07 April 2013, Lagos – MR Tony Ipriye Uranta is the Executive Secretary of National Summit Group (NSG). In this interview, he maintains that Mr Henry Okah is not the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND. He also bares his mind on other sundry issues.
How do you see the sentence handed down to Mr Henry Okah by a South African court?
Henry Okah is not a leader of MEND. We may know differently considering the antecedents and struggles of MEND and other Niger-Delta activists and agitators to ensure that he was first of all brought back from Angola when he was held there and there was a big fight against the Yar’Adua government. We ensured that he came back to Nigeria. In Nigeria, MEND and other activists increased the tempo of the fight to ensure that he was released and he was released.
It’s on record that he was the first person to receive amnesty from government. I find this interesting because I now hear statements that he never accepted amnesty. I know that his acceptance of amnesty was a pre-condition to his being released at that time. However, as an individual, he may have decided to rescind that decision-that has not been made clear to a lot of parties.
However, it is indisputable that Henry Okah was playing a major role, whether intellectual, arms or otherwise, in the struggle of the Niger Delta for emancipation, justice and resource control. It is sad that there was bombing on the 1st of October,2010.
As an individual, up till this moment, I don’t know who carried out the bombing, but I am of the opinion same as President Jonathan was, that it was not by MEND and this was buttressed by the fact that myself, an intellectual activist, and virtually all the ground commanders of the group, then known as MEND, had convened in Abuja on the 3rd of October, 2010 and paid a solidarity visit to the president to reaffirm the acceptance of the agitators in the region of the amnesty proclamation, to reaffirm our commitment to non-violence and to state unequivocally that MEND was not in any way involved in the bombing.
People have said there have been statements by a Jomo Gbomo, I want us to remember that, in this technological age of the cyberspace, hacking into websites or e-mails is not uncommon. I want to suspect that he was a renegade speaking for himself and himself only.
If Chief Egbekunbolo, also known as Tompolo; Chief Ibikabowe, also known as Boyloaf; Chief Ateke Tom;Farah Dagogo; Egberipapa; Africa; and all of the grand commanders of MEND came out to declare they were not involved, we know that truly, for a fact, that was not a MEND action.
However, a court in Nigeria has pronounced guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment a nice young man called Ebiware and Charles Okah is still having his days in court and they are being charged as accomplices to Henry Okah. Many have asked why was Henry Okah tried in South Africa?
I would like us to cast our minds back to when the son of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was accused of plotting coup against Equatorial Guinea from South Africa. He was tried and convicted in South Africa. In fact, at the end of the day, he was pardoned in South Africa. It therefore showed that there have been precedents for South Africa as a sovereign state to decide whom it will try, over what issues and how it will go about it.
I am happy that Dame Thatcher’s s on was pardoned and released in the end. Maybe Henry Okah would be pardoned and released by South Africa in the end. Let me say categorically, Henry Okah was at no time abandoned by Niger-Deltans or his Ijaw brethren, but he was only supported in so far as the insistence that justice be done, is seen to be done and be clearly open to all to be able to engage. For example, Henry still has the right to appeal his case even though the South African DPP has said they will appeal the sentence.
If Henry carried out the bomb blast, that was a very sad commentary because any Nigerian, let alone any Niger Deltan or anybody from the Ijaw stock that would come up to carry out such a dastardly action in the midst of the crowd, has malodorous intention and that intention cannot be said to have augured well for Nigeria let alone the Niger Delta whose son, President Jonathan, was presiding over affairs on that day.
What if the President had been caught up in the blast? I must step back and say I cannot however be a totally detached commentator on this issue. You must remember that Henry falsely accused me of certain things, post the event. You must also remember that Henry falsely accused President Jonathan of being the one that set up the bomb blast himself. With this in mind, one would have a better helicopter view of the realities and dynamics on ground in South Africa.
The President hand is tied, one by the fact that South Africa is a sovereign state and he could not dictate to President Zuma and the South African system of justice, two, he had been been accused of being either the perpetrator or an accomplice in the bombing incident. I think it would have been stupid of President Jonathan to be overtly seen trying to protect Henry Okah. People could misread it.
