Johannesburg — The lead counsel of Henry Okah's legal team on Thursday at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg announced the teams withdrawal from the terrorism case.
Okah is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND).
Defence counsel, Lucky Multulanta told the trial Judge, Neels Claassen that they withdrawing from the case to allow a new legal team take over the trial of the case that might go to appeal and beyond in the coming days and months.
"Having discussed with my client, we came to agreement that it is appropriate for us to step down from handling the matter and allow a new legal team to take over from the mitigation of sentence to the appeal court hearing.
"My client has the right to change his legal team, and now he has decided to change the legal team representing him in this case, we are both happy about the decision," Multulanta said.
The defence counsel had asked the court to grant them postponement to call at least five witnesses from Nigeria and the U.S. of America to testify at the mitigation of sentence hearing.
Justice Claassen granted the defence the postponement for Feb. 28 to March 4 to call their witnesses. "We have experienced a lot of frustration in getting out witnesses to come to South Africa to testify on the mitigation of sentence for my client
"I don't know the reason why it is difficult for the South Africa Embassy in Nigeria to issue visas to our witnesses. We have made all effort to get the visas but up till now their visas have not been issued," Multulanta said.
Justice Claassen expressed his disappointment in the withdrawal of Okah's legal team.
"On the last sitting of the court I told you that there will be no further postponement in this case, now you are coming to announce your withdrawal from the case.
"I must tell you that I am very disappointed about this decision, how am I sure that is not a deliberate attempt to further delay the administration of justice.
"I just hope this is not a tactic to further delay the court processes, both of you may be happy about the change of the legal team, but it is against the legal procedure for you to take such decisions after several postponements.
"Changing the mainstream at this is stage is a very serious thing to do. I have to show my displeasure about the way and manner you have handled the case," Claassen said.
Prosecuting counsel, Shauns Abrahams, told the court that the change in the legal team is aimed at frustratingcourt proceeding.
"My Lord, this sudden change in legal team of the accused is a deliberate attempt by him to frustrate the court proceeding.
"The defence counsel approached the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria for Visas to visit Nigeria and talk to their witnesses on Feb. 12, and the officials at the embassy asked them to come back the following day for their visas. But up till now they have not gone back for their visas.
"Only for the legal team to say they are having problem getting to their witnesses, this is all attempt to frustrate administration of justice," Abrahams said.
The judge ruled that the accused has the right to change his lawyer at will. "In as much as I am not happy about the change of legal team at this stage of the proceeding, I must say the accused person has the right to change his legal team at will.
"But I must say this is going to be the very last time this case will be adjourned," Claassen said.
The new lawyer, Gerrit Miller asked the court for an adjournment to allow him prepare and consult with his client.
Claassen adjourned hearing in the matter to March 18 to March 20.
"This is really the final adjourment, I will grant your application for this first and final adjournment, you must tell your client that I will no longer tolerate any further adjournment even if he decides to change his legal team again at the 11 hour," Claassen said.
Okah, the convicted fractional leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), was found guilty of a 13 count charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism by masterminding two car bomb attack in Abuja on Oct. 1, 2010. NAN