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.

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“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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