JOHANNESBURG — A Nigerian terror suspect already jailed more than a year will remain in jail another
eight months before his trial starts in South Africa, a judge ruled Monday.
Henry Okah’s trial had been scheduled to start Monday. Instead of starting their arguments, prosecutor Shaun Abrahams and defense attorney Rudi Krause told Judge Geraldine Borchers they had agreed to ask for a postponement until Oct. 1. No reason was given, and the judge granted the request.
Okah, who was in court wearing a dark suit, took the news calmly. He has complained about conditions in jail and tried unsuccessfully to get judges to grant him bail in lengthy hearings over the last year.
Okah was arrested in South Africa, where he had been living for months, soon after deadly bombings in Nigeria’s capital during Oct. 1, 2010 independence celebrations. He has denied involvement, and says he is not a member of the militant group the Nigerian government blames for bombings and widespread unrest in the delta.
Okah is being tried under South African anti-terror legislation. His government has not requested his extradition and its investigators are working with South African prosecutors in the Okah case.
Prosecutor Abrahams, speaking to reporters Monday, refused to say why he had requested the eight-month postponement. He said that trials for other suspects for the bombings had begun in Nigeria, and witnesses who were testifying in those proceedings may also testify in South Africa.
During earlier bail hearings, prosecutors presented evidence drawn from Okah’s diaries and computer correspondence that they said bolstered accusations he masterminded the October bombings.
Nigerian officials say Okah leads the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which claimed responsibility for the bombings. The group known as MEND accuses Nigeria’s government of failing to alleviate poverty in the delta, even though it is earning billions of dollars from the region’s oil.
In 2008, Okah was arrested in Angola and extradited to Nigeria, where he was accused of treason and terrorism and linked to a gunrunning scandal involving high-ranking military officials. His arrest and trial sparked an escalation in MEND attacks. Charges against Okah were dropped and he was freed in July 2009 as part of the amnesty program.