The South African Police Service (SAPS) have been served a barrage of accusations about complicity in the presentation of falsified forensic reports in order to prosecute Henry Okah, a Nigerian national, currently incarcerated at the Johannesburg Prison for his alleged role in the October 1, 2010 bombings in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.
In a sworn affidavit made available to Premium Times on Wednesday, Mr. Okah alleged that the Nigerian government fabricated series of lies going as far as stealing bodies from a morgue to stage a crime scene in order to keep him locked up. The accused further alleged that the SAPS have thereby become entangled in this web of forgery.
On October 21, 2010, Noel Zeeman, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the SAPS made a submission to a regional court in Johannesburg stating that the SAPS, ‘working in a close proximity with their Nigerian counterparts’, had built a formidable case against Mr. Okah, who is generally regarded as the head of Nigeria’s militia group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
“I nevertheless, wish to reiterate that the State has a very strong case against the accused,” Mr. Zeeman told the court.
Almost two years later however, the accused says that the evidence upon which the SAPS’ ‘strong case’ was built was fabricated by the Nigerian government.
The government however issued a statement Wednesday, saying Mr. Okah’s claim in his affidavit were false, and that it was ready to confront the MEND leader in court.
In his affidavit, Mr. Okah named Nigerian police officers, medical doctors in some of Nigeria’s capital’s prestigious hospitals, officials of the State Security Service, and top politicians as the actors in the creation of ‘non-existent’ evidence to accuse him of acts of terror, incarcerate him in a South African jail, as well as deny him bail.
“I have studied the police docket and state categorically that exhibit “N” is false and misleading. I therefore respectfully state that the so-called evidence material relied on by the learned Regional Court Magistrate and the High Court does not exist,”
Mr. Okah said of the SAPS’ docket submitted to the courts, insisting that the State had been unable to supply evidence of the claims it had made in a sworn affidavit.
“In order to influence the proceedings against me in South Africa, the Nigerian Government presented staged photographs showing alleged victims…great effort has been made to conceal the identities of the corpses positioned by the Nigerian government. The reason being that these individuals are not victims of any bombing but corpses taken from a local mortuary for a photo shoot,” Mr. Okah said.
Alleging that the prosecutors’ police docket “provides proof of tampering with a possible crime scene by the Nigerian Authorities”, Mr. Okah names Corporal Akor Emmanuel, a Nigerian police officer, and officials of the National Hospital, Abuja, as the persons involved in this scheme.
“The bodies in the photographs are intact showing no signs of trauma associated with a bombing and they appear in underwear in some cases.
“The victims have been placed facing downwards to render them unrecognizable. Those surrounded by the remnants of burnt out motor vehicles are spotless with no signs of soot even as the tarred road beneath these bodies appears to be damaged by fire,’ Mr. Okah says.
In an elaborate description of one of the cases, the defence pointed out several discrepancies in autopsy reports of the alleged bombing victims. Mr. Okah’s affidavit also offers descriptions of how a single police officer escorted seven different bodies to three different hospitals on the same day.
The prosecutors’ evidence also indicates that a single Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) witnessed the autopsies of the seven bodies during an eight-hour period, Mr. Okah says.
Furthermore, the defence claims that no pathologist from the designated hospitals appended their signatures on the autopsy reports, rather an unnamed medical practitioner placed a stamp of the National Hospital, Abuja on the forms even though the autopsies were not all carried out in the hospital.
In addition, Mr. Okah alleges that the Nigerian government offers contradictory accounts of the state of the body of one of the victims.
“The medical practitioner describes the corpse 8 days after the death and two days after a post mortem examination as fresh and neatly dressed with only a 1 mm puncture wound. This, contradicting a police report which recorded cuts on the body,” he said.
The defence concludes that not only were the bodies planted at the accident site two days after the October 1 bombings, “these post mortem examinations may in fact never have taken place”, adding that the prosecutors have offered no single picture to show that the autopsies were indeed carried out.
SSS and coerced witnesses
Mr. Okah further alleges that Nigeria’s secret police have quickly realised how weak their case is and have resorted to forcing witnesses to testify in the State’s favour. He claims that the SSS have offered cash in bribes in situations where force has not worked.
According to him, a certain man, Obi Nwabueze “has been offered freedom and money in exchange for false testimony against me”.
Another person arrested by the SSS, Francis Osuwo, was allegedly forced by the SSS to append his signature on a statement pre-written by the officers. Mr. Osuwo “is completely illiterate” and was “denied access to a lawyer until he signed the statement required by the Nigerian interrogators”. Mr. Osuwo passed away whilst in custody, Mr. Okah says.
Mr. Okah has also claimed that the Nigerian High Commission in Johannesburg paid a certain man, Justin Umejesi (a.k.a Ben Jessy) to supply information on the accused without knowing that the latter had lost contact with the accused since 2007.
Mr. Okah claims that the Nigerian government also ‘intended to obtain a confession statement from Mr. Umejesi who was to have admitted to seeing me in possession of items he now believed to be used in the [making] of bombs”.
The same Mr. Umejesi was declared wanted by the Nigerian government as being complicit in the October 1 bombings a while later..
Links with top politicians
Mr. Okah’s affidavit contains numerous mentions of several politicians, most of them from his home state, Bayelsa, President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state as well.
Mr. Okah even claims a close relationship with the president and insists that his ‘travails’ are a result of his refusal to play to the tune of his high profile friends.
Naming top presidential aides and appointees like Moses Jituboh, the Head of Personal Security to the President; Diezani Alison-Maduekwe, the Minister for Petroleum Resources; Godsday Orubebe, the Minister for the Niger Delta; Tony Uranta, an unofficial presidential aide; Oronto Douglas, Special Adviser to the president on Research Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Okah weaves a tale of a mutually beneficial relationship between himself and these officials and even claims direct access to President Jonathan prior to the October 1, 2010 bombings.
“I was in constant touch with President Goodluck Jonathan through his ministers and Advisors until my arrest on 2 October 2010 and all this time wrongly believing my relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan is good,” he said.
Mr. Okah, who was arrested on October 2, 2010 in South Africa, is currently incarcerated in the Johannesburg Prison. Charged with certain offences in terms of the “Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act”, his previous bids for a bail have been denied.
Mr. Okah’s new affidavit was filed on Thursday in South Africa in a fresh bid to seek bail.
His trial is set to begin in the South Gauteng High Court, South Africa, on October 1, 2012.