I am constrained to pen this open letter owing to the cloud of silence exuding from your political party.
Citizen Agba Jalingo was arrested in a gestapo fashion on August 22, 2019 on the instigation of Governor Benedict Ayade, over an article through which Jalingo opined that the governor approved and diverted the sum of N500m meant for a microfinance bank in Calabar. Following that publication, a letter of invitation from the Police Command in Calabar was served on Agba Jalingo, inviting him for an “interview” which was slated to hold on August 19, 2019. Jalingo later reached out to the police and both parties agreed that the meeting be adjourned to Monday, August 26, 2019. But in a desperate twist, Agba Jalingo’s home was raided and the journalist was abducted and driven by road to Calabar.
Upon arriving Calabar, Agba Jalingo was dumped in a police cell for 34 days without a charge. Later, charges of terrorism, treasonable felony, attempting to topple Ayade’s regime and “bringing down” Ayade’s reputation were concocted against him.
Your party (PDP), considered by many as the “main opposition” to the ruling and repressive APC, ought to understand that holding government accountable is the primary responsibility of both citizens and journalists. Citizen Agba Jalingo has not committed any offence known to the Nigerian law by his decision to demand the whereabouts of the N500m that Ayade approved for the microfinance bank under reference. To this day, the Governor’s only defence to that allegation is the incarceration of Jalingo.
Not so long ago, I enrolled for a short course under the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) made available by the US Department of State, titled: “Responsible Leadership on Transparency and Good Governance”. Part of the course material had this to say on accountability and good governance:
“Good governance respects the rule of law and recognises that public office is a trust to be exercised in the public interest and not for personal or political gain.
Trained, professional journalists are necessary to expose corruption and guard against the abuse of power. To do this, it is imperative that the press has access to government officials and the work they do.
The workings of government must be shared with the public through objective actors who can report the news and provide honest analyses.
A free and open press also means that journalists should not be censored, persecuted or subjected to unreasonably restrictive libel laws.”
The arbitrary incarceration of citizens by Governor Ayade for merely expressing divergent opinions is unacceptable. Before the persecution of Agba Jalingo, Ayade had ordered for the arrest of Mr Paul Ifere who was driven by road from Abuja to Calabar where he was slammed with trumped-up charges of terrorism. Recently also, a lawyer, Joseph Odok, was arrested in Abuja and driven by road to Calabar for criticising Governor Benedict Ayade. Like Jalingo and Ifere, Odok has been charged with terrorism, all in a bid to strike fear in the hearts of Cross Riverians desirous to demand for accountability from a governor they voted into office. This is outright tyranny and a gross abuse of power, unprecedented in Cross River State.
Whilst it is proper that your party, PDP, consistently calls out Major-General Buhari’s repressive regime for its consistent violation of human rights, you are without the moral competence to maintain sealed lips when a governor in your political party treads on the same path for which you lampoon the Buhari/APC regime.
Dear PDP, it is an insult on our collective intelligence as Nigerians for your governor, Mr Ayade, to arrest every Cross Riverian, who criticises his anti-free speech regime and then invoke federal charges to create the false impression that his critics are being prosecuted by the Federal Government, when it is common knowledge that the governor is the executive complainant.
Assuming without conceding that the Federal Government is behind the arrest of every Cross Riverian who criticises Ayade, why is it that they are always driven to Calabar, the Cross River State capital, as though there are no federal high courts in the different states of their arrests? For instance, Paul Ifere criticised Ayade, he was arrested in Abuja, chained and dumped in a truck and then moved to Calabar where terrorism charges were preferred against him. Agba Jalingo criticised Ayade, he too was arrested and moved from Lagos to Calabar and charged with terrorism. Joseph Odok criticised Ayade, he was arrested in Abuja and moved to Calabar and charged with terrorism. Are there no federal high court divisions in Lagos and Abuja? Why should Calabar be the ideal place to prosecute Ayade’s critics?
Consequently, the PDP must prove by way of action that it is not a party to the ongoing fascistic reign in Cross River State by calling Governor Benedict Ayade to order. The Governor must as a result withdraw with immediate effect the trumped-up charges against Agba Jalingo and Joseph Odok who were denied the right to join their families for Christmas. Like I have stated on countless occasions, those who abhor scrutiny have no business in public office(s). Is it not a common African proverb that a forest that forbids baskets should never grow mushroom?
Dear PDP, section 39(1) of the 1999 constitution, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights all guarantee freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Has the PDP suspended these laws in Cross River State?
Ayade, your governor, rode to power in 2015 on the strength of free speech, but soon afterwards he criminalised it and now jails every Cross Riverian who questions his policies and demands accountability. This is totally unacceptable in a 21st century democracy. The PDP cannot be preaching the sermon of freedom of expression and be found practicing the very antithesis of that which they preach about. Ayade’s high-handedness and anti-free speech regime reminds me of the words of Herbert Hoover, first president of the United States of America. Hear him: “It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.”
We will not accept this degree of lawlessness and utter repression in PDP’s Cross River where anti-terrorism laws are being used to prosecute dissent. Before criticising General Buhari, the PDP must first purge itself of every trace of tyranny.
NB: Jalingo and Odok need to be freed, and they need to be freed now!