The conviction by a South African court last Monday of the former Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta [MEND] leader Henry Okah for the October 1, 2010 bombings in Abuja was a case of criminal chicken that went abroad to roost. At its own peril, as it turned out.
outh African judge Neels Claassen said the South African prosecutors had proved their case beyond reasonable doubt that Henry Orkar was "the leader, planner, funder and supplier of car bombs" that exploded in Warri, Delta State in March 2010 and again at the 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations in Abuja on October 1, the same year.
Thirty witnesses were called by the prosecutor to testify against Orkar. They all said he was the planner and financier of the two separate bombing operations. Orkar refused to testify in his own defence, which means, according to the judge, the witness testimonies were not challenged. He is expected to be sentenced on Friday and under South African law, must receive a minimum of a life sentence in prison.
In the wake of the conviction, many Nigerians were wondering what would have been had Henry Orkar not lost his way and gone to South Africa to plan his dastardly outrage against his home country. To begin with, even though MEND issued a statement just before the Abuja bombs went off claiming responsibility for them, they got a very high profile defender that very day: President Goodluck Jonathan. He said he knew MEND did not carry out the attack. He did not say, but his body language indicated that leading Northern politicians opposed to his contesting the 2011 elections did so. In fact, the security agencies here had already began acting out the president's script by questioning Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, director general of General Babangida's campaign. IBB's arrest and interrogation wasn't far off when the South Africans struck. A day after the attacks, they nabbed Orkar.
How many such bombings have taken place in this country and no one has as yet been successfully convicted in the courts? Even the men who were apprehended here for the same offence, including Henry Orkar's brother Charles, are yet to reach a decisive stage in their trial. It is one story after another. Witnesses did not show up; case file is being awaited from the Ministry of Justice; some exhibits have been sent abroad for analysis; the prosecutor has been transferred from his station; the defendants have changed their lawyer etc, etc.