By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Wednesday, convicted and sentenced Mr. Charles Okah, the alleged mastermind of the 2010 Independence Day bomb blast that left twelve persons dead at the Eagle Square in Abuja, to life imprisonment.
The court, in a judgment that lasted over fives hours, equally found Okah’s alleged accomplice, Mr. Obi Nwabueze, guilty and also handed him a life sentence.
Trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that oral and documentary evidence the Federal Government tendered before the court, connected the defendants to the October 1, 2010, bomb blast.
He held that the prosecution proved the terrorism charge against the defendants beyond every reasonable doubt.
The court said their was evidence that convicted former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Mr. Henry Okah, released funds the defendants used to purchase cars that were used to detonate bombs in Delta State on March 15 and in Abuja on October 1, 2010.
While the court noted that two out of six cars that Henry ordered to be purchased, a Mazda 626 and a Honda Hala, were wired with dynamites and deployed to the Eagle Square in Abuja, it stressed that evidence revealed that one of the cars was used for the bomb explosion that rocked a post amnesty programme that was organised by Vanguard Newspaper in Warri, Delta State.
It found Charles who is younger brother to the ex-MEND leader and Nwabueze, guilty on five out of the eight count charges FG entered against them.
Justice Kolawole maintained that the defendants failed to convince the court through credible evidence, that they were not involved in the acts of terrorism they were charged with.
He said the defendants could not validly explain what the sums of N1.2million and N2million that Henry released to them in 2010, was used for.
It will be recalled that one of the alleged planners of the bomb attack that marred Nigeria’s fiftieth anniversary, Mr. Osvwo Tekemfa Francis, a.k.a ‘General-Gbokos’, died in prison custody, while the court, in a separate trial, jailed the 3rd accused person, Edmund Ebiware, to life imprisonment in 2013.
All the defendants were initially arraigned before the High Court on December 7, 2010 and subsequently re-arraigned on January 12, 2011, on charges predicated on section 15 (1) and (2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Act, attracts life imprisonment upon conviction.
The Federal Government had in an 8-count terrorism charge marked FHC/ CR/186/2010, insisted that it was Charles that mobilised the other defendants.
Whereas the Okah brothers were alleged to have coordinated as well as procured all the materials that were used for the attack, FG, told the court that it was the 2nd defendant, Nwabueze, that helped them to fix Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, in two cars it said were used for the bombing.
In his judgment, Justice Kolawole held that evidence before the court showed that the 2nd defendant, Nwabueze, made himself available as a foot-soldier to be used for evil errands that earned him monetary rewards.
The court observed that Nwabueze had in his confessional statement that was entered into evidence as Exhibit 2D1 to D9, admitted that he was contracted to construct special compartments in the cars where the IEDs were fixed.
Meanwhile, before the sentence was passed, the defence lawyers, Mr.
Emeka Okafor and Oghenovo Otemu, pleaded the court to temper justice with mercy.
They urged the court to consider that their clients had no previous criminal records, adding that they have been in prison custody for over eight years.
Okah told the court that he has an aged mother and kids that depended on him for survival.
Relying on section 311 and 401 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Okah, prayed the court to mitigate his sentence, vowing not to engage in any form of criminality again.
However, government lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, asked the court to impose the full sanction that was provided by the law, insisting that conduct of the defendants during the trial was enough to deny them any form of favourable discretion from the court.
He insisted that family of the victims deserved justice, adding that imposing the full sentence would serve as deterrant to other militants.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Kolawole said he had to place the section under which the defendants were charged, above every other consideration.
He said the court would be seen as acting capriciously, if it impose lighter sentence on Okah and Nwabueze after their co-accused, Ebiware got life imprisonment over the same allegation.
He ordered that all the military kit that were seized from the defendants should be handed over to the Director General of the DSS.
The court had on January 6, 2017, dismissed a no-case submission that was filed by the defendants.
The defendants had pleaded the court to discharge and acquit them on the premise that FG failed to by way of credible evidence, prove that they were involved in the bombing incident.
They argued that the prosecution failed to either establish a nexus between them and the alleged act of terrorism, or a prima-facie criminal case capable of securing their conviction by the court.
FG had in the course of the trial, called a total of 17 witnesses that testified before the court, while Okah and Nwabueze, who earlier denied the charge against them, called three witnesses each to establish their innocence.
The prosecuting counsel had on February 21 when he adopted his final brief of argument, maintained that the proof of evidence before the court was sufficient to secure the conviction of the defendants.
FG urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ plea of innocence, alleging that N2m was paid to the 2nd defendant on September 13, 2010, through a firm, Tombra Life Support Company Ltd, belonging to Charles, for the purchase of cars that were used for the Abuja bombing.
It told the court that Henry bought the two cars and parked them at his younger brother’s (1st defendant) house where the 2nd defendant was called to construct secret compartments in them.
FG alleged that between September 28 and 30, 2010, the defendants, loaded the cars with dynamites. It alleged that while two of the cars were brought to Abuja the other was taken to Port Harcourt and subsequently abandoned after it developed mechanical fault.
Besides, FG brought a welder it said was engaged to construct secret compartments in the cars at Okah’s house in Apapa, Lagos, to testify as the second prosecution witness, PW-2.
The court had earlier struck out a second charge marked FHC/ CR/187/2010, wherein FG accused the defendants of committing treasonable felony punishable with death.
In the charge, FG, alleged that the defendants endangered the life of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan while Nigeria celebrated its 50th independence anniversary in Abuja.
FG alleged that it was the defendants that suprintended 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.
It alleged that the duo conspired with Henry who is currently serving a prison term in South Africa, and one Emmanuel Allison to make a direct attempt to endanger the life of ex-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.
The trial court however dismissed the second charge after it held that FG failed to prove that the defendants attempted to kill ex-President Jonathan or that he was intimidated or over-hedged in anyway by the twin blast that occurred during the independence day celebration.
According to Justice Kolawole, there was no evidence that the 50th independence anniversary ended abruptly or that the ex-President was ferried to safety by his guards.
The Judge held that FG ought to have produced some of the security guards or even the ex-President himself to testify before the court.