When A Governor Becomes A Threat To Free Speech And Free Press By Agba Jalingo



My constant assertion that Cross River state governor, Senator Ben Ayade is
a threat to free speech and a free press in Cross River state has been
challenged by some of his aides who also want me to prove my allegation
with facts. The thing about this administration is that, in the same manner
they make and forget promises so quickly, they also forget very quickly how
often the Ayade government has attempted to stifle free speech and free
press since he assumed office.

Before his ascension, my experience as a reporter in Cross River state,
under Governor Liyel Imoke also recorded some breaches but generally, the
media in the State had a wider space to practice their trade. Imoke met
with the Press regularly and took questions with equanimity, no matter how
upsetting the questions were.

The Imoke administration bullied and intimidated and persecuted a
medical practitioner, Doctor Elihu Osim, who accused Imoke’s wife of
child trafficking. He was later charged in a trumped-up allegation.

Governor Imoke also dragged Chief Okoi Obono Obla and ThisDay
Correspondent, Bassey Inyang to court over a publication he said was
libellous.

But there was no reported incident of violent aggression towards citizens
or journalists in the State for expressing their views or for writing media
reports.

But Imoke had a deputy, Efiok Cobham, with a different temperament. In
2013, CrossRiverWatch did a report about the former Deputy Governor that
really got him upset and he publicly threatened to kill Agba Jalingo and
destroy CrossRiverWatch over that report. A combined team of security
agents were sent to arrest the then editor of CrossRiverWatch, Emmanuel
Unah, from his home at midnight and he was detained at the police
headquarters in Calabar until Governor Imoke who was seeking medical help
in the US intervened and sought his release against the will of his deputy
who was an acting governor at the time.

On his return, Imoke openly cautioned Cobham in exco and warned him to
allow the press to do their work and not to create any further rift
between his government and journalists in the State and it appears
that caution was taken seriously. Such incidents stopped until the end
of their tenure.

When Ayade resumed office, the situation began to change. The regular
media interactions with the governor were the first casualty. Unlike
what obtains before Ayade, this governor has held only two meetings
with the Press in four and a half years he has been in office.

The first meeting which was very early in his administration, broke
down after journalists asked him questions he called ‘beer parlour’
questions. He swore never to meet ‘those idiots’ again.

The second meeting was hurriedly called after the EFCC arrested the
governor’s younger brother, Frank Ayade, in 2017. Once the governor
knew the information had leaked to the media, he requested for a
meeting which was essentially to manage the situation.

Under Imoke, apart from closed-door sessions, correspondents were all
allowed in exco to witness sittings and signing of partnerships and
MoUs.

Governor Ayade has rather created his own coterie of ‘friendly press”
who are the only ones now allowed to cover his activities, while the
CPS sends press releases to editors. You stay in that ‘friendly press’
at the pleasure of the governor. He has expelled those considered
critical. The media is being dictated to, how to cover the governor,
if not, you are kicked out. And then the constant attacks on
individuals and the media for
expressing dissenting views has spiked, compared to the past.

A former lecturer in UNICAL and critic of the Ayade government, Joseph Odok
was the first casualty early into the administration. He was attacked and
stabbed at Zanzibar in Calabar by persons it turned out were sent by
government functionaries according to Police investigation. The matter was
transferred from Calabar to Abuja, where the Chief of Staff to the
Governor, Martin Orim, former State Security Adviser, Jude Ngaji and a
former Director in the State Green Sheriff, nicknamed Defense, were all
fingered and invited for questioning in Abuja, in a case that was profiled
as attempted assassination by the Police. There is still pending
investigation ongoing in the matter.

Ifere Paul, another popular critic of the Ayade administration, was
next to follow. On the instigation of the governor via a complaint by
the former
State Attorney General, Joe Abang, the Police abducted Ifere from Abuja,
drove him in a truck from Abuja to Calabar in chains, before he was charged
by the Cross River state government for allegedly writing things on
Facebook that are capable of inciting the public against the
government. The court has since thrown out the charge.

Publisher of Fearlessreports.com, Inyali Peter was also physically
attacked, beaten and wounded in Obudu in 2018 by appointees of the
Ayade government for allegedly writing and publishing things against
the government. Inyali petitioned the Police and named his attackers
but the matter was swept under the carpet because of those involved.

Former CrossRiverWatch government house correspondent, Jonathan Ugbal,
government house information officer, Nakanda Amboni Iyadim and a youth
corper from Taraba state that was serving in the government house, were
arrested in 2018, after CrossRiverWatch published photographs of
Commissioners sleeping in exco chambers while waiting for the
governor. The trio were taken to the Police headquarters, Diamond Hill
Calabar, where
they were intimidated, harassed and their privacy was violated with their
phones and cameras searched without a warrant, in a bid to find who
transmitted the photos to CrossRiverWatch. They were detained and later
released on bail without a charge.

The recent arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment of CrossRiverWatch
Managing Editor, Jeremiah Archibong and News Editor, Jonathan Ugbal for
showing up at a scheduled event to do their job, is also being instigated
by the Chief of Staff to the governor of Cross River state on orders from
the boss.

And then the latest attempt by the governor to whip CrossRiverWatch
into submission. The invitation by the Police over an article in
CrossRiverWatch, is an attempt to criminalize a civil matter, all in a bid
to please one man who doesn’t want to be challenged, regardless of his
decisions. This is the reality that we have to contend with in Cross River
state, in the days of Ayade.

But this is an exercise in futility. It is an expression of innate
panic and insecurity that the leader is battling with. The media has
never been a problem. Citizen’s perceptions, opinions or what they
write has never been the problem. Government has always been the
problem. The desire of the government to control; to control both the
media and the people. To stifle their voices and run the State alone.
That has always been the problem. But a leader with a good sense of
history will know that no leader ever won any of these battles. The
people own the government. They always win and
the media stands to watch and tell the story.

The media in our State will not allow this government to silence us.
We will fight, not only for ourselves but for democracy, for free
speech, for the right to hold our government accountable. We will rise
in unison and solidarity and tell not just the Ayade government but
every other government that comes after this one, that the pen is
mightier than your guns and security apparatchiks. That we have come
of age and we can hold
them accountable for the decisions they make on our behalf.

For governor Ayade, you can bruise us while you reign but you can’t win us.
You got only 1374 days to roar, but we will still be here to tell our
stories.

Yours Sincerely,
Citizen Agba Jalingo.

#1374DaysToGo
#HoldYourLeadersAccountable
#FollowOurMoney
#LeadersAreServantsNotMasters
#NoToUncompletedProjects
#AyadeMustWork
#AyadeMustSucceed
#AyadeLegacy
#100DaysIn2ndTerm

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