Tuesday 22 January 2013

Abuja bombings: South Africa court convicts Okah

The alleged mastermind of the twin car bombings that killed 12  people in Abuja on October 1, 2010, Mr. Henry Okah, was yesterday convicted of 13 terrorism charges by a South African court.
Okah was found guilty of engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy  to engage in terrorist activity, and delivering, placing, and detonating  an explosive device.
The South Africa-based Okah, who has been  facing trial for complicity in the gruesome attacks during the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence and  other related bomb attacks, was arrested in Johannesburg a day after  the incident in Abuja.
He was subsequently made to face the wrath of the law by the South  African prosecutors that summarily charged him with terrorism.
Before handing down the verdict, the South Gauteng High Court,  Judge Neels Claassen, said the state proved Okah’s guilt beyond a  reasonable doubt, adding that the accused’s failure to testify meant  evidence against him remained uncontested.
He was, therefore, found guilty of masterminding attacks, including the twin  car bombings that killed 12 people in Abuja on October 1, 2010, and two explosions in March 2010, in Warri, Delta state.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group fighting for a greater share of the Delta oil wealth, had claimed  responsibility for the attacks.
Okah denied involvement in the blasts and said the charges were  politically motivated. He also denied leading MEND, but had said he  sympathised with their goals.
However, the South African court found that Okah was the leader of the  movement after uncovering documentary evidence, including his  wife’s hand-written notes.
South Africa has tried him as part of its international obligation, as  the Nigerian authorities had not applied for his extradition, according  to the prosecution.
According to eye witness account, shortly after the guilty verdict,  Okah was taken to the court holding cells under heavy police guard.
Meanwhile, in a sharp reaction to the judgement, the leadership of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Bayelsa state has urged Okah’s lawyer to appeal the judgement.
Its state chairman, Mr Nengi James, who spoke to Blueprint yesterday in Yenagoa, argued that the federal government had not been pursuing the recent bombings and killings across the nation with the same vigour it exhibited on the October 1, 2010, bombing in Abuja.
James said the matter was far belated, stressing that there was a conspiracy to nail Okah in the case.
The activist recalled that the bombing of the United Nations building and the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja, including several attacks on churches in the northern part of the country, were established cases of terrorism, but the federal government was yet to prosecute the offenders.
Also, a rights activist and environmentalist in the Niger Delta, Mr Alagoa Morris, reasoned that Okah’s arrest, detention and conviction had the strong support of the federal government.
He said: “Though he is found guilty, I enjoin his counsel to appeal the case, because as far as the matter at hand is, it is far from over. Man may found him guilty, but God won’t, because there is a lot of conspiracy in the matter.
“Since the Independence Day bombing, many bombings have happened and nothing has been done to prosecute those behind them. We heard that they have escaped from prison. You will recall the UN building, churches in the North, but where are the people involved?
“The truth of the matter is, if they pick on you in Nigeria, they will jail you and the bottom line is some Nigerian officials, some persons are involved in making sure Henry Okah is jailed.”

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