Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Calabar Division of the Federal High Court, during a court sitting on Wednesday, criticised the haphazard handling of Citizen Agba Jalingo’s terrorism trial by the Cross River State Government.
Jalingo had spent five months in custody after he published a story on how Ben Ayade, the governor of Cross River, allegedly approved and diverted N500 million meant for the state’s microfinance bank.
Following an outcry, Ayade denied involvement in the trial of Jalingo but said the Nigerian government was behind the journalist’s case over his involvement in the #RevolutionNow protest led by human rights activist, Omoyele Sowore.
He was charged with conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and an attempt to topple the state government.
The journalist was denied bail on two occasions by Simon Amobeda, a judge, who was caught in leaked audio saying the journalist’s life was in the court’s hands.
After the recording was made public, Jalingo asked the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to reassign his case. The case was assigned to Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Calabar Division of the Federal High Court.
At the resumption of the trial on Wednesday when amended charges were read for Jalingo to take a fresh plea, Justice Ojukwu inquired whether any witness had testified, but Jalingo’s lawyer, Barrister James Ibor answered in the negative.
Barrister J. U. Ogban, who heads the prosecution team, said they were unaware as he had just resumed as Director of Public Prosecution in the state.
“Is there no way one of you would have looked at this charge sheet and see if it is in order?” Ojukwu asked pointing out an error in the charge number.
The initial charge number is FHC/CA/59C/2019. But the amended charge sheet reads FHC/CA/59C/2021. This, according to Justice Ojukwu meant it was a new charge and not an amended one.
She had earlier ruled that Citizen Jalingo should continue enjoying bail after verifying the surety in court.
This was because the prosecution did not object to the verbal application by the defence counsel, which was hinged on the fact that, the accused had not breached any bail condition and the surety remained the same.
Justice Ojukwu further cautioned against unnecessary delays and subsequently adjourned the matter until March 21 and 22 for “the prosecution to put its house in order and continuation of trial.”