INDEPENDENCE DAY BOMBING IN RETROSPECT
It is no longer news that on 1st October, 2010 a twin bomb was detonated at the Eagle Square, Abuja to mar the nation's Independence Anniversary and 50th Jubilee celebration. In the incident, over a dozen innocent souls perished and many others injured. Since the blast, the unfolding has been intriguing, bothering on inciting statements from the high and the low of the society, and fueled by politics of ethnicity, parochialism and philosophical reasoning.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had through an e-mail it dispatched to media houses, signed by its spokesman Jomo Gbomo warned that it has successfully planted several explosive devices at the venue of the Independence celebration, warning invited dignitaries to keep safe distance from 'vehicles and trash bins'. Sadly, despite the threat issued by MEND and the privileged information 5-days ahead of time, the perpetuators of the dastardly act still penetrated and stuck. Certainly, this has posed some fundamental questions and crucial security challenges 50 years after independence. But that discussion is for another day.
MEND, a militant group championing the struggle for the restoration of the Niger Delta region claimed it carried out the attack because "For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them. The constitution before independence which offered resource control was mutilated by illegal military governments and this injustice is yet to be addressed". The militant group believed that the anniversary celebration was unnecessary and wasteful. Most people hold the same view, but like in a democratic setting they choose to express their opinions quite politely.
Contrary to the support the militant group, being perceived by the people as freedom fighters do enjoy from the populace, particularly in the Niger Delta region, for its struggle, the Abuja bombing by MEND have received wild and massive condemnations the world over. Speaking at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament's International Colloquium marking the 50th Independence Anniversary of African countries on Saturday, a day after the bomb blast, President Jonathan dismissed MEND's claims of responsibility on the incidents, saying, “The name of MEND was only used.” The President stated that although there was a statement purported to have been written by MEND, but investigations have shown that members of MEND have said they don't know about it.
Mr. President maintained that the nefarious act is the handiwork of “a small terrorist group that resides outside Nigeria that was paid by some people within to perpetrate the dastardly act”, warning that anybody who thinks that he can come under the cover of the Niger Delta struggle to perpetrate violence and criminality, “your time is over”. He assured that the security agents are on their trail and Nigerians will soon know the actors behind this evil. These comments have raised so much controversy on the land.
I shall on this piece attempt to review the perceived rift emanating from Jonathan and Okah's statements in connection with the Al Jazeera interview as it pertains to the bomb blast.
According to the Al Jazeera interview, Henry Okah was accused of being the mastermind of the Abuja bomb blast. It was on the strength of that signal that he was arrested in South Africa where he is facing a two-count charge for acts of terrorism. Okah had since denied the accusation in its entirety, attributing it to falsehood. He also denied being an influential member of MEND, saying he was only “a sympathizer” of the group.
But how else can anyone be influential in MEND when indeed it is still fresh in our minds how MEND held the Nigerian Government hostage, wrecking havocs that include economic sabotage and kidnapping majorly on the front demand for the release of Henry Okah, its' then acclaimed leader?
Also in the interview, Okah alleged that on Saturday morning, just a day after the attack, a very close associate of President Jonathan called him and explained to him that there had been a bombing in Nigeria and that President Jonathan wanted him to reach out to the group, MEND, and get the group to retract their earlier statement claiming the attacks, and instead blame it on Northerners who are trying to fight against President Goodluck Jonathan to come back as president, but he declined, and was arrested two hours after he turned down their offer.
But the facts outplaying itself in this matter have remained irreconcilable. For example, Okah had claimed that he declined to the deal offered to him to implicate northerner by an unnamed close associate of President Jonathan, yet, in another breathe he had again claimed that President Jonathan issued a statement exonerating MEND from the attack because they were expecting a kind of retraction from the group based on their discussion with him. I think Okah is only being economical with the real facts of the matter.
In a swift reaction however, the presidential spokesman, Mr. Ima Niboro said Okah's claims were an “outright lie” and requested him to name the so called “close associate” who spoke with him and asked him to implicate Northerners. Okah is still being awaited to make the name available to press.
Until this development, there is no gain saying the fact that the amnesty the Nigerian government granted to the militants from the Niger Delta was yielding results. At least, it has ushered in some appreciable measure of peace and security and the nation's oil crude production per day has not been interrupted indiscriminately by aggrieved militants as they use do before the amnesty programme.
That relative peace being enjoyed by all seemed threatened now. According to the said interview, Okah argued: “you don't just give people an amnesty and ask them to forget about the reason why they are fighting. Every one of us is fighting for something and if what we are fighting for is not addressed, it ushers problem in the area.” He queried: “why will you steal my land and you give me an amnesty and then you expect me not to continue fighting you? and boasted “Why would that happen? Certainly, Okah does not believe in the amnesty programme which most of the militant groups are benefiting. My worry here is that the theatre of war seemed to be shifted between the north and the south under some guise of political manipulations and selfish interests. God have mercy!
