The Nigerian media community and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are up in arms against President Muhammadu Buhari and his government for their relentless harassment of outspoken journalists.
The latest victim of Buhari’s mediaphobic campaign is Agba Jalingo, the publisher of news website CrossRiverWatch.
Jalingo, who is currenly languishing in jail after his arrest on 22 August 2019, has been charged with disturbance of public peace and treason for his writings and social media posts about Cross River Governor Benedict Ayade.
A Nigerian journalist told Daily Afrika on condition of anonymity from the capital Abuja that many colleagues were living in fear of being the next targets of the government, as the regime steps up its repression against critical media.
“Buhari is becoming more and more like Mugabe, Paul Biya and Obiang Nguema,” the journalist said, citing a few prominent Africa’s long-serving dictators well known for arresting and silencing critical journalists.
Buhari, a 77-year-old former army general, led Nigeria with iron-fist between December 1983 and August 1985, after overthrowing Shehu Shagari, a democratically-elected president. He also participated in another coup d’etat – a deadly one – in 1966, apart from ordering the arrest and detention of Nigeria’s popular musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Many observers believe that Buhari seems to be reverting to his old methods.
“It is ridiculous and sickening to charge a journalist with treason. That’s what most dictators do. We are all scared. Some of us have begun to apply self-censorship for fear of landing in jail,” the journalist said.
“Authorities in Nigeria should release CrossRiverWatch publisher Agba Jalingo and drop the ridiculous charges against him,” Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator, said this week, calling on Buhari and his goveernment to stop using the country’s state security laws to harass government critics.
“To equate published criticism of the government with treason is outrageous,” South Africa-born Quintal added.
According to the charge sheet, Jalingo’s disturbance charges stem from a July 12 CrossRiverWatch article that alleged corruption involving Ayade and the Cross River Micro Finance Bank, the New York-based media watchdog explained.
The treason charges allege that Jalingo agitated for Ayade’s removal through “various malicious publications” on CrossRiverWatch and social media. If found guilty, Jalingo could face up to three years in prison for the disturbance charge and up to life in prison for treason.
Corruption is rife in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer and largest economic powerhouse, where oil money keeps disappearing from the state coffers like salt in the water. Close to 90 million people live in extreme poverty in Nigeria – roughly half of the population – according to estimates from the World Data Lab’s Poverty Clock.