JOHANNESBURG — A South African court on Friday rejected a bail appeal for the suspected ex-militant leader accused of ordering deadly twin car bombings on Nigeria's Independence Day last year.
Prosecutors say Henry Okah is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Nigerian militant organisation that has claimed scores of kidnappings and attacks on oil installations in recent years.
He was arrested at his home in Johannesburg on October 2 last year, one day after the car bombs killed 12 people in Abuja, and has since been in custody.
Judge Flip Hattingh said the evidence against Okah pointed to a prima facie case and the court had "valid reasons" to deny the bail, dismissing the bombing suspect's argument that he should be released on health grounds.
"He has denied involvement in the bombings despite evidence seized from his laptops, cellphone and diaries, linking him to the events in Abuja," said Hattingh at Randburg Magistrates Court in Johannesburg.
"The regional court found him to be untruthful," the judge added.
Okah's current detention is not his first time in jail. During a previous incarceration in Nigeria, he complained to his lawyers of attempts by authorities to kill him, alleging poisonous snakes were released into his cell.
Okah has denied organising the October 1 attack and claims he has never been the leader of MEND, which claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Sympathisers filled the court, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with his face and the message" "Free Okah".
Defence lawyer Rudi Krause said the push for bail was not over.
"We will consider the supreme court of appeals. This is not the end of the road for us," he said.
The fourth of nine children of a senior navy officer, Okah is said to have turned to militant action following the 1995 execution of rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who pushed for justice for the Niger Delta region.
Despite being the centre of the one of the world's largest oil industries, the Niger Delta remains deeply impoverished. Oil spills have also left the region badly polluted.
Okah is said to have first witnessed the squalid conditions under which villagers lived in the creeks of the region in his late teens, when he visited the area his family was from.
He was arrested in Angola in September 2007 for arms and explosives trafficking along with a colleague. He was extradited to Nigeria in February 2008.
Police identified him as "an international gun-runner and a major oil bunkerer (thief) in the Niger Delta."
With Okah said to have a kidney ailment, MEND militants eventually made his release one of their key demands, saying his health was deteriorating behind bars.
Okah, who is married and has four children, was set free in 2009 as part of a government amnesty deal offered to Niger Delta militants.