Symbol of justice
A prominent Niger Delta activist, Chief Rita Lori Ogbebor, has petitioned the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, demanding an investigation into circumstances surrounding the kidnap of a judge of the Delta State High Court, Justice Marcel Okoh.
Ogbebor, who is the Igba of Warri, said the purported kidnapping of the judge was a ploy to pervert justice, as the incident happened on the same day he was billed to make pronouncement on a land dispute involving the Delta State Government and Okere people.
Okoh, a former Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in the state, was kidnapped on Tuesday, August 7, by gunmen at Oria-Abraka in Ethiope -East Local Government.
He was reported to be travelling to Warri, as the vacation judge for High Court 4 when armed men overtook his car at Oria, along the Agbor-Abraka-Ughelli road.
Although the judge was later released, Ogbebor described his sudden disappearance as a new chapter in the nation’s history.
In the petition also addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Chief of Defence Staff and the President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), she said: “When the arbiter and dispenser of justice is kidnapped, aren’t we descending into total anarchy? And why on a day in which he was to make pronouncement on a crucial matter involving the Delta State Government and Okere people? I smell a rat, and indeed it is a very bad smell. I call for a probe, because somebody has a lot to gain in the purported kidnap of the judge.”
Ogbebor said the state government, under the leadership of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, encroached on the land of Okere people in Warri under the pretext of sand-filling the swampy land.
She said Okere people appealed repeatedly to the governor, urging him to spare them the land for the building of a cultural centre but their pleadings fell on deaf ears.
According to her: “At the Lagos meeting, the governor told us that he had always been interested in the land in question since he was a little boy, when his father worked in an office across the road, and that he wanted to build a school on it. We told him we needed the place for a cultural centre, as we had no land anywhere else. A cultural centre would help the Itsekiris protect their culture; and social identities in a state where we are in the majority. We pointed out to the governor that we already had many schools, which sit on tracts of land even double to the one under construction.”
Ogbebor said the governor acceded to their request during the meeting, as they happily went to site to commence the building project. But they were shocked few weeks later when the governor stormed the site with armed soldiers and policemen, halting the construction work and arresting some of the workers.
“The youths were spoiling for a fight, but we pacified them, asking them to keep the peace. I told them that as a firm believer in the rule of law, we would go to court, which is our solace and the unbiased arbiter,” she further explained.
Ogbebor said she smelt a rat when the presiding Judge, Okoh, was abducted on August 7, the day the court fixed hearing on the motion for interlocutory injunction.
She said the case was forced to a long adjournment (September 24), thereby giving the state government the undue advantage to build on the land, much to the discomfort of her people.
To reassure the people’s faith in justice, Ogbebor said, “I suspect that the purported kidnap is a smokescreen meant to pervert the course of justice, and thereby call for a probe. If the Judge was indeed kidnapped, what has the government done about it? It needs to be conclusively proven that the kidnap is not make-believe. And how can a judge be seized so cheap, when politicians have not only thugs, but also soldiers and policemen to guard them…If we lose the judiciary, we have lost the country. A stitch in time saves nine. I call for a probe into the circumstances of this alleged kidnap. Only the truth will set us free.”