The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday sentenced Charles Okah and his co-defendant, Obi Nwabueze, to life imprisonment for masterminding the bomb blasts which occurred in Abuja on October 1, 2010, and earlier in Warri, Delta State on March 15 of the same year.
The two accused were said to have planned the attacks with Charles’ elder brother, Mr. Henry Okah, the leader of the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, who had been convicted of the same offense and sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment by a South African court in 2013.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole convicted the two men in his 145-page judgment which its delivery lasted four hours, 45 minutes on Wednesday.
With the allocutus (plea for mercy) and sentencing proceedings conducted after the main judgment was read, the day’s court session which ended at about 6.56pm lasted close to six hours.
The judgment was delivered amid heavy presence of policemen surrounding the court premises as early as 8.30am ahead of the judgment which the judge started delivering about 1 pm.
Delivering judgment in the case which commenced on December 7, 2010, when the convicts took their pleas, Justice Gabriel Kolawole ruled that the prosecution, led by Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), proved the charges preferred against Charles and Nwabueze beyond reasonable doubt.
The two men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on each of the five out of the eight counts preferred against them and two others.
The rest of the three counts were in relation to their former co-defendants, Edmund Ebiware, who had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in a separate trial which he requested.
The convicts, including Ebiware, were charged under sections 15(1) and (2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, which prescribe life imprisonment as punishment.
Justice Kolawole, also in his judgment, ordered the forfeiture of the army uniforms and other military paraphernalia recovered from the vehicles used for the Abuja blasts to the Federal Government.
He ordered the prosecuting counsel to personally ensure that the materials were submitted to the appropriate authority and inventory of the said materials submitted to the court after the handover.
Okah and Nwabueze, alongside Edmund Ebiware and Tiemkemfa Francis-Osvwo (aka General Gbokos) were first arraigned before the court on December 7, 2010, in connection with the 2010 Independence Day and Warri bomb blasts.
Francis-Osvwo died later in detention, while Ebiware, who had his trial conducted separately, had been convicted on January 25, 2013, for the same set of offences and currently serving a life sentence.
At least 12 persons were said to have died with many others injured and property, including cars, burnt in the incident which occurred near the Eagle Square in Abuja, venue of the Independence Day celebration, which was presided over by the then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Also, one person was confirmed dead and many others injured in the explosions which occurred on March 15, 2010, near Delta State Government House Annexe in Warri, Delta State.
Charles was clad in a gold-colored French suit with red fitted trousers, while his co-convict wore a checked shirt on blue jeans.
Their countenance remained unchanged from the beginning of the proceedings till the end.
After the allocutus proceedings, they were seen discussing in hushed tones as the judge was writing his decision on the sentence.
Charles put on a red cap immediately the judge rose and receded into his chambers.
He shook hands and hugged some of his loyalists who had witnessed the proceedings.
Prison officials handcuffed them as soon as they stepped out of the courtroom located in the five-storeyed court building.
As he approached cameras mounted outside the court building, he waved and with a smile on his face, he said, “It’s a trumped-up charge.”
He and his co-convict were led into prison vehicles and driven away at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.
Reviewing the evidence of the 17 prosecution witnesses, the six defense witnesses and exhibits tendered in the case, Justice Kolawole ruled that there was no doubt that Henry provided the total sum of N3.2m for the purchase of six fairly-used cars used for the attacks in both Warri and Abuja.
Justice Kolwole said Charles played a coordinating role, while Henry, who was either in Nigeria or South Africa when the attacks were being planned, provided N1.2m for the two cars used for the Warri attack on March 15, 2010, and N2m for the four cars procured for the purpose of Abuja attack.
Four of the cars to be used for the Independence Day bomb blast in 2010 in Abuja, were purchased in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
With dynamites loaded in hidden compartments in the cars, one of them was said to have broken down on the way to Abuja.
Although the three remaining vehicles were said to have reached Abuja, only two of them were used for the attack near the Eagles Square, Abuja.
One of the cars used for the Abuja operation, a Mazda 626 car, was brought to the court premises, tendered and admitted as an exhibit.
Justice Kolawole recalled that he had earlier dismissed the no-case submission filed by the two convicts on the grounds that the prosecution had led credible prima facie evidence linking them to the alleged crimes.
But, in resolving all four questions which he formulated for the purpose of resolving the case, the judge said, both convicts failed to lead any “scintilla” of credible evidence to challenge the evidence of the prosecution.
The judge ruled that there was no doubt that the Warri and the Abuja blasts occurred on March 15, 2010 and October 1, 2010 respectively.
He also said Charles and Nwabueze were unable to prove that the N2m sent to them by Henry in September 2010 was not meant for purchase of vehicles used for the Abuja blasts.
He noted that the attempt by Charles to make the court to believe that the N2m was converted to dollars to pay for his son’s school fees in the United States of America did not hold water.
He added that Charles’ son’s evidence was discredited when he said under cross-examination, that he converted the $13,000 derived from the N2m back to dollars and spent part of it.
The judge said there was no credible evidence from the defense about how the about $19,000 which Charles’ son eventually paid as his school fees in 2011 was sourced.
He added that there was no credible evidence from the defense on what the N2m cheque issued by Henry was meant for.
He said, “None of their witnesses gave evidence that what the prosecution alleged that the cars were used for were improbable.
“Every evidence they raised was nullified by their evidence or evidence of other prosecution witnesses.
“I have no doubt that the second defendant (Nwabueze) made himself available to be used for criminal errands for which he was rewarded by the first defendant (Charles).”
But speaking to journalists after the judgment, Okah’s lawyer, Emeka Okoroafor, and Nwabueze’s lawyer, Ogheneovo Otemu, vowed to appeal against the judgment after reviewing it with their clients.