Forty-five days after being found guilty of terrorism, Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) was sentenced by a South African court yesterday to 24 years in jail. He was convicted of 13 terrorism charges over deadly twin bomb attacks in Abuja in 2010. One of them was the bombing of the United Nations (UN) building in the federal capital.
Twelve people were killed in the attacks as Nigeria was celebrating its 50th independence anniversary. The court said that Okah showed little remorse during the trial, and that his intentions in the bombings were to “obtain maximum casualties. Effectively, the accused Okah is therefore, sentenced to 24 years imprisonment,” said Judge Neels Claassen at the Johannesburg court. MEND which in 2010 was a well-equipped armed group fighting for a greater share of the Niger Delta oil wealth, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Okah, who has permanent residency in South Africa, has denied any involvement in the bombings and of being the leader of MEND, claiming the charges against him were politically-motivated. The 46-year-old Okah was also found guilty over two explosions in March 2010 in Warri, Delta State. The prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, said that the sentence included 12 years each for the Warri and Abuja attacks. He was also sentenced to 10 years for being a threat to South Africa, a term that will run concurrently. Abrahams said the prosecution which had asked for a maximum of life in prison, will consider appealing the sentence.
Okah is the first foreign national to be tried for terrorism in South Africa. He has been in custody since his arrest in October 2010, a day after the Abuja bombings. Okah did not testify during trial, prompting the judge to say that his failure to take the stand meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
He has had several run-ins with the law. In September 2007, he was arrested for arms and explosives trafficking in Angola and later extradited to Nigeria. Police identified him as “an international gun-runner and a major oil bunkerer in the Niger Delta.” Recall that on January 21 this year, Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism including delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.