20 June 2007

Nigeria: Dokubo's Release - Matters Arising


Lagos — Late last week, leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) Alhaji Mujaheed Asari-Dokubo weas granted bail by Abuja Federal High Court. CHUKWUDI OBI chronicles his travails and writes on the iplications of recent development: His report:

LEADER of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, NDPVF, Mujaheed Asari Dokubo Thursday, June 14, was granted bail after 21 months.

Dokubo's bail was granted by an Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice Peter Olayiwola who earlier rejected the freedom's fighter's bail application.

It was this same justice that Dokubo earlier openly threatened to kill. Justice Olayinwola stated thus:

"I'm convinced the accused is not playing to the gallery. The accused is ordered to be released on health grounds."

However the bail came with some clauses attached to it. The first was that Asari Dokubo would not attend any political rally in any part of the country. The second is that before travelling out of the country, he is to visit the State Security Service (SSS) and on return should go to the Nigerian embassy. Irrespective of all these his bail was welcomed in many quarters.

Though Asari-Dokubo was not in the court, the wife, his supporters kicked off singing war songs to celebrate their victory.

The excitement of his wife knew no bounds.

According to her "for a woman who has not seen her husband for two years, I am the happiest woman on earth. I'm excited."

It is not only his wife that is excited. In fact, the whole Niger Delta region is rejoicing. Human rights groups who have been advocating for his release are also excited.

And for his defense counsel, Festus Keyamo, it is only a step in the right direction though not the end to the problem.

Asari-Dokubo was arrested in September 2005 and arraigned before an Abuja High Court in October 2005 on a five-count charge of conspiracy, treasonable felony, forming, managing and assisting to manage an unlawful society, publishing false statement and being a member of an unlawful society. All these, he pleaded not guilty to.

So on November 11, 2005 his defense counsel, Festus Keyamo requested for his bail and was denied.

This marked a long tussle between, Asari and the federal government.

Not satisfied with the ruling of the High Court, Keyamo proceeded to the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the judgement but his appeal was dismissed on June 6, 2006 when the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the lower court that bail could not be granted to the militant leader because he posed a national security risk.

An unrelenting Keyamo went to the Supreme Court on two grounds:

- Whether the Court of Appeal was right when it reached a conclusion of fact that there was acceptable evidence that he (Dokubo) posed a national security risk.

- Assuming (without conceeding) that the government revealed a prima facie case of threat to national security whether that suspends the right of bail as in Section 35 of the Constitution.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Asari though it argued that treasonable felony was a serious offense prejudicial to national security.

Reading out the judgement, Justice Ibrahim maintained that "the provisions of section 35 of the Constitution leave no one in doubt that the section is not absolute."

He further maintained that "personal liberty of an individual is a qualified right in the context of this particular case and by virtue of sub-section (1)(c) there in of which permits restriction on individual liberty in the course of judicial inquiry or where rightly as in the case of the appellant was arrested and put under detention upon reasonable suspicion of having committed felony."

Keyamo, while applauding the judgement stressed that the struggle had just started.

Many groups from the Niger Delta region and human rights and socio-political organisations have not stopped lending their voice to Asari's release, saying that it is a welcome development.

National co-ordinator, Centre for Defence of Democracy, CFDD, Comrade Ayodele Adewale hailed the judiciary for the release and also called for the release of leader of Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Ralph Uwazuruike.

Comrade Adewale who observed that though the election that brought the present government to power was massively flawed and condemned by both local and international observers enjoined the Yar'Adua-led administration that even at that, it ought to make decisions that would launder the image of the country in the international scene.

In a similar development, Leadership of the Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO) and the June 12 coalition, lauded the judiciary for the release of the freedom fighter and also called for the release of MASSOB leader. Uwazuruike.

PRONACO made this known in a statement signed by its spokesman Mr. Olawale Okunniyi.

"While we celebrate the freedom of our Comrade Asari Dokubo and commend all well-meaning Nigerians for the organised agitation against his incarceration we strongly demand the unconditional release of Ralph Uwazuruike," he said.

