A detained loyalist of former governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, Mr. Jonah Okah, who was recently arrested and arraigned for alleged defamation, has accused Governor Seriake Dickson of being behind his ordeal. Okah made the allegation in a press statement he smuggled out from his prison cell in Yenagoa on Monday.
Okah who is a civil servant in the state was arrested in Yenagoa on August 31 by the police and detained at the State Criminal Investigation Department for allegedly defaming the Government House accountant, Mr. Richard Etonye, in a Facebook post. The post in question involved an alleged conversation between Okah, a former aide to Sylva, and Etonye regarding a purported missing $4.6 million said to belong to Dickson.
The Dickson government has imputed political motives to Okah’s Facebook post on the alleged missing money in several press statements. And many believe that it was the governor who actually ordered the arrest of Okah, whose former principal had opposed Dickson at the last governorship election in the state as candidate of All Progressives Congress. The victory of Dickson, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, in that election is still being contested in the court by Sylva. But the governor has been accused of hounding loyalists of his opponent.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, said in a statement on September 3 that Okah was not being prosecuted by the Bayelsa State government, and the government was not an interested party in the case.
But in the release by Okah, he accused Dickson of direct involvement in the matter and judicial manipulation on purpose to punish a perceived loyalist of his political opponent. Okah denied the political imputations by the state government, saying the government’s statements and attitude to the alleged defamation case supposedly involving civil servants confirm that the governor is the one sponsoring the trial.
Okah stated, “If the ‘state government is not an interested party,’ as claimed, and Governor Dickson is not the one levering this persecution against me, then:
“In a case of misdemeanor between two civil servants, what is the state government’s interest in clamping down on me with a contingent of armed security personnel?
“In a case of defamation involving two civil servants, what is government’s interest in directing a non-civil servant, political appointee, and Solicitor-General/Permanent Secretary to write a petition against me to the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, claiming that I defamed one Richard Etonye? Whose interest was my illegal arrest meant to serve?”
Okah also queried the involvement of state counsels in a private case between civil servants and accused the governor of conspiring with the magistrate to detain him without “adequate time and facilities” for his defence.
The full text of the statement reads:
“ Since my arrest on August 31 and subsequent unconstitutional detention/remand at Okaka prison in Yenagoa over an alleged defamatory post on Facebook about the chief accountant of Government House, Yenagoa, one Richard Etonye, said to be a cousin of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, the state government has issued a series of press statements on the matter. The government has tried to make it a political issue between two civil servants, Richard Etonye against Jonah Okah, while at the same time claiming that I am being sponsored by former Governor Timipre Sylva and the All Progressive Congress. This is a blatant fabrication meant to give me a bad name and try to justify the government’s deliberate agenda of persecution against me and others in the state that hold contrary views.
The falsehood vended by the state government has also tried to hide the fact that the said post did not originate the controversial story, it was merely a commentary on an alleged financial scam that was already in the public domain, having being published by at least a national newspaper and an online news medium.
Let me state categorically that neither Chief Timipre Sylva nor APC has a hand in the issue, which the Dickson government has, interestingly, also admitted is a matter between two civil servants. But despite that admission, and contrary to a statement by the governor’s aide that “Mr. Jonah Okah is not being prosecuted by the state government,” and that the “state government is not an interested party in the matter,” the government has made a calculated attempt to magnify and make the matter appear as a political case. The governor has not hidden his bias, interest, and direct involvement in the matter.
Governor Dickson has shown clearly that he is behind my ordeal in this phantom case of defamation.
For the avoidance of doubt, the charge preferred against me is defamation in a Facebook post and misdemeanor, allegations that I am most justifiably innocent of. Besides, this is not a criminal case, but a civil one, which the government is manipulating to score a cheap political point. The issue at hand is a private matter bothering on alleged civil wrong. However, the legal and judicial processes are being compromised by restricting a free flow of justice in an unjust manner.
If the “state government is not an interested party,” as claimed, and Governor Dickson is not the one levering this persecution against me, then:
- In a case of misdemeanor between two civil servants, what is the state government’s interest in clamping down on me with a contingent of armed security personnel?
- In a case of defamation involving two civil servants, what is government’s interest in directing a non-civil servant, political appointee, and Solicitor-General/Permanent Secretary to write a petition against me to the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, claiming that I defamed one Richard Etonye? Whose interest was my illegal arrest meant to serve?
- What is government’s interest in releasing three press statements against me over a matter involving two civil servants?
- Why was I arraigned on a curious day and time outside the sitting schedule of the magistrate and, subsequently, remanded in prison in a manner not prescribed by law, while several suspects in criminal cases are being remanded at various police stations across the state? The magistrate’s sitting days, according to her schedule, are normally only Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But she was influenced by the state government to sit on that Thursday, September 1, 2016 just to keep me behind bars and deny me “adequate time and facilities” for the preparation of my defence, as guaranteed under section 36 (6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution. The intention of these ambassadors of ridicule is to rob me of the good name and integrity I have worked hard to build. They are simply out to not only humiliate and embarrass me, but also insult my integrity, legal profession and personality.
- What is government’s interest in hiring the pro-Dickson government medium, AIT, specifically to cover and give the widest publicity to the attempt to portray me as a common criminal? Interestingly, it has become a trademark of the government of Governor Dickson to malign and incarcerate perceived close associates of former Governor Timipre Sylva.
- Why is there a delegation of state counsels representing one party in a civil matter of defamation involving two civil servants?
These are questions begging for answer.
This chain of illegal activities by the Bayelsa State government is, clearly, a calculated persecution of former close aides of Chief Timipre Sylva who are perceived as still loyal to him. The government should stop exposing the Bayelsa State judiciary to public ridicule and crisis of confidence by interfering with the judicial process, as it has openly displayed so far.
The world is watching with keen interest the orchestrated trial of Mr. Jonah Okah in Bayelsa State. Everyone knows I am innocent until proven guilty, as provided by section 36 (5) of 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The party – the Government House accountant Richard Etonye – who feels affected by a media publication and a harmless comment on the basis of the publication should be free to express his constitutional, legal and human rights in court as provided by law. But the attempt by the Dickson government to hold one party down and sponsor his prosecution and persecution on behalf of the other party, while manipulating the judicial process for maximum effect, is to say the least frightening. It insults everything the judiciary stands for.
JONAH OKAH, ESQ.
Okaka Prisons, Yenagoa
September 5, 2016”