Henry Okah’s Conviction Politically Motivated – Lawyer
Festuse Keyamo, defense counsel to Nigerian militant leader, Henry Okah who was convicted by a South African court for masterminding the Independence Day bombing in 2012 has kicked against the conviction which he described as politically motivated. A statement the lawyer issued today reads: “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.
In this regard, we wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation who replied and directed that Henry’s counsel in South Africa 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 (please, find attached a copy of the letter from the Attorney-General of the Federation to my office and note that the date on the letter was mistakenly given as 8th January, 2012 instead of 2013.)
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. 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.
The Nigerian government must immediately use all diplomatic efforts to ensure that Henry Okah does not die in a South African prison and for the South African government to grant him unconditional pardon. This is without prejudice to his right to appeal against the judgment.”
Okah’s brother, Charles is still standing trial along with others for similar charges at an Abuja high court.
It will be recalled that Henry Okah found guilty of masterminding the 2010 car bombing which killed 12 people was convicted of 13 counts related to acts of terrorism. He was arrested in Johannesburg a day after two car bombs exploded during the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence.
He had denied the charges and militant group Mend said it had carried out the attack. Okah has always denied being Mend’s leader. Johannesburg High Court Judge Neels Claassen convicted Okah on charges ranging from conspiracy to commit terrorism to detonating explosives.
“I have come to the conclusion that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused,” Judge Claassen said, AFP news agency reports.
Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told AP news agency that Okah faced life in prison. South Africa worked closely with foreign law enforcement agencies “to make sure justice is done in Africa,” he said. “This [conviction] is clearly indicative that South Africa cannot be seen as a safe haven for international terrorists,” Mr Abrahams said.
Okah was arrested on gun-running charges in Angola in 2007 and then transferred to Nigeria but never convicted. He was released after two years under an amnesty for oil militants and he returned to South Africa, where he had lived since 2003. Mend says it is fighting so that more of Nigeria’s massive oil wealth is used to benefit the Niger Delta area which produces the oil.
But criminal gangs have taken advantage of the region’s instability to make money from ransoms paid by oil companies, and by stealing oil. The violence subsided significantly after the government offered militants an amnesty in 2009. At its peak, the instability in the Niger Delta cost Nigeria about $1bn (£630m) in lost revenue, Reuters news agency quotes the central bank as saying. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer, but most of its people live in poverty.
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