counsel to the defendant dated November 19th.

The defense team led by Ibor relied on its written address and the paragraphs in the three affidavits as part of its oral argument in support of the motion.

In their response, the prosecution led by Dennis Tarhemba, a Deputy Superintendent of Police had filed a 22 paragraph counter affidavit on November 22, 2019 and deposed to by Inspector Ibe Ihezuo attached to the State Criminal and Investigation Department of the Nigerian Police Force in Calabar.

Tarhemba who relied on his written address and paragraphs in the two counter affidavits he filed as part of his argument against the motion, sought the leave of the Court to debate orally. When granted the leave, he submitted by way of adumberation that his reaction to the defendants application dated November 13th and the further affidavit dated November 19th have not been contraverted and therefore should be deemed admitted and cited the case of Obumsele and Anor vs Uwakwe 2019 (supreme court) to back his argument.

He further submitted that that the deponent, James Ibor contravened section 112 of the evidence act 2011 as well as rules 20 and 36 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for legal practitioners 2007. And, citing the case of Aliyu vs Buhari 2019 (Court of Appeal), asked the Court to declare as a nullity, dismiss and expunge affidavits deposed to by Ibor who had professional interest in the case.

Responding on points of law, Ibor submitted that the legal authorities cited by Tarhemba as well as his reliance on section 112 of the evidence act 2011 are “misplaced and inapplicable” in the case.

He further submitted that rules 20 and 36 of the RPC were misrepresented by the prosecution and commended the Court to interpret them. He further urged the Court to interpret the second authority cited by the prosecution as it “did not apply in the circumstance” as well as the submissions of the prosecution to be jettisoned as they are “misconceived.”

Earlier, Justice Amobeda had before the Court resumed sitting asked his police orderly, one Sergeant Orim to summon two photojournalists filming and photographing activities in the Courtroom to his chambers.

Leo Ashiebe, a cameraman from the State owned Cross River Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC), was first summoned at about 9:18 AM while filming rushes inside the Courtroom where Justice Amobeda presides over.

Patrick Obia who took photographs of Mr. Agba Jalingo’s arrival in Court at about 9:22AM, proceeded to take some images in the Courtroom where Justice Amobeda sits before he was then summoned into the chambers by 9:29AM

When released, the duo told colleagues that they met with Justice Amobeda who asked them to introduce themselves.

He made Leo Ashiebe who was standing in for a colleague to contact him and said he could get them arrested if they could not identify themselves properly.

He then called the station registrar to take them to his office and they wrote their names, addresses and telephone numbers. They were then let go at about 9:46 AM.

Just before commencing hearing for cases listed for the day, Justice Amobeda who seemed riled by comments on social media asked journalists to get “clearance from the station registrar.”

He said that, “the era of reporting about this court anyhow anyhow is gone.” He asked journalists to be careful of what they report and to “get clarifications from their lawyers” if they are not sure of what to write.

He stressed that he was not asking journalists to stop reporting, said “there is a lot being written on social media.”

He then ordered that from January 2020, everyone including lawyers entering the Court will be required to keep their phones in their cars or elsewhere before entering the Court.

Lawyers approached declined comment on the directives but this may not be unconnected to a leaked audio published by online newspaper, The Cable and the ICIR where Justice Amobeda was making reference to Olumide-Fusika whom he said tried to intimidate him.

In that audio, Justice Amobeda said that Jalingo’s life was in the hands of the Court and cited the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa who was convicted after his lawyer walked out of the Courtroom.

Meanwhile, Jalingo remains remanded at the medium security custodial center of the Nigerian Correctional Service on Calabar where he has spent 68 days so far after spending 34 days in police custody from August 22, 2019 when he was arrested at his Lagos residence in a gestapo styled operation by the Intelligence Response Team of the Nigerian Police. The team had held staff of his wife hostage for four hours until he was arrested.

He was first detained at the Federal Special Anti Robbery Squad annex at GRA Ikeja before he was ferried in a 25 hour long journey to Calabar where he was kept at a police black site facility with controlled access.

Despite his health failing several times, the Police declined medical officials requests to keep him on bedrest twice before eventually arraigning him on September 25th.

Jalingo, whom alongside #RevolutionNow convener Omoyele Sowore and pro democracy activist, Olawale Bakare 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 before his arrest.

Dozens of individuals, civil society organizations, pressure and right groups condemned his incarceration and trial. They have called for his release with some accusing Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State as being the architect of his ordeal, an allegation his spokesman, Mr. Christian Ita has continued to deny.

He was listed as one of the 10 most urgent cases of threats to press freedom by the One Free Press Coalition in October. The Cross River State government accused TIME, a member of that coalition which reported the story of practicing “gutter journalism.”

About James Ezema

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