By Emma Ujah, Emma Amaize, Taye Obateru, Emmanuel Aziken, George Onah, Jimitota Onoyume,Â Ise-Oluwa Ige, Abayomi Adeshida, Luka Binniyat & Henry Umoru
JOS â€” THE trial of leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah, came to an end yesterday as the Federal Government formally withdrew the treason charge against him leading to his discharge by the Federal High Court, Jos.
Breathing the air of freedom after 23 months, Okah told journalists after he was freed that his immediate priority is to take care of his ailing health but insisted he was neither a militant nor the leader of militan 5ts.
Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa entered a nolle prosequi under Section 174(1c) of the constitution to unconditionally withdraw all charges against him and tendered the document backing the amnesty granted to all former militants by the Federal Government to justify his action.
According to him, â€œThe aim is to bring our brothers in the Niger Delta region to the negotiating table and find amicable solution to the problems and in this vein amnesty has been granted.
â€œTherefore I, Michael Aondoakaa, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice under my hand this day 13th day of July, 2009 hereby execute the power to enter a nolle prosequi and ask that the accused walk out as a free man.â€
Although leader of the defence team, Femi Falana did not object to the discharge of his client, he pointed out that amnesty was not in the countryâ€™s constitution adding that the appropriate phrase for the action is prerogative of mercy under Section 175 (1a).
The presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Liman, agreed that the Attorney-General had the power to terminate the case in accordance with the powers conferred on him by the constitution and therefore discharged the MEND leader.
â€œOnce a â€˜nolle prosequiâ€™ is entered, that is the end of the case. I am bound by this. The case has ended. That prerogative of mercy is outside the power of the president alone. Prerogative of mercy is exercised when an accused person has been convicted. It must be related to conviction. On the whole, this proceeding is terminated. I order the accused to be discharged and he is accordingly dischargedâ€, Justice Liman declared.
Falana in an interview after the sitting which journalists were allowed to cover for the first time, described Okahâ€™s release as a welcome development but defended his stance in opposing the term amnesty, reaffirming that what the constitution recognises was pardon or prerogative of mercy and not amnesty.
â€œWe thank the Federal Government. What is important is that the accused has been discharged and the case terminatedâ€ he said.
In a brief chat with journalists, Okah said he alone does not hold the key to peace in the Niger Delta as there are other people who still need to be talked to.
Asked if peace would return to the Niger Delta with his release he said, â€œI cannot guarantee peace, I am just one person. I have to go and talk to others now. Moreover I am not a militant, look at me do I look like a militant, I am a gentleman.â€
He said the amnesty granted him was not based on any condition adding, â€œI am ill and very sick now, I canâ€™t say more, letâ€™s leave this interview till another day. All I just want to say is to thank Nigerians especially the media for their support.â€
Aondoakaa told journalists that there was nothing to fear about the good intention of government which he said President Umaru Yarâ€™Ardua has amply demonstrated. He said his duty is to carry out the Presidentâ€™s wish and pursue the goal of government which is to bring peace in the area.
Some hours after he was released yesterday, Okah spoke with some â€œCommandersâ€ of the militant group, which was at the forefront of the battle for his release.
Details of his discussion with the MEND â€œcommandersâ€ and other close associates were not immediately known but one of the militant leaders in the region confirmed to Vanguard that Henry Okah spoke to him after his release.
It was learnt that Okah was under pressure by his friends, associates and well wishers to embrace the amnesty offered him by the Federal Government and ask his people in MEND to stop further attacks on oil facilities.
In the meantime, it was gathered that MEND may likely halt further hostilities in the region in view of the release of Okah, but, as at 6.30 pm yesterday, its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo was yet to respond to an electronic mail inquiry from Vanguard on the release of Okah.
Clark, Ekiyor, others laud Okahâ€™s release
Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, National President of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr. Chris Ekiyor and former secretary of the IYC, Western zone, Mr. Paul Bebenimibo, yesterday, applauded the Federal Government over Okahâ€™s release.
Speaking in separate interviews with Vanguard, they said it would facilitate the Niger-Delta peace process.
Chief Clark specifically said President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua has shown his sincerity and commitment to resolving the Niger-Delta problem and challenged him to commence massive development of the region now that Okah has been freed to justify the inclusion of the Niger-Delta in his seven-point agenda.
