Prison Note: A Search For Justice Or Presidential Vendetta? By Charles Tonbra Okah
As with all human beings we are fallible. We are not perfect. But insofar as the bombing of October 1, 2010 is concerned, we are innocent. This also includes the Warri bombing. Sadly, it is very difficult for Nigerians to believe that my brother, Henry, and I did not commit these crimes. Several years of damaging and devious propaganda by the Jonathan administration and mercenaries from the Niger Delta have convinced many Nigerians that we are guilty. We are not! In any case, we’ll leave that for the courts to decide.
Ever since the said bombings, I have been incarcerated. It’s been more than four years – four years without trial and without bail in the pit of hell. Depending on the outcome of the March 2015 election, this mental and physical punishment may end in 2015 or 2019. What manner of justice is this? Since 2010, the Jonathan government has locked me up (sometimes under inhumane conditions) on the pretext that I am a terrorist, a murderer. But the fact is that I am none of what the government is alleging.
However, if the government believes I am, then, it behooves her to accord me a free and speedy trial as dictated by the Nigerian laws and international conventions. But this has not been the case. Instead, the Jonathan administration has, on several occasions, accused me of delay tactics: they accused me of employing tricks that makes my prosecution difficult, if not outright impossible. How could this be? How could this be when I am not the police, the State Security Service (SSS), the prosecutor and or the judge?
The fact is that the Nigerian government does not have evidences that directly or indirectly link me or my brother to the said events. What this government has are false and made up evidence; and in the process they induced and or threatened their so-called witnesses to bear false witness against us. Goodluck Jonathan will not be happy unless we rot in jail. But what system of law or democracy allows for the personalization of the rule of law?
My continued incarceration is not about justice. This is not about finding the truth. This is not about prosecuting and punishing those who carried out the symbolic events of October 2010. No! This is plain and simple a vendetta, retribution and punishment for the things my brother and I refused to do for Jonathan and against the interest and wellbeing of Nigeria.
My most recent court appearances were on Thursday December 4, 2014 and Thursday February 19, 2015 before Justice Gabriel Kolawole. Unlike previous appearances, things seem to be “improving.” The intervention of the International Red Cross Society and the British High Commission made a lot of difference. Foer that I am eternally grateful! In addressing the Justice Kolawole court, I made the following statements:
I have not been able to secure the services of a lawyer to represent me because I am broke. The few I have approached have been sympathetic, but declined to represent me pro bono. My continued incarceration is making it very difficult for me to raise funds considering that my family has relocated from Nigeria due to constant harassment.
If I had been granted bail like the Boko Haram suspect, Senator Ali Mbume, who still receives his monthly salary, fringe benefits, and allowances from the government, my financial situation will not have been this pathetic.
Considering my current indigent status, I am requesting for a state assisted lawyer to defend me, preferably one that is of an equivalent status as that which the state provided for the prosecution, which will be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
I am making this request based on the simple premise that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. So what is good for the prosecution is equally good for the defense.
Unfortunately, In Nigeria, the mere act of filing charges – even trumped up charges – carries along with it a strong presumption of guilt. The scale held in the hand of the statue of justice is balanced 50-50 – a level playing field.
It is unfair that the State, whose agent of persecution have crippled and destroyed my business of over two decades, impounded and continue to hold on to my goods of legitimate import, and opposed my bail application vehemently will provide on one end of the scale a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who comes to court with a train of 8, 10, and sometimes 12 lawyers!
And provide on the other end of the scale, something less for the defense. It is only by providing a counsel of equivalent status for the defense that the scale of justice will be balanced. My Lord, whichever direction the pendulum swings to, it will always be a win-win situation for the State, whether the State wins or the State loses.
If the State wins because the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a cause for celebration. A villain, a mad man, psychopath, a terrorist, whose ideology is to maim, to kill, and to destroy would have been put where he belongs. In short, good riddance to bad rubbish and justice would have prevailed.
On the other hand, if the State loses, because the prosecution never brought its case before the court bona fide in the first place instead relying on assumptions, hear-say, wild conjecture, an a shoddy investigation, the State still remains a winner and there is cause for an even bigger celebration – an innocent citizen, a Joseph, would have been vindicated, discharged and acquitted. Justice will also have prevailed.
There is no one in this courtroom that desires desperately for this trial to commence and end as much as the two defendants standing inside your dock today. For four years, we have been subjected to gross human rights violations and petty cruelties from the agents of the State acting on orders from above.
