Henry Okah: In Search Of Peace and Justice In The Niger Delta

Mr. Henry Imomotimi Okah has been in detention now for roughly 18 months. Following a high stake international drama, he was illegally apprehended, and then flown to Nigeria where he was again illegally detained and then brought before the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja. In all, there are fourteen charges against Mr. Okah — the gravest being treason, and illegal arms deals.

This is perhaps the first, in the history of modern Nigeria, where a man who was acting in good faith and with clear conscience, was arrested simply for seeking political inclusivity, fair resource allocation, and infrastructural development for his people and his region. The Government claimed that Henry Okah intended to “intimidate the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Nonsense, preposterous; so laughable!

During Mr. Okah’s arrest, detention and non-trial, the Nigerian legal community, socio-political groups, and the larger civil-society has, for the most part, disturbingly kept quiet. And even the Nigerians media is mostly silent on the issue. So far, the media is behaving as though it has seen no wrong and heard no wrong. To witness wrongdoings and egregiousness and not speak, or acts against it, is to condone and acquiesce to injurious transgressions.

All the aforementioned groups, especially the Nigerian Bar Association, should have been at the forefront — not necessarily in support of Henry Okah — but in support of justice and fair-speedy trial. Those in pursuit of justice cannot be selective about justice because of the type of persons involved. What’s more, the Ijaw National Congress, along with the Ijaw Youth Council, should have been involved — actively involved — in “Henry Okah versus the Federal Government.”

Sadly and ironically, all groups and all persons that usually run around carrying placards and dashing from one media house to another — espousing justice and fairness — have all gone silent. Silent and indifferent. This silence and indifference has allowed the Nigerian Government to do what it generally does best: abuse, rape, and violating citizens’ constitutional entitlements.

The Nigerian Government made it seem as though Mr. Okah is an outlaw who operated outside of the law. The Nigerian Government painted Mr. Okah as a man bent on doing the Nigerian Government and its people grave harm. They allege that he (Okah) committed treason against the State; and that he was an illegal arms dealer who supplied arms and ammunition to the highest bidders. He is also alleged to be part of a syndicate involved in seditious and secessionist activities.

If Mr. Henry Imomotimi Okah was the type of man he is being portrayed as, then, President Musa Yar’Adua, Vice President Jonathan Goodluck, and many other high ranking government officials – at both the federal and state level – are guilty of some of the crimes he is being accused of. At one time or another, Henry Okah had dealings with both Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck.

A few submissions need to be made. First, it is on record that President Yar’Adua spoke and consulted with Mr. Henry Okah on various issues bordering on Nigeria’s national security interest. So vital was Okah’s counsel that the President expressed his gratitude and called for continuing dialogue on how to move the State forward. Question: if Henry Okah was a criminal, why did the President of Nigeria — the chief guardian of the Nigerian Constitution — consult with such a man?

Second, if Mr. Okah was a danger to Nigeria’s national security interest, what caused Vice President Jonathan Goodluck to actively seek his (Okah) wise counsel? Why would Jonathan Goodluck, as Chief of State in Bayelsa, and as the Vice President of Nigeria, meet with a supposed outlaw? Why? They met on several occasions (in person and on the phone) to converse about the wellbeing of the nation.

The Nigerian intelligence agencies, along with other security apparatus and Aso Rock cannot feign ignorance of these incontrovertible facts. These events – Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck’s several dialogue and consultation with Okah – could not have taken place if (a) Okah was a danger to the State; (b) if his business enterprise was illegal; (c) if Okah had no interest in the safety and security of Nigeria; and (d) if he was part of a criminal syndicate.

In other words, why would the President and the Vice President of Nigeria consult and engage in continuous conversations with a sworn enemy? By the way: what went wrong? What caused the tension and the friction? Why did the conversations break down? Why did the consultations cease? At what point did both Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck determine that he (Henry Okah) was no longer working for the interest of Nigeria and its peoples?

Finally, what was the nature of the talks/agreements between the President and Mr. Okah? What was the nature of the talks/agreements between the Vice President and Mr. Okah? Furthermore, what was the nature of the talks/agreements between Mr. Okah and various federal and state functionaries? Such talks and agreements may not yet be part of public record. However, several private and public sources have confirmed that the sticking point was “what to do about the Niger Delta.”

