Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS court of justice in Abuja has ordered the Nigerian government to pay N30 million to Agba Jalingo, publisher of CrossRiverWatch.
The fine according to the court serves as compensation for “ill-treating and torturing him” while in detention in Cross River state.
In a judgement issued on Friday, the court said the journalist was arrested and “chained to a deep freezer for about 34 days without being charged to court, brutalised and dehumanised”.
Jalingo had spent five months in custody after he published a story on how Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River, allegedly approved and diverted N500 million meant for the state’s microfinance bank.
He was charged with conspiracy, terrorism, treasonable felony and an attempt to topple the state government.
Following an outcry, Ayade denied involvement in the trial of Jalingo, but said the federal government was behind the journalist’s case over his involvement in the #RevolutionNow protest led by Omoyele Sowore.
In a suit filed on his behalf by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Jalingo sought reparation for the inhuman treatment and torture meted out to him.
“We have looked at the evidence before us. There was no answer as to the facts that Jalingo was arrested and illegally detained, brutalised and dehumanised,” the court held.
“This is against international human rights treaties, particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Nigeria is a state party. The Nigerian government has flouted the provisions of these treaties on international fair trial standards.
“For these reasons, on the claims of compensation for ill-treatment and torture, SERAP has been able to establish the claims.
“We condemn the Nigerian government for these acts, and hereby award compensation of N30 million to Mr Jalingo for violations of his human rights. The Nigerian government must comply with the order of the court within three months, and file a process to this court to this effect.”
Reacting to the judgment, Femi Falana, who represented SERAP, said: “In view of the ongoing brutalisation of hapless Nigerian citizens by the police and other security agencies, this judgment could not have come at a more opportune time than now.
“It is to be hoped that the federal and state governments and all law enforcement agencies will study the terms of the judgment and desist from further infringing on the human rights of the Nigerian people, including criminal suspects who are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the state.”