Johannesburg – Two television interviews, two contrasting statements, all said by one man.
On November 1, 2009, Nigerian terrorism accused Henry Okah gave an exclusive interview to television news network Al Jazeera, his first interview since being granted amnesty in July that year for his involvement in the armed struggle for resource control in the Niger Delta.
Okah is alleged to be the leader of a rebel militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
The group has been linked to various attacks on oil plantations and operators since 2006, and claims the Nigerian government and foreign oil companies exploit the Delta’s oppressed people, and that oil resources aren’t equally shared to benefit the locals.
Nigeria’s then-president Umaru Yar’Adua offered an unconditional pardon, cash payments and training to militants, who agreed to accept amnesty and lay down their arms in favour of peace in the oil-rich Delta.
On Friday, Okah’s interview was played at the Joburg High Court, where his trial on multiple terrorism counts is being heard.
He is being charged in SA as it is alleged that this is where he organised and orchestrated two car bombings in Nigeria, one at Warri on March 15, 2010, in which one man died, and the Independence Day bombings in Abuja, in which eight people died and 53 were injured.
In the interview, Okah is seen and heard saying: “There are still thousands and thousands and thousands who are prepared to fight and continue fighting…”
He said only 500 “real fighters” might have participated in amnesty, and not the 15 000 the government had alleged.
“I don’t look like I am contributing to violence – I am participating in fighting for my rights,” he said.
He denied funding militancy, and said what they wanted from the oil companies was their land.
The interviewer then asked: “Are you repentant [for the attacks]?” Okah answered: “I’m not. Why should I be? Why should I be? What we want is our land… The threat is real. I think in a few months, if government doesn’t address the real demands… very soon, there will be a resumption of violence very soon.”
The second interview was done telephonically after his arrest in SA in connection with the Abuja bombings. He called himself a “sympathiser” and not a leader of the group.
“On Saturday morning, just a day after the attack, a very close associate of president [Goodluck] Jonathan called me and explained to me that there had been a bombing in Nigeria, and that president Jonathan wanted me to reach out to the group… and get them to retract their earlier statement they issued claiming the attacks,” said Okah in the interview.
“They wanted to blame the attacks on northerners who are trying to fight against him to come back as president, and if this was done, I was not going to have any problems with the South African government.”
Okah said he declined to do this and a few hours later he was arrested.
The trial continues.
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Henry Okah ‘contradicts himself’