At 46, Henry Okah, a visible face in the struggle in the Niger Delta for equality and social justice, is to spend 24 years in jail in South Africa. Unless there is an intervention that favours him at the appellate court, what this means is that he will become a free man in his 60s.
To the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which Okah leads, this is a hard blow to their morale and the display of good faith in their acceptance of the amnesty programme of the Federal Government. And to the relatives of those that lost their lives and the injured at Eagle Square on October 1, 2010, the event in South Africa means that justice has been served to the leader of the militant group.
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The worst came for Okah on March 26 when Judge Nels Claassen convicted him of 13 charges of terrorism, including the bombing that killed 12 people in Abuja on October 1, 2010. In reaching his decision, Claassen said, "I have come to the conclusion that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused, who claimed that he knew nothing of any of these bombings, especially in Warri and Abuja".
Nigeria's golden jubilee celebration was disrupted by the attack within the vicinity of Eagle Square, which MENDS claimed responsibility for. The group had earlier claimed that it disrupted the March 2010 Post-Amnesty Dialogue Conference organized by Vanguard Newspapers in Warri, Delta State. Whether the group was posturing or not, what is known is that Okah was opposed to the idea of the amnesty offered by the Federal Government to militants willing to lay down their arms, in a bid to end attacks on oil companies and their installations.
MEND emerged in 2006 with the goal to attack the interests and operations of foreign oil in the Niger Delta. The establishment of MEND redefined the nature and character of the struggle in the Niger Delta, as the militant group mounted a sophisticated media campaign to support its rebellion. It embarked on acts of sabotage, and kidnapping of foreign oil workers. On several occasions, it claimed responsibility for attacks on oil companies whom it accused of exploiting the local populace. The attacks on oil infrastructure reduced Nigeria's daily production to about one quarter of the normal production.
The travails of Henry Okah
Okah, first arrested in Angola and deported to Nigeria in February 2008, and charged with 62 counts of treason, terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and arms trafficking, faced the death penalty. But on July 13, 2009, Judge Mohammed Liman declared him a free man. Liman declared: "Having reviewed what the attorney general said, you have become a free man at this moment." The trial, which began in April 2008, was held in private, because the late President Umau Yar' Adua argued that open trial would "jeopardize national security."
His wife, Azuka, who hails from Enugu State and married the MEND leader in 1999, obtained a degree in education (finance) from the University of Benin, Benin City. She lived with him in Jo' Borg, South Africa. She believed that the trial of her husband was political and he was being sacrificed to appease some powerful individuals and corporate interests in Nigeria. Two Lagos lawyers, Femi Falana,(SAN), and Mr. Festus Keyamo, as well as MEND have denounced the jailing of Okah in South Africa, believing that it was more of a political trial than legally justifiable.
In Nigeria, there has not been any conviction of key suspects in the series of terrorist attacks. There has also not been any headway in the high profile murder cases. Former Information Minister, Professor Walter Ofonagoro, believes that the handling of security issues in Nigeria has been tainted with tardiness, indolence and corruption, as can be seen in the handling of the prime suspect of the Madallah Christmas day bombing, Mr. Kabiru Sokoto, who was arrested and escaped the first time and when he was re-arrested, the prosecutors appear to be tardy in preparing charges against him.
He said in the same way, the prosecutors of the suspects in the murder of Engr Funsho Williams, a Lagos politician, had been unserious in the way they handled the case in the past six years, yet the country seems to be giving the impression that it is serious about fighting terrorism. Director General of NIIA, Prof. Bola Akintrinwa,on his part, is of the view that it is ridiculous for some people to think of amnesty for terrorists in Nigeria, especially those who have been apprehended for the crime, while Okah has been jailed in South Africa.