Former rebel leader Okah testifies

iol news pic oct3 henry okah AP Nigerian former militant leader Henry Okah took the stand in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court to deny any involvement in the recent Nigerian bombings that killed 12 people. Photo: Reuters

Nigerian former militant leader Henry Okah took the stand in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on Friday to deny any involvement in the recent Nigerian bombings which killed 12 people.

“Not at all,” Okah answered when asked if he had been involved in the October 1 attacks. He said he had not met the other nine people who were arrested following the attacks.

Okah told the court he had the “respect” of militants in the Niger Delta region, and disputed the State's affidavit questioning the legality of his presence in South Africa.

“I travel around the world. It is strange that I was allowed to enter the country while my documents were fraudulent.”

He claimed that French documents found in his possession were from the French Cultural Centre, and told the court that reading books about war and combat was his “passion”.

He confirmed running from his house on the morning of September 13, when police raided it, but denied that a military uniform was found among his clothes.

“I fled my house because I believed they were assassins sent by the Nigerian government.”

He said the clothes were available in ordinary clothing shops.

His recent telephone interview with television station Al Jazeera Network, which the State prosecutor on Thursday claimed was unauthorised, happened with the knowledge of prison officials, Okah said.

He had not been required to obtain prior authorisation, he said.

The State alleges Okah undermined the criminal justice system when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera while awaiting his bail application in prison.

Earlier the State argued that Okah was a dangerous man and could compromise public safety if released on bail.

“If he's released he could disturb public peace and security,” State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told the court.

Reading from an affidavit submitted by the State to oppose bail, he said Okah was still an active leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Okah denied this.

If released Okah, with his connections and money, could “intimidate or eliminate witnesses”.

“We will have to pay off many people,” read an extract from Okah's diary.

The diary was included as evidence against the 45-year-old father of four and former marine engineer.

“Mobilise our men, we leave today with God on our side,” Abrahams read from the diary.

Laughing off the evidence against him, the 45-year-old former marine engineer challenged the State to prove its case against him.

He said his prosecution was an attempt by the South African government to appease their Nigerian counterparts.

Okah also denied that his home country had granted him amnesty for his alleged involvement in other crimes. Nigeria had released him as it had no evidence against him, he said.

Among the reasons the State would oppose bail for Okah were the fact that he was likely to endanger other people, was extremely wealthy and connected, and allegedly misrepresented his business affairs to the country's home affairs department. Okah was also a flight risk and could leave South Africa undetected.

Okah was arrested in Johannesburg a day after the attacks, after being identified as “the mastermind behind the bombings”.

MEND claimed responsibility for the attacks, but denied Okah had been involved.

Okah said although he sympathised with the struggle of the poor in oil-rich Nigeria, he had never involved himself in any violence.

He faces charges of engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity, and delivering, placing and detonating an explosive device.

He currently holds permanent residency in South Africa and earns a living through his security company.

His case was postponed to Monday for the State to prepare cross-examination. -

Sapa


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