He said his first inkling of Okahâ€™s release was when he got a text message from his lawyer, yesterday morning, telling him that the Attorney-General of the Federation would be in court to enter a nolle prosequi and â€œI felt it is good, whatever means is used as long as he is released unconditionally.
â€œBut I had thought it is automatic that he would be released immediately after the President granted him amnesty or pardon, but, whatever means is used, what I am interested in is that he has been released.
â€œThe government should, therefore, surrender his passports and other documents to him so that he can travel abroad immediately to take care of his failing health, I must say that I am happy about the releaseâ€, he said.
Chief Clark , however, noted that having released him, the Federal Government should also ensure that the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta was withdrawn to the military barracks, as their continued occupation of the creeks of Gbaramatu kingdom was jeopardizing the peace process.
IYC president, Dr. Ekiyor, who spoke in the same vein said, â€œItâ€™s a welcome step. Itâ€™s a win-win situation for both sides.
The government should not celebrate that it has conquered the freedom fighters and the freedom fighters should not celebrate either that they have overawed the government. I think what is important here is that the government has opened the window for progress in the region.
â€œItâ€™s a triumph for dialogue and victory for the Niger-Delta people and it shows President Yarâ€™Adua is beginning to respond more positively to the wishes of the people and also instill more confidence for his administrationâ€, he said.
In Mr. Bebenimiboâ€™s opinion, â€œIt is a good development and will facilitate the peace process on ground. I want to say, however, that others that are still being held by the government because of their role in the Niger-Delta struggle should be releasedâ€.
On his part, former President, Ijaw National Congress and Chairman Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta (CENND) Prof Kimse Okoko described the release as a relief. â€œA great relief. Whatever may have been the case, I want to thank President Yarâ€™Adua. We had argued in the past that Okah was arrested on trumped-up charges. Hopefully, we can now sit down to move the nation forward. The release is a positive step as it has offered opportunity to address the problems in the region.
â€œI donâ€™t want to see the release as an amnesty because the framework of the amnesty as we have said in the past is faulty. With the release, we can now look at the economic problems in the region. We must move towards a sovereign national conference that would install true federalism in place. We must go beyond the release to address issues of development
President, Ijaw National Congress, Dr Obianime Atuboyedia, said â€œwe are very happy with the release and that no condition was attached. We have been calling for the release of the man. We thank the government for embracing this sense to release him. However, the release of Henry Okah does not totally solve the problem of the region.
â€œNow that they are coming up with this, we can now urge the federal government to meet with leaders of the region. This is the time to talk. Letâ€™s look at the issues that led to all these.
We are looking for the issues of justice and fairness in the region. It is victory for democracy. We are seeing a government that listens. It is time to sit with the region.â€
Okah jets out tomorrow for medical care
Leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Henry Okah, Monday visited the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), few hours after a Federal High Court sitting in Jos terminated his treason trial. Okah was at the Yellow House (SSS Headquarters) Monday night on invitation.
His counsel, Mr. Femi Falana, who confirmed this to Vanguard Monday, however, said there was nothing to fear about the invitation.
He said he was there for a mere chat.
Falana, who added that Okahâ€™s health had suffered a serious neglect, stressed that his client would jet out of the country tomorrow for comprehensive medical attention.
Okah is said to be suffering from a renal problem and a partial obstruction of the pelviureteric junction on the left with early back pressure.
Before the criminal charge against him was terminated Monday by the Jos division of the Federal High Court, Okah had severally pleaded with the Federal Government to allow him seek medical attention abroad.
He had argued then that it is only the living that could stand trial.
But the government never heeded his requests.
But with Mondayâ€™s termination of his trial, he is free to receive medical treatment anywhere in the world.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), had invoked his powers under section 174 of the 1999 Constitution to file a nolle prosequi to discontinue with the trial.
The decision by Aondoakaa followed a directive from President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua, who, few days ago, granted him (Okah) unconditional pardon.
Okah said he would have preferred to be released under section 175 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution which would bar the government from resurrecting the charge against him.
It took the assurances of Aondoakaa Monday on the seriousness of the government about the amnesty before Okah could acquiesce to the withdrawal of the charge against him.
Okahâ€™s counsel, Falana, said one of the reasons why they eventually agreed to his release under Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution was because once the government fails to file indictments within two years of the offence, it would become statute barred.