Major Hamza Al-Mustapha; The Big Question Yet Unanswered!

The mere title of this piece, would attract a good number of viewers to it, the mere connotation of the major in it, would force even the least interested observer of the Nigerian judicial scene to take a moment of deep breath to at least have a look at the first few paragraphs. A good number also would unconsciously click their mouse to have a picture of what is contained within. Forgive my optimism if I have been but how about we tell ourselves the truth however hard it may seem. You know why? Major hamza al- Mustafa is involved and everybody wants to read. Perhaps I would not be an exception if I happen to see same in some other publications and ever since I became engrossed in the Nigerian political scene, never have I missed any newsletter that features the incarcerated major.

Since Nigeria kissed the wine of democracy way back in 1999, no litigation has gathered more hype from the media both local and international than that involving the just convicted major over the alleged conspiracy in the murder of the late hajia kudirat Abiola, the wife of the late business mogul and acclaimed winner of the June 1993 elections despite nullification on the 12th of the same month. Now it is a settled fact that a good number of us have in one way or the other either consciously or unconsciously been carried away and drowned in the waters of the aura created by the just convicted major few months ago despite 13 years of detention at the kirikiri maximum prisons no thanks to the adjudicatory method of dispute resolution anyway. Permit me at this juncture, to ask the one singular question that informs my writing this piece. What could have been the reason for this atmosphere created by this litigation? Why haven’t we been able to allow the family of the deceased kudirat and those of the accused major to take the trouble of whatever happens to be the outcome of the litigation? Why have we all decided to make it a matter of national concern as though it concerns us directly, why have the media and why would the media continue to make more sales whenever it carries any news that features the handsome but “wicked” gentle man as many will call him? Too many questions already but I must ask this last one. Why would the outcome of the dispute be at the detriment of the unity of the nation as is been rumored in some quarters and perhaps the reason why the obasanjo administration refused to address the issue despite spending a whopping 8 years in office?

I won’t forget that cold morning of February 2012 in a hurry. It was few days after Major Hamza Al-Mustafa was sentenced to death by hanging by the high court sitting at igbosere by one justice mojisola Dada,who read the leading judgment. I was on a bus from Kano to Maiduguri immediately after the last ASUU strike was called off. The journey had barely started, when the outcome of the just passed sentence became the discussion of the day. Everybody was involved in the interesting discussion from the driver, to the conductor down to the other passengers save me. And yes another justification for my first paragraph Al-Mustapha was involved and automatically everybody wanted to be involved. I happened to be the only southerner sited on that bus and the whole conversation went in Hausa language. Nobody had an inkling of how good I am at both speaking Hausa and as well as translating them into writing. So while they had a field day discussing the whole death sentence miasma, I dropped my ears to the ground and eavesdropped on their conversation. For one thing, it made the six hours drive to Maiduguri seem as though it were a mere three hour drive because Al-Mustapha was involved; there was a lot of story to tell while I had a lot of listening to do on my part.

Now one thing I was able to gather from the whole discussion is this, they were not happy with the death sentence; they termed it everything from malicious, derogatory, wicked and a miscarriage of justice. I was shocked to my marrows, when one of them said; it was only used as a medium of payback time to the north for being in the fore front of Abiola’s detention and controversial death while in detention. I became even more surprised for the justification of his assertion. Hear him “justice mojisola dada being from the Yoruba race represented the entire oduduwa descendant and was no doubt acting for and on behalf of the entire Yoruba race”. However logical the man’s argument proved to be, it wasn’t too hard to be severed from ignorance.

