By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, remanded a journalist and publisher of an online news outlet, CrossRiverWatch, Mr Agba Jalingo, in prison custody over alleged false publication.
Justice Zainab Abubakar remanded Jalingo at the Kuje Correctional Center after he was arraigned on a two-count charge the Nigerian Police Force preferred against him.
The defendant was in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/565/2022, which bordered on alleged cybercrime, accused of publishing an article that disparaged one Mrs Elizabeth Ayade, who is the wife of the younger brother of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State.
Jalingo, who is a frontline critic of governor Ayade’s administration, was specifically accused of engaging in a false publication that was intended to cause annoyance, ill will and insult to the person of Mrs Ayade.
However, the defendant, upon his arraignment, pleaded not guilty to the charge against him which is punishable under Section 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act 2015.
After the defendant entered his plea, the prosecution counsel, Mr Fidelis Ogbobe, applied for a trial date.
Though the lawyer that announced the appearance of the defendant, Baba Isa, did not oppose the request for a trial date, he, however, prayed the court for a short stand-down to enable the lead defence counsel in the matter, Marshal Abubakar, to arrive.
The application for a stand-down was opposed by the prosecution who alleged a plot to deliberately delay the case.
The trial judge upheld the position of the prosecution and refused the request.
The court held that in its record, Mr. Abubakar, who arrived after the defendant had taken his plea, did not appear before it in the matter.
Justice Abubakar subsequently fixed March 30 to hear the defendant’s bail application, even as she slated May 32 for trial.
The court held that the defendant should remain in prison custody, pending the determination of his application for bail.
Among those that were present in court in solidarity with the defendant, included social rights activist and candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the recently held presidential election, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and other members of the Nigerian Civil Society Organizations.
It will be recalled that the nominal complainant, Mrs. Ayade, had in 2022, asked Mr. Jalingo to retract an article which she considered offensive.
Jalingo had in the said article, queried why a suspended staff of the University of Calabar, Paschal Aboh, was facing trial for allegedly impersonating a student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja campus identified as Mrs Ayade, while the person (Mrs Ayade) that allegedly contracted him, remained free
Irked by the article, Mrs. Ayade, through her lawyer, demanded a retraction and an apology to be published in two national dailies and social media platforms, as well as the payment of N500million to her as damages.
Following Mrs Ayade’s petition, Police arrested Jalingo and later released him on administrative bail.
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