A South African court this morning found Henry Okah guilty of terrorism charges leveled against him by the Nigerian government.
The judge, Neels Claassen, pronounced Mr. Okah guilty on all the 13- count charge for which he was arraigned.
The sentencing has been fixed for January 31 or February 1 and Mr. Okah risks a life jail. He however has room for mitigation.
South African authorities had in October 2012 opened the trial of Mr. Okah, 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.
During the trial, the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, was 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 had predicted the charges against Mr. Okar would result in a “positive outcome” the BBC reported at the time.
Through his long stay behind bars, awaiting trial, Mr. Okar 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.
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