Johannesburg - It was March 15, 2010, at around 11am. The chairman of Vanguard Media Limited, Sam Amuka, was about to give his introductory remarks at the post-amnesty dialogue at the government house annexe in Warri.
More than 450 people had gathered: Nigerian cabinet ministers, state governors, leaders of militant organisations, officials from multinational oil companies, women’s and civil organisations, and elders were there for the dialogue, intended to discuss skills acquisition and training as well as disarmament and amnesty procedures for the Niger Delta.
“At about 11am we heard a loud sound… an explosion,” said Patrick Origho, secretary to the Niger Delta governor’s office, giving his testimony in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday.
The explosion was from a car bomb which exploded on the NPA Expressway. Seconds later, another bomb went off. This one hit the hall where the dialogue was under way.
“The glass doors with aluminium fittings were broken and scattered… the windows and exit doors were shattered,” Origho continued, “We had to see how the dignitaries could be safely evacuated from the scene.”
Nigerian terrorism accused Henry Okah sat quietly in the dock as he listened attentively to Origho’s evidence of the bombings, which claimed the life of one man and injured 11 others.
Okah is accused of being the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) and is said to have been the mastermind behind both the Warri bombing and the October 1, 2010 Independence Day bombings in Abuja.
No one inside the hall was injured, but 45-year-old Alex Igbe’s badly burnt body was found between the cars. Origho heard of the death two days later.
“He met his death while making arrangements to bury his father,” Origho said.
“Do you know whether anybody took responsibility for the explosions?” State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams asked.
“I know Mend took responsibility,” he answered.
The government paid 2 million naira (about R113 000) to Igbe’s family to cover funeral and living costs, and also paid for the hospitalisation of the injured.
Abel Aki, who was deputy director in charge of operations in Delta state in 2010, also took the stand.
He told the court that the day before the post-amnesty dialogue, they received information that Mend were planning to disrupt the dialogue. Ten security officials were sent in to add to the number of guards already stationed at the hall. When asked if he knew who the leader of Mend was, he said: “The overall leader of Mend is Henry Okah.”
“Before, during and after the dialogue, we observed the presence of a lot of ex-militants.
“The presence of so many ex-militants who were members of Mend was an indicator that Mend had a hand [in the bombing],” he stated.
In evidence already before court, Okah has denied being a leader of Mend and denied any involvement in either attack.
His trial is being heard in SA because, at the time, he was living in Bassonia, Joburg.
According to his defence lawyer, Lucky Maunatlala, the evidence against Okah is all a falsehood to secure a conviction against him.
The trial continues.