By Emma Amaize
LAGOS – CONVICTED militant leader, Henry Okah, serving a 24-year-jail term for international terrorism in South Africa, has denied the allegation by the South African Department of Correctional Services that he attempted to escape, last month, from the Newlock Prison, Pretoria.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta, MEND, also, described the claim of attempted jail break by Okah as ‘’pretty propaganda and a last ditch and desperate deed by the South Africa and Nigeria Governments to scuttle Henry’s Okah’s likely victor from the South African Appellate Court coming up in March.’’
Okah’s lawyer, Idemudia Uriesi, speaking for his client, said, ‘All allegations, insinuations and/news of escape or attempted escape by our client form prison custody are fabrications. They have no basis in truth or fact, are totally false and consequently denied.’
He asserted that the MEND leader had no interest in becoming a fugitive or attaining his freedom by unlawful means.
According to the statement, ‘’We are attorneys of record of Henry Okah currently incarcerated at the Newlock Prison, Pretoria, South Africa, having been found guilty by the South Guateng High Court (Johannesburg) on charges of international terrorism on the 26th day of March, 2013 and serving a 24-year custodial sentence.’’
‘’Mr. Okah won leave to appeal both conviction and sentence on the 28th of November, 2013, a process he is currently preparing for and soon to be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa.
‘’We meet with Mr. Okah on a weekly basis and can confirm that his current preoccupation is his impending appeal and his other prisoner’s rights,’’ the counsel said.
‘’We and our client have total confidence in the correctness of Mr. Okah’s legal position regarding his appeal against conviction and sentence on the charges and we have no doubt that his appeal will be successful,’’ he asserted.
Reacting to the purported jail break, MEND in a statement signed spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, said, ‘’Our attention has been drawn to a statement by the South African Department of Correctional Services of an “attempted jailbreak” by Mr Henry Okah. ‘’
‘’The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) views this petty propaganda as a last ditch and desperate deed by the South African and Nigerian Governments to scuttle Henry Okah’s likely victory from the South African Appellate Court coming up anytime in the month of March, 2014 and an outrageous lie.
‘’No right thinking person would believe that the ‘political prisoner’ who was recently granted a leave to appeal his conviction and has a pending lawsuit against the South African Prison Service would connive to escape with common-law prisoners who have nothing to lose,’’ the militant group asserted.
It said, ‘’Henry Okah not only shunned a plea bargain offered by the prosecution for his freedom, but opted to go ahead with his trial to clear his name. He is ready to proceed to the South African Constitutional Court to test the South African Judicial system against an obvious setup.’’
According to the spokesperson, ‘’The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) continues to back Mr Henry Okah’s innocence over the attacks he has been blamed for.’’