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Johannesburg - Convicted Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah’s sentencing has hit yet another snag.
On Thursday, pre-sentencing procedures had been scheduled to begin in the Johannesburg High Court, but instead of bringing in the five witnesses who his defence team, led by Lucky Maunatlala, wanted to summon to testify in mitigation, the court was informed that Okah would be represented by a new lawyer.
Okah was found guilty in January of planning and orchestrating the twin car bombings in Nigeria in 2010 in which 12 people died.
Militant rebel group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta took responsibility for the attack and although he was living in Bassonia, Joburg, at the time, Okah was named as the group’s leader.
Maunatlala told Judge Neels Claassen on Thursday: “From the start of the matter, we agreed we would only take the matter to a certain point, and Mr Okah has decided that since the matter may be far from over, it’s better for him to consult his new legal team and for them to go through the records”.
Okah’s new lawyer is Gerrit Muller SC.
As for the witnesses he was set to call in, Maunatlala placed the blame for their non-presence at the South African embassy in Nigeria for not preparing the witnesses’ visas in time.
But Judge Claassen was neither sold on Maunatlala’s decision to withdraw his services from Okah nor the justification that the matter had to be postponed yet again, particularly because, at the previous appearance, the judge ruled it was the final postponement to be granted in the matter.
“How do I know that the withdrawal of the legal team is not a tactic to gain a further postponement?
“Are you doing your client a service with withdrawing when a new legal team still has to read through the record?
“The fact of the matter is, it is not a financial concern because it seems the new legal team costs more,” the judge said.
Maunatlala said it was Okah’s prerogative to decide who he wanted to represent him and that it was a “mutual separation”.
To which Judge Claassen retorted: “You may be happy with it, but the administration of justice isn’t.”
But ultimately, the judge granted the postponement until March 18.