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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Conviction of Okah

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At last, a South African court has convicted former Niger Delta militant, Henry Okah, on a 13-count terrorism charges including the heinous, twin car bombings that killed 12 people in Abuja on Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee Independence Day anniversary celebration on October 1, 2010.

Okah, who was also found guilty of the twin explosions in March 2010 in Warri, Delta State, is likely to face a minimum of life imprisonment when the court sentences him later in the year. The Gauteng High Court Judge, Neels Claassen, had in his ruling said: “I have come to the conclusion that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused.” According to the prosecution, South Africa has tried Okah as part of its international obligation on terrorism and more so as the Nigerian authorities had not applied for his extradition.

It will be recalled that Okah, who lives in South Africa was arrested in Johannesburg a day after the Abuja attacks. Since then, he has been standing trial for his alleged role in the October 1 bombings and other crimes leveled against him until his recent conviction. Although Okah denied the charges, his militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the attacks. The speedy trial of the case by the South African judiciary, as against what obtains in Nigeria, is noteworthy.

Okah’s case was diligently prosecuted. It is good that the case was not dismissed for want of evidence or allowed to drag on to no end over one technicality or the other as would have been the case if Okah was tried in Nigerian courts. What has happened to Okah in South Africa is a good lesson to the nation’s judiciary. There is no doubt that our judiciary needs complete overhaul if what happened in South Africa is expected in our shores.

The South African example is an indictment of the slow pace of dispensation of justice in the country. Such a snail-speed dispensation of cases in the country might have led to miscarriage of justice in some instances. While Okah has been tried and found guilty for terrorism charges over October 1 Abuja bombings, all those arrested along with him for the same offences are still languishing in one detention facility or other while their prosecution drags on. If Okah were to be tried in Nigeria, there are chances that he would have been let off the hook.

Okah’s case is the second time a Nigerian will be convicted abroad for a crime committed on our shores. Last year, the former governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori, was convicted by a London court for money laundering offences. Ibori was tried and freed in Nigeria by our judiciary but was convicted abroad. Let our judiciary use the extant South African example to learn one or two lessons on criminal justice administration and begin a diligent trial of all those arrested for the various terrorist attacks in different parts of the country. If all those arrested for the various bombings of churches, police and military formations in the country have been brought to book, the rising wave of terrorist insurgency would have been drastically reduced.

The conviction of Okah should serve as a wake-up call on the Nigerian judiciary to rise to the challenge of expeditious dispensation of justice. Our judiciary should always be mindful of the axiom that justice delayed is justice denied. All impediments to speedy adjudication of cases should be done away with. Government should show more seriousness in its fight against terrorism by prosecuting all those behind the numerous attacks in the country in the same manner the South African court has done in the case of Okah.

Let government bring to book all the mass murderers. That is the only way it can show that it is truly on top of the security situation.

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