Cross River Governor Ben Ayade has dissociated himself from the prolonged incarceration of journalist Agba Jalingo.
Ayade, while responding to questions from State House Correspondents in Abuja on Monday, said Jalingo is standing trial for treasonable charges, adding that he had been at the vanguard of the movement for his release.
A non-government rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), had threatened to file a legal action against Ayade and the Cross River State government over Jalingo’s incarceration.
The group had alleged that Jalingo’s ordeal was orchestrated by the Governor over a report he published, alleging fraud against Ayade.
But Ayade said Jalingo is facing treasonable charges, pointing out they are beyond the purview of any state government or an individual but only handled by the federal government.
The Governor said Jalingo is not just a citizen of Cross River and a kinsman from his Obudu home base but a brother he had over the years had cause to assist.
He said he crossed from being just a journalist to a politician when he became the Cross River State chairman of the African Action Congress (AAC), the political party founded by Mr Omoyele Sowore.
The governor, however, revealed that Jalingo became a person of interest to security agents when he consistently used the social media to canvass the toppling of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
“The case is between Agba Jalingo and the federal government Nigeria. On his Facebook page, he posted an ambitious programme as … Please don’t get it wrong, Agba Jalingo is not just from Cross River State, he’s not just from Obudu, where I also come from, he’s my brother
“On his Facebook page, he sent pictures where he was being teargassed at the revolution march in Lagos. His own pictures, posted by himself and when Sowore was being arrested, he went back to his Facebook to post that the revolution has just started, ‘we will continue this battle until revolution works’. He admitted this in Court.
“In court, it is Federal Government versus Agba Jalingo, not Cross River State. The same Agba Jalingo who is in jail, I send him money.
“I called my Chief Press Secretary and others and said that journalists will not understand that Agba Jalingo is the State Chairman of Sowore’s party, from the time he moved into politics, he became a politician.
“You are seeing him as a journalist, but he’s not. He’s the chairman of Sowore’s party in Cross River State so he’s a politician. He has a primary calling, which is journalism. Please as Agba Jalingo, that Cross River Watch, the first person to give him money to set up the office was myself. His official vehicle, it was me.
“I don’t have to list all of these, he knows that I have funded and supported him, but journalism stops where blackmail becomes part of your strategy.
“He’s in court for treason, a state does not have power to try anyone for treason, it’s not me. Agba Jalingo is not a journalist, he is the chairman of a political party and so once he started the campaign to overthrow the government of President Buhari, he ceased to be seen from the point of journalist because he has become the state chairman of a party.
“I have an intellectual background as a professor, I will stand with journalists at all times and I will never prosecute somebody, but if you ask Agba Jalingo today, I’m the one working with his lawyers for his freedom, I’m the one sustaining him and sending upkeeps, the same man who once called me a golden brother, that I’ve stood with him through tough times.
“When he started publishing damaging articles against the state, I called him as a brother. I said look, the former governor told me that you so much blackmailed him, that his wife was detained because she was involved in child trafficking.
“He had to resort to settling him monthly. When journalism gets to that level, it becomes very dangerous and I don’t want you people to support a course that is not fair.
He added: “I am of the opinion that Agba should be released because I think he was just youthfully excited, but let him not use the power of the pen, let him not use journalism and hide to blackmail, chastise lampoon, destroy another person just for personal economic benefit” , he said.
Speaking on the economy of Cross River State, the governor underscored the need to bring the Bakassi Deep Seaport to life to serve the northern part of Nigeria whose solid minerals deposits needed to be transported out of the country with ease.
He said apart from using the project to decongest Lagos Port, it would also serve as a strategic way of putting an end to the insurgency, militancy, kidnappings and the Boko Haram issues.
He said President Buhari would be visiting his State to flag off a new programme called G-money, which is an empowerment initiative to create jobs for 2000 women and young people through agriculture.