Okah, MEND Leader Dares Jonathan

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Leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Okah has taunted President Goodluck Jonathan, from jail in Johannesburg, South Africa, daring the president to try him in Nigeria.

The militant leader Henry, who is facing terrorism charges in South Africa, said Nigeria’s government is refusing to seek his extradition because a trial in his homeland may prove his innocence.

Okah, 45, is facing charges under South Africa’s terrorism law for alleged involvement in car bombs on 1 October, 2010 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that killed 12 people close to where President Goodluck Jonathan was celebrating the country’s 50 years of independence.

South African law allows trials of alleged terrorists arrested or resident in the country no matter where their acts were committed.

“If I’m such a terrorist, as they say, why don’t they want to try me in Nigeria?” Okah said in a March 6 phone interview from a Johannesburg prison. “They’re using the South African government to hold me and they’ve been successful in jailing me without trial.”

Nigeria hasn’t requested Okah’s extradition, Justice Ministry spokesman Ambrose Momoh said by phone on March 7 from Abuja. He said he was “unaware” of any plans to seek a trial in Nigeria “at the moment.” He declined further comment.

An extradition treaty South Africa and Nigeria signed in 2002 hasn’t entered into force, according to the South African Department of Justice.

Okah’s application for bail has been rejected by two South African courts and he is appealing against the decisions.

“The Nigerian authorities indicated that they have no intentions of extraditing Okah,” Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said in a March 7 interview in Johannesburg.

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The Abuja bombing was claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main armed group in the southern Niger River delta, which is home to the country’s oil and gas industry.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

Nigeria’s government accuses Okah of being the leader of MEND, which says it’s fighting for a greater share of oil revenue for the region.

Attacks in delta by armed groups including MEND cut more than 28 percent of the West African nation’s oil output between 2006 and 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM),Chevron Corp. (CVX) of San Ramon, California, Total SA (FP) and Eni SpA (ENI) run joint ventures with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. that pump more than 90 percent of the nation’s oil.

Okah, a South African resident, was first arrested in Luanda, the Angolan capital, in 2007 on suspicion of arms trafficking. He was later extradited to Nigeria, where he was put on trial on 62 charges, including capital offences of treason and terrorism.

The Nigerian government freed Okah under an amnesty initiated in August 2009 by former President Umaru Yar’Adua, and he returned to South Africa. Jonathan succeeded Yar’Adua after he died on May 5.

While Okah denies involvement in the Abuja blasts and of being the leader of MEND, he says he commands the support of many of the armed groups in Nigeria’s oil region.

“I’m not likely to get a fair trial under these circumstances,” Okah said in the phone interview. He said he was moved from a medium- to a maximum-security prison after mobile phones were found in his cell last month. “I’m held in punishment wing, the cell I’m in has no windows, no sunlight.”