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Charles Okah, whose brother, Henry Okar, led the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, until he was jailed by South African authorities, speaks to PREMIUM TIMES about the aftermath of the October 1, 2010 Independence Day bombing, his business deals with the United States and the United Kingdom and more.
How were you arrested and where were you taken to from the time of your arrest to the time you were sent to Kuje Prison?
I was arrested at my residence in Apapa GRA, Lagos on Saturday, October 1, 2010 at about 1pm. There was no arrest warrant produced. It was a crude kidnap-type operation. The team leader told me that I was being arrested on suspicion of being the elusive spokesman of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, who goes by the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo. My eldest son who was back from school in the United States at the time was also arrested. We were bound, blindfolded, and taken to the DSS Lagos office where we spent the night. The next morning, we were flown to their Abuja headquarters in a military plane. Two days later on Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010, the DSS spokeswoman, Ms Marilyn Ogar, was announcing on national television that “their investigations had revealed that Charles Tonbra Okah is Jomo Gbomo”. But barely two weeks after that announcement, while still in their custody, the same Jomo Gbomo released a statement, and has continued up till this day. I was transferred to Kuje Prison custody by an order of the court on December 24, 2010, where I have remained since then.
Before your arrest, what was your relationship with GEJ?
I was not close to him. I met him on a few occasions when he was deputy governor under my cousin, Chief Diepreye Alamiesiyegha. Again, when he was governor, he spoke to my brother through my phone in his office, because Henry did not want to call him directly. I also met him in Pretoria, South Africa as Vice President, when the then President Yar’Adua sent him, in the company of Chief Timipre Sylva, and Senator David Brigidi to establish communications with Henry towards addressing the problems inside the creeks. I was in South Africa on business at the time.
We understand that Goodluck Jonathan administration was constantly in contact with you here in Kuje Prison?
That is true. There were several surreptitious and nocturnal visits that spanned the over four years I have been held here in Kuje Prison. The visits were made by Gordon Obuah, former Chief Security Officer to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in company with the Special Adviser on Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku. Their mission was to ensure that I cooperated with the government in implicating Nasir El-Rufai and others in the October 1, 2010 bombing. Mr. Obuah and Kuku said I would be set free if I implicated the perceived enemies of the former president.
When and how did they visit you in the prison?
The visits were done after the 6pm final lock-up of inmates. Before any visit, the Presidency and the DSS would inform the Controller General of Prisons who in turn would inform the Controller FCT Command, the Officer-in-Charge, Kuje prison and the Chief Warder to ensure they wait and receive the high profile visitors. The prison officials are usually told to wait outside the office of the Officer in Charge when the meeting is on. After these visits, some moneys were given to the prison officials for my welfare and that of two others arrested over the 50th Independence Day Anniversary bombing. The last meetings came in late 2014, where I was shown a draft of an endorsement for Goodluck Jonathan by Mr. Kuku which he said had been sent by email to MEND. He promised that we would be released as soon as GEJ is voted for a second term, and wanted me to find ways to reach out to MEND to release that draft as its endorsement for Goodluck. The former CSO on his part assured me he would ensure the container which was ordered by my company on behalf of the United States Embassy and seized by the DSS at the Tin Can Island Port on the allegation it contained plastic explosives, would be released to my wife. They also promised to off-set school fees owed by my children.
But MEND did not endorse Jonathan after all?
MEND refused to support Jonathan and I was told to forget any financial aid and to brace myself for another four year stay in prison when Goodluck wins, as if it was my fault the group endorsed Buhari.
Did you say you had a contract from the American Embassy?
Yes I did. The 40 foot container, which was not tendered in court as exhibit even though the reason given by the DSS for its seizure was that its contents included plastic explosives, was imported by my company for the American Embassy on Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos. The contents were plastic floating docks and installation accessories which originated from the EZ Dock Company in Monnet, Missouri, USA after we received a Local Purchase Order from the embassy which was approved in Washington.
Who is currently in custody of the container?
I have no idea. Since they claimed I imported plastic explosives for the American Embassy, I would expect the container to be at the Tin Can Island Port in Lagos under heavy security or in the premises of the DSS in Abuja, to be presented at short notice to the court. My concern is the damage that has been done to the improperly stored contents of the legitimate import.
Did the American Government reach out to former President Goodluck Jonathan to sort out the issue of the container?
I have no idea what transpired between the Goodluck Jonathan government and the American Government. I was informed by my wife when she visited me at the DSS headquarters where I was being held that in an attempt to distance themselves, the American Embassy sent her a letter revoking the contract for the floating docks which had already been brought into the country. That was the least of my worry. My main concern was that the Embassy would refuse my son re-entry into the United States where he was concluding his studies at the University of Kansas. But as God would have it, the Embassy did not give him any trouble. The problem came from the DSS operatives attached to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport who refused him to leave on two occasions until Festus Keyamo intervened.
Did the Jonathan Government pay fees for your kids?
We got assistance from time to time from a few friends in the government, but this was not in any official capacity.
Apart from El-Rufai, who were the other person’s the administration wanted you to implicate in the Oct 1, 2010 bombing?
I wouldn’t know if the DSS interrogators were acting on instructions from GEJ but I know that they had a list of names but only presented the names of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Chief Timipre Sylva, and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Somehow they were aware that I had visited Gen. Babangida early 2010, at his residence in Abuja, and wanted to use that visit as the platform to work out a false statement which would suggest that the general’s house was the rendezvous for an assassination plot to eliminate former President Jonathan on Oct 1, 2010.
Were some of the people you were asked to implicate aware of the plot?
I don’t know since I have not had contact with the outside world. The only person who got to know at that time was Mallam Nasir El Rufai. I had managed to smuggle a letter from the prison to warn him and others. He later published that letter in his book, “The Accidental Public Servant.” I couldn’t implicate innocent people in a crime I was implicated simply because my accusers promised me freedom.
Could it be that the bombing was organised to nail you and others?
I would not know but from what I read in the papers, the bombing was claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) who never make false claims of responsibility. I read that the bombing was a symbolic attack meant to counter the impression that the group no longer existed as was being propagated by Goodluck Jonathan and some ex-militants. The DSS and Jonathan strategists may have wanted to take advantage of that MEND attack minus the claim. After the bomb blast occurred, Elder Godsday Orubebe, and Mr. Tony Uranta contacted my brother (Henry Okah) in South Africa to use his influence to ask MEND to retract their statement which claimed responsibility so that, according to Uranta in a text message to Henry on October 1, 2010, the bombing could be blamed on ‘Northern elements’. The request was refused by Henry.
But the former President had during a PDP rally in Lagos accused your brother, Henry, of being hired by some persons to assassinate him. Were you also accused?
Yes they did after I refused to ‘cooperate’ with them. They said that the money I withdrew for the purchase of dollars for my son’s school fees came from the ‘sponsors’ of the bomb blast and insisted that the money was used to buy cars used in the bombing. It was after filing charges that they eventually traced the source of the money to a payment made into my Zenith Bank account by the British High Commission in Abuja through its defence attache. This payment which was made around September 2010; was for a contract awarded my company to install a floating dock for the Nigerian Navy at its Lagos Satellite Town Base. I wonder why they have not yet arrested the British High Commissioner and his US counterpart for alleged involvement the phantom plot.