The accused wants Mr. Jonathan to tell what he (the president) knows about the bombings.
President Goodluck Jonathan and his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, are two of 144 persons expected to provide evidence in the on-going trial of Henry Okah, who is accused of masterminding the deadly Independence Day bomb blasts in Abuja, in 2010.
Mr. Okah, whose trial began last Monday, 2 years after he was arrested from his home in Johannesburg, faces a possible life sentence if convicted of the terrorism charges brought against him by the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Mr. Okah’s defence attorneys seem determined to prevent this and have prepared a long line-up of persons whom they insist the South African tax payers must transport to the South Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, to give evidence in the much publicised case. The attorneys rejected the prosecutors’ attempt to cut the foreseen costs, insisting that “all witnesses required by the defence will be brought to South Africa at the expense of the South African government”.
Mr Okah’s defence team rejected an offer which would see the accused, the judge and court officials taking a trip to Nigeria to question the witnesses, most of them Nigerian residents. The team also rejected an offer to conduct the interview by Skype, a voice-over-internet programme which could afford a video/voice interview, across the two countries.
“This option was also dismissed by the defence team in a pre-trial hearing and considered unviable as witnesses are in a foreign country and are not subject to jurisdiction of South African courts which will be powerless even if the witness is found to have committed perjury,” documents exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES stated.
The Long, prominent list
Mr. Okah’s witness list is a dramatic composition of prominent Nigerians led by the president. The Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, is also expected to testify in Johannesburg.
Some members of President Jonathan’s cabinet have also been lined up to proceed to South Africa to say what they know about the accomplice. They include the controversial Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke; the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe; and the Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke. Two former cabinet members, Ministers of Justice and Defence, Michael Aondoakaa and Godwin Abbe, also made the long list.
Also listed is a presidential aide, Oronto Douglas, and another ally of Mr. Jonathan, Tony Uranta.
Two media moguls, Nduka Obaigbena, the publisher of Thisday newspapers, and Raymond Dokpesi, who owns one of Nigeria’s major private television stations, AIT, have also been included in Mr. Okah’s witness list.
Accusing two presidents
Mr. Okah’s attorneys say President Jonathan has been included in the witness list because a witness has allegedly incriminated the president.
“President Jonathan’s testimony is required as he was mentioned by a state witness who admitted in his statement to being involved in the bombings. This witness Raphael Damfebo also admitted to being on the payroll of President Jonathan from whom Mr. Damfebo alleges to have made his first one million naira (N1,000,000). It is the theory of the defence that Mr. Jonathan used Raphael Damfebo and others to carry out the bombings and later tried to pin it on Mr. Okah for sabotaging his attempts to blame same on Northern politicians,” the documents declared.
It is not clear if Mr. Jonathan will honour the summons. The Nigerian president is immune from prosecution of any kind, while in office, by virtue of Section 308 of the Nigerian constitution; coupled with his diplomatic immunity, Mr. Jonathan can choose not to appear before any court as a witness.
The president’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, could not be reached to confirm if the president would honour the witness summons. Mr. Abati’s phone was switched off; same as that of Doyin Okupe, Mr. Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs. Text messages sent to both men were also not responded to as at press time.
South Africa’s President Zuma on the other hand has been accused by the defence team of “executive interference”. He is also expected to be questioned on his role in the bombings.
“President Zuma will be required to explain his relationship with wanted alleged bomber Ben Jesse photographed with him,” the lawyers said.
Mr. Okah’s lawyers said the other cabinet members and presidential aides mentioned have at one time or the other had associations with the accused which they insist must be brought to the open.
The trial which began on Monday, last week, and is expected to run till December.