Henry Okah of Nigeria is currently on trial in South Africa for his alleged involvement in activites related to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Okah has denied being a member of the group., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South African court jails Henry Okah for 24 years
TUESDAY, 26 MARCH 2013 00:00
EDITOR NEWS - NATIONAL
• ‘How new anti-terror law tightens noose around militants’
NIGERIAN militant Henry Okah who has been found guilty of 13 terrorism-related charges over twin car bombings during the country’s Independence Day in 2010 is to spend 24 years in jail.
The verdict was given Tuesday by a South African court.
At least 12 people were killed and 36 others injured during the bombings. Okah led a group, which said it was fighting to help Niger Delta residents gain a greater share of the oil wealth from their part of southern Nigeria.
According to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report, the court established that Okah is the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
He also received a 13-year jail term for threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010 but this runs concurrently with his 24-year sentence.
The judge found that the state had proven Okah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because he didn’t testify in his own defence during the trial.
He had repeatedly denied any involvement in the bombings.
Prosecutors have argued that although Okah is not a South African citizen, the country had the jurisdiction to try him under the International Co-operation in Criminal Matters Act.
Analysts believe it would have been too dangerous for him to be tried in Nigeria because of the presence of his militant supporters.
The BBC says Okah may no longer be a headache for the Nigerian authorities but the threat of instability in the Niger Delta remains strong, despite a fall in the levels of violence since a 2009 amnesty.
Okah was arrested on gun-running charges in Angola in 2007 and then transferred to Nigeria but never convicted.
He was released after two years under an amnesty for oil militants and he returned to South Africa, where he had lived since 2003.
While MEND and other militant groups say they were fighting for a political cause, criminal gangs have taken advantage of the region’s instability to make money from ransoms paid by oil companies, and by stealing oil.
At its peak, the instability in the Niger Delta cost Nigeria about $1billion (£630 million) in lost revenue, Reuters news agency quoted the Central Bank as saying.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer, but most of its people live in poverty.
An Abuja Federal High Court had in January this year found Edmond Ebiwere, one of the four persons arraigned for the October 1, 2010 bomb attack guilty of terrorism charges and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Ebiwere and three others, including Charles Okah, a brother to Henry Okah, were being prosecuted for the crime.
In a judgment that lasted for close to three hours, Justice Gabriel Kolawole handed Mr. Ebiwere the life sentence after considering testimonies by six prosecution witnesses and exhibits which validly linked him to the crime as he failed to give information to the appropriate authority.
According to Justice Kolawole, Section 40 (B) of the Criminal Code Act provides that any person who becomes an accessory to treason or becomes aware of the commission of treason and did not give evidence to the President, a state governor or a peace officer in order to prevent the commission of the crime, is liable to treason and sentencing to life in prison.
“I concluded that the accused person is adjudged guilty as charged, being aware early in September 2010, that Henry Okah was planning a bomb attack but did not give such information to any of the persons or authority listed in Section 40,B of the Criminal Code Act,” he said.
Ebiwere was found guilty of the three-count charge, which bordered on whether he was in contact with Okah, whether he had prior knowledge of the attack, and whether he reported the threat to the listed authorities contained in section 40,B of the CCA.
Twelve persons, including security officers, lost their lives with many others injured as a result of the blast, while about 30 vehicles were damaged.
Okah was convicted under the new counter-terrorism law, the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorism and Related Activities Act (Act 33 of 2004), which came into operation on May 20, 2005.
The law covers crimes committed outside the country.
South Africa adopted the new terrorism legislation in 2004, replacing laws dating back to the apartheid era. Since then, 18 people have been convicted on terror charges there, including 13 South Africans, two from Lesotho and one citizen each of Mozambique, Palau and Zimbabwe.
Throughout the drafting process, concerns were raised from a number of civil society and faith organisations that aspects of the new law could detract from basic human rights and civil liberties.
It replaced the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967, which was a law of the South African Apartheid regime until all except section seven was repealed under the Internal Security and Intimidation Act.
Section six of the Act allowed someone suspected of involvement in terrorism—which was very broadly defined as anything that might “endanger the maintenance of law and order”—to be detained for a 60-day period (which could be renewed) without trial on the authority of a senior police officer.
Subject to the provisions of subsection (4), a terrorist is any person who —
(a) with intent to endanger the maintenance of law and order in the republic or any portion thereof, in the republic or elsewhere commits any act or attempts to commit, or conspires with any other person to aid or procure the commission of or to commit, or incites, instigates, commands, aids, advises, encourages or procures any other person to commit, any act; or (b) in the republic or elsewhere undergoes, or attempts, consents or takes any steps to undergo, or incites, instigates, commands, aids, advises, encourages or procures any other person to undergo any training which could be of use to any person intending to endanger the maintenance of law and order, and who fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not undergo or attempt, consent or take any steps to undergo, or incite, instigate, command, aid, advise, encourage or procure such other person to undergo such training for the purpose of using it or causing it to be used to commit any act likely to have any of the results referred to in subsection (2) in the republic or any portion thereof; or (c) possesses any explosives, ammunition, fire-arm or weapon and who fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not intend using such explosives, ammunition, fire-arm or weapon to commit any act likely to have any of the results referred to in subsection (2) in the republic or any portion thereof, shall be guilty of the offence of participation in terroristic activities and liable on conviction to the penalties provided for by law for the offence of treason: Provided that, except where the death penalty is imposed, the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for a period of not less than five years shall be compulsory, whether or not any other penalty is also imposed.
The process of drafting and deliberating the South African anti-terror law was a cumbersome and protracted one. The Act’s roots can be traced back to the much-needed overhaul of apartheid security legislation in the mid-nineties. The idea was to bring South Africa ’s extensive collection of security legislation into line with the constitution. In 1998, a new official policy on terrorism was approved. At that time, and in terms of its policy on terrorism, the South African government committed itself to: upholding the rule of law; never resorting to any form of general and indiscriminate repression; defending and upholding the freedom and security of all its citizens; and acknowledging and respecting its obligations to the international community.
Moreover, the South African government undertook to condemn all acts of terror, to take lawful measures to prevent acts of terror, and to bring to justice those who are involved in acts of terror.
A South African Law Commission Project Committee on Security Legislation was appointed in October 1998. Its mandate was not only to undertake a wide-ranging review of security legislation, but to assess terrorism and sabotage legislation so that South Africa ’s obligations in respect of international terrorism were fulfilled.
In 1998 close to 700 gang- or terror-related attacks – including pipe and petrol bombings and drive-by shootings – were perpetrated in the greater Cape Town area. As public pressure mounted to act against the perpetrators of acts of terror, governmental policymakers announced their intention to promulgate tough anti-terrorism legislation for South Africa. The South African Law Commission released a first draft Anti-Terrorism Bill in mid-2000.