South African authorities, Monday, opened the trial of Henry Okar, former controversial leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, two years after he was arrested for allegedly masterminding the Independence Day bombing that killed more than a dozen people in Abuja.
Mr. Okah denied the 13 charges related to acts of terrorism, the BBC reports.
The Minister of the Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, is quoted by the AFP news agency as telling the court in Johannesburg that Mr. Okah was a “key figure in the Niger Delta struggle and the militants had a lot of respect for him.”
A South African prosecutor said he was confident charges against Mr. Okar will result to a “positive outcome” the BBC reports.
Through his long stay behind bars, awaiting trial, Mr. Okar has maintained that evidences to support the state’s claims against him were “weak” and that he did not believe he would be convicted.
The former militant leader has been in jail since the deadly blast at less than a kilometre from the Eagles Square in Abuja where President Jonathan was attending Nigeria’s 50th anniversary.
The militant group, MEND, which authorities said Mr. Okah headed, claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Okah has denied membership of the group and denied plotting the attacks.
Instead, he claimed the president and his aides organized the attacks in a desperate political strategy to “demonise” political opponents, and win popular sympathy ahead of the 2011 elections.
“The purpose of the 14 March 2010 bombing in my opinion was to create an atmosphere of insecurity in the Niger Delta where President Goodluck Jonathan at that time, was fighting to oust the governor Mr. Emmanuel Uduaghan whom President Goodluck Jonathan intended to replace with his Minister for Niger Delta, Mr Godsday Orubebe,” Mr. Okah said in a 194-page affivadavit in May.
Evidences gathered by the prosecution include alleged phone communication between Mr. Okah and those who carried out the attacks, allegedly on his orders, computer records, photographs purporting to show incriminating images and other materials.
Despite Mr. Okah’s repeated denials of links to MEND and the attacks, his narrative in the earlier affidavit depicted an influential person whose leverage over ex-militants, was courted by politicians.
He said he had been a long acquaintance of the president who repeatedly reached him in South Africa through the minister, Mr Orubebe, and Oronto Douglas as intermediaries seeking his backing of Mr. Jonathan for the 2011 election.