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Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the South African Government hailing the conviction of Mr. Henry Okah over terrorism charges may have effectively sealed the hope of an early release of the two brothers, including Mr. Charles Okah, who is currently locked in Kuje Prisons, Abuja.
Last Sunday’s official disclosure of Nigeria’s official correspondence with the African country’ s authorities could also have unsettled members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), who a couple of weeks ago, boasted of having gained some concessions from the Nigerian government for the release of the two brothers.
The Okah brothers, Henry and Charles, leaders of the MEND in its heyday as the most dreaded militant group in the Niger Delta region, the Nigerian Government believes, were behind the Independence day bombing in Abuja in 2010 and the explosion that rocked Warri government house annex, Delta State, during a post-amnesty dialogue attended by governors in March of the same year.
A source close to the remnants of the group which had recently taken advantage of the window presented by the federal government to end the destruction of the oil and gas platforms in the region , said the group’s leaders were disappointed by the decision of the Nigerian government to officially write the South Africa authorities.
The source stressed that though the MEND team did not meet directly with President Buhari, the members were at the time, able to extract a commitment from the heads of the security agencies that led government negotiations that the Okahs would be released unconditionally as part of a deal to end the violence in the region.
“The group is highly disappointed that a government that assured us of the release of these persons will be happy and indeed elated to write South Africa that Nigeria is grateful for confirming the conviction of Henry Okah it said it was going to release.
“It also says a lot about how serious the government is concerning the issues that will bring peace in the Niger Delta,” the source added.
Jomo Gbomo, the group’s spokesman, had yet to issue a statement on the latest development, while lawyer to the group and member of the disbanded ‘Aaron two” negotiating team, Mr Jenkins Okponipere, noted that he couldn’t speak on the matter since he was dropped from the negotiating team.
He added that while he remains the lawyer to the group, he did not have the mandate of MEND’s leadership to speak on the current issue.
MEND had while announcing the purported agreement with the Presidency, claimed that the end to the crisis in the region was in sight given among others, assurances that the Okah brothers would be freed unconditionally.
”The MEND is the only militant group from the Niger Delta region presently engaged in a dialogue with the Federal Government of Nigeria – through oil companies and security agencies – with a view to resolving the current Niger Delta crisis.
“Thus far, the deliberations have been fruitful, various concessions and guarantees have already been secured, some of which include but not limited to the release of Henry Okah, Charles Okah and Obi Nwabueze,” it had said.
But Buhari in the letter to South Africa commended the country’s Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgment that confirmed Okah’s conviction , though the court reviewed the sentence from 24 to 20 years behind bars for the former MEND leader.
Buhari noted that, “South Africa has projected itself an enduring partner to Nigeria in the war against terrorism.” He added, “When African countries act jointly against terrorism, they send out clear and unambiguous signals that there is no more place for terrorism on our continent.
“The South African authorities are therefore, urged to ensure that Okah is made to face the full wrath of the law for his acts of international terrorism.
“The scourge of terrorism as perpetrated by the Boko Haram terrorists and the so-called Niger Delta Avengers or militants has led to the death of several Nigerians and the monumental destruction of national assets.”