|MEND Leader, Henry Okah|
Indications have emerged that some top politicians in the country, with links to authorities in South Africa, are perfecting plans to secure freedom for the jailed leader of the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah, Nigerian Tribune has reported.
Investigations by the Nigerian Tribune indicated that Okah, whose faction of MEND declared support for the election of President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 electioneering, was being tipped to enjoy a special amnesty from the South African government. Sources also indicated that those working on the plot were of the view that Okah should be made to enjoy a special pardon, so as to serve as a payback for his group’s support for President Buhari in the 2015 election process.
It was also learnt that the decision to secure freedom for Okah was being packaged as a balance measure in favour of the new government in the Niger Delta. It was gathered that those working for his release were of the view that Niger Delta, as currently constituted, was tilted in favour of the previous administration, as sources stated that most of the ex-militants believed they were beholden to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Henry Okah, who was implicated in the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja, was jailed in South Africa two years ago. He was arrested in Johannesburg, South Africa, a day after the Abuja bombing and charged to court for alleged culpability in the bombing which claimed 12 lives and injured 36 others. He was convicted on January 21, 2013 by a South African court which found him guilty of 13 charges of terrorism and bombing.
Justice Nels Claassen, who handed down the ruling, said: "I have come to the conclusion that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused,” thus sentencing Okah to 24 years imprisonment. He is currently serving his jail term at the Ebongweni Correctional Centre in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
It was gathered that the plan to secure freedom for the jailed Okah are in two ways. The politicians who wanted Okah released were looking for ways to get Nigeria apply officially for his release, while a presidential pardon would be obtained. If that does not happen, they would find ways to convince the South African authorities to grant Okah presidential amnesty, which would automatically terminate his remaining prison years.
It was gathered that the lobby team working on the agenda believed it would secure the full cooperation of Nigerian and South African authorities at the end of the day. “The plan is to ensure a stable Niger Delta, which is not tilted against the current government. With Okah in the picture, there would be a balance in the Niger Delta and with his experience, the team working it out believes he could help stabilise things for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the area,” a source in the know said.
Okah was, in 2008, arrested in Angola on charges of illegal arms importation and deported to Nigeria in February of the year.