A South African court sentenced Nigerian militant leader Henry Okah to 24 years in jail after he was found guilty of 13 counts of terrorism, including a bomb attack that killed 12 people in the capital, Abuja.
Judge Neels Claassen delivered the sentence today in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg, Phindi Louw, spokeswoman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said in a phone interview.
Okah was found guilty on Jan. 21 of planning car bomb attacks in 2010 in Abuja, close to where President Goodluck Jonathan was celebrating Nigeria’s 50 years of independence. South African law allows trials of alleged terrorists arrested or resident in the country no matter where their acts were committed.
The Abuja bombing was claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main rebel group in the southern Niger River delta, which is home to the country’s petroleum industry, Africa’s biggest.
Okah was sentenced to 12 years for the Abuja bombing and another 12 years for a March 2010 bombing in the southern city of Warri which MEND also claimed responsibility for, Louw said. Okah was also sentenced to 10 years for threatening South Africa and that term will run concurrently with the 12-year sentence for the bombing in Abuja, she said.
MEND had threatened to attack the holdings of companies including MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator, and SacOil Holding Ltd., an oil and gas exploration company, saying South African President Jacob Zuma is interfering “in the legitimate fight for justice” in the Niger River delta region.
Okah, who denies the charges, declined to testify. He said his trial was unfair, because the Nigerian government blocked about 20 witnesses from traveling to South Africa to give evidence, he said in an interview Jan. 31.
“The judge made his decision based on what was before him,” Okah said. “The problem is that my witnesses were stopped from coming.”
Nigeria’s government accuses Okah of being the leader of MEND, which says it was fighting for a greater share of oil revenue for the region. Thousands of fighters have since dropped their weapons and accepted a government amnesty.
While Okah denies being involved in the Abuja blasts and yesterday described the claim that he leads MEND as “ridiculous,” he has said he commands the support of many armed groups in Nigeria’s oil region.
Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, California, Total SA and Eni SpA run joint ventures with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the nation’s oil.