Africa

Nigeria leader willing to work with Okah for peace

Daniel Edyegu

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has shown a willingness to offer terror-accused Henry Okah an olive branch to pacify the volatile Niger Delta.

Alleged Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah appears in the South Gauteng High Court. (Gallo)

Niger Delta Minister Godsday Orubebe on Tuesday told the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg that despite the grievous harm that the October 1 2010 twin bombings caused to families of the victims, dialogue with members of warring factions has proved the best strategy in restoring peace to the oil-rich state.

"Throughout his tenure, [Jonathan] has always preached about the use of dialogue as a better way of getting to mutual consensus on contentious matters. If the accused is ready for dialogue, we would be very pleased to bring him on board," Orubebe said during his testimony against Okah.

Okah, the alleged leader of the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), is facing terrorism charges. Okah allegedly masterminded the twin car bombings that led to the death of 12 people and injured 36 more in Abuja, Nigeria, during the country's independence anniversary.

Jonathan, like Okah, comes from the Niger Delta state.

Okah has been in custody since his arrest on October 2 2010, with courts turning down all his bail applications. Defence lawyers maintain Okah played no role in the fatal bombings.

Fabricated charges
The defence claims the Nigerian government fabricated charges against Okah and closely liaised with the South African government to deny him bail on allegations that he would continue to destabilise the Niger Delta on his release.

Orubebe told the court that whereas MEND, formed in 2005, has two factions led by ex-militant, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and a minority faction linked to Okah, former militants under Tompolo had taken up amnesty and abandoned an armed rebellion while those under Okah fight on.

"When the Nigerian government initiated amnesty in June 2009, militants under Tompolo saw the benefits of the government's gesture and handed over their ammunitions. These have been trained in practical skills to enable them initiate gainful employment activities in the area. But those linked to Okah declined to hand over their weapons until the elapse of the amnesty," Orubebe said.

Orubebe is the first witness to testify against Okah in the terrorism trial.

Proceedings were adjourned on Tuesday when Justice Neels Claassen failed to grasp the accent of the second prosecution witness, Victor Ben Selekaye.

Scheduled testimony
Selekaye, a former MEND spokesperson-cum-businessman, was scheduled to testify about his involvement in the activities of the militant group and the role of Okah.

Selekaye spoke English with such a thick Ijaw language accent that Claasen was prompted to ask prosecutor Shaun Abrahams to fly in a Nigerian interpreter.

Despite Abrahams's attempts to translate Selekaye's testimony, Claassen insisted he needed to understand evidence from the witness first-hand to make a just judgment on the matter.

"I'm sorry but I need to hear and understand the evidence. If I don't hear his statements, then I would be doing an injustice to the accused because I'm supposed to make credibility findings at the end of the day. I suggest that we adjourn this trial to seek means of redress," Classen stated.

The trial resumes on Wednesday.

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