Like a vested interest in the Independence bombing, Okah felt excited that “this attack now was actually going to be a great smear on his aspiration”. He argued that it was much better with late President Yar'Adua regardless of the fact that he was from the North, but lamented that for Jonathan it is entirely a different ball game, alleging that President Jonathan does not fully comprehend the problem in the region, and was being teleguided by wrong advisers. Whereas President Jonathan had said that “I grew up in the Niger Delta, so nobody can claim to know the Niger Delta better than myself.”
This become even more worrisome in the face of Henry Okah's statement that for months now they (Jonathan's aides) have been lying to everybody that Mr. President is generally acceptable among the people, and that he is going to bring peace to the region, which he claimed “is entirely false”. Could the essence of the whole attack and reckless killing of innocent souls just to make President Jonathan appear unpopular and to smear his political aspiration?
Funny enough, President Jonathan and Henry Okah are both from Bayelsa state in the oil rich Niger Delta and should ordinarily understand better what economic deprivation, age-long oil explorations and environmental degradation actually meant to a people. So what is the disagreement now that one of their own is at the mantle of leadership after over fifty years of the struggle? Is President Jonathan not putting enough crude oil money on the table, perhaps, like his predecessor did that is now probably making it an entirely different ball game?
But, the real facts are gradually emerging.At the last count, Charles Tombra Okah, immediate younger brother of Henry Okah, known in the terrorist circle as Gbomo Jomo has been arrested by armed men of Nigeria's State Security Service, SSS, in a hideout at his house located at 14, Oranmiyan close, Apapa, Lagos. He tried to jump over the fence, by the time his house was surrounded by security operatives, close to the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, but was overpowered and handcuffed.
Henry Okah has accuses Charles of impersonating him and extorting money from people. But incriminating evidence found in his laptop, desktop, phone and diary confirmed that Charles have been having regular discussion and communication exchange with Henry in South Africa. Security sources confirmed that Charles is cooperating and seemed willing to name his entire accomplice in the terrorist ring.
Meanwhile, the moment Henry got wind of his brother's arrest at his lonely cell in Johannesburg, South Africa, he had become tensed, withdrawn and violent fearing that Charles may confess to the terrorist activity of MEND that may eventually lead him to jail. Interestingly, the South African government is reportedly in a fix as new evidence from the trial shows a complex relationship between Okah and top officials of Nigerian government.
From investigations, the name of Elder Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta has prominently featured in clandestine romance with Henry Okah, the alleged mastermind of the bomb blast. Elder Orubebe admitted visiting Henry Okah saying that the parley was purely at the instance of the government's effort to speak with the leadership of MEND to embrace the amnesty program and put an end to the militancy in the Niger Delta which is within the purview of the Ministry of the Niger Delta. He recalled that the then Vice President Jonathan did also travel to South Africa and met with Okah at the instance of the late President Yar'Adua on matters connected to the peace process in the region. According to a source within the Presidency, the alleged meeting with Henry Okah by any presidential aide was aimed at tasking the militant, particularly its kingpin to embrace the government amnesty and peace initiative.
Now, the revelation by the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), the umbrella organisation for militant groups in the Niger Delta is beginning to make some sense. The JRC has blamed a faction of MEND for the October 1st attacks, stating that former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, contacted it to carry out the bomb attacks but declined. The group alleged that the attacks were carried out by Henry Okah with the support of IBB, with selfish and dubious motives.
It added that “Henry Okah until recently was the lead arms supplier to a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. His faction of MEND was led by General Boyloaf (Victor Ebikabowei) who has since disbanded his unit, which represents the mainstream MEND and joined forces with the renewed efforts to bring peace, stability and development to the Niger Delta”.
The JRC maintained that the attacks were a mercenary job done on behalf of Babangida and his cohorts. "It was because of this that we suspended our armed campaign this year. We realised that IBB was going to use our genuine agitation to his own selfish advantage. It was when we declined that they approached Henry Okah who is a mercenary by nature, and they started with the Warri bomb blasts followed by the anniversary attacks. For now we can say authoritatively that Okah heads IBB's terror machine and they are more sophisticated than what they have done so far.
While the JRC condoled with the bereaved family of the Independence bombing, it stated that “our struggle is a moral and just one. Terrorism is not a virtue for heroic combatants in the Ijaw and Niger Delta struggle. “We have had no place for gun-runners, toddler-abductors, bank robbers, commercial hostage-takers, prison breakers and bare-face murderers who go on foolish murderous rampage while their families are safe and secure in foreign lands.
