Posted 3,Apr. 2008
Trial of MEND Leader Henry Okah Begins in Jos
Treason trial of Nigeria’s Militant leader, Mr. Henry Okah, begins today Thursday, at the Federal High Court in Jos, Plateau state North-Central of the country.
The trial of Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), according to the Director of Public Prosecution will commence at one o’clock this afternoon.
Also to be tried today, is Mr. Edward Atatah, the second person charged along with Mr. Okah in Angola.
On Wednesday, the MEND leader had asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to set aside the order for his secret trial.
In the processes filed at the Federal High Court through their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, Okah and Atatah urged the court to vacate the trial and make their trial open.
The accused persons alleged that they are yet to receive copies of the charges filed against them.
Okah and Atatah said the Federal Government was seeking the order for secret trial “to commit some atrocities during their trial.”
They added that since the government had told the whole world that the accused persons were gunrunners and planning to topple governments, it would be fair to make their trial open and allow the public conscience to judge the proceedings.
The Federal Government in a 14-count charge, accused Okah of treason, terrorism and also linked him with the disappearance of weapons in the Nigerian Army Central Depot in Kaduna, North Central Nigeria.
Prosecutors made the 14 charges public at the resumed hearing of the lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Okah and his co-detainee, Atatah at the Federal High Court Abuja, the nation's capital city on March 5.
Mr. Okah and Mr. Atatah were both accused of treason, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.
The Prosecutor said that Mr. Okah bought over 6000 assorted rifles ammunition from some military officers who are currently in detention for missing arms at the Nigerian Army ordinance depot in Kaduna.
He was said to have provided the weapons to Militant Groups in the Niger Delta with the intention to intimidate and overawe the Federal Government.
The Prosecutor said that Okah and his co-accused were arrested on 23rd last year in Angola while trying to buy a Korean shipping vessel worth 670,000 US dollars for the purpose of transporting weapons to Militant Groups in the Niger Delta.
Okah and Atatah were extradited to Nigeria by Angolan authorities mid-Febraury after their arrest and detention on September 3, 2007.
In an e-mail statement to journalists the militant group accused both governments of carring out a secret illegal extradition of Okah back to the country at night.
The group claims Okah was beaten, shackled in ankle, cuff chained and blind-folded with a hood before being flown out of Angola under the cover of night to an undisclosed location.
Both Henry Okah and Edward Atatah were taken into custody, at the National Department of Criminal Investigation in Angola by security agents in Angola Mr. Okah for allegations of gun running though the militants claim their leader was being wrongly accused of the crime.
He was said to have been arrested at the Passport Control Area of the Luanda International Airport while discussing on phone and escorted to the SAA counter by two security operatives, after which he was taken into custody.
While demanding their release, shortly after the arrest, MEND said the allegations of gun-running against him were mere fabrications, and threatened the Federal Government for its role in the matter.
According to the militants, Okah had gone to Angola on a business trip to inspect a ship he was to purchase.
They also said the mandatory 106 days, which the government of Angola is authorized to keep a person in detention without bail, had expired.
On January 13 however, the militant group said in a statement that it would halt the attacks in Nigeria's Niger Delta region if its leader Okah was released.
MEND shot up to limelight two years ago after a series of kidnappings which targeted expatriates in oil multinational companies in the Niger Delta and sabotaging oil installations, cutting Nigerian output by nearly one quarter.
If convicted Okah and Atatah risk death penalty.
During the week, MEND disassociated itself from the proposed Niger Delta Peace Summit being planned for the month of April, 2008.
MEND said in an e-mail, that a summit without the basic ingredient of sincerity and the presence of key players such as Okah and others marked for arrest is unacceptable.
The Niger Delta militant group said that Mr. Okah must be in such a forum as an active participant and not on the agenda for discussion.
“Those so-called elders, compromised militants and youth leaders who are clamoring for hand-outs and recognition from Abuja, by accepting to attend are doing so for their own selfish interests,” the group said.
MEND says that if the summit does hold, it will be just another circus that will end in failure as key issues will not be addressed and those that will participate do not have the capacity to guarantee an enduring peace.