Agba Jalingo: Justice Now Now Now!
How ironic and sad that for four entire months, this justice advocate, a model citizen and good governance campaigner has had to endure imprisonment ostensibly for demanding transparency in government affairs.
Since August 22, Jalingo has been in detention on charges of terrorism, denied bail multiple times, even had his visiting rights revoked at a point. What worse injustice can an honest man suffer?
His travails apparently crystallized when he published an investigative piece on how the Government of Cross River State took out a princely five hundred million naira to establish a microfinance bank but a year or two later, the only known branch of the microfinance bank remained closed with no business activity happening there.
Subsequently, the Cross River State Criminal Investigation Department of the Nigeria Police Force wrote to Citizen Jalingo stating that it was “investigating a case of Conspiracy to cause Unrest and Conduct likely to Cause a Breach of Peace, reported by Cross River State Microfinance Bank” and Jalingo was invited to “interview” a named police officer about the matter. Four days before August 26, 2019 – the mutually accepted interview date – the same police force dispatched its men to Jalingo’s Lagos home, bundled him to Calabar and he has been in detention since then.
Besides the glaringly unprofessional conduct and breach of due procedure evident in this matter, legal opinion has made it clear that a grievance between Jalingo and management of the phantom Cross River Microfinance Bank would be a civil case to be litigated in court by both parties and has no ground for police involvement using criminal prosecution methods.
That Jalingo’s incarceration is politically motivated became obvious when after taking heavy flak on account of his jailing, the forces behind his ordeal attempted to muddle things up by changing the narrative through amending the charges against Jalingo to terrorism, attempting to “bring down the reputation of the Governor of Cross River State” and to remove him from office. Yes! You read that right! They say Jalingo was planning to overthrow a State Governor!
The smear campaign launched against the hapless citizen despite jailing him further points to this ulterior motivation. Certain elements started to peddle snide talks that he had been on the paybook of political brokers and only took to activism after getting weaned off the feed trough but nothing can be farther from the truth. Jalingo is always about good governance and quality representation by holders of political power and this formed the entire plank of his activism.
Jalingo has been a successful entrepreneur well before the present crop of rulers came to power in 2015. Among his many ventures, he holds the sole distributorship rights for Innoson Motors in Cross River State. Does such a man require hand-me-downs from public office holders to put food on his table? Certainly not.
A politically conscious and active citizenry is the chief asset of any serious democracy. Combined with safeguards against tyranny and dictatorship embedded in the Constitution, citizen participation in the governance process serves as a guiding beacon to those in office, steering them through reactions to the policies, plans and actions of such officeholders.
Leaders of national and subnational governments who have not dirtied their palms with pilfered public fund have nothing to fear from a politically conscious citizenry. As a matter of fact, such leaders encourage popular, all-inclusive participation in the democratic process.
We cannot continue to lay claims to being a democracy while simultaneously disregarding with total abandon, the most basic cultures underpinning truly democratic states. Before we use Nigeria or Cross River State in the same sentence with democracy again, we must first #FreeAgbaJalingo!
Odey Joseph, a Cross Riverian, wrote from Garki, Abuja