INDEPENDENCE DAY BOMBING: Okah, Nwabueze jailed for life

-Convicts beg for leniency

About eight years of seemingly endless trial, the principal mastermind of the October 1, 2010 Independence Day Anniversary bombing, Charles Okah, and his accomplice, Obi Nwabueze, were yesterday handed a life jail for their role in the tragic event.

The judgement came after several interlocutory applications that stalled their trial which started in April 2015. The verdict, according to Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was in tune with the provisions of Section 15 (1) (2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, under which they were charged.

Before rendering his verdict, the trial judge had earlier dismissed the defendants’ no-case submission which they fi led after the prosecution called its 17 witnesses and tendered documentary exhibits as evidence to prove its case. Contrary to the defendants’ position, Justice Kolawole recalled that the prosecution had successfully established a prima facie case against Okah and Nwabueze, necessitating them to offer valid explanations in respect of the charges brought against them. Justice Kolawole averred: “The prosecution has made out prima facie case through testimonies of witnesses which linked the defendants with the charges.”

 Casualties from the attacks

Not less than 12 people were reportedly killed and several others injured in the fracas at the Eagle Square, Abuja, where the incident occurred.

Charles is the younger brother of former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah, who, had since been convicted and sentenced in South Africa for similar offence. While Charles was convicted and sentenced for his role in the bomb blast attacks, Nwabueze, also bagged life imprisonment for helping them to fi x Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), in two cars used for the dastardly act.

 The ruling

In a six-hour judgement, Justice Kolawole found the duo guilty of five out of the eight-count charge fi led against them by the federal government. Justice Kolawole maintained that the defendants failed to convince the court through credible evidence, that they were not involved in the acts of terrorism they were charged for. He said the defendants could not validly explain what the sums of N1.2million and N2million Henry released to them in 2010, were used for.

The court further held that the evidence before it, proved that the 2nd defendant, Nwabueze, was a foot-soldier used for evil errands that earned him monetary rewards. It observed that Nwabueze, had in his confessional statement entered into evidence as Exhibit 2D1 to D9, admitted that he was contracted to construct special compartments in the cars where the IEDs were fixed.

In his ruling, Justice Kolawole said, “in the final analysis, using the judicial compass to navigate through the oral and documentary evidence of witnesses and legal submission by counsel, I answer in the affirmative that the N2 million was used to purchase the cars that were used in the bomb blasts under the instructions of the 1st defendant, Charles Okah. “The dynamite code-named ’yam’ were laden in the cars and detonated through the use of timers.

The prosecution has proved the indictment under Section 15 (1) (1) of the EFCC Act against the defendants beyond reasonable doubts. “With regards to the October 1, 2010 Independence Day twin bomb blasts in Abuja, the events at the Eagle Square were not disrupted as the events went on.

However, the incident led to loss of twelve innocent lives and properties. “Certified medical reports from National Hospital and pictures obtained from the scene of the blasts showed mangled bodies of victims and destroyed cars, with some bodies burnt beyond recognition.

“This is the consequence of the act of terrorism, which the 2nd defendant (Obi Nwabueze) carried out under the instructions of the 1st defendant (Charles Okah). I have no doubt that the 2nd defendant made himself available as a foot soldier to Okah, to run his evil errands, to which he admitted, he was rewarded.”

“The prosecution has proved his case against the 1st defendant beyond reasonable doubts on counts 1 and 8 as provided for under Section 135 of the Evidence Act. “On count 5, 6 and 7, the prosecution has also proved his case against the 2nd defendant beyond a reasonable doubt as set out in Section 135 of the Evidence Act,” the court further ruled.

Duo’s plea for mercy

But before the sentence was passed, defence lawyers, Mr. Emeka Okafor and Oghenovo Otemu, had pleaded with the court to tamper justice with mercy. They urged the court to consider that their clients had no previous criminal records, adding that they had been in prison custody for over eight years. Also pleading for leniency, Okah prayed the court to mitigate its sentence, saying he has an aged mother and kids that depended on him for survival, and vowed that he would not engage in any form of criminality again.

Prosecution counters

Countering the defence counsel, the prosecuting counsel, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, asked the court to impose the full sanction that was provided by the law, insisting that the conduct of the defendants during the trial was enough to deny them any form of favourable discretion from the court. He insisted that family of the victims deserved justice, adding that imposing the full sentence would serve as deterrent to other militants.

 Journey to judgement

The quartet of Okah, Nwabueze, Edmund Ebiware and Tiemkemfa Francis-Osvwo (General Gbokos), were arraigned before the court on December 7, 2010 in connection with the deadly blast. While Francis-Osvwo died in detention, Ebiware whose trial was conducted separately, was also given life sentence in 2013 that is three years after the incident.

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