by Rachel Ogbu
Edmund Ebiware received a life sentence yesterday January 25 at an Abuja Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
Ebiware, a graduate of philosophy from Delta State University, Abraka, was among three others; Charles Okah, the younger brother of the former MEND leader, Henry Okah. Tiemkemfa Osuvwo, who died in prison custody in the course of the trial, charged over the Independence Day bomb blast and Obi Nwabueze.
12 people including security agents, died in the incident, while several others sustained injuries after the group carried out a bomb attack as President Goodluck Jonathan and several dignitaries, including presidents of some African countries, were celebrating Nigeria’s 50th anniversary at the Eagle Square, Abuja October 1, 2010.
Ebiware was also convicted for failing to take any action to prevent it.
Security agents drag Edmund Ebiware away after his conviction and sentencing.
A South African court had earlier on Monday found former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Mr. Henry Okah, guilty of masterminding the bomb blast.
The accused persons had denied the charge, but Okah and Nwabueze filed an interlocutory appeal against their trial at the Court of Appeal while Ebiware applied to be tried separately.
As a result, his trial lasted from June 19, 2012 to November 12, 2012, after which the court adjourned till Friday to deliver its judgment.
The Federal Government, which charged him to court through prosecution counsel, Mr. Alex Izinyon, SAN, held that Ebiware’s failure to disclose the information was an offence under Section 40 (b) of the Criminal Code Act, CAP C38, Laws of the Federation 2004, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
Ebiware, through his counsel, Mr. Goddy Uche, insisted that he was innocent of the charges.
However, the prosecution called six witnesses, including officers of the State Security Service and a former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe, all of whom testified that Ebiware had prior knowledge of Okah’s plans to set off a bomb in Abuja on October 1, 2010, and failed to disclose the information to relevant authorities.
The accused person had claimed that he had never met Okah personally, although he admitted that he had a series of telephone conversations with the ex-militant leader.
The prosecution’s claim that Ebiware had prior knowledge of Okah’s plot to bomb Abuja on October 1, 2010, was based on initial statements where he (Ebiware) admitted to SSS investigators that Okah, during a telephone conversation, informed him of the plan.
Although Ebiware said he was not a member of any militant group, Alaibe told the court that the accused was associated with one of the militant camps in Delta State. He said that at a point, he had to caution him (Ebiware) for dabbling into the issue of zoning when the matter became a national debate in the build-up to the 2011 presidential election.
In his testimony before the court, Ebiware said he was involved in the disarmament process during the implementation of the amnesty scheme, adding that he never met Okah in person.
He also claimed to be a government informant, saying that the alleged role was the reason Okah subsequently started threatening his life through text messages.
However, Ebiware’s case was bungled by his inability to tender any of the said threat messages from Okah as evidence before the court.
Summing up the proceedings in the trial, Justice Gabriel, Kolawole, said, “I doubt if DW1 (Ebiware) is a witness of truth; the statements of DW1 were not substantiated with any evidence.
“The pieces of jig-saw which DW1 has been trying to fix together do not make any sense.
“The question is: if the accused person was aware of the intention of Mr. Henry Okah to commit treason, what did he do?”
He noted that the judgment was hinged on three issues – whether there was evidence that Ebiware was in touch with Okah before the bomb blast, if there was evidence that he had prior knowledge of the bomb blast; and if there was evidence that the accused did not take any action to prevent it.
Concluding, Kolawole said, “My view is that the prosecution proved the charge against the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. The accused person is hereby found guilty as charged.”
The defence counsel pleaded for a lenient sentence, drawing attention to Ebiware’s age (he is less than 35 years), his young wife and two little kids, as well as the fact that it was his belief in his innocence that prompted him to apply to be tried separately and speedily.
Although he said he was “deeply touched” by Ebiware’s situation, Kolawole pronounced the maximum punishment on him, noting, “If and only if the convict had reported knowledge of the attack to the concerned persons, maybe the victims (of the October 1, 2010 bomb blast) would still be alive.”
“The convict is sentenced to life imprisonment,” he stated, adding that the sentence should count from October 3, 2010.
He also ordered that should Ebiware show evidence of good conduct while in prison, he would be eligible for presidential parole after 32 years into the sentence.
Ebiware, dressed in a white flowing gown, was noticeably agitated throughout the judgment, which was attended by his wife, a brother and some other relatives and friends.
A security scare occurred after the court session, when Ebiware, who was shouting “I’m an innocent man, I’m an innocent man,” was approached by journalists for an interview.
Some heavily armed riot policemen immediately rushed to prevent the event, and in the process tried to push the convict towards the lift.
Ebiware resisted vehemently, lashing out with his head at the security agents, who pushed and shoved him down the stairs.
The situation was so tens that employees of the FHC, lawyers and journalists fled the scene to avoid possible stray bullets.
Ebiware’s lawyer, Uche, told journalists afterwards that they would appeal the judgment.