The Nigerian terrorist and leader of the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) Henry okah was sentenced to 24 Years in Prison over the 2010 Independence Day Bombing.
Although Henry Okah’s long jail term could lessen agitation in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government still has a lot to do to bring lasting peace to the country.
Read after the cut the End of the road for a bomber...
With Tuesday’s conviction and eventual 24 -year jail term slammed on Henry Okah by a South African court, the legal battle on the culpability or otherwise of the leader of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta in the October 1, 2010 bomb attacks in Abuja, may have been laid to rest. Though, 48-year-old Okah only told South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, South Africa, that his trial was politically motivated, this did not stop the judge, Neels Classen, from convicting him of bombings.
MEND had few hours after a twin bomb blasts left 12 people died and scores injured on Nigeria’s Independence Day in 2010 in Abuja, claimed responsibility for the act.
The court had, on January 21, found Okah guilty on 13 counts charges of terrorism, conspiracy to engage in terrorist’s activities and delivering, placing and detonating an explosive device. The charges, the court stated, related the car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, in which 12 people were killed and 36 injured on 1 October 2010 and the March 15, 2010 bombing that took place in Warri, Delta State, during a post-amnesty dialogue meeting in which one person died and 11 others injured.
Delivering judgment on Tuesday, Claassen, who sentenced Okah to 12 years imprisonment for each of the bombings and 13 years for the threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010, stated that the prosecution had proved their case beyond reasonable doubt.
The 13 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.
Claassen said Okah’s failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
The court also established that Okah was the former leader of MEND.
The judge, however, added that he found “compelling circumstances” justifying a lesser sentence, City Press reports.
According to him, it will be wrong for the court to turn a blind eye to the fact that the “struggle in Nigeria was for a good cause” and said it was important to “balance Okah’s political intentions with the violent nature of his crimes”.
South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority says it may appeal against the sentence – it had wanted a life jail for the convict.
Prosecutors have argued that although Okah is not a South African citizen, the country had the jurisdiction to try him under the International Co-operation in Criminal Matters Act.
Observers had expressed the belief that it would have been too dangerous to try Okah in Nigeria because of the presence of his militant supporters.
But in spite of Okah’s conviction, pundits still express doubt whether this could bring lasting peace to Nigeria in general and the Niger Delta in particular. This scepticism is hinged on the presence of some militants who still have sympathy for Okah. Though his arrest, trial cum long imprisonment term and the 2009 amnesty granted militants by the Nigerian government in 2009 could have lessened violence, observers say the Federal Government should not rejoice yet. This, they say, is because there are still threats of instability in the Niger Delta while the activities of the Boko Haram Islamic sect are already threatening the peaceful co-existence of the Nigerian nation.
Part of the calculation is that if the Nigerian government desires lasting peace, it should passionately fight corruption and empower the restive youths by providing them with qualitative education and gainful employment. It is also being argued that all the factors that led to the agitation in the Niger Delta should be sincerely addressed. True federalism, where each region should be controlling its resources as it was during the nation’s First Republic, should be adopted. All divisive tendencies and resort to ethno-religious sentiments to settle political scores should be eliminated while rule of law should be upheld. Visionary leaders that will drive national development should be encouraged through adherence to vibrant democratic ideals, many people have noted.
Okah was arrested on gun-running charges in Angola in 2007 and deported to Nigeria in February 2008. He was charged with 62 counts of terrorism, treason, illegal possession of firearms and arms trafficking. He claimed to be “championing the cause of the disenfranchised residents of the Delta region, who see little benefit from the oil being pumped out from under them.” But he was never convicted.
This is because he was released from prison after an amnesty initiative for oil militants by the late President Umar Musa YarÁdua. He returned to South Africa, where he had lived since 2003.
Okah’s MEND and other militant groups have been fighting for the emancipation of Niger Delta from environmental degradation and political marginalisation. But while the fight was on, some criminal gangs took advantage of the zone’s instability to make money. This, they did, by oil pipeline vandalisation, oil theft, kidnapping of expatriate workers and collection of ransoms from oil companies. MEND introduced a violent dimension to the agitation when it started bombing oil installations and capped it with the October 1, and March 15 bombings which led to the killings of some people. Nigeria also lost oil revenue estimated to be over $1bn to the agitation.
The man Okah
•Grew up in a wealthy Lagos family
•1990: Allegedly sold guns in Lagos
•2003: Moved to South Africa
•Seen as man behind MEND’s media-savvy e-mail strategy
•2007: Arrested on gun-running charges in Angola
•2008: Extradited to Nigeria, tried but not convicted
•2009: Freed under amnesty the day after MEND staged first attack on Lagos
•2010: Charged in South Africa over Abuja car bombing
•2013: Convicted in South Africa on 13 counts of terrorism-related charges
By Segun Olugbile
Source: The Punch