Okah denied bail in South Africa… to face Court in February 11 over Abuja bombings.

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LONDON, 19/11/2010: A South African court on Friday denied bail to Henry Okah, the Nigerian national accused of orchestrating independence day blasts in Nigeria that killed more than 12 people.

“The application for bail is denied,” said magistrate Hein Louw.

Prosecutors argued during the bail hearing that Okah is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the militant group that claimed responsibility for the October 1 attacks in Abuja.

Okah has denied being the leader of MEND and said he had no involvement in the twin car bombings.

But Louw said his decision to deny bail was based on his finding that Okah is the militant group’s leader.

“I make the finding that he is indeed the leader of MEND,” he said.

He said the most “damning evidence” was a letter introduced by prosecutors in which Okah’s wife called him the leader of MEND.

“They have shown that the accused’s own wife referred to him as the leader of MEND,” he said.

“That was the most damning evidence against him.”

Louw set a trial date of February 11.

Okah’s lawyer, Rudi Krause, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision and said his client will appeal.

“We will hopefully file a notice of appeal before the close of business today,” he told journalists.

Okah, who has permanent residence in South Africa, was arrested at his home in Johannesburg on October 2, the day after the Abuja blasts.

He has been in custody in Johannesburg since his arrest.

MEND, which claims to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue in the impoverished Delta, had warned of a second attack in Abuja, which it said would prove Okah’s innocence.

The group has also warned it is planning fresh raids on oil installations, where it says it plans to kidnap oil workers.

The group had claimed responsibility for 14 of the 19 hostages freed this week in an operation by the Nigerian military.

Okah, who was arrested in Angola three years ago and transferred to Nigerian custody, has been living in South Africa since being released as part of an amnesty offered to militants in the Delta.

Okah has been in detention for 38 days, since his arrest at his Johannesburg home a day after the twin explosions in the Nigerian capital. He is charged with masterminding the attacks that killed 12 people during Independence Day celebrations.

The prosecution has previously argued that Okah is a terrorist and has opposed his bail application on the grounds that he is a dangerous man and could compromise public safety if released. But Krause has said the state cannot link Okah with the bomb blasts.

Okah’s trial on terrorism-related charges will be heard again on February 11 next year, although his attorney, Rudi Krause said he would immediately appeal Louw’s bail ruling.

Not a flight risk
Speaking to the Mail&Guardian newspapers  after Louw’s verdict, Okah’s wife, Azuka said she had expected her husband to get bail and was “shocked” when he wasn’t.

“My husband was not a flight risk — he doesn’t want to live the life of a fugitive,” she said.

Asked how she felt about unwittingly incriminating her husband as leader of Mend in evidence placed before the court, Azuka Okah explained that she did so in 2008, at a time when Okah was not well-known but was seeking international attention for his detention in solitary confinement in Nigeria.

“There have been many leaders of Mend,” she added.

It would be a tough Christmas for her and the four young Okah children with her husband behind bars, Azuka Okah said. “I will just have to keep them preoccupied.”

And what if her husband did indeed conspire to murder 12 people?

“I understand the gravity of what he is charged with, but because he is my husband, I support him. If he is guilty, that would be unthinkable, terrible.”

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), which has been fighting for greater control of the proceeds of Nigeria’s vast oil revenues since 2006, claimed responsibility for the October 1 attacks. — Sapa and M&G reporter

Sources: AFP, M&G