Henry Okah is a Nigerian guerrilla leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). MEND has claimed responsibility for attacks on oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, often through the use of sabotage, guerilla warfare or kidnapping of foreign oil workers. The rebels' goal is to destabilize the foreign oil interest in the Niger Delta, who they claim have been exploiting the local populace. MEND announced its creation in early 2006 with several attacks on Nigeria's oil infrastructure that have cut daily production by about one quarter, as well as a sophisticated media campaign involving e-mailing press releases to coincide with the attacks. It created headlines in Nigeria when it announced it would participate in peace talks if they were mediated by former United States President Jimmy Carter or actor George Clooney. It also claimed the organization was considering a cease-fire after receiving an "appeal" by U.S. President Barack Obama, who denied making it in the first place.
Okah was arrested in Angola and deported to Nigeria in February 2008, and charged with 62 counts of treason, terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and arms trafficking, faced the death penalty. He claimed to be "championing the disenfranchised residents of the Delta region, who see little benefit from the oil being pumped out from under them." Okah's lawyer, Femi Falana, claimed that the Nigerian government offered to buy him off by granting ownership of several oil blocks, though he refused. The trial, which began in April 2008, was held in private, because President Umaru Yar'Adua says it would "jeopardize national security". Lawyers for Okah said a closed trial was an infringement of his rights and asked a superior court to overturn the decision.
In response, on May 26, 2008, MEND attacked a Royal Dutch Shell pipeline in the Delta region, and claimed to have killed 11 Nigerian troops. While the Nigerian government denied the deaths, the price of oil rose $1 on world markets within hours of the attack. An e-mail from MEND warned " attacks... are a retaliation to his unnecessary arrest."