THE tortuous legal battle and the long wait for justice over the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Olayinka Abiola ended yesterday. And the verdict was death sentence for the two accused persons: Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha and the victim’s personal aide, Lateef Shofolahan.
Although, Al-Mustapha, who accused of directing state-sponsored killings, was some time ago acquitted in the attempted murder of the late Publisher of The Guardian, Dr. Alex Ibru, the court yesterday convicted him for Kudirat Abiola’s assassination.
The attack on and killing of Kudirat was similar to the shooting of Ibru, who eventually died on November 20, 2011 at the age of 66.
It took Justice Mojisola Dada almost seven hours to deliver the judgment as security agents kept sentry. A bomb scare added another dimension to the events of the day but the confusion it caused was short-lived.
In her ruling, Justice Dada of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, said: “Light shines in darkness and darkness comprehends it not. Those who shed innocent blood, are those who fear death most. Therefore, according to section 3, 1 and 9 of the Criminal Code, you are guilty and should be dead by hanging. You shall be hanged until you are pronounced dead.”
Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan were accused of killing Kudirat, wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election on June 4, 1996.
The conviction of the accused brings to the fore the murderous campaign of the Abacha junta, under which prominent Nigerians were killed and the incarceration of pro-democracy activists.
The court held that Al-Mustapha as the CSO to Abacha admitted that he headed the Strike Force in the Presidential Villa, which was mandated to protect the then government, stating that by the name of the group, it was obvious that it was set up to terrorise whoever its members saw as a threat to the then military regime.
“Even by the name, Strike Force and the anti-terrorism job, it is billed to strike with force any opposition to government of that time,” the court held.
Justice Dada stated that for the fact that the first defendant (Al-Mustapha) claimed that he was tortured to make the statements, which were admitted in evidence before the court, does not deny the fact that he gave the Prosecuting Witness (PW2), Msheila Barnabas a.k.a. Sgt. Rogers the special SMG 9mm ammunition, which they used in executing the deed.
She held that the evidence of Rogers is manifestly reliable. According to the judge, for the fact that Al-Mustapha admitted that he sent Rabo Lawal to Lagos during the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) rally only to protect the property of Abacha and the fact that he said that he only gave Rogers his gun for the purposes of cleaning is enough evidence that there were conspiracy to murder Kudirat in cold-blood.
In the judgment, which began at about 9.55 a.m. and lasted till about 4.45 p.m., saw the court dismissing the allegation by Al-Mustapha that his ordeal was as a result of persecution, but rather his unrealised ambition to retain his CSO’s job after the death of Abacha.
“Having not denied his signature in Exhibit A2, he (Al-Mustapha) said he gave his arms to PW2 for cleaning. This is an after-thought and it is evident that he indeed gave PW2 his arms. The allegations of promises made to the prosecution witnesses were never substantiated before the court,” Dada declared, adding that the prosecution witnesses confessed that they never got the promised houses.
The judge said the evidence-in-chief of the PW2 confirmed that Shofolahan gave them information about the movement of Kudirat and described him as a traitor who sold his boss at all cost for the purpose of achieving his personal ambition. “Not long after the death of his boss, he began to romance with Abacha government and engaged in a two-million man match in Abuja in support of Abacha. He was a viper, whose employers did not know while habouring him in the house. He showed them the picture of Kudirat and quietly sneaked away. He deliberately sacrificed Kudirat Abiola for the purpose of achieving his personal gains,” the judge noted, stressing that he attempted to trivialise the trial by acting and making people to laugh in order to divert attention.
She held that the evidence of the PW2 and PW3 were reliable and showed that the first and second defendants conspired to murder Kudirat and indeed killed her.
Justice Dada stated that it was possible going by the evidence of the prosecution witness that he could have finished the killing which occurred between 8.00 a.m. and 9.00 a.m. and went to his village in Azare in Bauchi State the same day, adding that the allegation by Al- Mustapha as contained in the video clip shown in court about the VIP’s who visited the Presidential Villa had nothing incriminating.
On the statement by Al-Mustapha during his testimony that he even helped to feed the late Abiola when he was in detention, the court said, it means that he wielded much powers in the Aso Villa at that time if he could single-handedly spend N3.2 million on the upkeep of the late business mogul.
However, counsel to the defendants, Olalekan Ojo, immediately indicated his interest to contest the judgment at the Appeal Court and requested that the copy of the judgment be made available to him on time.
The judgment witnessed heavy presence of combat ready security agencies comprising the prisons, Police and the State Security Services (SSS). Armed prison officers with sniffer dogs took vintage positions.
A bomb scare caused panic in the court premises but security agents promptly apprehended a man, who allegedly dropped a bag in the area and brought the situation under control.
After the judgment, supporters of the condemned men thronged the court premises spoiling for a fight and threatening to deal with those considered as opposition to the freedom of their principal.
Yesterday’s judgment came after parties to the case had argued and adopted their written addresses in one of the celebrated criminal trials in Nigeria, which lasted for more than 12 years.
In adopting his written address, counsel to the defence (Ojo), prayed the court to discharge and acquit his clients without fear or favour because the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
His words: “We pray your lordship to dispense justice without fear or favour as my lordship has always done and discharge and acquit the defendants because the courts will not convict any Nigerian on the basis of conjecture, hatred or hearsay.”
He argued that the testimonies of the star witness (Sgt. Rogers) and that of Mohammed Abdul alias Katako were inconsistent and therefore cannot be relied upon by the court, adding that the extra-judicial statement made by Al-Mustapha was not a confessionary statement and should be discountenanced. He maintained that his clients were never in Lagos at the time of the crime, insisting that the prosecution failed to prove its allegation that Shofolahan was an aide to Kudirat.
The prosecution counsel, Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN), in his submission, urged the court to convict the defendants based on circumstantial evidence before it, adding that some of the prosecution witnesses were either dead, retired or were unwilling to help the course of justice. He maintained that the accused could not prove their innocence based on the argument that they were not present at the scene of the crime since conspiracy in criminal law takes place when there is the meeting of minds.
“In considering the compelling evidence, it is clear that she was murdered by the government of the day because of her role in demanding for the release and restoration of her husband’s mandate,” he said, urging the court to declare them guilty as charged.
Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan, were charged 13 years ago with conspiracy and murder of Kudirat. They closed their defence on August 17, 2011 before the judge adjourned the matter for adoption of written addresses.
Before then, Justice Dada had in a ruling on July 15, 2011, directed Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan to open their defence after she dismissed their no-case submission. She held that the accused had case to answer in the murder of Kudirat.
In his testimonies, Al-Mustapha accused a former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar of being responsible for his long incarceration out of fear that he would divulge the secrets of how Abacha and Abiola died. He also disclosed that former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who was then a Police officer was under instruction to kill him but that non-cooperation of the then Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Mr. Mike Okiro, saved him from death. Ribadu promptly denied the allegation.
Led in evidence by his counsel, Ojo, the former CSO also alleged that the government of Abubakar withdrew $200 million, £75 million and N200 million to appease some South-West leaders in the wake of Abiola’s death in 1998.
He claimed that the leaders of Afenifere, including the late Abraham Adesanya and Bola Ige were used to delay the release of Abiola from detention until he was “murdered.”
In his bid to prove his allegation, Al-Mustapha tendered a video footage of the purported departure of the late Afenifere leaders from the Presidential Villa in Abuja, a day after Abiola died.
The video was shown in the open court, in which Adesanya, in company of Ige and others addressed journalists on what needed to be done after Abiola’s death.
Shofolahan also stunned the court in his defence by denying ever working directly for Kudirat. He also retracted all the statements he made before they were arraigned in 1998.