Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Special Report: I Have No Lawyer Because I Am Broke----Charles Okah

Charles Okah

(Being speech by Mr. Charles Okah, accused of masterminding the October 1st, 2010 bomb blast in Abuja at the Federal High Court Abuja, Presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole on December 4th, 2014)

"My Lord,

I have not been able to secure the services of a lawyer to represent me because I am broke. The few I have approached have been sympathetic, but declined to represent me pro bono. My continued incarceration is making it very difficult for me to raise funds considering that my family have relocated from Nigeria due to constant harassment. If I had been granted bail like the Boko Haram suspect, Senator Ali Mbume, who still receives his monthly salary, fringe benefits, and allowances from the government, my financial situation will not have been this pathetic. Considering my current indigent status, I am requesting for a state assisted lawyer to defend me, preferably one that is of an equivalent status as that which the state provided for the prosecution, which will be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I am making this request based on the simple premise that a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. So what is good for the prosecution is equally good for the defense. Unfortunately, In Nigeria, the mere act of filing charges - even trumped up charges - carries along with it a strong presumption of guilt. The scale held in the hand of the statue of justice is balanced 50-50 - a level playing field. It is unfair that the State, whose agent of persecution have crippled and destroyed my business of over two decades, impounded and continue to hold on to my goods of legitimate import, and opposed my bail application vehemently will provide on one end of the scale a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who comes to court with a train of 8, 10, and sometimes 12 lawyers! And provide on the other end of the scale, something less for the defense. It is only by providing a counsel of equivalent status for the defense that the scale of justice will be balanced. My Lord, whichever direction the pendulum swings to, it will always be a win-win situation for the State, whether the State wins or the State loses. If the State wins because the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a cause for celebration. A villain, a mad man, psychopath, a terrorist, whose ideology is to maim, to kill, and to destroy would have been put where he belongs. In short, good riddance to bad rubbish and justice would have prevailed. On the other hand, if the State loses, because the prosecution never brought its case before the court bona fide in the first place instead relying on assumptions, hear-say, wild conjecture, an a shoddy investigation, the State still remains a winner and there is cause for an even bigger celebration - an innocent citizen, a Joseph, would have been vindicated, discharged and acquitted. Justice will also have prevailed. 

There is no one in this courtroom that desires desperately for this trial to commence and end as much as the 2 defendants standing inside your dock today. For four years, we have been subjected to gross human rights violations and petty cruelties from the agents of the State acting on orders from above. Their actions led to the death of a co-accused, Mr. Francis Osuwo, who I only met after my arrest, as well as injuries to my health, which I have recovered from today. It had to take the intervention of the international Red Cross, The British High Commission, who were appalled at our confinement conditions, providing for us mattress, blankets, and a bunk bed, replacement of a light bulb deliberately removed from the 6ft by 4ft cell, and the renovation of the entire cell block to make it fit for human habitation. A rights suit I filed against the Nigerian prison and Interior Minister brought about succor and changes we are enjoying today. We now have access to exercise, worship, books to read etc., which were previously denied.

If my 5 year old son is brought inside the courtroom now, I will not recognize him. Even though I do not mind, but my older daughter minds that her fiance does not make his intentions known to his future father-in-law through the irons mesh of a prisons visitation room. This scar running from my back down to my navel area is the mark of the sacrifice of love I made 32 years ago when I donated my left kidney to save another life. For 32 years, I have been like a traveller who embarked on a journey without a spare tire. Ideally I should have an annual check-up in the hospital where the donor nephrectomy was performed or an active transplant center. If the National Hospital Abuja had started its kidney transplant program, as was the original intent when my company, Tombra Life Support Company Ltd established their dialysis center in 1999 and provided a blueprint for a transplant program, I would have had my check-up done there during this period of my incarceration.

During the 4 years we have been awaiting trial, I have often heard the prosecution mention something about its evidence and witnesses, which always leaves me perplexed. I am always baffled because I have no idea what they are referring to. It is only during a fair trial, in an impartial court such as yours that the so-called evidence will be revealed. It is then we will determine if this evidence has any relationship or relevance to the charges of treason and terrorism levied against me or if what they have been clutching onto for the past four years has been nothing more than Joseph's abandoned coat. Similarly, it is during the trial that we will establish if these witnesses are truthful men or women whose testimony is relevant to the charges levied against me, if they have been bribed or intimidated, and if they are unscrupulous like the biblical Ms. Potiphar, the pathological liar who was so adroit at weaving webs of lies around the smallest circumstantial evidence she had in her clutches.

My reputation is at stake here. From the day of my arrest on Saturday, October 16 2010, the negative publicity and images seen on national television where I was bound in chains carrying my cross and surrounded by armed security operatives left a trail of confusion in its wake. Confusion beginning from my immediate family, relatives, neighbors, members of my church, business associates, old boys of my Alma mater St. Gregory's College Lagos, and several others who still believe in me. Even the United States embassy, which had previously awarded my company a contract revoked it after my arrest. It is only after a fair and impartial trial that my reputation will be forever deemed or my reputation will be redeemed.

Allow me close with a simple prayer to the Supreme Power that made our frames, sustains our lives, and through all earthly change survives. May He bless our beloved country with more men and more women of truth, character, and integrity giving them the courage to stand firm in the difficult seasons. May He also expose the potiphars amongst us whose false accusations and trumped up charges have sent and continues to send countless of our innocent compatriots to the gallows and the prisons. May God save Nigeria, Amen!"

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