During a visit to President Jonathan at Aso Villa, ex-militants namely Chief Government Ekpemolo, a.k.a. Tompolo; Ateke Tom; Farah Dagogo; Alhaji Mujaheed Dokubo-Asari; Shoot at Sight; Busta Rhymes and Egberipapa said the 1st October bombing was condemnable, adding that “it is dastardly, irresponsible and morally reprehensible. We reject such incident and we say that the Niger Delta people are not in support of it. “Let it go from here and let it go to the entire world, particularly because we read in the media that it was MEND that carried out the blasts. All the leaders of MEND and all other organisations are here and we say that MEND was not responsible for that bomb blasts. Our struggle is a responsible struggle,” they said.
Now that the real MEND seemed to have disowned Henry Okah and his cohorts, militancy and bombing may have shifted to the Boko Haram in the north. Already, the scar of the bombing is not yet over. MEND has again issued a new alert threatening all persons from attending any political campaign organised by President Goodluck Jonathan. According to the e-mail message: “This is due to the split he has initiated in our country that had enjoyed a united front politically, and the corruption and split in the Niger Delta community.” But I only wondered if these misguided attacks can actually be a great smear on President Jonathan's aspiration.
Meanwhile, about nine arrests have been made and two persons declared wanted in connection to the Abuja bomb blast. According to security reports the suspects arrested so far were linked to “prominent Nigerians”. High Chief Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, a friend of Babangida, Chairman DAAR Comunications and Director General of IBB 2011 Cmpaign Organisation was among prominent Nigerians arrested and interrogated for the bombings.
Dokpesi was arrested and interrogated because three out of nine suspects arrested and currently under investigations allegedly received a text message from dokpesi about payment for an assignment they did for IBB Campaign Organisation. But rather than approach the matter on its merit, the IBB Campaign Organisation raised alarm of intimidation and oppression against its group and members. Instead of allowing investigations to take its normal course and establish his innocence, there was news making the rounds that Dokpesi may be heading for the court to seek an order barring men of the SSS from further harassing, arresting or detaining him in connection with the Abuja bomb blast.
I think the IBB Campaign Organisation should allow thorough investigation into the bomb blast and stop making unnecessary excuses. Its' Campaign Director, Chief Dokpesi should be allowed to explain in clear terms the connection between him and the three arrested suspects which has communication links with him.
Certainly, Henry Okah, was not a stranger to the perpetrators of the dastardly act as the Al Jazeera interview tend to help project. Information obtained from the South African police reveals that Mr. Okah was in contact with his bombing conspirators in Nigeria before and after the deadly car blast.Security sources said they have in their custody, Charles Okah, younger brother of Henry Okah, chief suspect in the Abuja bombing, and how funds were moved for the operation, the man who purchased the cars in which the bombs were planted, and the man who planted and detonated the bombs, using his cellular phone, the man who drove the car from Port Harcourt to Abuja, the residence of the individual where the car bombs were wired, the man who coordinated the whole detonation and the man who confirmed that the job has been accomplished.
But what is Al Jazeeera's interest in all of these? What was the Al Jazeera interview intended to achieve after all? Could they have granted Henry Okah interview in a detention cell in South Africa supposedly to make nonsense of the claim of the Nigerian government that Okah was the mastermind of the Abuja bombing or just to help muddle up the real fact of the matter?
I am still wondering Al Jazeera's sudden love for Nigeria and why it has not yet reached Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his detention cell in the United States so that the world can hear his own side of the story? It would be recalled that Farouk, a 23 year old misguided Muslim fanatic attempted to blow up a Northwest Flight 253 just minutes before the plane landed on Christmas day while Christian were celebrating Xmas in 2009. The plane was reported to be carrying 278 passengers and 11 crew members. In that incident which was of global concern, a White House official classified it as "an attempted act of terrorism", and said that President Barack Obama was monitoring events and even immediately ordered heightened security at airports across the USA. What is Al Jazeera's interest in the Abuja bombing?
Henry Okah, simply put, is a business man, and his business thrives only when there is crisis and gun-running, so his statements and deliberate confusion are in line with his business motives. One can only wonder its sudden romance with the North and his new friends of the northern extraction. Nigerians shouldtherefore not allow themselves to be incited against one another to give room for these blood-letting fellows. This is a new Nigeria, and together we must refuse to be fooled again by some unscrupulous persons in our midst in the name of politics of ethnicity, personal interests and aggrandizements.
As Nigerians, we demand a total and thorough investigation into the matter outside the speculations being aided by the Al Jazeera interview and only hoped that with President Goodluck Jonathan it will not be another of such unended investigations by most of our past leaders. No doubt, these are interesting times for Nigeria.
Edoreh F. Edoreh
The world is a global village
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