I know a lot of people that are ready to jump on the bandwagon of saying that he is protecting him because he doesn’t want Henry to state facts that will be inimical to him as a person regarding those blast on that day. But I say to all those people, whether Okah has spoken or did not speak on his interest during the trial, his affidavits spoke for him.
His affidavits were very clear. He pointed fingers, he named names and he made accusations. But Henry remains a brother, he remains a friend, he remains a comrade in the emancipation of Niger Delta and we all wish him well. We all pray that he shall see the light of freedom, sooner than he thinks. We also pray that he will see the need to caution himself and stick only to the truth because only the truth can set you free.
Did you say he was not the leader of MEND?
He so claimed. He claims he was not involved with MEND. I am not going therefore to say he was or not with MEND. But we all know the facts.
Criticism has trailed the state pardon granted to former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief DSP Alaimeyesigha. What is your position?
I don’t like to take my opinion from the angle that I come from that region. I like to take my opinion from the angle that I am a human being who has fought for justice all my life. I do not believe that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
If President Obasanjo, for example, could pardon Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in this Fourth Republic, hours after he was convicted of a crime of forgery, altering and deception, even without recourse to the Council of State, I find it difficult to understand why President Jonathan, in consent with the National Council of State which comprises President Obasanjo, Generals Babangida, Abubakar and Buhari, Ernest Shonekan, President Shagari, Justices Uwais and Belgore, including all serving governors;if this body, which is the highest level of leadership in Nigeria, considered it wise to grant pardon to that vast gamut of people, they didn’t remember to grant pardon to over 50 others who came before them.
I think when we juxtapose it with President Obasanjo’s sole dictatorial action, it should not have occasioned the level of hues and cries we have had. But I agree that we must show ourselves and the world that we are fighting corruption, l suppose this means we are fighting against corruption when we forgot about Halliburton, when we forgot about Siemens?
But, even more importantly, I find it amusing and I am happy that it was rebutted in different cases that our social media axe got so high that everybody started claiming something, for example, that Bill Gates didn’t come to Nigeria because of the pardon.
Bill Gates has told us he did not come to Nigeria because he didn’t plan to come to Nigeria at that time. Some of them even said Obama didn’t invite Jonathan when he invited four African Presidents; the State Department of America has come out to state that President Obama only invited people who had just concluded their elections to encourage democracy, the same way he invited Jonathan when he became President.
We do acknowledge that the Americans have come out to stand against what they called a blow against the fight against corruption. But I think the Americans should hide their faces in shame. If there is any two-faced human being or government in the world- it is America, a country that has no fixed parameters but has just selfish interest. This is a country that supported Abacha’s decision to transmit from military head of state into a democratic President.
Do you think President Goodluck Jonathan should reshuffle his cabinet for to enhance performance?
Good governance comes with a resolve to be transparent, accountable and to be responsive to the wishes of the people. To that extent, the government of this country has set in place a system of anti-corruption trying to bolster the ICPC and the EFCC although I do not know what Lamorde,the EFCC boss, is doing there.
I do not see him do anything. But Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has tried to create a level of transparency with NEITI and other instruments available to her office as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy. However, there are too many dead-woods in the government of President Jonathan. I don’t know what Prof. Gbenga Ashiru is doing in that government. I do not see anything new about our foreign policy.
The Minister of Niger Delta, I have called for his removal, but let us say to his favor that sometimes when you place fire under a man, he leaps up. He is making moves to redeem himself now. The East-West Road seems to be progressing faster in the last past four months than it has progressed in the last four years.
On Goodluck Jonathan, whether he is going to run in 2015 is not my issue, but let us survive 2013. At the rate at which we are going, it is not impossible to see an implosion in the nation before December 2013. Whether it comes through anarchy, organized civil unrest or a military take-over, God forbid. Therefore, we repeat the call on President Jonathan; ‘fire at least a third of your people, reshuffle your cabinet, change brings about new energy’. The people there are too comfortable.
*Dapo Akinrefon, Vanguard