The trial of General Master

2012-10-06 14:34

General Busta Rhymes, Boyloaf, a man named Government, and the General Master who ruled them all.

They’re not characters in a novel.

They are just some of the people named as key players in the trial of Henry Okah which started in the South Gauteng High Court this week.

Okah is charged with engaging in terrorist activities, detonating explosive devices, attempting to cause harm to internationally protected persons and financing terrorism.

He is on trial in South Africa because he is accused of masterminding terrorist attacks in Nigeria on March and October 1 2010 while living in Joburg.

These attacks happened after Okah had accepted amnesty for his role in the struggle of the people of the Niger Delta.

Okah was allegedly the leader of Nigerian rebel group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend).

Altogether, 19 people died in the two attacks and 53 were injured in the October 1 bombing.

Judge Neels Claasens had to have names like “General Busta Rhymes” carefully spelt for him and an interpreter had to be brought in to translate Nigerian English accents.

After this week’s testimony by various witnesses, the court record will read like the script of a big-budget action movie.

Sele Ben testified that Okah was known as “General Master”.

Ben, whose brother – nicknamed Boyloaf – was also allegedly one of Mend’s leaders, told the court about trucks with secret compartments, arms smuggling and speedboats featuring mounted guns.

Both Ben, and a one-time civil servant who can only be identified as “Stanley” – because he has been kidnapped and his life has been threatened – testified that they had warned Nigerian authorities about one of the bombs.

Central to the case is the dividing line between what Okah and his fellow Mend members did before he was granted amnesty in 2009.

The Niger Delta area was the scene of a multitude of attacks on international oil companies and the Nigerian military before this time.

Between Ben and Stanley’s testimony, it emerged that between 2005 and 2008:
»Okah was allegedly overheard on the phone plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea so he could use it as a transit point for gun-running;

»There was allegedly a plan to kidnap the Angolan ambassador to Nigeria;

»Okah allegedly attempted to teach two members of Mend how to build car bombs; and

»Okah allegedly kidnapped expats as “human shields” and for ransom.

All these acts fell under the amnesty Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan granted to former militants who laid down their arms.

Ben explained in court that the reason for the “struggle” was that the Ijaw people, who are the majority group in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, grew up in a “deprived” manner and felt excluded from the “corridors of power”.

Ben testified that the majority of militants had laid down arms when a “roadmap to peace” plan was outlined in the region.

This was after Jonathan, also an Ijaw man, was elected president.

Okah’s legal team has refuted the claims.

“I put it to you that the Nigerian government are paying people to come and testify in order to obtain a conviction,” his advocate, Lucky Maunatlala, told the court.

Both Stanley and Ben denied this, but admitted they were now linked to the Nigerian government and the oil business.

Okah himself treated the proceedings as a farce, frequently breaking into laughter at evidence given by witnesses.


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