EXCLUSIVE SOUTH AFRICAN PRISON INTERVIEW - By THE NATION:
Leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah, is hitting hard at President Goodluck Jonathan from his prison cell in South Africa. Okah who was sentenced to a 24-year jail term in March 2013 for terrorism, sees the President as timid and cowardly.
In a lengthy interview published by this newspaper today, the man who President Jonathan once accused of masterminding the attempt on his life during the 2010 Independence anniversary in Abuja said he found it difficult to speak about him (Jonathan) without “saying something uncomplimentary.”
Going down the memory lane, Okah said of him: “I have met President Jonathan. I knew him though not closely when he was the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. My cousin Chief (Diepreye) Alamieyeseigha was then governor. “I had a meeting with Jonathan in Pretoria in 2007 when the late President Musa Yar’ Adua sent him to speak with me. He was accompanied by Chief Timipre Sylva. I have spoken to him on occasions.
“In one instance, he was traumatized emotionally by the attack on his country home which he was misled into believing I had a hand in. The last time I spoke with him was in April 2010 when he asked for my support personally. Since my recent arrest, I have had no direct contact with him. It is difficult to speak about President Jonathan without saying something uncomplimentary. I truthfully find him timid and cowardly. His discussions are unintelligible revealing a lack of intellectual depth.
“As governor of Bayelsa State, and a man whose home had been violated, I expected him to be angry and indignant at this sacrilegious act. Rather, he was physically trembling, terrified and incoherent as he spoke weeks after the attack.”
Okah said he has been vindicated by the president with his performance since assuming the nation’s leadership six years ago. “I warned Nigerians about Goodluck Jonathan but some people assumed I was speaking in anger and arrogance,” he said. He added: “Nigerians have now seen President Jonathan for exactly what I told them that he is. There is little difference in his speeches and that of Asari.”
Drawing a comparison between Jonathan and his main challenger in this month’s presidential election, General Muhammadu Buhari, Okah said: “I was quite young when General Muhammadu Buhari was in power so I am compelled by this fact to look at him in awe. This has nothing to do with his personality. General Buhari kept quiet for a long time and I have not kept up with him since after he was deposed in a military coup. He does not appear vain and would very likely be a more prudent civilian leader. This is not to say that I would vote for him in any elections as much as I respect him. I am disillusioned with Nigerian politics and have never voted or participated in any form of politics at any level.”
He prayed that “Nigeria gets a responsible and sensible president who sees the need to properly address the situation of the North and South in the face of Boko Haram and the Niger Delta issue.” Okah was also unsparing in his evaluation of the Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark and ex-militant, Asari Dokubo.
He dismissed Chief Clark as a tribalist and an opportunist and “one of those people in the Niger Delta who parade themselves in oil companies pretending to have control over militants.” He wondered what “this decrepit man can do with all the money he is gathering.”
Of Asari Dokubo, he said: “He is unintelligent and has forgotten the different versions he has given in the past. This man once said I was fighting against Goodluck Jonathan because Jonathan displaced Alamieyeseigha. Another time he said my wife is Itsekiri which was why I supported Itsekiris. My wife is from Enugu.
“He has also said in yet another interview that I am not Ijaw. But Ijaw historians and scholars will tell him that I am a purer Ijaw than he can ever be. Even as I say this I must tell you that the issue of tribe is unimportant to me because I am not tribalistic and regard myself first as a Nigerian before an Ijaw.”
He seems disappointed with Nigeria’s human rights community for showing no interest in his case. According to him, ”I don’t know if any human rights organization in Nigeria has any interest in my case. Most African human rights organizations are lame and can be very easily influenced by governments through bribes and intimidation into ignoring rights abuses. “Citizens of most African countries receive no support from their governments or home NGO’s leaving them open to abuse in foreign prisons.”