Okah sentencing postponed

31 January 2013 - 17:56 By Sapa
Henry Okah. File picture.
Henry Okah. File picture.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The sentencing of convicted Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah was postponed in the High Court in Johannesburg.

Judge Neels Claassen did so to give Okah's defence a chance to present evidence in mitigation of sentencing.

Lucky Maunatlala, for Okah, argued his client wanted an opportunity to obtain witnesses.

Claassen said Okah's attorney had to take the stand on Friday and inform the court what communication there was with the potential witnesses.

Maunatlala argued for a postponement to give witnesses time to get to South Africa.

The State opposed the application.

Claassen said he would rule on the application after Okah's attorney testified.

On January 21, Claassen found Okah guilty on 13 counts of terrorism including engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity, and delivering, placing, and detonating an explosive device.

Twelve people were killed and 36 injured in two car bombs in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 1, 2010, the anniversary of the country's independence. Okah was arrested in Johannesburg the next day.

He was also found guilty on terrorism charges relating to two explosions in March 2010 in the southern Nigerian city of Warri.

Claassen said the State had proved Okah's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Okah's failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.

Claassen found no evidence that Okah did not head the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility for the blasts.

During the trial, Okah denied any involvement in the blasts and said 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.

Earlier Okah had expressed confidence in the South African legal system, saying, "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."

"I still haven't lost faith in the South African justice system, so I will continue to test it."

He was speaking to journalists in the High Court in Johannesburg before the start of sentencing procedures.

Sentencing was postponed to 10am on Friday.