Okah denies knowing Abuja bombers

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Henry Okah, who is facing accusations of orchestrating Nigeria‘s deadly Independence Day blasts sought Friday to poke holes in the prosecution‘s case against him in testimony at his bail hearing.

The ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility for the twin car bombings that killed 14 people and injured 66 others, denied any links with nine people arrested in Nigeria in the aftermath of the attacks.

”I don‘t know them and I‘ve never even met them,” he told a South African court.

Okah lives in South Africa and was arrested in Johannesburg on Oct. 2, the day after the blasts killed 14 people near celebrations in Abuja to mark the 50th anniversary of Nigeria‘s independence from Britain.

Prosecutors told the court Thursday that police believe Okah had a ”leading role in the explosions,” and said he was in contact with the authors of the attacks immediately before and after the bombings.

But Okah, 45, said he has never had any role in violence carried out by militants from the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

”I‘m from the region, and obviously like everybody who‘s from the region I‘m a sympathiser of the cause. But for me, that‘s where it stops,” he said.

Prosecutors say a diary seized from his home links him to militant activity, but Okah said his notes on guerrilla warfare merely reflected an interest of his.

”That‘s my passion and I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with that,” he said.

Okah claimed his arrest is part of a political ploy by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to blame the attacks on his political opponents and discredit them ahead of elections next year.

The bail hearing is set to continue Monday.

Prosecutors have argued Okah is likely to flee South Africa if he is released before his trial.

Okah has been in South African custody since his arrest. He was granted his own cell after the court ruled that his life might be at risk in jail.

Three years ago Okah was arrested in Angola and transferred to Nigerian custody.

He moved to Johannesburg after being released as part of an amnesty programme offered to militants in the Niger Delta, the heart of Nigeria‘s oil industry.


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