A High Court in Nigeria's North Central region will decide next week, whether to grant bail to the leader of the main militant group MEND, in the oil-producing Niger Delta, defence lawyers said on Wednesday.

Henry Okah
Leader of the Niger Delta
Militant Group, MEND

Henry Okah heads the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks and threats against oil multinationals in the oil-rich region, has cut output by a fifth, helping to push up global oil prices.

Okah, was arrested in Angola in September, and extradited to Nigeria to face trial for gun-running and treason, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

His secret trial in the Plateau capital Jos, has created an uproar among his supporters and prompted MEND, to scale up its campaign of attacks on major oil facilities in the world's eighth biggest crude exporter. His bail application will be decided on August 8.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Salihu Aliyu, opposed the bail application, arguing that the charges against Okah were too serious for trial judge Stephen Adah to agree to release him.

"The court does not have the power to grant the DPP's request," one defence lawyer said after Wednesday's court sitting in Jos.

MEND, the main militant group in the Niger Delta which produces nearly all of Nigeria's 2 million barrels per day of oil output, has made Okah's release a condition for suspending its campaign of violence launched in early 2006.

It has said it will not take part in peace talks planned by the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua until he is freed.

Okah's trial has made little progress since it started in May, dragging from one adjournment to the next mainly over technical issues.

His lawyers had said they planned to subpoena former President Olusegun Obasanjo his army chief of staff and representatives of international oil firms including Royal Dutch Shell and Agip to testify.

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