…Shuts out lawyers, Clerks and Journalists from proceedings
…As Magistrate threatens to hands-off case
BY Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Charles Okah, younger brother to the embattled ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, his son, and five other accused persons were Wednesday, dragged before a Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Abuja by heavily armed operatives of the State Security Services, SSS, over their alleged involvement in the October 1 twin-bomb blasts that marred Nigeria’s independence day anniversary celebrations.
The SSS operatives who produced the 7 accused persons to court in a commando-style today, chased lawyers, court clerks and journalists out of the court premises, even as they barricaded all the streets connecting to the court and forbade any form of movement by residents within the area.
Charles, his son Boloebi Okah, Edmund Ebibare who is accused of exchanging text messages with Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Ernest Nwosu Olu who is the younger of one Chima Olu that was earlier declared wanted by the SSS, Shola Ladoja, Felix Kuffre said to be a security man for Charles as well as his unidentified visitor, were marshaled into the lower court complex around 8: 45 am after they arrived in two unmarked buses.
Over 30 State Security Service vehicles that escorted them were used to block all the streets leading to the court while armed operatives mounted sentry with a view to making sure that no one got close to the perimeters of the Magistrate court located in Wuse zone 6, Abuja.
Frantic efforts by three lawyers from Keyamo Chambers, who insisted that Charles Okah and his co-accused persons had contacted them to handle the case for them, was vehemently resisted by the SSS men who maintained that they acted in accordance with an order from above.
It was not until around 9:30 am, when the court had concluded its proceeding and the accused persons about to be whisked back to an unknown detention centre, did the Public Relation Officer of the SSS, Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, succeeded in prevailing upon the stern looking operatives to allow journalists to take pictures from afar.
Marilyn however refused answering barrage of questions thrown at her by newsmen, stressing that she was not allowed to speak to the press on the matter.
“I cannot say anything to the press on this matter as I am not permitted to do so. The fact that I have done you people a favor by allowing you to take pictures, is that not enough? This is how you people usually put someone into problem,” she asserted.
Efforts to get a copy of the criminal charge preferred against the accused persons equally proved abortive, just as the defence team in the matter, led by one Barrister Oghenovo Otemu, decried the closed door pattern adopted by the SSS in prosecuting the matter as a quintessential violation of section 36 of the 1999 constitution, adding that not only were the accused persons denied assess to their counsels, but that the SSS has further refused to furnish them with a copy of the charge upon which they are standing trial.
According to Otemu, “ we have repeatedly applied for the charges against our clients but both the court and the SSS blatantly refused. It is important for the prosecution in this matter to realize that the accused persons also have their fundamental right enshrined in the constitution.
“So far as we are concerned, there is no proper charge before this court and whatever decision the court takes in this political trial will amount to a nullity and we are taking steps to ensure that the constitutional right of the accused persons to fair hearing and defence by counsel of their choice as stipulated in section 36 of the 1999 constitution is respected and enforced” he said.
Meantime, Vanguard reliably gathered that presiding Magistrate Oyebola Oyewumi before adjourning the matter till November 24 yesterday, threatened that she would hands-off the case on that day should the SSS continue to shroud the prosecution in secrecy and the accused persons denied right of representation.
The source who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that Magistrate Oyewumi went ahead to order open trial in the matter, stressing that she would only hear the matter when it is allowed to undergo a normal court proceeding.
The magistrate was said to have also ordered the SSS to furnish the defendants with a copy of the charge against them, as well as allow them access to their counsel of choice.
Though the source refused to speak further on what transpired inside the courtroom Thursday morning, SSS PRO, Mrs. Marilyn, however, maintained that all the accused persons were properly arraigned in court.