Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo is expected to be subpoena Tuesday to testify in the treason trial of Henry Okah, leader of the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Attorneys for the former rebel MEND leader say they will also invite representatives of foreign oil firms to testify in the trial. MEND has been on a campaign of sabotage against oil wells in the restive Niger Delta. The campaign is believed to have helped cut Nigeria's oil production as well as drive up worldwide crude oil prices.
Okah, who is being secretly tried in the central Nigerian city of Jos, could face the death penalty if convicted on the treason charges he faces. Some political observers blame former President Obasanjo for failing to deal decisively with MEND after the group reportedly resorted to the use of violence and intimidation, against both local and foreign workers in the restive oil-rich Niger Delta region. Professor Kaburi Mato is a senior political science professor at Nigeria's University of Abuja. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Kaduna that it was unlikely the former president would appear in person to testify in court.
"I think in all honesty and in ordinary sense there is nothing wrong with the former president to appear before a court of competent jurisdiction to testify on a very sensitive issue of Henry Okah that borders around allegations of attempts to cause disunity and it is a treason trial perhaps that the gentleman is facing. If he believes that there are a lot of information that former President Obasanjo would be able to help the court in prosecuting its case, I think there is nothing ordinarily wrong for the former president to appear," Mato said.
He said some Nigerians blame the former president for failing to deal with the problems posed by MEND in the Niger Delta region when he was the president.
"I would agree also very sincerely that the aggravation of the crisis in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria was certainly caused by Obasanjo in the eight years of his misrule of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. The case is before court and I wouldn't really know what Henry's people would like Obasanjo to say or what the court would want to try to find out from the former president. But all I know is that it is not likely that the president will honor the invitation of the court," he noted.
Mato said some so-called big men feel sometimes that they are above the law in Nigeria.
"What is happening in Nigeria is that theoretically, everybody is equal before the law, but in practical terms, there are some Nigerians really who are above the law. And I would like to think that former President Obasanjo is really one of these people," Mato said.
He reiterated that the chances of the former president testifying in any Nigerian court are very slim.
"If we visit on the perception that the present president and the tremendous regard that he has for General Obasanjo especially, if we take into cognizance the very dubious and obnoxious manner that the current government came into force. So, I believe he is above the law. I believe that if he fails to appear there is virtually nothing that can be done about it. But I don't think he would even be there so lets even not begin to deceive ourselves that we would see Obasanjo in a Jos High Court or anywhere for that matter whiles the case is being tried," he pointed out.
He said former President Obasanjo could have done better to resolving the military crisis in the Niger Delta region when he was in power.
"The Niger Delta crisis became seriously aggravated from 1999 to 2007. And it has to do with the swelling prices oil prices in the international market, and the very lackadaisical manner in which the government of Obasanjo really approached the issue. They encouraged "oil boom carrying, illegal boom carrying " and they had what we call legal boom carrying to the extend that this young people in the Niger Delta who were really victims of squalor as a result of poor policies of state resorted to protected arms struggle. And in the process they took a lot of oil and sold a lot of oil and they made tremendous wealth out of it they bought a lot of ammunitions. And they were able to effectively carry out whatever threats they wanted to do," he said.