By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Tuesday, declined to give the Federal Government the nod to put the alleged mastermind of the 2010 Independence Day bomb blast that killed twelve persons at the Eagle Square in Abuja, Mr. Charles Okah, under chains.
Trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole refused the application which FG made Tuesday through its lead prosecutor, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN.
Charles, who is a younger brother to ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, who had since been convicted by a South African Court, is facing terrorism charges alongside one Obi Nwabueze Okah.
He had on October 6, attempted to commit suicide while his trial was going on, by jumping down from a window in the courtroom which is situated in the third floor of the high court complex
Before his attempt to leap through the window was foiled, Okah who addressed the judge from the dock, expressed his frustration over what he described as his “endless trial”.
While lamenting the continued absence of his lawyer in court, Okah, insisted that former President Goodluck Jonathan should be blamed for his travails.
“My life has been put on hold”, he cried, saying he was a victim of a highly dysfunctional criminal justice system.
“I have been incarcerated for about five years now, and I have a family to cater for.
“My children would grow up without feeling the warmth of their father. I am tired of this endless trial,” he screamed shortly before he took a chair and smashed the glass covering the window.
Meanwhile, at the resumed sitting Tuesday, government lawyer, Dr. Iziyon, SAN, made an oral application before the court, requesting that Okah be chained in view of his action at the last adjourned date.
In making the application, Iziyon, referred the court to Section 269 of the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
He urged the court to grant the application that Okah, who is the 1st defendant be always put under fetters throughout the duration of his trial.
“Where a defendant or an accused person misbehaves or misconduct in the course of proceedings, such a person can be placed under fetters”, Iziyon submitted.
However, Okah’s lawyer, Mr. Samuel Ozidiri, SAN, in his response, apologised on behalf of his client, even as he urged the court to discountenance the application by FG.
He contended that the application was not only premature, but also against the ethos of human rights and principles of fair trial.
Meantime, Justice Kolawole, in a ruling yesterday, rejected the application which he described as a “great distraction”.
According to the judge: “By the provisions of section 6 subsection 6 paragraph 8 of the 1999 constitution as amended, this court as one of the superior courts of record created by the constitution, is imbued with discretionary jurisdiction which can be exercised without the need for an application from the prosecution once it is of the view that the conduct of the 1st defendant (Okha) is such that may impede a smooth administration of proceedings on the charge of which the defendants are standing trial.
“It is a discretion which the court will exercise whenever the occasion demands, but must be exercised with caution perhaps circumspection otherwise the court’s purpose and attention will be needlessly distracted by incidents such as we have witnessed on Oct 6, 2015.”
Besides, the judge held: “I have decided to pull back the court’s exercise of discretionary jurisdiction on the apologies given by both defence counsel, but the powers to make any of the orders prescribed in Section 269 and 71 of the ACJ Act, are exercisable once the court forms the view that the defendants or the 1st defendant needs to be restrained so that the proceedings of their trial can no longer be distracted by what I would regard as a “side show” meant to draw
public attention perhaps of sympathy on what has been going on since 6 December, 2010, when the charge in this case was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation against the defendant.
“1st defendant may see this as perhaps the last opportunity not to test the resolve of this court to exercise such powers that are
conferred on it by both the constitution the ACJ Act”, he added.
The matter was adjourned till October 27, 2015 for continuation of trial.
It will be recalled that one of Okah’s alleged accomplice, Mr. Osvwo Tekemfa Francis, a.k.a ‘General-Gbokos’, died in prison custody, even as the high court in a separate judgment, jailed the 3rd accused person, Edmund Ebiware, to life imprisonment.
The accused persons were initially arraigned before the High Court on December 7, 2010 and subsequently re-arraigned on January 12, 2011.
Specifically, Charles and Nwabueze were said to have superintended over varying terrorist activities that hitherto took place within the oil rich Niger Delta region of the country, including the bomb explosion that rocked a post amnesty programme that was organised by Vanguard Newspaper in Warri, Delta State.
FG alleged that they endangered the life of President Goodluck Jonathan while Nigeria celebrated its 50th independence anniversary in Abuja.
They were said to have conspired with Henry Okah and one Emmanuel Allison to make a direct attempt to endanger the life of President 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.
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 Okah, 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 added that a man lost his life because of that explosion.
Charles was said to have among other offences, engaged 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 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 Niger Delta.