THE South African court that convicted Henry Okah of master minding the 2010 bombing of the Independence Day celebrations in Abuja would sentence him on 30 January.
The conclusion of the trial says something about Nigeria’s justice system.
Embarrassment from the bombing at the country’s 50th independence anniversary, the death of 12 people and more injured, would have been enough reasons for speedy trial of suspects in an incident that openly defied Nigerian authorities and put terrorism on another pedestal.
Challenges with the case began when the securities agencies accused “some big men” of sponsoring the bombing. There was apparently no evidence, leading a collapse of that approach.
The President seemed to have complicated matters by absolving the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, from responsibility for the attacks without any investigations.
MEND claimed to be behind the attack and the trial in South Africa of Okah, who had links with MEND tallied with the claim.
Our concern is that while the trial in Nigeria is not making headway, South African High Court Judge Neels Claassen in convicting Okah on 13 charges said, “I have come to the conclusion that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused.”
Series of adjournments have put the Nigerian side of the case in the class of others put off for another day. One of the suspects died in detention, and it appears the prosecution lacks the type of evidence the South Africans used to nail Okah in court.
The seriousness of the attack in Abuja was such that we expected the security agencies, which lost personnel in the blasts, would have had enough evidence to go through a speedy trial.
The initial distractions of searching for “some big men” to attach to the case appear to be one of the many obstacles to the prosecution’s case.
Will the prosecution depend on the conviction of Okah to push the case in Abuja? Can it produce independent evidence to convict the suspects?
This case may be in focus because of its prominence, but it is not the best example of how trials in Nigerian courts drag. A suspect in the 1995 “Otokoto” killings in Owerri has just been freed, after 16 years of appealing a death sentence.
Blames on the speed of justice in Nigeria, which results in a lot of injustices, are often heaped on the judiciary.
However, the arbitrariness of some of our laws, and an enforcement process that emphasises punishment of suspects, fill our prisons and detention centres with suspects who are held for years without a court appearance.
Suspects – in all cases – have rights to speedy trials.