The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Friday awarded NGN30 million (USD72,922) against the Nigerian Government over its illegal treatment and detention of journalist and rights activist, Agba Jalingo.
The Court in suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/10/20 upheld the prayers of civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which had instituted the suit on Jalingo’s behalf.
SERAP had sued the Nigerian Government and the Cross River State Government for the use of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015, Terrorism (Prevention Amendment), 2013 and the Criminal Code Act to unlawfully charge Jalingo before the Federal High Court, Calabar Judicial Division following an article he published in July 2019, alleging that the NGN500 million approved and released by the Cross River State Government for the floating of a state-owned Microfinance Bank had been diverted.
SERAP in that suit, claimed that the alleged harassments, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, unfair prosecution and imprisonment of Jalingo and other journalists exercising their rights to freedom of expression and information and media freedom violated all the international and regional treaties on human rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
SERAP prayed the Court for an order directing the defendants to drop all charges against Jalingo and set him free “unconditionally.” SERAP also sought an order “directing the defendants and/or their agents in Nigeria to provide effective remedies and reparation, including adequate compensation, restitution, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition that the Honourable Court may deem fit to grant to Jalingo for being unfairly prosecuted by the respondents”
However, the Federal Government through its counsel, Chijioke Amadi, filed and adopted a preliminary objection arguing that the person on whose behalf/interest the applicant instituted this suit has been granted bail and is currently being prosecuted at a competent municipal/domestic court on criminal allegations bordering on treason and terrorism.
The defendant further argued that the applicant failed to disclose a reasonable cause of action to be entitled to the prayers sought nor discharge the evidential burden placed on him in proof of his case and therefore asked the Court to dismiss the suit.
But, the Court held that the detention and treatment meted out on Jalingo by agents of the first defendant were “illegal,” and directed the first defendant to pay him NGN30 million (USD USD72,922).
It will be recalled that Jalingo who is on bail after spending 179 days in detention between August 2019 and February 2020 had while giving his oral testimony at a virtual sitting of the Court on April 6, 2021, recounted his ordeal when security officials broke into his house and arrested him in Lagos on August 22, 2019, before embarking on a tortuous 26-hour journey by road to Calabar, Cross River State capital.