Former member of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah was on Tuesday jailed for 24 years by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
The court sentenced the MEND leader to a total of 34 years imprisonment, but he will spend only 24 years as the sentence will run concurrently.
According to our correspondent, Betty Dibia, who was in the court, Mr Okah was found guilty on 13 counts and was sentenced to 12 years,
The first six counts were relating to the Warri bombing of 15th March, 2010.
He was also sentenced to 12 years on another six count charge for the October 1st 2010 bombing in Abuja, while he was sentenced to 10 years for MEND’s threat to deal with South Africans.
“Effectively, the accused (Mr Okah) is therefore sentenced to 24 years imprisonment,” Judge Neels Claassen said as he handed down sentence.
On 21 January, Mr 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 related to two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, in which 12 people were killed and 36 injured on 1 October 2010, the anniversary of the country’s independence.
The second bombing took place in Warri on 15 March 2010 at a post amnesty dialogue meeting. One person was killed and 11 seriously injured.
In both bombings, two car bombs went off minutes apart in both places. The cars were parked in close proximity to each other.
Judge Claassen sentenced Okah to 12 years imprisonment for each of the bombings and 10 years for the threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010.
The 10 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.
In January, during judgment, Judge Claassen said the State had proved Mr Okah’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and his failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.
Mr Okah has denied any involvement, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated.
Born in 1965, Mr Okah came into the spotlight as a key leader of MEND, one of the armed groups involved in the struggle for resource control in the region
The fourth son of a naval officer, Okah was said to be enraged by the living conditions of the Niger delta people and subsequently used his experience as a gun salesman and a merchant navy mariner to further his self-chosen career as a rebel leader.
It will be recalled that MEND, which started its activities in 2006, has claimed responsibility for several attacks on oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, often through the use of sabotage, guerilla warfare or kidnapping of foreign oil workers.
According to the group their main goal is to destabilize the foreign oil interest in the Niger Delta, who they claim have been exploiting the local populace.
Okah organized and funded rebel groups and at a point, he relocated to South Africa, where he continued with his armed struggle.
In September 2007, Okah was arrested in Angola while trying to buy equipment and arms for use in the Niger Delta.
He was deported to Nigeria in February 2008 , detained in solitary confinement and charged with 62-counts of treason, terrorism and illegal possession of arms and firearms.
That trial, which began in April 2008, was held in private, because the government then headed by late President Umaru Yar’Adua said it would “jeopardize national security”.
But his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana insisted that a closed trial was an infringement of his rights and asked a superior court to overturn the decision.
In July 2009, Okah’s lawyer announced that he had accepted the amnesty, which had been offered by the Nigerian government to all the Niger Delta rebels willing to lay down their arms, in a bid to end attacks on the oil industry.
On the 13th of July,2009, Justice Mohammed Liman, the judge handling the controversial trial discharged Okah following a Nolle Prosequi entered by the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa.
After he was set freed by the court he went back to South Africa, where he was living with his family and he was there till he was re-arrested for the Independence Day bombing in 2010.
Even though the alleged crimes occurred on Nigeria’s soil, and there is an extradition treaty between both countries, the Nigerian government refused to seek his extradition.
With this sentence, Nigerian history would record Henry Okah as the first Niger Delta militant leader to be convicted on charges of terrorism.