By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, with agency reports
ABUJA—STATE Security Service, SSS, yesterday, arraigned Charles Okah, younger brother to the embattled ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, his son, and five other accused persons before a Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Abuja over their alleged involvement in the October 1 twin-bomb blasts.
The suspects were arraigned on a day the South African prosecution tendered before a Johannesburg court revealing evidence on Henry Okah’s contacts with the suspects on how the Abuja bomb blasts were planned and executed.
Henry Okah who is facing trial in the South African court over the same Abuja bomb attack is presently battling to be granted bail which the prosecution is opposed to.
The seven accused persons were brought to court in a commando-style by SSS operatives who chased lawyers, court clerks and journalists out of the court premises, even as they barricaded all streets connecting the court and forbade any form of movement by residents within the area.
Charles, his son, Boloebi Okah; Edmund Ebibare, accused of exchanging text messages with Chief Raymond Dokpesi; Ernest Nwosu Olu, younger brother 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 marshalled into the lower court complex around 8: 45 am after they arrived in two unmarked buses with tinted glasses.
30 SSS vehicles
Over 30 SSS vehicles that escorted them were used to block all the streets leading to the court while armed operatives mounted sentry with a view to ensuring that no one got close to the perimeters of the Magistrates 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, 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, that the Public Relations 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 to answer questions thrown at her by newsmen, stressing that she was not allowed to speak to the press on the matter.
She said: “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.”
Efforts to get a copy of the criminal charge preferred against the accused persons equally proved abortive, just as the defence team, led by one Mr. Oghenovo Otemu, decried the closed door pattern adopted by the SSS in prosecuting the matter as a violation of section 36 of the 1999 constitution.
He said that not only were the accused persons denied access to their counsel, but that the SSS had refused to furnish them with a copy of the charge upon which they were standing trial.
Otemu said: “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 rights 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.”
Meantime, Vanguard reliably gathered that before adjourning the matter till November 24, presiding Magistrate Oyebola Oyewumi , 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, said that Magistrate Oyewumi went ahead to order open trial in the matter, yesterday, stressing that she would only hear the matter when it was 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 charges against them, as well as allow them access to counsel of choice.
Though the source refused to speak further on what transpired inside the courtroom, SSS PRO, Mrs. Ogar, however, maintained that all the accused persons were properly arraigned in court.
Meanwhile, as the prosecution reopened its case in the application against bail for Okah, in the South African court, the supplementary affidavit tendered by the prosecution showed phone records of Okah’s communication with one Chima Orlu (still at large) severally around the period.
An affidavit deposed to by an officer with the South African Police Service, SAPS, Lt. Col. Noel Zeeman stated: “Orlu’s telephone records have revealed that he had been in contact with the accused on numerous occasions leading up to October 1. Of greater significance is that Orlu had sent an SMS message to the accused at precisely 10.58:59 a.m on October 1, 2010. This SMS was followed by another SMS from Orlu at 13hr 3:01a.m and again at 13h29:59 p.m the same day.”
Purchase of cars in Lagos
Zeeman, revealed that SMSs were sent to Chima Orlu by the accused on September 30, 2010 at 12h 38:11p.m and on October 1 at 6h 02:39am, 7h40:20am, 7h41:22am and 7h41:35am.
The affidavit stated that investigations revealed that two vehicles, a Honda and a Mazda 626 were purchased in Lagos on the instruction of the accused prior to the detonation of the two vehicle improvised devices on October 1.
It stated that on Okah’s instructions, the said vehicles were conveyed to Port Harcourt where booths of the vehicles were loaded with dynamite which were wired with timers.
The affidavit further said at 11 am on October 1, the Honda was used in an explosion that went off at Shehu Shagari Way while approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, the Mazda 626 was utilised in the second explosion which killed 12 persons and injured many others.
It said the explosions took place under the supervision of Orlu who acted on the instruction of Okah, adding: “On October 1, 2010, Orlu made a total of 43 voice calls and had sent 27 SMS messages to co_perpetrators and co conspirators.”
It said Ben Ebere, who is at large, and also known as Ben Jesse, assisted Orlu in supervision of the said explosions.
It added: “Ebere had been in contact with the accused right up to September 29 2010. There were 1,126 calls from the accused to Ben Ebere during the period, from August 7, 2010 to September 29, 2010. There were also 59 SMSs sent from the accused to Ben Ebere during the period July 1, 2010 and September 2010.’
The affidavit said an e_mail communication between arrested persons in Nigeria, namely, John Tarmy, First Man and the accused on October 1, 2010, communicates the following “done, tell them to leave now,” adding: “This selfsame e-mail was forwarded from First Man to John Tarmy at 11h15am on October 1, 2010 and forwarded to the accused the same day at 16h25:40.
“There are further e-mail communications between the accused and persons arrested in Nigeria for the bombings of October 1, 2010 in Abuja with very revealing evidence.
These are presently being investigated.”
It revealed that Nigerian investigators had also revealed that the accused brother, Charles Okah, conspired with the accused and Orlu and others in coordinating and directing the detonation of the bombs.
It said there were also witness statements which implicate the accused as having been the mastermind of the attacks, while Nigerian authorities have confirmed their willingness to render assistance to South African investigators against the accused.
“As a result, letters of request for mutual legal assistance will be submitted to the Nigerian Federal Government to obtain specific evidence,” it stated.
It said in order not to jeopardise investigations in South Africa and Nigeria, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses have deliberately been withheld for purposes of the application.
Ziman stated that South Africa and Nigeria were working closely in the matter and he had communicated with Nigerian law enforcement agencies which indicated willingness to supply more information.
Prosecution counsel, Shaun Abrahams, who tendered the affidavit in court, said the State had a strong case against Okah and he should be denied bail.
Defence counsel, Rudi Krause asked the court to step down the matter for him to study the new information and be able to respond.