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Johannesburg - A witness testifying in mitigation of sentencing of convicted Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah says he should be given a suspended sentence.
Tony Nnadi, a lawyer based in Lagos, Nigeria, and the secretary-general of the Lower Niger Congress, told the Johannesburg High Court on Monday that the outcome of Okah’s sentencing could escalate unrest in Nigeria or “bring it back from the brink”.
Okah was found guilty in January on 13 counts of terrorism and terrorism-related activities relating to twin car bombings on March 15, 2010 in Warri as well as the Independence Day bombings in Abuja on October 1 that year.
Judge Neels Claassen found that Okah was the leader of the rebel militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which had taken responsibility for the spate of attacks in the oil-rich delta, and that from his home in Bassonia, Joburg, he had organised and orchestrated the terrorism acts that led to the deaths of 13 people.
Nnadi likened Okah’s trial to the Rivonia trial of 1963/4 in which Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were tried on 221 charges of sabotage aimed at overthrowing the apartheid regime.
Nnadi said the conflict in the delta arose from ethnic groups that formed rebel movements, believing they were being exploited by foreign companies and government entities that controlled oil resources. Nnadi said the discontent persisted despite amnesty being granted to the more than 22 000 militants.
“Security forces are being tested to their limit… Nigeria itself is almost at the end of its tether… This case may be a golden opportunity to show that the government is not opposed to dialogue. Even a suspended sentence will create an opening for resolving the matter. You (Judge Claassen) will have helped millions of people,” he said.
But the judge appeared not to be convinced.
“You are not suggesting that there are threats of violence in Nigeria if Mr Okah is not given a lighter sentence and this court must be held ransom to that?” the judge asked.
“By no means… what we have today is an uneasy calm,” Nnadi replied.
Earlier during proceedings, Okah’s counsel, Gerrit Muller SC, withdrew his services, and JP Marais was sworn in as Okah’s new advocate.
Marais brought in an application in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, which states that if an accused regards the trial proceedings as irregular, he or she may be allowed to apply for a special entry on the record, stating in what respect the proceedings are seen as irregular.
The state was expected to oppose the application on Tuesday. - The Star