Mistranslation of a single word seems to have led to accusations of terrorism against Comrade Sunny Ofehe, a Nigerian activist living in the Netherlands.
Early last year, Comrade Ofehe, who is the Founder and President of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, was charged in the Netherlands with planning to blow up oil pipelines and thus of conspiring to commit terrorist acts in Nigeria’s oil-producing region, the Niger Delta.
In February 2011, almost 30 Dutch police officers stormed Comrade Ofehe’s house and arrested him. “I was locked up for 14 days in solitary confinement and eventually accused of human trafficking, fraud and falsification of documents,” Comrade Ofehe said. “When the State could not establish reasonable proof on these indictments, they came up with terrorism charge in September 2011.”
He said that the charge was brought up to justify the 18 months of wired taps (internet, mobile and landlines), and a surveillance vehicle with hidden cameras in front of his office for six weeks.
Comrade Ofehe said the officers sneaked into his office to install listening devices and even broke into his car to install hidden tracking and listening devices.
“Almost 30 police officers worked on my case, 17 legal folders containing almost 10,000 pages of documents was received by my lawyers from the office of the Public Prosecutor,” he said. “More than a year now, we have only had two pre-trial hearings and are still waiting for the main trial to begin.”
Comrade Ofehe and his lawyers, Ed Manders and Michiel Pennings, asked the court to order the Public Prosecutor Mr. G.R.C. Veurink to send them a full translation of the wired tap conversations upon which his terrorism charge was based.
The translations reveal that Mr. Ofehe was simply talking with a contact in Nigeria to prepare a Dutch journalist’s trip to the Niger Delta in order to witness acts of oil theft.
The journalist, Mark Schenkel, has since been asked to testify before an investigative judge. Asked whether he intended to document acts of terrorism, he told RNW: “No, no I never asked for that. The trip never materialised. It was to get behind the whole illegal oil bunkering story, to witness them in the act of stealing oil.”
Mr. Schenkel said he intended to write an article and perhaps take photos for the newspaper he worked for at that time.
Mr. Ofehe said an inaccurate summary of a tapped telephone call in Pidgin English led to wrongful accusations of terrorism against him.
The incriminating piece that may have led to the terrorism accusation reads as follows: “NN will commission his boys to prepare for the sabotage of oil pipelines near Ekpoma…. Ofehe will make recordings of the whole operation.”
After listening to the recordings in which Mr. Ofehe and his lawyers say there was no mention of sabotage, they requested a new translation from the prosecutor’s office. It reads as follows: “We will go there to inventorise [the place]….You understand. You will inventorise. You will take all your pictures. … I will mobilise my boys.”
“The evidence is simply not in there,” Mr. Manders told RNW after listening to listening to the recordings.
“What first read as a commission to prepare acts of sabotage of oil pipelines near Ekpoma, now reads as they would go to 'inventorise those places,'” he added.
The term 'sabotage' is used consistently in reports on oil theft by Royal Dutch Shell, the main oil operator in Nigeria, when presumed oil thieves are, for example, suspected of drilling holes or inflicting hacksaw cuts in its pipelines to siphon oil.
On 18th June 2012, Mr. Ofehe officially lodged charges against the Public Prosecutor for "falsification of evidence" against him.
“I have always maintained from the first day, that my arrest and indictments are politically motivated,” he said.