New judge, same arguments in Nigeria militant trial

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The trial of a leader of Nigeria’s main militant group resumed before a new judge on Tuesday with his lawyers again appealing for bail on medical grounds and challenging the jurisdiction of the court.
Okah, on trial for gun-running and treason, is the suspected head of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks on oil facilities have cut the OPEC member’s output by more than a fifth over the past three years.
Reuters says the original judge withdrew in February saying the case should be reassigned to another court because the alleged crimes were committed in the southern Niger Delta, not in the central city of Jos where his court sits.
The move raised defence hopes the trial would be shifted to the delta as Okah’s lawyers — along with the well-armed factions whose support he still commands — had long demanded.
But instead it was moved from court one to court two in the same building in Jos, on the basis that a federal court has jurisdiction across the country.
“We’re going round in circles,” one official who was in court yesterday told Reuters, asking not to be named because the case is being held in camera.
MEND has made Okah’s release one of its key demands and has said it will not free two British oil workers held hostage for more than six months until he is let go.
Okah’s trial has been held behind closed doors, hundreds of kilometres from where his crimes are alleged to have been committed, on the grounds that a secret trial is a matter of national security.
His defence team requested in January that the case be transferred to Bayelsa, one of three main states in the Niger Delta. They also say Okah, in his mid-40s, needs urgent medical treatment not available inside Nigeria for a kidney ailment.
Okah was arrested in Angola in September 2007 and extradited to Nigeria five months later. His case has been repeatedly delayed over legal technicalities and arguments about whether he is fit to stand trial.