The Niger Delta, as the UNDP posited, is home to amazing paradoxes: A “gigantic economic reservoir of national and international importance” is a cathedral of “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.”

The Nigerian Guardian also observed that “The Niger Delta crisis is without doubt the most potent expression of the failure of the Nigerian state…The region’s crisis has become the sore of the nation, a cancer that may erode the fragile bonds that hold this polyethnic nation together…A rapacious ruling elite has reduced the people of the Niger…to a life of penury. “

Could it be that this six decade old injustice was too unconscionable and too barbaric for Mr. Henry Okah to bear and to ignore? He was not going to be a bystander; neither was he going to be indifferent to the internal exploitation of the people by the State and its elites. In line with some of the greats of the region — Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Asari Dokubo, etc, etc — he decided to stand by his people.

The world over, no man who seeks justice is an outlaw. No man who commits his time, energy, resources, and intellect, to the pursuit of his people’s fundamental human rights can be rightly considered an outlaw. Such men and women are universally considered heroes. Sadly, Nigeria has no room for heroes; hence, the decision of the federal government (presided over by Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck) to arrest, prosecute, and take out of circulation Mr. Henry Imomotimi Okah.

Nigerians must know, indeed the international community must know that until the breakdown of the agreements between President Yar’Adua and Vice President Jonathan Goodluck on one hand, and Mr. Henry Okah on the other side of the negotiating table, he Okah was a free man who went about his business at home and abroad. He was a man of peace.

Henry Okah was variously sought after to effect peace and stability in the Niger Delta. Such a man cannot be considered a danger to the State. If he was, if he is, let the Courts decide. But as it is, Mr. Okah has become one of the bargaining chips in government’s dangerous and multifaceted arsenal in the Niger Delta region. The Nigerian Government’s policy of internal colonization must not be allowed to stand.

Written by
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
Join the discussion

  • Let’s hope this year 2009 will bring about a change in the Niger Delta issue. So far nothing good is coming out of that place just more confusion.

    On Henry Okah the fG of Nigeria should bring him out, give him presidential pardon for whatever he is accused of – if they are sincere then put him to task to bring about change, calm and stability in the water regions of the niger. He is well known it appears by all sectors, on the secular, political and militant sectors. It is crazy to keep him in chains. What is going on there is disasterous, retaliations from the army – militants is the feild day. Till date it is choatic. My friends and i just saw your article now and is empolying those who has a voice to do something. Yet what can we actually do? Talk thats all. Talk has gotten us no where, maybe thats why the militants decided to be obstinate and carry arms? The last man that talked, without raising arms was killed. Sarowiwas blood must have cried out from the grave and raisen men like Henry Okah!

    If he and is likes are subdued with force, a worse one will arise after him in time to come. Wisdom not force or fasle promises should be administered here and now. Not next year, not next month. Now!!

  • Henry okahs case is all about politics really. The legal team seem ok but upon his release he may be rearrested as the man seem to be a geniune activist for his people. Few people in nigeria would shun money to take up sides against the federal government. Mark my words, this man is a torn in the flesh and the governent knows it. If he does get released hes a marked man. We need a revolution in nigeria, we need more people like him, maybe not arms but someone with a revolutional mind, committed to put all at stake.

    I wonder when nigerians will stand as one and fight a government filled with corrupt politicans and insincere unfufilled promises.

  • It is amazing that the federal government of nigeria may be holding the man who is the key to foster peace in the niger delta. Till date, 15th of may he is still being held in terrible conditions, a failing health while amensty is being ofered the militants who agitate for his release, quoting that his release will not only prompt a cease fire but show the sincerity of the governments oliver branch at amensty.

    strange too that amensty is being offered while clashes continue between the army and the militants. While the niger delta ministry and committes are being set up, their verdit and requests submitted are not being addressed. No white paper yet.

    It’s a drama. A drama that does not make sense. Please let someone look into this strange non fiction story.

  • Okah has shown us all what is indeed possible. To those who do not believe in the Izon survival do nothing, but for those of us who do raise your voice and be heard. Your article is the best so far