Exactly two years after what came to be known as the Independence Day bombing, the trial of the alleged mastermind, Henry Emomotimi Okah, finally began. The trial is taking place, not in Nigeria, but in South Africa where the government said she was prosecuting Okah because of its obligation to the international community. The Nigerian government did not ask for Okah’s extradition even though the alleged crimes were committed in Nigeria.
Ironically, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, President Goodluck Jonathan exonerated the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta; and by implication, exonerated Okah, who is alleged to be the leader of one of the four factions of the justice-seeking group. For several weeks, many people wondered why the President declared the group blameless. The fact is that the President couldn’t have made such an audacious pronouncement without assurances from the intelligence and security agencies.
Recent events have made many to wonder if, at the time of the incident, the President was in the dark, told the truth, fudged the truth; or outright lied to the nation and to the global public about whom/what organisation was responsible for the atrocity. Two interrelated questions are now at the fore: First, what informed the President’s thinking at the time he absolved MEND; and second, what caused him to change his mind to the point where he now believes MEND is wholly culpable for the dastardly crime?
Two weeks into the trial, these are what the general public knows: (1) The presiding judge, Justice Neels Claassen, has indicated that the trial may last a year or more; (2) the defense lawyer, Tsitesi Majang, and the prosecuting attorney, Phindi Louw, have indicated that they may jointly call upward of 200 witnesses to testify for and/or against the defendant; and (3) among the early government witnesses are Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, who happens to be a very good friend to both President Jonathan and Okah.
The aforelisted, along with what President Jonathan said in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, are what the general public knows. What the public may not know are the cloak and dagger politics of the Ijaw people vis-à-vis the Jonathan Presidency; the cash cow that is the Presidential Amnesty Programme and various other programmes supposedly designed to ameliorate the insidious and injurious conditions of the region and its people; and the sordid and horrid plans by powerful and influential individuals in the region that are designed to restart the Niger Delta conflict.
Today, Okah may be the most vilified individual that is associated with the crisis; but really, nothing can be farther from the gospel truth: he is, to many, one of the few heroes from the Niger Delta. To know what he stands for is to know that not all justice-seekers in and around the Niger Delta are destitute and deficient in terms of ideas, foresight, and love for people and for country. He is what Americans call “the genuine article” There is nothing phony or superficial about him.
Okah does not play or believe in ethnic and religious politics. And in fact, secessionist ideas repulse him. For many years, and long before the Niger Delta conflict became a part of our national consciousness and conversation, he was engaged in legitimate enterprises.When his people beckoned and called for his resources, he obliged. But when certain elements lost sight of important and noble goals, he balked. By this I mean that once he realised that the elite in the region had sinister agenda, he pulled back. This was the beginning of his tribulations!
And while it may be true that he had previously run afoul of Nigeria’s oil and land laws — laws that are sometimes sordid and inhumane — he reconciled with President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government (before and after the 2009 Presidential Amnesty for Niger Delta militants). During this period, he visited the President in the Presidential Villa and also exchanged entreaties. Okah was never a hooligan; he was never a criminal; and was never a terrorist. He only advanced just and noble causes.
During political struggles, terrible things do happen: laws are sometimes broken, and toes stepped on. Be it in South Africa, Palestine, Zimbabwe, or Algeria — or during the struggle for Independence in the Americas, justice-seekers made mistakes. Okah may have made mistakes; but he was not and was never a criminal. He was not the hand or the voice behind the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja. And neither was he the one who organised and orchestrated the March 15, 2010 car bombing in Warri. This is an innocent man.
Why would a man who faithfully accepted President Yar’Adua’s amnesty offer, and who later became friends with the said President, act against his and his people’s interest? He didn’t! What type of a government, and what manner of a President, acquiesces to the jailing of its citizens in faraway lands without calling and insisting on fair and timely justice? The answer to these questions is simple: President Jonathan, along with a section of the elite and two factions of MEND, simply turned against an innocent and patriotic man.
What many do not know is that MEND does not have a command structure. It was not a formal organisation with formal membership. There were four obvious factions. What unified them was success at their mission; and every such success had MEND’s name attached to it. But the gulf between the known groups was wide and unbridgeable. The first was basically a criminal enterprise; and the second group comprised commercial militants: those who saw militancy as a way of making quick bucks and nothing else. The third group was also interested in making money, but only to the extent that 50 or more per cent of whatever money that was amassed was to be used for future conflicts and or secessionist agenda. The fourth are the purists. Who are the purists?
In the concluding chapter,I will tell you who the purists are. In addition, I shall reveal what was offered, and was demanded of Okah, and why he refused. For refusing to be used and used against the Federal Republic, he attracted the rage and the fury of Jonathan’s camp. Commercial militants also turned against him. As a result, Okah finds himself sitting and wasting away in a South African jail. Is this justice?