In South Africa, the bail hearing for Nigerian bombing suspect Henry Okah has been adjourned once again. Okah was arrested in connection with the terrorist car bombings early this month in Abuja during Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations.
VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, in Johannesburg, says, “This bail hearing, which is now…a week long, is basically because Mr. Okah has some very good lawyers, who are questioning the prosecution on everything. The prosecution wants to deny bail, saying that he could run away, leave the country and also could intimidate possible witnesses.”
Defense lawyers want the prosecution to produce some evidence that Okah was involved in the blasts.
“The prosecution is reluctant to do so,” says Bobb, “saying this would compromise its ongoing investigation.”
While not laying out much evidence at the hearing, the prosecution has indicated how it intends to proceed.
“They say that Mr. Okah and individuals in Nigeria exchanged text messages, emails and phone calls. And today, they said that he ordered his people in Nigeria to purchase the two cars that were used in the bomb attacks.”
Bobb says that news appeared to take Okah and his attorneys by surprise.
The judge has told the prosecution that it must present some evidence of these allegations if he is to deny Okah bail.
Resources for a long legal fight
The hearing resumes Friday and could go on for some time, Bobb says, because of Okah’s good legal representation and resources.
“Henry Okah is a successful businessman. He owns a security company in Johannesburg. (He) came here, appealed for asylum, was granted asylum on the basis of his ties to the Niger Delta and did eventually obtain citizenship,” he says.
However, Bobb adds, “The (South African) Department of Home Affairs says it’s investigating this, saying he possibly used fraudulent documents to obtain this citizenship.”
While Okah acknowledges he’s a leader among his people, he denies any current relationship with MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
Taking terrorism seriously
It’s not known whether South Africa will extradite Okah once it finishes its case against him.
“It’s clear that the South African authorities want to pursue their case. It looks like there has been communication and sharing of information between investigators in Nigeria and in South Africa. And South Africa – the government, the state – feels it has a case to make,” he says.
Bobb says South Africa has a good track record against terrorism. No attacks occurred during the World Cup, which was held in the country this year.
“They want to maintain that record. So, they’re very keen to show that they will rigorously and vigorously prosecute and pursue any suspected terrorists,” he says.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, five suspects have been arrested in the bombings, which killed about a dozen people. The suspects include Charles Okah, the brother of Henry Okah.