Group Seeks Fair Trial for Detained Bayelsa Civil Servant

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Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) tuesday called for a fair and transparent trial for Mr. Jonah Okah, a civil servant in Bayelsa State, who was remanded by a Magistrates’ Court for allegedly defaming the Government House Chief Accountant, Ritchie Etonye.

Okah, the complainant had alleged, posted a non-existent conversation between him and Etonye, where he confirmed to him (Okah), that he was indeed involved in an alleged missing $4.6million, purportedly owned by the state Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson.

However, the Bayelsa State governor and the government have denied losing any money, noting that the allegation was a figment of Okah’s imagination.

But in a statement yesterday, the state branch of CLO, led by Mr. James Nengi, noted that it had come to the knowledge of the organisation that politicians had started interfering with the case.
“The attention of the Bayelsa State chapter of the CLO has been drawn to the arrest and prolonged detention of Okah at Okaka Prison. This is followed by a visit to Okah at the Okaka Prison on September 13, 2016.

“The case involves two civil servants, Okah, a State Counsel and Etonye, Government House Accountant on an issue of defamation of character and by its content a civil wrong.
“Since the case became a public knowledge, the CLO has been following the matter with keen interest and we are constrained to draw the attention of the public, particularly the Nigerian Police Force on the following issues.

“We are worried by the interference by some top politicians in Bayelsa State on the matter which border on two civil servants over an alleged defamatory Facebook publication,” the CLO leadership said.

It added: “We appreciate the stand of government on the matter by disassociating itself from the allegation of aiding the arrest and continued detention of Mr. Jonah Okah in the Okaka Prison through its Commissioner for Information and Orientation. We hope that political appointees in government will desist from involving themselves in this matter as alleged by the general public.
“We note that since the matter is in court at the moment, we are therefore constrained to restrain ourselves to the findings and decision of the Magistrate Court, while we hope that the Court will give it an accelerated hearing; justice delayed is justice denied.”

While warning that interfering in the matter would not serve the interest of justice, the CLO called on the media and other civil society groups to partner with the organisation to follow up the matter to a conclusion.

“Finally, we acknowledge that the judiciary is an independent body and the manifest interference by highly placed persons will be a threat to the due administration of justice.

“It is in the light of the above, that we call on the state judiciary to take reasonable steps to resist undue meddling by top politicians of the state in the trial of Mr. Jonah Okah,” the group said.