Rights advocate, Mr Femi Falana SAN has demanded the immediate release of journalist, Agba Jalingo, who was arrested by the police in Lagos on Friday.
As confirmed by Lagos Police spokesman, Suprentendent of Police Benjamin Hundeyin, Jalingo was picked up by the police from Abuja.
In a statement on Saturday, Falana described how the journalist was arrested.
He said: “Yesterday, a team of the police personnel despatched from Abuja stormed the home of Agba Jalingo at Alapere, Ketu in Lagos State to arrest him. After subjecting his wife and children to unwarranted harassment for hours, the police arrested Agba, yanked him out and took him to the Area F Police Command, Ikeja, Lagos State where he was detained until this morning (Saturday). I met him at the police station where he informed me that he committed no offence but that his newspaper, CrossRiverWatch had only asked why a lecturer who wrote examinations for a student in the Nigerian Law School, Abuja has been arraigned in court while the student is being treated like a sacred cow”.
According to Falana, the police officers corroborated Jalingo’s account and stated that the petitioner had alleged that he (Jalingo) had committed what was termed ‘defamation and infringement of his integrity’, which, according to Falana, “is not an offence under any provision of the Criminal Code”.
The senior lawyer continued: “Based on the information at my disposal, I was compelled to demand for his unconditional release since he has not contravened any provision of the Criminal Code. But the police officers informed me that his detention was ordered by the authorities in Abuja. Thus, at about 11 this morning, he was flown out of Lagos and he is currently being detained at the Criminal Investigation Department, Garki, Abuja.
“The ongoing harassment of Agba, based on the allegation that he has defamed the wife of the brother of a serving Governor, is the height of official impunity in a democratic society. Since defamation is not a criminal offence, the action of the Police is a flagrant breach of section 8(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and section 32(2) of the Police Establishment Act 2020 which have banned the police from arresting any person in Nigeria for civil wrong or breach of contract. Therefore, the police authorities should release Agba Jalingo unconditionally and advise the petitioner to sue for libel in a civil court”.
Jalingo, the publisher of Cross-River Watch, came into national consciousness when he was arrested in August 2019 for accusing the Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, of diverting N500 million belonging to the state.
He was charged with terrorism, treasonable felony, and cybercrime, and incarcerated for about 179 days, despite global outrage against the action.
But two years later, the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja ordered the Federal Government to pay the publisher N30 million as compensation for his ill-treatment and torture while in his earlier detention.
In March 2022, a Federal High Court in Calabar, dismissed the terrorism, treasonable felony, and cybercrime charges against him.