AGBA JALINGO, Publisher of CrossRiverWatch who was in August charged by the Nigeria Police with treason and disturbance of public peace, has said he is “willing to face his trial even in secret” as ordered by the court if the proceedings are recorded fairly and verbatim through an electronic system.
In a notice of motion filed on Wednesday by his counsel and obtained by The ICIR, Jalingo urged the Federal High Court in Calabar to provide for an electronic recording that is to be done separately from the judge’s long-hand recording and to adjourn the trial till the application is ruled on.
A similar application had previously been made orally, Jalingo’s lawyer James Ibor stated in an attached affidavit, but “His Lordship refused to record the oral application but responded to it by accusing our lead counsel of coming from Lagos to disturb the peace of Calabar, the Cross-River State, and his Court”.
“Since the Court did not record the oral application and his peremptory dismissal of it, we have deemed it appropriate to formalise the application,” Ibor added.
Some of the grounds for the application include that the court has ruled in favour of a secret trial, the defendant’s lead counsel Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN) has raised concerns about the integrity of the court’s records, and reliable records will not prejudice the defendant’s case at the appeal court.
Ibor, in his statement, also made reference to instances during the trial that gave the impression that the trial judge,
Simon Amobeda, “harbours some predetermined notions or positions in the case, and that he was lending his weight and authority to one side against the other”.
He said Amobeda, in some of his rulings, failed to fully reflect the arguments of Jalingo’s lawyers and sometimes either mischaracterised their submissions or attributed to them statements they did not make.
“Our client, Mr. Agba Jalingo, had earlier expressed to me his own reservation regarding what he perceives of the independence of the Court and his chances of being treated fairly and getting justice in the case,” he said.
“His reason for this was that whereas the application made to the Court by the Prosecution was specifically for ‘AN ORDER,.. granting leave to the Complaint/Applicant (sic) in Charge No. FHC/CA/59C/2079 to produce her witness in court being mask (sic) on the next adjourned date on till (sic) they finally completed given their evidence”, his lordship granted that “The trial of the Defendant shall now be undertaken in camera…
Members of the public and the press shall be denied access to the Courtroom during the evidence of the Complainant/Applicant’s witnesses and the identity of the Prosecution witnesses shall be protected from the Defendant and his counsel…”
In other words, a number of the orders granted by the court were not prayed for by the prosecution.
Ibor concluded: “After witnessing what transpired today, the Defendant has again expressed to us his doubt as to the fairness of the Court but we have assured him that he will have his opportunity to have his case reviewed by a higher court.
lt is for this reason that the Defendant seeks a verbatim record of the trial proceedings by electronic means to ensure completeness of the record beyond what his lordship is able to take down in longhand.
Justice Amobeda had on Thursday ruled that the first testimony of masked witnesses will be heard on Wednesday, November 20 and that Jalingo should be remanded at a medium-security custodial centre till then.
‘Your life now is in the court’s hands,’ Amobeda tells Jalingo
In a leaked audio recording of Amobeda, while he was addressing a group of lawyers earlier in the week, he recalled that he told Jalingo his life is now in the court’s hands following a walk-out staged by Olumide-Fusika and the defence legal team.
He said he only takes instructions from God and will not be intimidated by anybody. He also denied conniving with the prosecution and repeatedly emphasised that he will not subvert the course of justice.
“If you come here and the matter is not in your favour, go to the Court of Appeal, not come and make noise,” he said, referring to the conduct of Olumide-Fusika.
“I don’t have anything against any person. I don’t know any person in this place and by the grace of God nobody has tribal marks like me in this place,” Amobeda said as others laughed lightly.
“So why will I now say because you have tribal marks like me, I will now begin to favour you? I don’t do it. If I want to favour it’s in my chambers. If you give me good thing I will favour you in my chambers, but when you do not give me … ”
It is not clear what the judge means by “good thing” and granting favours in his chambers.