By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, held that Charles Okah, Obi Nwabueze, Edmund Ebiware and Tiemkemfa Francis Osvwo, a.k.a General Gbokos, have questions to answer over the October 1 twin bomb blasts that killed 12 persons in Abuja whilst Nigeria celebrated its 50th Independence day anniversary last year.
The trial court presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, maintained that the proof of evidence tendered against the accused persons by the federal government, successfully established a prima-facie case that would warrant further explanations, saying the preliminary objections that were raised against the trial by the defence counsels, grossly lacked in merit.
The accused persons who were initially arraigned before the High Court on December 7, 2010 and subsequently re-arraigned on January 12, had in their separate applications, asked the trial court to quash the entire criminal charges against them for lack of incriminating evidence linking them to the alleged crime.
Aside allegations that they committed series of kidnappings and sundry acts of terrorism within the oil reach Niger Delta region of the country, they were equally charged with treason. The charges against them attract death penalty upon conviction.
While challenging their continued detention in prison custody, the accused quartet contended that the federal government failed to either establish a convincing prima-facie nexus linking them to the October 1 bombing, even as they relied on the statutory provisions of Section 72 and 77 of the Criminal Procedure Act, CPA, to question the procedure adopted by the government in the trial.
Counsel to Okah, Mr Festus Keyamo, further relied on the decided case law of Abacha Vs State and FRN Vs Uwazurike, to argue that the inability of the prosecuting counsel, Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN, to file the mandatory proof-of-evidence alongside the substantive charges against them, contravened the procedural requirements for criminal proceedings.
But Izinyon prayed the court to dismiss their objections and assume full jurisdiction of the matter.
The government lawyer maintained that Section 77 of the CPA cited by the accused persons was subject to Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act, which he said empowered him to commence summary proceeding against them on the basis of information from preliminary investigations earlier conducted into the matter by the State Security Service, SSS.
He pleaded the court to allow the prosecution to open its case against them, insisting that so many witnesses have indicated their willingness to appear in court to testify against accused persons.
Izinyon submitted that the onus was on the trial court to look at the charges before it with a view to determining whether there is anything therein that requires explanation from the accused persons, stressing that Charles must explain his involvement in the purchase of the vehicles he said were used to perpetrate the violent bombings of October 1, as well as his connection with a welder who he said has already confessed that he was engaged by him to construct fake compartments in the said cars.
The accused persons in their arguments, also challenged the propriety of two separate criminal charges that were preferred against them in the same court, over the same facts, circumstances and proof of evidence, arguing that it was not only an abuse of judicial process, but tantamount to “double jeopardy” as envisaged by section 36(9) of the 1999 constitution.
The 4th accused person, Osvwo, a.k.a General Gbokos, specifically urged the court to declare section 33(1) of the Federal High Court Act, upon which the charge was predicated, as illegal and oppressive, a request that was refused by the trial court yesterday.
The judge in his ruling, held that “having read the proof of evidence, I am of the view that the accused persons have some explanations to make.”
On the splitting of charges, the court noted that the sanctions attached to the offences contained in the two charges are distinct upon conviction, adding that whereas the 1st charge would attract life imprisonment, the 2nd charge carries a death penalty.
Consequently, justice Kolawole dismissed all the objections and fixed October 10, 11 and 12 to commence full-blown hearing on the substantive charges against the accused quartet.
It would be recalled that government alleged that the accused persons conspired with the ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Okah, and one Emmanuel Allison, to make a direct attempt at endangering the life of President Goodluck Jonathan by seeking to drive two motor vehicles wired with time-regulated explosive devices to the Eagle Square where the Independence celebration took place.
FG also alleged that the accused persons between January 2 and March 15, 2010, within Port-Harcourt Rivers State and diverse places, conspired with Henry, Chima Orlu, (at large), and persons unknown, to make a direct attempt to endanger the lives of the Governor of Delta state, Edo state and Imo state by seeking to drive two motors vehicles wired with time regulated explosive devices into government house annex, Warri, Delta State, the venue of the Vanguard Post Amnesty Dialogue, where the said governors were in attendance, in order to cause a bomb blast for the purpose of levying war against the state.
It told the court that a man lost his life as a result of that explosion.
Charles who is a younger brother to Henry, was expressly accused of engaging the services of one Bassey Umoren, a welder, and paid him N50, 000, to construct hidden compartments into four motor cars, two of which were subsequently loaded with explosive devices at Port-Harcourt by Obi Nwabueze and Chima Orlu, at large, and positioned on 1st October at 0830 hours near the venue of the anniversary for the purpose of levying war against the state.
He was also accused of sending two consignments of army camouflage torches, bullet proof vests and boots to Allison for onward transmission to one Segun Llori alias Stone face, at large, for use by terrorists recruited by Henry Okah in the creeks of the Niger Delta.
Meantime, sequel to complaints of inhumane treatment by prison officers, which was raised by the accused persons in the open court yesterday, Justice Kolawole yesterday directed the Superintendent of Prisons, to ensure that the accused were kept and treated like awaiting trial inmates, adding that they should be allowed access to medical facilities.