Update: Why South African Judge sentenced Henry Okah to 24 years in prison

Henry Okah

The judge said Mr. Okah and MENDs actions were to embarrass Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan.

The two major bomb attacks in Nigeria for which Henry Okah was convicted in Nigeria were carried out to embarrass President Goodluck Jonathan, a South African Judge, Neels Claaseen, said on Tuesday while sentencing the accused.

The South Africa Gauteng High Court sentenced Mr. Okah, leader of the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, to 24 years in prison for acts of terrorism.

Delivering his judgment on Tuesday in Johannesburg, Mr. Claaseen said, “Having found the accused guilty in the 13-count charge of acts of terrorism, it’s now the duty of the court to sentence him, taking into account the position of the victim, the convict and the world community.”

Mr. Claaseen said that the struggle of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), “is politically motivated and as a result a maximum sentence for Okah will be inappropriate.”

The judge said South Africa being a signatory to the UN Treaty on Terrorism Acts allowed the convict to be tried in South Africa though the events took place in Nigeria.

“As a signatory, South Africa is duty bound to adopt the treaty and incorporate it into the laws of South Africa, in other words domicile the treaty,” Mr. Claaseen said.

He said it is the responsibility of the court in sentencing the convict to take into account the feelings of the world community and to make South Africa unpalatable for terrorists to operate within the jurisdiction as member of the community of nations.

The three events/ crimes

Mr. Claaseen said all the 13-counts Mr. Okah was convicted of are related to three events:

“The first event is the March 15, 2010 bomb attack, where two cars bombs occurred at the venue of a political gathering which was being attended by the Delta State Governor in Warri, Delta state, where one person died and several others were injured.

“The second event occurred on October 1, 2010, in Abuja,, Nigeria’s capital city, where two cars bombs exploded killing eight people with several others injured.

“Third event is the threat to the Nigerian government.

“All these three events were targeted at embarrassing President Goodluck Jonathan,’’ Mr. Claaseen said.

He said these acts are very serious crimes which must be punished in accordance to the terrorism laws.

“The convict during the trial had never accepted any responsibility nor shown any remorse in spite of the fact that overwhelming evidence linked him with MEND which claimed responsibilities for the bombings. It would, therefore, be wrong for the court to turn a blind eye to the fact that the struggle in the Niger Delta which led to the events is a political one.

“The group’s agitation for improved environmental situation and provision of infrastructure in the area is aimed at attracting the Federal Government attention to the plight of the people in the area. Though a good cause, but it does not justify any act of violence and terrorism,’’ Mr. Claaseen said.

He said the court is obliged to impose life imprisonment which is the maximum sentence due to the political nature of the struggle adding that the suspended sentence sought by the defence is inappropriate due to the nature of the crime.

“Having considered that the convict does not have any criminal record both in South Africa and in Nigeria before the struggle in the Niger Delta, I am of the considered view that his clean record both in South Africa and Nigeria should add to his sentence mitigation. Also, the fact that his children will suffer emotionally for his absence if maximum sentence is given is considered in mitigation of his sentence,” Mr. Claaseen said.

He said it is difficult to determine what the appropriate sentence should be.

“This is not an easy matter to deal with in sentencing. The sentence of the convict to life imprisonment is not appropriate and to give him suspended sentence is equally not appropriate. To strike a balance, the convict is hereby sentenced to 12 years in prison for accounts 1,3,5,7, 9 and 11 for the Warri bombings. The accused is sentence to 12 years for counts 2,4,6,8 and 10 for the Abuja bombings. The accused is sentence to 10 years for the threat to the government of Nigeria.

“However, the sentence for counts 2,4,6,8,10 and 13 will run concurrently, In all the accused is hereby sentenced to 24 years in prison,” Mr. Claaseen said.



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  • Omandi

    Thanks very much Judge claaseen,you are the best example of justice dispensed in simplicity for the poor masses.
    Are we beginning to look forward to a time when African Judges are starting to dispense justice in the simple and sincere manner above?..that even the mothers in the village will listen and say; Yes…my Judge has ruled and now we have Justice!

    unfortunately most of them are still wallowing in superiority complex,always talking in colonial jargon language and most of the time giving lopsided judgements!!!.

    Please Judge Claaseen,could you kindly start an orientation class for our Judges!!

  • Tunde Oyeleke

    But president Goodluck Jonathan stated shortly after the bomb blast that MEND was not responsible that he knew those behind it,.THe said MEND was politically motivated,top members of this group are in the service of the FGN. Like MEND, Boko Haram is believed to be politically motivated,GEJ like some members of his administration admitted that BH is part and parcel of the administration.Four years on no one has been convicted for the BH distardly acts.And for the presdential blunderthey cannot repartiate the Okar to Nigeria the scene of the crime .because they knew it will expose their complicity..This is a political judgement that would not stand test of time.
    I am disappointed that this is happening in the South Africa of our irreparable Nelson Mandela.

    • Es3

      Unlike Boko Haram and before the Abuja bombings, when did you hear of any militant group from Niger Delta (MEND or MENDed) setting out to commit an act of terror with the destruction of the ordinarily Nigerians lives in tow?
      Militants groups in the Niger Delta were known to warn people to leave or stay off any particular location they wish to attack or seize or they were known to conduct such operations well after the innocents would have been well out of the way, so much that even the Warri bombing the judge referred to was preceeded by a warning!
      Then, suddenly Henry Okah received payment from outside the Niger Delta, betrayed its values, struggles and principles to kill and maim innocent Nigerians at Abuja with Boko Haram trademark! The warning they disguised out was on the Eagle Square but their bombs were detonated on Abuja Roads were ordinary Nigerians went about their businesses?! What do you think broke his bond with Asari, Tompolo, Ateke and others?
      I personally thought it could not have had Niger Delta connections, not because Jonathan is President but the departure from known trademark of over the years, untill I commenced my own investigation on that heinous crime against Nigeria and Nigeria!!!