The sentencing, Tuesday, of Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), by a South African court over his role in two explosions in March and October 2010, respectively, in Abuja and Warri, Delta State, has shown that although the wheel of justice grinds slowly, it grinds surely.
Okah, who throughout the trial period showed little remorse, was quoted as saying that his intentions in the deadly strikes were to “obtain maximum attacks”.
We hail the judgment because it has, to a large extent, assuaged the anger of victims of the bomb blasts. The judgment is once again a challenge to the Nigerian judicial system. We salute the South African judicial system for identifying with our cause.
In its reaction, MEND through its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, accused the South African court of compromise by the Nigerian government. With this position, had the judgment been done in the country, MEND would perhaps have frustrated the entire proceedings.
“Effectively, the accused Okah is therefore sentenced to 24 years imprisonment,” Judge Neels Claassen said while handing down the sentence.
The MEND leader was jailed 12 years each for the Warri and Abuja attacks. He also bagged 10 years for being a threat to South Africa, a term that will run concurrently.
Asari Dokubo, leader of Niger Delta Volunteers’ Force (NDVF), is of the opinion that though “justice has been done”, the verdict is too mild and simplistic as the court ought to have given Okah a death sentence. We are, however, satisfied with the discretion applied by the judge in his verdict. Okah’s blood could not have paid for any of the 12 or more souls his group’s attack sent to their early graves. It is our belief that the judgment will send the necessary message to others in the same trade with Okah.
Indeed, Nigeria should begin to strengthen its justice system. To achieve a corrupt-free nation, the war against graft should be seen as being fought. Those convicted for corrupt offences must be punished to serve as a deterrent to others.
The cases of James Ibori, who was convicted and is serving jail term in the United Kingdom for graft-related offences; Deprieye Alamieyeseigha, who was convicted in the UK; and the recent one seem to suggest that Nigeria’s judicial system has failed, that we should perhaps be thinking of outsourcing our criminal justice system, as once suggested by Adebayo Kareem, a legal practitioner.
Okah was born in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria. He was educated in the Nigerian private school system and is a holder of Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering. A licensed door-to-door gun salesman, he moved to South Africa in 2003.
In February 2008, he was deported from Angola, where he had been arrested, and was brought to Nigeria. He was charged on 62 counts including treason, terrorism and gun-running, offences carrying death penalty. His trial, which began in April 2008, was held behind closed doors on the orders of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.