Johannesburg – Henry Okah, who has been convicted on 13 counts of terrorist activities, has said that all of his ‘witnesses were prevented from coming to South Africa by the Nigerian government’.
The state said on Thursday (today) that he chose not to apply for his witnesses to come to South Africa to testify.
“The accused was afforded the opportunity to bring his witnesses to South Africa to testify,” State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told reporters ahead of Okah’s sentencing by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
Okah himself, said that although he had faith in the South African justice system, he did not feel justice had been served because he was not afforded the opportunity to present his case.
“Unfortunately, I was unable to place my side of the story before the judge,” he told reporters.
“I was judged on one side of the story. My hands were tied…. All of my witnesses were prevented from coming to South Africa by the Nigerian government.”
Abrahams said this was “absolutely incorrect”.
He said Okah should have approached the court for an order asking for the necessary help from the Nigerian government.
“The accused abandoned that application and elected not to do so,” Abrahams said.
“He failed to avail himself to these opportunities…. He gave notice of bringing such an application, then he abandoned that application.”
During judgment on 21 January, Judge Neels Claassen said Okah’s failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
Claassen found Okah guilty of engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.
He said the State had proved Okah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Twelve people were killed and 36 injured in two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, on 1 October 2010 the anniversary of the country’s independence. Okah was arrested in Johannesburg the next day.
He was also found guilty of terrorism charges relating to two explosions in March 2010 in the southern Nigerian city of Warri.
Abrahams said the crimes Okah was convicted of were punishable by a minimum sentence of life imprisonment.
He said the defence would have an opportunity to present substantial compelling evidence to justify Okah receiving a lesser sentence.
Okah said earlier he still had faith in South Africa’s justice system.
“I do not think anything funny has happened…. I just believe that the judge arrived at his conclusion based on the information that was placed before him,” he said.
“I still haven’t lost faith in the South African justice system, so I will continue to test it.”
Claassen also found no evidence that Okah did not head the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Okah denied any involvement in the blasts and said the charges against him were politically motivated.
South Africa tried him as part of its international obligation, as the Nigerian authorities had not applied for his extradition, according to the prosecution.
“I have been through worse…. I’m prepared for these kinds of things. This is Africa,” he told reporters.
Sentencing procedures were expected to start at 14:00.
After the resumption time was announced, about 20 police officers escorted Okah to the court holdings cells.
A representative from the Nigerian embassy was in court and said the government would comment only after sentencing.