Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a human rights activist from Akwa Ibom State and Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD), explains to NSE PETER, the editor of Think Akwa Ibom! why Nigerians must rise up and put pressure on Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, for Odudu Ukpanah, the son of the slain PDP chieftain, Albert Ukpanah, to be released from Prison.
We are aware that you visited Odudu Ukpanah in the prison. How was your meeting with him?
Let me begin by saying that I got to know about this Odudu Ukpanah’s case last December through the social media when the sisters of Odudu got frustrated by the inaction of Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio to their diplomatic cries for justice. In less than 24 hours after they spoke out, I got calls from all over the country requesting my intervention. The family contacted me and sought my intervention. To your question, I first met Odudu in Court in Abak Local Government Area on 15th December, 2014, when his case first came up for hearing. I met him again on 25th December, 2014 when I went to spend Christmas with him. I met him for the third time few days ago when I led the Human Rights Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association led by its National Chairman and 1st Vice President of the NBA, Barr Francis Ekwere, to discuss with him. My meetings with him only fortified my resolve to stand by him to the end. I can stake my neck for his innocence.
How is his health?
Odudu is presently suffering from an ailment which developed while he was in the UK for his Masters Degree. The condition is such that the Prison authorities had to write to the relevant quarters since they lack the requisite facilities to cater for his ailment. In fact, the hospital that he was rushed to when he collapsed in the UK had to send a report down here. Do you know that he also collapsed in the Ikot Ekpene Medium Prison? I am making this public so that Nigerians will know that the life of an innocent and promising citizen is at stake. It is that serious. The last time we were in court, he could barely walk. The court had to allow him to sit which is only a privilege for accused persons.
The advocacy for Odudu’s release seems to have taken the form of attacks against Gov. Godswill Akpabio, instead of appeal to the governor?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. For me, the era of appealing to the conscience of the oppressors is over. If Akpabio had conscience, Odudu would not have been detained in the first place given the plausible, cogent and verifiable fact that his father was assassinated by ‘politically motivated assassins’. I did not originate this, the Police Investigation Report dated 25th March, 2014 and signed by the IPO, Sgt. Ibediro Nnamdi, said that clearly. The report went further to recommend that further investigation be carried out to unravel the real killers of the late outspoken chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Engr. Albert Jimmy Ukpanah. We have had countless assassinations in Akwa Ibom State since 2007. Quoting an annual report by the Nigeria Police Force, a Sunday Punch report of November 21, 2010 (page 3) said Akwa Ibom State had the highest record of politically motivated killings. The report said that in 2009 alone, Akwa Ibom recorded 177 murders, most of which are said to be politically motivated. So, if they are saying that Odudu, the only son of his father and a Masters Degree holder in Oil and Gas Management from Coventry University, UK, killed his own father, are they also saying that the other persons that have been murdered in the state were also killed by their children? So, if people are attacking Akpabio it is as a result of provocation, and provocation is a strong defence in law. I cannot beg Akpabio to do what is right. It is an obligation that he swore to perform. In any case, respect is earned not forced.
Why do you think it took Odudu’s family so long before they raised alarm against his continuous detention, if they knew that he was innocent?
Looking at the totality of the circumstances of this case and the status of the persons involved, what did you expect them to do? You know that Akwa Ibom State is one strange land where the average person dreads the government. It is a state where the mass of the people see the governor as a god who can give and take life at will. Very few people in that state can stand up to injustice and speak truth to power. Again I think that they were equally credulous by thinking that with time, Governor Akpabio will let sanity prevail. People kept telling them not to speak out given what befell their father as a result of speaking out.
Is there any prospect that he may be released soon?
I have no doubt in my mind that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The judiciary remains the last hope of the common man and we are confident that the court will live up to its sacred responsibility as the guardian of the Constitution and the comforter of the oppressed. The ruling on his bail application was slated for Wednesday 7th January, 2014, but it was stalled by the strike by judicial workers. Beyond this, we are hopeful that our campaigns will not be in vain.
You’ve been in constant touch with Odudu’s sisters – Uduak and Ofonime. Do you know if they have received any threat message since they started this public campaign for the release of their brother?
You cannot confront evil without receiving threats from the evil ones. I can confirm to you that one of the three sisters of Odudu, Ofonime Pushie Ukpanah has been threatened by some female relatives of the Governor. But there is no cause for alarm because the cause we are fighting is a just cause. Those who think they own Akwa Ibom State will never prevail.
How about you? Have you received any threat message?
My brother, threats mean nothing to me. If you look into my antecedents you will see that I am not someone that any mortal can threaten into submission, I have passed that level. This is not the first battle that I have taken up so why should I border myself about these little tyrants. There is no day that people do not advise me to be careful, but I always tell them that only God can protect me.
There are some persons who believe that the #ReleaseOduduUkpanah campaign may complicate issues for Odudu in detention?
Those people are slaves in love with their chains. How can people be thinking in such defeatist manner after Odudu has spent eight months in custody? I respect their view but I defer totally from them. It was the Great Lord Denning MR who posited in the popular case of R versus Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ex parte Blackburn that “silence is not an option when things are ill-done”. We cannot keep quiet over this case because that will amount to setting a dangerous and cancerous precedent.
What would you say to people out there who may believe that Odudu could possibly have a hand in his father’s death?
I am yet to see a single person with that belief, but in case there is one, I will advise the person to read the Police Investigation Report dated 25th March, 2014 and signed by the IPO, Sgt. Ibediro Nnamdi. The report clearly stated that the assassination of the slain outspoken politician was politically motivated and also recommended that further investigation be carried out to unravel the real killers of Hon. Engr. Albert Jimmy Ukpanah. I also wish to let such a person know that Section. 36 ( 5 ) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended ) presumes Odudu innocent until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Elections are around the corner. What political impact do you think Odudu Ukpanah’s detention would likely have on Governor Godswill Akpabio?
There is a popular view that Odudu Ukpanah’s detention has offered credulous Nigerians the opportunity to truly appraise the character of Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio. Those who were seduced by the government’s populist propaganda have been so shamed by this case. Also, the governor has used his hands to put his name on the global record of heartless human rights violators. I know countless people who prior to this case were sympathetic to the governor but today, they do not want to hear the name Godswill Obot Akpabio. I strongly believe that the Governor will give account of his role in this case before God. So the game is up for governor Akpabio.
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