The Delta State Government was recently accused of masterminding the kidnap and attempted assassination of some judges, Shola Oyeyipo examines the controversy arising from the allegation
Activities of kidnappers have continued to thrive in the South-south region of the country with Delta State coming across as the most notorious. The kidnap, last year of Professor Kemena Okonjo, mother of Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has further put Delta on the world map.
But there came some days back, an interesting twist to the growing insecurity in that part of the country as the state government was fingered in the kidnap, attempted assassination and intimidation of some judges presiding over certain cases involving the state government.
On Monday, August 13, 2012, High Court judge, Justice Marcel Okoh, was abducted and spent ten days in his abductors den. Also, on Tuesday, December 3, last year, another judge of the High Court, Justice Marshal Mukoro, escaped death by the whiskers. The two judges were said to be handling sensitive cases in which the state government allegedly has an interest.
Against this background, Rita Lori, the Igba of Warri came out to accuse the government as the brain behind the attacks. She reckoned there were acts of intimidations on the part of government. Lori claimed that “Justice Okoh was on his way to the court to give an injunction on the matter brought before his court by the Okere people of the Itsekiri extraction of the state, asking the court to stop the state government from using their land without following due process.
“The judge dropped the case after his release and Justice Mukoro who took over along with another matter instituted by Itsekiri Host Communities and Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, also seeking explanation over an alleged reckless diversion of N1 billion meant for development of host communities, has also absconded after an attempt was made on his life.
“I’m holding the Delta State government responsible for the kidnap of the judges because of the coincidence – there are reasons for me to hold them responsible. It goes further that if they can kidnap judges, are they not going to kidnap lawyers too and also kidnap the plaintiff if nothing is done to stop the development?
“This is crux of the matter – Justice Okoh was on his way to give an injunction when he was kidnapped, he was prevented from giving the ruling. For almost two weeks, we didn’t see the judge. When finally he was released, he handed off the case and in the meantime, the Delta State government deployed soldiers to the place.
“Justice Mukoro who took over the case also escaped death narrowly. The SUV he was travelling in was riddled with bullets. The man has gone out of circulation fearing for his dear life. There was another case of Justice Azinge who they wanted to kidnap, but was lucky to run away from the court. He didn’t come to the court for over two months. These cases have been adjourned,” she said.
She, therefore, described the kidnap, attempted kidnap and assassination of judges as “a very urgent and important matter that could bring this country to another phase of anxiety – anxiety that when it happens, we will not be able to seat and discuss,” adding that “what is worrisome is the fact that the kidnap of a judge is a very serious matter.”
Arguing that if not contained, the kidnap of judges may gradually evolve into a new phase of terrorism that could put the country in dilemma, destructing every segment of the nation, she said: “Nigerians don’t seem to see bad situation until they hit us. Delta State has started the kidnap of judges; the last hope of all men - the court is the last hope of all men on earth.
“In fact, we Christians believe that judges are anointed by God. Just as kings anointed by God, judges are anointed by God to bring peace to the people, to judge right, bring hope to the people and today, Delta State is toying with the hope of everybody. The judiciary is being attacked. This is a very bad example. Tomorrow, this example can spread all over the country. This anarchy in Delta State can spread all over the country.
“And when it does, it will be too late. All of us will be hurting ourselves, different organisations will spring up; we all will resort to self-help, no police, no court. This is the seriousness of what the Delta State is now doing- kidnapping judges. Justice Mukoro could have died. So, what is the fate therefore, of Nigerians if we have no courts and if our judges could be driven out of the courts, what kind of country are we talking about? She queried.
But the Delta State Police Public Relation Officer (PPRO), DSP Charles Muka, said the State Command of the Police has trailed and killed four of the five-member gang responsible for the Okoh’s kidnap. According to him, the same gang had kidnapped another victim, one Mr. Benson Ojoto, the Director, State Employment and Expenditure for Results Oriented (SEEFOR), Delta State in Asaba, a move he said, led to their waterloo in the hands of officers and men of the Nigeria Police who had been on their trail.
“Benson was kidnapped but he was only lucky to have escaped while his Hilux van with registration number DT 14 AA 18 was taken away by the gang. But the police, acting on information trailed the gang to Benin City, Edo State, where four of them were killed with one escaping with bullet wound. During the raid, the Hilux van, one AK 50, four live ammunitions, one locally made revolver pistol, two cartridges, one military jacket, a Volvo, and a Toyota were recovered,” he said.
Also not comfortable with the barrage of attacks on the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan administration, a group of leaders from the state, in a statement signed by Mrs. Ibifuro Tatua expressed disappointment over what was tagged “incessant attack on the governor by Chief Ogbebor.”
Describing the allegations and critics of the governor as indication of desperation on the part of some politicians and greedy elders in the state, the body said “Delta State can never be a property of a few selfish leaders and their shylock godfathers. Delta State can never be the property of desperate politicians and their collaborators. Delta State can never be the property of indifferent elite that do not bother about the running of the state but see money, contract and looting of the treasury as the ultimate motives for human existence.”
The group chastised Ogbebor and advised him to desist from “wide and baseless allegations,” saying she should conduct herself as a responsible mother and elder by building and uniting her home and community, as against the allegations of sharp practices levied against the administration.
Citing efforts of the administration, the group alluded to the present peace, joy and sense of belonging which they claimed have been seen and felt by the people including the massive infrastructural development in the rural and urban areas, adequate funding of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Delta State Micro- Credit Programme, the Asaba airport, job creation, sports progress, scholarship scheme, welfare of workers and industrial growth as developments that impacted on the life of the people.
“In Nigeria, where many leaders have derailed from principled causes, Uduaghan stands very tall as a man of great moral rectitude. He is an upright Nigerian,” the Delta leaders said.
Efforts to get an official of the Delta State government to react did not yield result as the Commissioner for Information, Mr. C Ogeah, was unreachable.
Although, the commissioner initially promised to respond via a text message; that was never to be as he later latched on to the legal implications of the issue and claimed to be awaiting legal advice from the Attorney-General: “There are legal implications therein as I’m awaiting an advice from the Attorney-General.”