31 January 2013

South Africa: Okah 'Will Work for Peace'

Johannesburg — Convicted Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah will work with the country's government to bring peace to the region, the High Court in Johannesburg heard on Thursday.

"Mr Okah will work with the Nigerian government in the peace processes," said Okah's attorney Lucky Maunatlala, as he argued for a postponement of his sentencing.

"We can't take the threats that were made lightly. He [Okah] feels that he will be able to assist the government and calm the situation down."

Maunatlala was arguing for the sentencing to be postponed to give enough time for witnesses to come from Nigeria and America to testify in mitigation of sentence.

He was referring to threats allegedly made by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) on January 23, that the South African judiciary should "stay away from events that happened in Nigeria or else some South Africans will pay dearly for it".

However, Judge Neels Claassen told Maunatlala that Okah should prove his influence and tell whoever made the threats to retract them.

"If he has the influence for them to withdraw those threats, then I can believe he has the power to help in assistance to resolve disputes," he said.

Okah's wife, Azuka Okah, sat in court dressed in white and with sunglasses. She shook her head and put her head in her hands a few times during proceedings.

State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams opposed Okah's application for a postponement, saying he was "playing for time" and that a day had been wasted.

He argued that Okah, who claimed he was never given a chance to provide his side of the story, should take the stand and testify.

Claassen postponed the matter to Friday at 10am. He said Okah's attorney had to take the stand to explain what communication there had been with potential witnesses to guarantee they would come to South Africa.

"I want to hear what steps were taken to get hold of witnesses and in what way they will argue in mitigation," Claassen said.

He would only be able to rule on the application after gaining clarity from Okah's attorney.

On January 21 Claassen found Okah guilty of engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.

He said the State had proved Okah's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Claassen said Okah's failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.

Twelve people were killed and 36 injured in two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 1, 2010, the anniversary of the country's independence. Okah was arrested in Johannesburg the next day.

He was also found guilty on terrorism charges relating to two explosions in March 2010 in the southern Nigerian city of Warri.

Claassen found no evidence that Okah did not head Mend, which claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Okah denied any involvement in the blasts and said the charges against him were politically motivated.

After the postponement Okah, dressed in a blue, red and white striped shirt, and jeans, turned to wave at his wife, before about 20 heavily-armed police officers escorted him back down to the holding cells.

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