In the same vein, Rivers state government through the chief press secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Okah hailed the federal government for this move even as it observed that it would go along way to reduce or outrightly stop incessant hostage takings.

"And we believe that with the co-operation of every stakeholder, the lingering issues in the Niger Delta will be amicably resolved so that everybody will go home happy; that justice, fairness and equity have enabled us achieve the maximum success that the people of the Niger Delta and indeed the federal government look forward to in Nigeria."

The president, Ijaw National Council (INC) Prof. Kimse Okoko expressed happiness of the Ijaw people adding that the release will douse the tension in that region.

Prof. Okoko further observed that the release of Dokubo has opened a window for negotiation on issues confronting the Niger Delta people because his (Asari) release is not the end of the struggle.

He however called on his kinsmen, the Niger Delta people to give President Yar'Adua a chance to prove it is worth while for youths in the region to shun all acts of violence.

Another group that lent its voice in the militant leaders release is the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). The group through its financial secretary, Mr. Nenji James thanked God for using Yar'Adua to show respect for human rights adding that the former president refused to release Asari during his tenure.

James stated that the bail would not only reduce the tension in the region will also expose genuine freedom fighters who fight for the cause of the people and those who do not.

Some Ijaw elders thanked President Yar'Adua for Asau's release even as they argued that they prevailed on the president to release their son.

They insist that what happened in the court was a mere formalilty adding that Asari's release was one thing the former President, Obasanjo could not do.

In his own reaction, former spokesperson NDPVF, Onegiya Erekosim emphasised that hostage taking will die a natural death even as he maintained that the arrest of Asari has drawn global attention to the grave neglect and injustice meted out to them.

And in Port Harcourt Asari's hometown, the patronage of bars and beer parlours doubled. In the creeks militant youths shot in the air sporadically to celebrate Asari's release.

His release has been a major demand from militant groups in the region.

A particular group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND one of the militant groups that has been at the fore front of the hostage-taking in that region also called for the release of Asari Dokubo as one of the their demands to end the hostage-taking.

Shortly after his arrival at the Air Force Base Port Harcourt, Saturday, at about 11am, SDokubo told journalists that he was not aware of any conditions attached to his release adding that he would ensure that the era of hostage-taking would soon be a thing of the past.

Said he: "I was not aware of any conditional release. I was not in the court when it was decided that I was granted bail. I was surprised to hear that I have been granted bail." "We will try and work together to stop this part of criminality and banditry.

We are not going to be something that we are not. We are fighting for justice, we should not do injustice to other people.

"I feel elated by the show of love, affection and support by my people. They say a prophet is not recognised by his people but I have seen that I am recognised by my people."

Asari further called for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC which according to him is a prerequisite to resolving the Niger Delta crisis.

Addressing some Ijaw leaders at the home of one of his guarantors, Alabo Graham Douglas, located at Onne road GRA II Port Harcourt, Asari stressed the need for Niger Delta people to control their resources and stop staying aloof. He added that the battle had just began.

Dokubo alleged that: "There was no mosquito in my cell, there was nobody to talk to; there was no medical attention."

Asari Dokubo jonied the Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC) at its formation in 1998 as a Vice President Ijaw. The IYC issued the Kaiama Declaration in November expressing the age long Ijaw concerns about the loss of control of their homeland and their lives to Nigeria and multinationals, operating in that region.

In 2001, Asari became IYC's president and propelled the group to pursue an agenda based on "Resource Control and Self Determination by Every Means Necessary."

2004 saw him withdrawing into the bush to form the Niger Delta keen political analysts posit that the only reason why the Peoples volunteer Force.

Following his release, MEND has released 14 Indian oil workers working for an Indian firm in the region to match their words with action.

Apart from that, observers are of the view that his release will assauge the tension in the region and in the polity.

They also added that the release of other political detainees like Ralph Uwazuruike and Al-Mustaphar should be immediately released to help President Yar'Adua gain some international respect.

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