Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Bombing: Okah bags 24-yr jail term
A South African court has jailed a Nigerian national, Henry Okah, for 24 years after he was convicted of 13 terrorism charges over twin bombings in Abuja in 2010.
“Effectively, the accused Okah is, therefore, sentenced to 24 years imprisonment,” said Judge Neels Claassen, on Tuesday.
The charges were related to two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, in which 12 people were killed and 36 injured on October 1, 2010, the anniversary of the country’s independence.
The second bombing took place in Warri on March 15, 2010 at a post amnesty dialogue meeting. One person was killed and 11 seriously injured.
In both bombings, two car bombs went off minutes apart in both places. The cars were parked in close proximity to each other.
Claassen 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.
The 13 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.
In January, during judgment, Claassen said the state had proved Okah’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and his failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
Okah had denied any involvement, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated.
Meanwhile, counsel for Charles, Henry Okah’s brother, who is also facing terrorism charge in Nigeria, Festus Keyamo, while reacting to the judgment, stated that: “On Monday, January 21, 2013, I released a statement where I condemned the trial and conviction of Henry Okah in South Africa.
I am also compelled to condemn the decision to sentence Henry Okah to 24 years imprisonment today which is a fallout of the earlier trial which was totally flawed.
The reasons I gave in January for condemning the conviction are the same reasons I give now for condemning the sentence. For the avoidance of doubt, I reproduce my earlier statement hereunder:
“As counsel for Charles Okah and others who are facing the same set of charges under Nigerian laws, I have been actively involved in coordinating the trials both in South Africa and in Nigeria.
“The fundamental flaw in the trial is that Henry Okah was not given adequate facilities and the opportunity to defend himself. This is because after the prosecution closed its case in South Africa, the defence attorneys and my chambers here in Abuja tried frantically to summon the witnesses of Henry Okah who are based here in Nigeria to testify on his behalf. These witnesses include some government officials.
“In this regard, we wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation who replied and directed that Henry’s counsel in South Africa should apply to the court there for an order to secure the legal assistance of the Attorney-General of Nigeria. This was only two weeks ago.
“Without giving Henry’s counsel in South Africa adequate time and facilities to follow the directives, the South African court foreclosed his opportunity to call witnesses and rushed to convict him. This is a breach of his fundamental right to fair hearing and an obvious attempt by the South African authorities to please Nigeria at all cost. That is why the judgment is nothing but political.
ACN legal adviser reacts
Also reacting to the jail term handed down to Henry Okah, a law scholar and National Legal Adviser of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Dr Muiz Banire, described it as another wake- up call for the Nigerian judiciary and a testament to what is fundamental flawed in the Nigerian process.
“It is disheartening that it is now taking foreign courts to help us punish crimes committed by Nigerians and when the James Ibori’s conviction in the United Kingdom is added to the current scenario, a disturbing pattern is emerging that should be immediately tackled by the leadership of the Nigerian judiciary,” he said.
Also, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it was disappointed at the 24 years sentence slammed on Okah after a sham trial in a South African kangaroo court.
MEND, through its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, in a statement said the sentence did not come as a surprise to the group, accusing the Federal Government of influencing the verdict.
“We are disappointed but not surprised that the South African judiciary has allowed itself to be compromised by the highly corrupt Nigerian government.
“The governments of South Africa and Nigerian should realise that this planned sentencing of Henry Okah would not in any way, shape or form, change our struggle as we will remain dedicated to our cause until we achieve full justice and emancipation for the Niger Delta and its people,” MEND declared.