2 February 2013

Nigeria: Okah Now to Be Sentenced March 4

A South African court Friday postponed by a month, the sentencing of Henry Okah, the alleged leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, who had earlier been convicted of 13 terrorism charges, including the 2010 Independence Day bombings in Abuja.

"I will postpone this matter for purposes of hearing arguments in mitigation or aggravation for sentencing. That's the final postponement," high court judge, Neels Claassen said.

He said the sentencing would run three days from February 28 through March 4.

Okah intends to bring five witnesses from Nigeria and the United States before the sentencing.

He was found guilty of masterminding attacks including twin car bombings in Abuja on October 1, 2010, and two explosions in March 2010 in Warri, a major hub of the oil-rich Delta region. He faces a minimum term of life in prison.

But prosecution was opposed to the deferment of the sentencing yesterday.

"I am disappointed that the matter didn't proceed today; it's just basically justice being delayed," Shaun Abrahams told reporters after the application was granted.

The 46-year-old, who has permanent residency in South Africa, was arrested at his Johannesburg home on October 2, 2010, a day after the twin car bombings that killed 12 people.

MEND, which in 2010 was an armed group fighting for a greater share of the Delta oil wealth, claimed responsibility for the attacks that took place as Nigeria celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its independence.

Okah has denied being the leader of MEND, and involvement in the Abuja blasts, claiming the charges were politically-motivated.

MEND has a history of staging fierce attacks on oil facilities and kidnapping expatriate workers in the Delta region.

All these have since reduced following the declaration and acceptance of amnesty by the Yar'Adua administration.

Okah is thought to be the first foreign national to be tried for terrorism in South Africa.

He has been in custody since his arrest.

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