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Give Okah a lesser sentence,says witness

Johannesburg - Nigerian Henry Okah, convicted of terrorism, should receive a lesser sentence to maintain peace in his home country, the High Court in Johannesburg heard on Monday.

“If the maximum sentencing is imposed, there are those militant forces threatening maximum force and the security forces are stretched to its limit,” lawyer Tony Nnadi said in mitigation of sentencing.

Sentencing proceedings for Nigerian Henry Okah (pictured) started in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday. Credit: Independent Newspapers

“The people of Nigeria look up to South Africa to help them. To help them in their hour of need,” he said

Nnadi was the first witness to be called by Okah's defence team.

He said that if Okah received a lesser sentence it could be beneficial in keeping the calm among militant forces who believed he was their leader.

This could be a “golden opportunity” to open dialogue between the government and the militant forces, Nnadi said.

“If a lighter sentence is imposed, it might encourage others involved to come forward.”

Nnadi is a Nigeria-based lawyer who is involved in various non-governmental organisations.

He told the court he had not met Okah, but had been in contact with him telephonically since 2009.

Judge Neels Claassen said the court was in no position to help with the “political welfare” of Nigeria, but asked Nnadi for clarification of his request.

“If the government of Nigeria is unable to solve the problems in the country, how will a suspended sentence resolve the problem?” he asked.

Nnadi responded: “If the man we have on trial is allowed to play his part it will make a difference.... We must look beyond the local reality.”

The court heard that Nnadi was representing the community and their interest in Okah receiving a lighter sentence.

Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams asked Nnadi if he was aware of the evidence which was uncontested before the court, including Okah's supplying of arms, military attire and explosives to people.

Nnadi responded: “I was not personally aware, but have read some reports in the media.”

On January 21, Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism, including engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activities, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.

The charges relate to two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, in which 12 people were killed and 36 injured on October 1, 2010, the anniversary of the country's independence.

During his trial, Okah denied any involvement in the blasts and said the charges against him were politically motivated.

Abrahams asked Nnadi if he had been in contact with the people affected by the Warri bombings in October 2010.

Nnadi responded: “I didn't get to them, but I know what it feels like to be affected.”

When Claassen asked whether he had spoken to any of the relatives of those who were injured or were killed, Nnadi said he had, but could not remember their names as there were a lot of them.

Abrahams responded: “I put it to you that you are being absolute disingenuous when you say you spoke to anyone.”

Both Abrahams and Marais indicated that they had no further questions.

Marais indicated that he intended calling three other witnesses.

Abrahams said the State would call two or three if it was deemed necessary.

Sentencing was postponed to Tuesday morning at 10am. - Sapa

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