Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Okah found guilty of terrorism, faces life jail

NIGER Delta militant leader, Henry Okah, faces life imprisonment in South Africa as a judge in Johannesburg on Monday found him guilty of terrorism charges.
Judge Neels Claassen said the militant leader was guilty of 13 charges ranging from conspiracy to commit terrorism and detonating explosives.
Okah will, however, be sentenced on January 31.
Under the South African law, terrorism charges carry life sentence.
Curiously, most of the ex-militant leaders in the restive Niger Delta on Monday declined comments on the judgment, while some were simply unreachable.
An ex-fighter in Ondo State, Oweikeme Roy, polpularly known as ‘Commander Tracelli’ said Okah conviction was capable of sending his colleagues who had submitted their arms under the amnesty programme of the Federal Government back to the trenches.
Claassen, among others, found Okah guilty of masterminding the twin bombs that went off in Abuja on October 1, 2010, near the Eagle Square venue of the country’s 50th Independence Anniversary.
No fewer than 10 people were killed by the Independence Day blasts.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, of which Okah was said to be the leader, had given warnings of the explosions beforehand and asked that people evacuated the area.
Claassen said South Africa had proved Okah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, adding that the Nigerian’s failure to testify meant evidence against him remained uncontested.
“The evidence that was given by his accomplices was not contradicted,’’ the judge ruled.
The prosecutor, Shaun Arahams, praised the verdict and said that Okah faced a minimum sentence of life imprisonment.
Associated Press quoted Abrahams as saying that, “This is clearly indicative that South Africa cannot be seen as a safe haven for international terrorists.” He praised South African law enforcement agencies for working well with foreign law enforcement “to make sure justice is done in Africa.”
National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman, Phindi Louw, said the State had “a watertight case against Okah”.
“The case proved great results could be achieved if law enforcement agencies worked together,” Louw said.
Spokesperson for the Nigerian State Security Service, Marylyn Ogar, said the verdict meant that terrorists have no hiding place.
“This conviction is a warning that there is no hiding place for terrorists.  Wherever you are, the law will catch up, as it has with Henry Okah,” Ogar said.”
But counsel to Okah’s brother, Charles, in the Nigerian leg of the terrorism trial, Festus Keyamo, faulted the verdict. He said the trial and conviction of Okah were politically motivated.
Keyamo in a statement on Monday said, “The decision of the South African Court that convicted Henry Okah this morning of charges relating to terrorism is politically motivated and legally incorrect.
“As counsel to 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.”
 He added, “Whilst all Nigerians empathise with those who lost their lives and limbs in the October 1, 2010 bombing, it is wrong to convict anybody for it without due process.
“Henry has been convicted without due process.
“I condemn this judgment and call on Nigerians and the international community to condemn the trial and judgment of Henry Okah whose only offence was his refusal to accept the so-called amnesty offered by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration and his insistence on the Niger-Delta controlling its resources.
“With the recent condemnation of Jonathan by some militants who initially accepted the amnesty programme, I am sure they now know that Henry Okah was correct not to have accepted the poisoned chalice called amnesty.
After the guilty finding, Okah was taken to the court holding cells under heavy police guard, the South Africa Press Association reports.
When his wife became emotional, a friend comforted her. They then left the courtroom.
About 10 police officers were in the court, with another four outside while the case was being heard. The main road in front of the court was also closed.
Okah was arrested in Johannesburg one day after the October 1, 2010 bombings.
Roy said Okah was still seen in the Niger Delta as a peace ambassador needed to sustain the ‘fragile peace’ in the region.
Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nengi James, said the conviction of Okah was the handiwork of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
 James said it was a shame that the Federal Government had failed to “push not recent massive bombings across Nigeria with the same vigour it supported the prosecution of suspects of the October 1, 2010, bombing”.
He asked the legal team of Okah to appeal the judgement and ensure that justice was secured for the man he described as Niger Delta freedom fighter.
 Reacting to the verdict on Okah, the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association on Monday said the militant’s conviction in South Africa should send signals to the authorities at home that it was time that that judiciary was overhauled for quick dispensation of justice.
Chairman of the Ikeja NBA, Onyekachi Ubani, said the Nigerian judicial system was slow, ineffective and inefficient to meet the wishes of the citizens. He spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria.
Ubani said if Okah had been charged back home the case would not have reached verdict stage by now.
“His brother and some other persons were arrested and arraigned for the same offence in Nigeria but the matter is still proceeding at a very slow pace”, Ubani said.
Some senior lawyers also on Monday said Nigeria should draw lessons from the conviction.
Chief Emeka Ngige, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, Chief Mike Ahamba and Mr. Yusuf Ali, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in separate telephone interviews with our correspondents agreed that, under international law, the South African court had the jurisdiction to try and convict Okah.
Ngige said that Okah’s conviction should teach Nigerian courts that high profile criminal trials must be prosecuted to conclusion.
He faulted the prevailing situation whereby several high profile cases pending before Nigerian courts had remained inconclusive because both the prosecution and defence opted to play to the gallery.
“It (Okah’s conviction) cannot be said to be a victory for the Nigerian judiciary because he was tried and convicted by a South African court, not a Nigerian court.
“Take note that it took about three years, since the crime took place, before he was convicted because the bomb blast occurred in 2010.
“So what I can say is that Nigerian courts have a lesson to learn and that is that high profile criminal trials must be prosecuted to conclusion and not just media hype and afterwards you will have objections upon objections in the court.
“Here you will even see some accused persons receiving one political appointment or the other,” Ngige said.
Jacobs said, “If we don’t reform our laws and change our attitude, foreign courts will always be helping us. So we have to reform our attitude.
“There have been several bombings in the country in the last few years, yet no conviction till date.
“It is not a victory for Nigerian judiciary if the South Africans convicted Henry Okah. We have to address our attitude.”
On his part, Ahamba noted that Okah’s conviction was a positive development in the global campaign against terrorism.
“It is not victory for anybody except that justice seems to have been done. It is a statement that there is no hiding place for terrorists anywhere in the world today,” he said.
Ali said the conviction was a victory for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and not just the country’s judiciary.
“It is a victory for Nigeria, not just the Nigerian judiciary because the crime in question was a crime committed against Nigeria, “he said.
Ali also agreed that the South African court had the powers to try and convict Okah over the October 1 bombing in Abuja.
He said, “This is a technical matter – an offence could have many aspects and under international law – if you commit an aspect of an offence in a territory other than where the actual offence was carried out, you can be tried in that territory and that is where South Africa came in.
“Although the eventual act took place in Nigeria, the preparation took place in South Africa. That is why in some instances you can have an offence being tried in several places.”
The Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, could not be reached for comments.
Calls placed to his mobile phone did not go through, and an SMS sent to him was not replied.
However, the Chief Press Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Ambrose Momoh, explained that the AGF was not in town.
Asked to make an official comment on the conviction, Momoh told one of our correspondent sthat the AGF was in the best position to formally react to the development.
He promised to get Adoke’s reaction upon his return.

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