14 January 2016

Nigeria: Charles Okah 'In Solitary Confinement' for Recording Prison Abuse, Lawyer Claims

A lawyer representing Charles Okah, who is held in connection with the 2010 Independence Day bombing in Abuja, has accused Nigerian prison authorities of punishing Mr. Okah for recording abuses within the Kuje prison in Abuja.

Mr. Okah's brother, Henry Okar, is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND.

The group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Henry Okah denied responsibility for the attack.

His brother, Charles, who has been held for five years, denies any link to the group.

His lawyer, Timipa Okponipere, said Thursday that Mr. Okar had been held in solitary confinement without food and drugs within the last 24 hours after he disagreed with the officer in charge of Kuje prison, Musa Tanko.

Mr. Okponipere said Mr. Okah's journals were also seized.

A spokesperson for the prison service did not confirm or deny the allegation.

"We are doing a letter which will be delivered to the Minister of Interior on Monday to draw his attention to the predicament that my client, Okah, is passing through now," Mr. Okponipere said.

"We are raising the alarm now so that if anything happens to Mr. Okah, the prison authorities will be held responsible. As we speak, they are about bringing trumped up charges against him," he said.

Mr. Okponipere said even as an inmate of the Kuje Prison, Mr. Okah's fundamental rights were guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

He argued that his client was merely an awaiting trial, which means he had not been found guilty of any crime by a court of competent jurisdiction.

"The Constitution guarantees him the right to liberty and peaceful enjoyment of his life and to own property including intellectual property," said Mr. Okah's counsel.

"What the Kuje Prison authorities are doing to him is unlawful. The African Chatter on Human and Peoples Rights guarantees the right of prisoners.

"To that extent, it is unlawful to confiscate an inmate's journals; it is a breach of his fundamental right to own property.

"We are going to point out these infringements in the letter we are doing to the minister of interior who has the supervisory role of the Nigeria Prisons Service.

"We are also asking the Prison authorities to release Mr. Okah's journals and the memoir he was writing on his prison experiences since he got there in December 2010.

"They seized his memoir and the research report he was writing about corruption, security lapses and drugs trafficking that are allegedly going on inside the Kuke Prison.

"Having been there for five years, he has a first-hand knowledge of all the things that are going on inside there."

As a legitimate citizen of Nigeria, Mr. Okponipere said his client has the right to let the appropriate authority know what has been going on inside the prison walls.

Asked whether he has contacted the prison authorities on the ordeal of his client, he said he had not and argued that the authorities of the Kuje Prison had already taken a position that was prejudicial to his client.

"It would be counterproductive to discuss with them. That is why we are going to contact the minister of interior.

"If anything happens to Mr. Okah, the prison authorities will be held responsible because they have kept him in solitary confinement for over 24 hours now without food and drugs," Mr. Okponipere concluded.

Nigeria Prisons reacts

When contacted on the telephone, Nigerian Prisons spokesperson, Francis Enobore, told PREMIUM TIMES that the service is governed by sets of rules and code of conduct and would not infringe on the rights of inmates.

He said, "Charles Okah is not the only prisoner we have in our custody. Even though I'm not confirming that such incident happened since I am not there, you should realise that the Nigeria Prison Service is one agency that encourages personal development among its inmates.

"That is why we have keyed in to the National Open University programme to enable our inmates to aspire to whatever level they wish to.

"If the authority were averse to inmates developing their intellectual capacity I don't think inmates would get the kind of support they now have to pursue their academic development.

"If he is claiming his intellectual properties were seized and that he is being kept in solitary confinement, I cannot tell you that is true or false.

"But we are an organisation that plays by the rules. The Nigerian Prison Service was established to construct and re-mold the broken character of those who lack the capacity to live within the ambit of the law in a civilised society."

When reminded that Mr. Okah was yet to be convicted of any crime by the court, he said the code of conduct applies to all those being held within the prison as well as officials of the Prison Service.

He added that the service promotes peaceful coexistence of inmates and staff but argued that those living within the prison community are expected to obey laid down rules too.

"However, I will make enquiries to find out what actually happened with regards to the Charles Okah issue you have just raised," Mr. Enobore said.

Mr. Okah is facing trial for his alleged role in the October 2010 Independence bomb blast.

He has been in custody at the Nigerian Prisons, Kuje, Abuja, since the October 1, 2010, bomb attack which the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, claimed responsibility for.

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