Friday, October 22, 2010

‘Okah, bomber exchanged 1,126 phone calls in 54 days’

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The South African prosecutors in the case against the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Mr. Henry Okah, on Thursday tendered more evidence against the terror suspect at a Johanesburg Magistrate’s court.

The evidence includes 1126 telephone calls he made to one of the suspects, Mr. Ben Ebere (aka Ben Jessy), between August 7, 2010 and September 29, 2010. He was also said to have sent 59 Short Message Systems to Ebere between July1 and September 2010.

Ebere and Chima Orlu, who the prosecutors added was also in constant contact with Okah before and on October 1, were declared wanted by the Police shortly after the October 1 twin car bombings that killed 16 people and injured 66 others.

The MEND leader is facing trial in South Africa for allegedly being the mastermind of the blasts. He had on Wednesday told the court that the case against him was flawed.

His brother, Charles, was among a new set of suspects arraigned in secret before an Abuja Magistrate’s court on Thursday.

When the hearing of Okah’s bail application resumed on Thursday in South Africa, the prosecutors tendered a supplementary affidavit revealing his communication, with Orlu and Ebere.

However, the affidavit didn’t state the content of the telephone calls and messages.

According to the affidavit deposed to by Lt. Col. Noel Zeeman of the South African Police Service, Orlu had 43 voice calls and exchanged 27 SMSs with his “co-conspirators and co-perpetrators” on the day of the blasts in Abuja.

The affidavit reads in part, “Orlu‘s telephone records have revealed that he had been in contact with the accused (Okah) on numerous occasions leading up to October 1.

“Of greater significance is that Orlu had sent an SMS message to the accused (Okah) at precisely 10. 58:59am on Oct. 1, 2010.

“This SMS was followed by another SMSs from Orlu at 13. 13:01am and again at 13. 29:59pm the same day.”

It said that SMSs were also sent to Orlu by Okah on September 30, 2010 at 12.38:11p.m and on October 1 at 6.02:39am, 7.40:20am, 7.41:22am and 7.41:35am.

The affidavit which was tendered by the prosecution council, Shaun Abrahams, added that Okah had 1, 126 telephone calls with Ebere between August 7 and September 29, 2010. He was also said to have exchanged 59 SMSs with Ebere between July 1 and September 2010.

Zeeman said, “Ebere had been in contact with the accused right up to Sept. 29 2010. There were 1,126 calls from the accused to Ebere during the period, from August 7, 2010 to Sept. 29, 2010.

“There were also 59 SMSs sent from the accused to Ebere during the period July 1, 2010 and September 2010.”

The prosecution added in the affidavit that investigations also revealed that two vehicles – a Honda and a Mazda 626 – were purchased in Lagos on Okah’s instruction “by persons complicit in the crime” prior to the detonation of the bombs on October 1.

It stated that on Okah‘s instructions, the vehicles were conveyed to Port Harcourt, Rivers State where their boots were loaded with dynamite which were wired with timers.

The affidavit said at 11 am on October 1, the Honda was used in an explosion that went off at Shehu Shagari Way while approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, the Mazda 626 was utilised in the second explosion.

It said the explosions took place under the supervision of Orlu and Ebere, who acted on the instruction of Okah.

According to the affidavit, an e-mail communication between Okah and two arrested persons in Nigeria — John Tarmy and First Man — on October 1, 2010, reads, “Done, tell them to leave now.”

It added, “This selfsame e-mail was forwarded from First Man to Tarmy at 11.15am on October 1, 2010 and forwarded to the accused (Okah) the same day at 16. 25:40.

“There are further e-mail communications between the accused and persons arrested in Nigeria for the bombings of October 1, 2010 in Abuja with very revealing evidence. These are presently being investigated.”

The affidavit also showed that there were witness statements which implicate Okah as having been the mastermind of the attacks.

The prosecution told the court that Nigerian authorities had confirmed their willingness to render assistance to South African investigators against Okah.

“As a result, letters of request for mutual legal assistance will be submitted to the Nigerian Federal Government to obtain specific evidence,” it stated.

It said in order not to jeopardise investigations in South Africa and Nigeria, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses have deliberately been withheld for purposes of Okah’s bail application.

Zeeman stated that he had communicated with Nigerian law enforcement agencies which indicated willingness to supply more information.

Abrahams had said at the resumption of the hearing that the state had a strong case against Okah and that he should be denied bail.

Defence counsel, Rudi Krause, however, asked the court to step down the matter for him to study the new information and be able to respond.

In Abuja, there was confusion over the number of suspects arraigned in secret before a magistrate court in Wuse Zone 6. While the News Agency of Nigeria put the number at five, some television stations said the accused were between six and seven.

NAN, however, gave only the names of Charles, Ernest Orlu (younger brother of Chima Orlu), and Edmund Ebiware.

It was learnt that Okah’s son, Boloebi; Sola Ladoja; Charles’s securityman, Felix; and his friend were among those arraigned.

When our correspondent contacted the former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rasheed Ladoja, to confirm if Sola was his son, he replied that no member of his family was arraigned before any court on Thursday.

The accused persons were brought to the magistrate court in Wuse Zone 6, Abuja in two tinted buses amidst tight security by officials of the State Security Service.

Our correspondent learnt that as early as 5am, SSS operatives numbering over 50, arrived the court premises and cordoned off the nearby Makeni Street to ensure that nobody, including lawyers, gained entrance to the court premises.

Moments after the accused emerged from the closed-door session, the SSS operatives only allowed journalists a photo opportunity to capture the accused as they re-entered their vehicles.

A secondary school pupil, Nelson Akula, who was making a telephone call in front of his house on the street was beaten and whisked to an unknown destination by the operatives when they were driving off after the session.

A Naval officer who challenged them was threatened with guns. As at 7pm on Thursday, the whereabouts of Akula were unknown.

It was not clear whether the SSS brought them before the court for an order to remand them in custody pending the conclusion of investigations.

When our correspondent called the SSS Assistant Director, Public Relations, Mrs. Marylyn Ogar, to ascertain why the arraignment of the suspects was done in secret, she replied, “If you were in court you need not ask me why it was a secret affair; as such I don’t have any reason for the why, no further comment please.”

Chief Magistrate Oyetunde Oyewunmi adjourned the case till November 24 and ordered the prosecution to ensure that the suspects were allowed access to their lawyers in the interest of justice.

The suspects were accused of carrying out terrorist acts, conspiracy to cause bodily harm as well as felony against the state.

NAN quoted the counsel to Charles, Mr Oghenevo Otemu,as having told journalists after the short court session, that he was surprised at the secret trial.

He said that Okah’s trial in South Africa was more transparent as his counsel and journalists were allowed access to the court.

Also speaking, Mr Onyechukwu HighKing, lawyer to Ernest wondered if the case was transferable.

HighKing said it was wrong to arrest and join Ernest, an oil company worker in Port Harcourt, for prosecution in an offence allegedly committed by his brother.

On his part, Mr Ugochukwu Ezekiel, counsel to Ebiware, said the government was denying the accused persons their fundamental rights to representation and fair hearing.

“The accused should have the right to access to the counsel of his choice. We will fight it legally in court,’’ Ezekiel said.

The SSS had earlier arraigned nine suspects in connection with the blast, thus bringing the total number of accused persons standing trial to 14.

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