By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
One of the alleged masterminds of the October 1, 2010, Independence Day bomb blasts that killed 12 persons, Mr Edmund Ebiware, was yesterday convicted and sentenced to a life imprisonment by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, with effect from October 3, 2010.
The trial judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole sentenced Ebiware after he was found guilty on the entire three-count charge preferred against him by the Federal Government.
The court, in its judgment that lasted five hours, said that it was satisfied that Ebiware, had prior knowledge that the convicted erstwhile leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, planned to detonate bombs in Abuja but made no effort to report the plans to appropriate authorities.
Relying on the provisions of Section 40 (b) of the Criminal Code Act, Justice Kolawole, said there was prima-facie nexus that established the accused person as an accessory to Mr Okah, stressing that, “anyone who is aware of an act of terrorism but fails to report same to the President, a Governor, Security agent or a Peace Officer in order to prevent the commission of the crime, is liable to a life imprisonment.”
Besides, the court said it was convinced that the accused person was in regular contact with Mr Okah prior to the Independence Day attack. “It is my considered view that the prosecution was able to prove the elements of the charge against the accused person beyond every reasonable doubt,” the judge said.
Meanwhile, the court ordered that the accused should be entitled to parole after 32-years in the event that he maintains good conduct, noting that such gesture will be subject to recommendation by both Prison officers and the Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy.
Reacting to the verdict, Counsel to Ebiware, Mr Goddy Uche, said they would go on appeal.
Ebiware had been facing trial alongside Charles Okah who is younger brother to Henry Okah, and two others, Obi Nwabueze andTiemkemfa Francis Osvwo, alias General Gbokos, who later died in his prison cell under controversial circumstances.
However, shortly after Osvwo’s death, Ebiware’s counsel, Mr Uche, applied to be tried separately, a request the trial court granted on May 3, 2012.
The Department of State Security, DSS, which recommended their trial, accused Ebiware of complicity in arrangements that preceded the twin bomb blasts, saying that its investigations revealed that he exchanged incriminating text messages with the perpetrators.
Among those he was said to have exchanged such text messages with before the blast, included the erstwhile Director-General of the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, Campaign Organization and Chairman of Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi.
However, Ebiware had in his testimony before the trial court, denied ever meeting Okah in person, though he admitted that they had telephone contacts which he said was a result of the active role he played as a volunteer during the Amnesty programme for ex-militants in the oil rich Niger Delta region.
Ebiware further said that he had been in telephone contact with Okah since 2009, adding that their relationship went awry after he (Ebiware) queried the refusal of the ex-MEND leader to accept amnesty; a development he said resulted to several threats to his life and his family.
’’Henry Okah sent several threat text messages to me, he even threatened to wipe out my family,” Ebiware told the court, adding that Okah had sometime in July 2010, called him to express his disaffection with the Federal Government, but never disclosed his intention to detonate bombs in Abuja to him.
He also told the court that one Rapheal Damfebo had informed him that Okah was planning to cause mayhem in Abuja.
“The information was not new to me because I had already reported the same thing to some top notchers in the government,” he stated.
Meanwhile, in his judgment yesterday, Justice Kolawole, said there was cogent and admissible evidence that the accused was in contact with Okah before the blasts, “the only line of defence open to the accused is to show that he actually informed any of the persons and authorities listed in Section 40 (b) of the Criminal Code Act. The accused is hereby found guilty as charged.”
Before the sentence was passed, counsel to the accused person, had in his allocutus asked the court to temper justice with mercy, considering that the accused was a young man of less than 35 years, who had not been convicted for any crime before and married with two kids.
Uche further urged the court to note that the accused had on his own volition, believing in his own innocence, applied and was granted separate trial.
But delivering his judgement, Justice Kolawole, described the accused as an “over-ambitious young man who was in a haste to gain relevance in the scheme of things,” adding that he was constrained by the provision of the law to sentence him accordingly.
“The plea of allocutus that was made by the defence counsel, are issues I must confess it deeply touched me. If and only if the convict had reported the planned attack, perhaps the 12 persons that died would have been alive. It was an incident that greatly tarnished the image of this country. Many of the victims have not fully recovered from the injury they sustained as a result of the bomb blasts. These are issues the society will be interested in.”
The court further ordered that the two mobile telephone handsets recovered from the convict should be confiscated and forfeited to the Federal Government, even as the sentence took effect from October 3, 2010.
The Federal Government had in the charge alleged that Ebiware and the other accused persons, conspired with one Emmanuel Allison and made 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 was taking place.
They were said to have between January 2 and March 15, 2010, within Port-Harcourt, Rivers State and diverse places, conspired with Henry Okah, Chima Orlu, (now at large), and persons unknown and made direct attempt to endanger the lives of the governors of Delta, Edo and Imo States 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.
The four accused persons were initially arraigned before the court on December 7, 2010 and subsequently re-arraigned on January 12, 2011.
In the course of his trial, Ebiware told the court that his ordeal was due to the fact that he campaigned for the former military President Ibrahim Babangida before the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, held its presidential primaries.
He said he was not spared from“persecution” despite dumping IBB on September 18, 2010, a day he said President Jonathan declared his intention to run for the presidency.
The former Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mr Timi Alaibe, had also told the court, how he had warned the accused person, before the presidential election, to desist from castigating President Jonathan on the state television.
Alaibe who was brought to court by the Federal Government to testify in the matter following allegation that he also had prior knowledge that Okah planned to detonate bombs at the eagle square, while refuting the allegation on October 3, said: “Ewibare and others normally come to my office. I have had cause to caution him about his political position. I once saw him on the television discussing zoning and I warned him that it was bitter politics, and that the politics was bigger than him.”
Immediately Alaibe finished his testimony that day, Ebiware, mounted the witness box and told the court that he was in contact with the ex-NDDC boss on many occasions.
He told the court that one of such instance was when he said Okah threatened to kill him for allegedly spying on him with a view to relating the information to the Federal Government.
While being cross examined by the prosecuting counsel, Dr Alex Iziyon, SAN, Ebiware, who denied having knowledge of the blasts, told the court that at a time that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Allison- Madueke begged to be linked with the ex-Mend leader, Okah.
He said he agreed and furnished Diezani with Okah’s telephone number when he was told that the aim was to fashion out ways of combating pipeline vandalization in the Niger Delta region.
”I spoke with Okah when the Minister of Petroleum Resources asked that I should link her up with Okah over the pipeline vandalism issue. I don’t know how he got to know that I met with Mr. Seifa of the DSS; he said I was an informant to the government and that was why he threatened me,” he added.