Al Jazeera gains exclusive access to a Mend training camp in the Niger Delta.
Henry Okah, the former alleged Mend leader, speaks exclusively to Al Jazeera from prison in South Africa
The former leader of Nigeria’s armed group has said he was arrested because he refused to tell the group to retract a statement claiming responsibility for last week’s deadly attacks in the capital, Abuja.
Henry Okah, currently being held in jail in South Africa, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that he received a phone call from a “close associate” of Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, telling him to urge the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) to withdraw its claim for the bombings, which killed at least 10 people and left 36 others injured on the 50th anniversay of Nigeria’s independence.
“On Saturday morning, just a day after the attack, a very close associate of President Jonathan called me and explained to me that there had been a bombing in Nigeria and that President Jonathan wanted me to reach out to the group, Mend, and get them to retract the earlier statement they had issued claiming the attacks,” Okah said.
“They wanted to blame the attacks on northerners who are trying to fight against him [Jonathan] to come back as president and if this was done, I was not going to have any problems with the South African government.
“I declined to do this and a few hours later I was arrested. It was based on their belief that I was going to do that that Jonathan issued a statement saying that Mend did not carry out the attack.”
Jonathan, who hails from the country’s south and has declared his intentions to stand in next year’s presidential election, said investigations had revealed Mend, which is fighting for a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth, knew nothing about the attacks.
He said the bombings had been carried out by a small group based outside Nigeria, sponsored by “unpatriotic elements within the country”.
Nigeria will be holding elections in January almost a year after Jonathan assumed the presidency after the incumbent president failed to complete his term due to illness and eventual death.
Jonathan’s predecessor, Umaru Yaradua, came from the northern state of Katsina and Nigeria has an unwritten agreement for the presidency to alternate between the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south.
Al Jazeera did not get any immediate reaction from the Nigerian government about Okah’s claims.
Meanwhile, the authorities have released nine people they arrested in connection with the bomb blasts on Monday, including an aide for Ibrahim Babangida, the country’s former military leader.
Raymond Dokpesi, the director of Babandida’s campaign to become the ruling party presidential candidate, was questioned by the country’s intelligence services over the blasts, an aide said on Tuesday.
Dokpesi, who also owns one of Nigeria’s leading television and radio stations, was summoned to the State Security Services (SSS) on Monday, Kassim Afegbua, a spokesman for Babangida, told the AFP news agency.
“He was released yesterday and is to report back today at about 3’oclock (1400 GMT),” Afegbua said.
“They said it is to do with complicity in the bomb incident of October 1.”
Several media reports on Tuesday said text messages found on the mobile phone of one of the nine suspects arrested by the state secret police led to the summoning of Dokpesi.