Johannesburg - Convicted leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Okah, has asked a Johannesburg High Court to allow him call witnesses to testify for mitigation of his sentence.
The court at its last sitting on January 21 found Mr. Okah guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism by masterminding two car bomb attacks in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, on October 1, 2010.
The court had reserved the pronouncement of the sentence till January 31, 2013.
Mr. Okah’s attorney, Lucky Multulanla, told the trial judge, Neels Claassen, on Thursday that his client wishes to call at least five witnesses from Nigeria and outside Nigeria to testify for the mitigation of the convict’s sentence in the interest of the Niger Delta community.
“My Lord my client wants to be given the opportunity to call some witnesses to come from Nigeria and other countries to testify on mitigation of his sentence.
“Moreover, given the attestation of some highly placed government officials in Nigeria about his popularity among his people, he is willing to play a major role in the peace process the Nigerian government is talking about,’’ Mr. Multulanla said.
He, however, refused to give the names of the witnesses.
“Some of the witnesses willing to testify are community leaders and highly placed individuals within and outside Nigeria.
“They do not want their names mentioned before coming to South Africa because of threats to their safety,’’ Mr. Multulanla said.
The prosecutor, Shauns Abrahams, opposed the application, saying that the convict is trying to buy time.
“The convict is playing delay tactics, he is just trying to buy time and delay the court from giving its sentence.
“He had opportunity to call his witnesses, but he abandoned it; there was no evidence that the Nigerian government either threatened or prevented any witness from testifying during the trial,’’ Mr. Abrahams said.
The prosecutor questioned Mr. Okah’s popularity and influence in the Niger Delta.
“If indeed Okah is that influential, he should have been able to assist the Nigeria government attain peace in Niger Delta. He should have been seen to be talking to his group that threatened both the Nigerian and South Africa governments.
“South Africa government is not taking lightly the threat to its interest and citizen by the group led by the convict and the court should take this into consideration in giving its sentence.
“If he is as influential as he claims to be he should have prevailed on his people to retract their threat,’’ Mr. Abrahams said.
In his ruling, Justice Claassen adjourned the proceeding to February 1 to allow the defence attorney conclude his submissions.
The court will allow the defence counsel to convince the court of any influence the witnesses will have on the sentence of his client to ensure that justice is done, the judge added.
Mr. Okah was found guilty of a 13-count charge of terrorism for masterminding two car bombings in Abuja on October 1, 2010.