Their actions led to the death of a co-accused, Mr. Francis Osuwo, who I only met after my arrest, as well as injuries to my health, which I have recovered from today. It had to take the intervention of the international Red Cross, The British High Commission, who were appalled at our confinement conditions, providing for us mattress, blankets, and a bunk bed, replacement of a light bulb deliberately removed from the 6ft by 4ft cell, and the renovation of the entire cell block to make it fit for human habitation.
A rights suit I filed against the Nigerian prison and Interior Minister brought about succor and changes we are enjoying today. We now have access to exercise, worship, books to read etc., which were previously denied.
If my 5 year old son is brought inside the courtroom now, I will not recognize him. Even though I do not mind, but my older daughter minds that her fiancé does not make his intentions known to his future father-in-law through the irons mesh of a prisons visitation room.
This scar running from my back down to my navel area is the mark of the sacrifice of love I made 32 years ago when I donated my left kidney to save another life. For 32 years, I have been like a traveler who embarked on a journey without a spare tire. Ideally I should have an annual check-up in the hospital where the donor nephrectomy was performed or an active transplant center.
If the National Hospital Abuja had started its kidney transplant program, as was the original intent when my company, Tombra Life Support Company Ltd established their dialysis center in 1999 and provided a blueprint for a transplant program, I would have had my check-up done there during this period of my incarceration.
During the 4 years we have been awaiting trial, I have often heard the prosecution mention something about its evidence and witnesses, which always leaves me perplexed. I am always baffled because I have no idea what they are referring to. It is only during a fair trial, in an impartial court such as yours that the so-called evidence will be revealed.
It is then we will determine if this evidence has any relationship or relevance to the charges of treason and terrorism levied against me or if what they have been clutching onto for the past four years has been nothing more than Joseph’s abandoned coat.
Similarly, it is during the trial that we will establish if these witnesses are truthful men or women whose testimony is relevant to the charges levied against me, if they have been bribed or intimidated, and if they are unscrupulous like the biblical Ms. Potiphar, the pathological liar who was so adroit at weaving webs of lies around the smallest circumstantial evidence she had in her clutches.
My reputation is at stake here. From the day of my arrest on Saturday, October 16 2010, the negative publicity and images seen on national television where I was bound in chains carrying my cross and surrounded by armed security operatives left a trail of confusion in its wake. Confusion beginning from my immediate family, relatives, neighbors, members of my church, business associates, old boys of my Alma mater St. Gregory’s College Lagos, and several others who still believe in me.
Even the United States embassy, which had previously awarded my company a contract, revoked it after my arrest. It is only after a fair and impartial trial that my reputation will be forever deemed or my reputation will be redeemed.
My Lord, the ship of State is heading deeper and deeper into an enveloping fog of lies being told by government functionaries whose careers will be destroyed by the truth. Allow me close with a simple prayer to the Supreme Power that made our frames, sustains our lives, and through all earthly change survives.
May He bless our beloved country with more men and more women of truth, character, and integrity giving them the courage to stand firm in the difficult season. May He also expose the Potiphar amongst us whose false accusations and trumped up charges have sent and continues to send countless of our innocent compatriots to the gallows and the prisons. May God save Nigeria, Amen!
Just recently, President Jonathan alleged that my brother was hired to assassinate him. What a baseless and unimaginative accusation. Why wasn’t this allegation made before now? Why wait until this moment, why wait until political campaign begun? It is not nothing but a cheap-shot. Did he mention the said plot to the intelligence and security agencies? And if he did, why didn’t they act on such a grave and sensitive matter? After all, planning to or actually threatening the life of the President, or any citizen for that matter, is not only terroristic, it is criminal.
Soon, my brother will speak for himself (by way of an interview with Dr. Sabella Abidde) on this and other matters. But let me tell you this: my brother and I are being persecuted and punished for refusing to partake in political machinations with roots in the Niger Delta Crisis and with the hope that such actions would benefit Jonathan during the 2015 Presidential Elections. We refused to be pawns, hence this unending reprisal and incessant campaign of calumny against us.
Charles Tonbra Okah
Kuje Prison, Abuja
This Prison Note comes by way of Sabella Abidde, a friend and confidant of Charles Okah and Henry Okah. Mr. Abidde resides in Alabama and can be reached at: [email protected]