On the second encounter, I had boarded a bus from Onitsha to Kano, we had just arrived Kaduna at exactly midnight and as a result of the curfew imposed in that state, we couldn’t continue with journey and had to join other commuters who had already parked in observation of the law. People formed different discussion groups, while many others remained in the vehicle and snored to the heavens. I rushed to a tea- shop nearby and joined some of the men while we went into discussion of the immediate events that has led to the just imposed curfew in the state and so many other things. They were so happy and appreciated how well I spoke the Hausa language as though it were my mother’s tongue. In other words they enjoyed my company and craved for my opinions as we chatted. As we drank from our tea-cups, we discussed about the state of the nation paying more credence to the political arena. In no time Al-Mustafa’s conviction became the subject of the cold night vigil and to my consternation, they were not happy about the death sentence imposed on the accused and the reasons they proffered were so Siemens that not even Ben Carson, the great neuro-surgeon could separate them from those established by those on that journey to Maiduguri. When they sought my opinion on the protracted matter, I chose to argue from the legal perspective even though I borrowed the submissions of the constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay to this effect “let law and justice take its course”. The matter soon ended and darkness paved way for lightning. I had just heard the driver calling passengers attention to take to their seats as we were due to move. As we dispersed to our various seats, the entire discussion troubled my conscience and then I decided to make it a topic of public concern via this medium.

Now from the Yoruba man’s perspective, AL-MUSTAFA is everything from a rebel, a traitor and a living Hitler and as such must pay for the loss occasioned by his recklessness with power. To many others, he must pay with his life for giving the professional orders that saw sergeant Jabila (rogers) to annihilate and murder the innocent kudirat in her cold blood on that cold morning of 1994. In Hafsat Abiola’s words, the daughter of the late kudirat on the day the judiciary took the bold step of convicting the man that saw the Abiola family robbed of the joys of motherhood. “Justice at last for my mum Indeed God doesn’t sleep”. For the average Ibo man, he is not any interested in whatever happens to be the outcome of the litigation, probably because he has nothing to lose. What picture am I trying to paint here? One may be propelled to ask.

The 153 months trial of the former chief security officer of one of Nigeria’s finest generals despite recklessness and brutality General Sani Abacha, has become nothing more than a dart that everybody wants to take a throw at. Ever since his incarceration, the three big regions have chosen to take sides with each region protecting one interest or the other. For the average northerner, put a knife to his throat and he would still say that Major Hamza Al-Mustafa is nothing more than a saint and his conviction to die by the hangman’s noose, amounts to nothing, but a betrayal of justice and a miscarriage of  same thereby nailing themes the goddess of justice to the tree. He is not interested with the dispositions of the law, he doesn’t want to look at the scale of the trial to see how it tilted to Al-mustafa’s disadvantage, he doesn’t want to consider the admissible evidence adduced at the trial neither would he lose sleep over sergeant jabila’s statement that nailed their hero where he subscribed to have been handed an Ak-47 rifle by his boss to exterminate and do away with the wife of the business mogul, for her pro-democracy struggles and resolve to get her husband back to power. On the contrary, they have chosen to be blinded am sorry to have used that word by their “hero’s” statement of defense that he only handed the rifles to the sergeant for cleaning as was the practice whenever they return from range shootings and as such, that justice Mojisola acted in default of justice.

For the other learned ones, they have accepted the judgment but questioned its veracity and harsh nature and the judge’s refusal to subscribe to the plea of allocutus tendered by the counsel to the accused. In their opinion, a life imprisonment would have been milder and would work to cool tempers and work in tandem with the doctrine of public policy. They have argued that the 13 years already spent in detention before judgment would have acted as a mitigating factor for the law can never be without a remedy. And that the death by hanging would be too wicked and could possibly stir up a national hullabaloo seeing the amount of media hype and awareness it has gotten among the youth and the messiach charisma of the fine major an argument which is both logical and sound but which has also usurped another question from within me. Is the law a respecter of any man? Lord Denning, the master of the rolls once counseled in the United States case of Gouriet V. Union of postal Services ltd. “to every subject in this land however highly placed, I would use the same words used by Thomas Muller 300 years ago be you never so high, you cannot be above the law” so should Al-Mustafa be given a status above the law despite the provisions of the law being clear on the punishment for conspiracy and murder? Or probably the question should be: is Al-Mustafa really guilty of the charges leveled against him and even though he is what punishment is deserving of him? These indeed are big questions yet unanswered.

The beautiful nature of the judiciary in a democratic dispensation is the presence of hierarchy in the court system. Counsel to the accused, barrister Olanekan Ojo has left their appeal hanging at the Lagos division of the court of Appeal describing the judgment of the lower court as barbaric, archaic, unwarranted, wrought with emotionalism and manifest miscarriage of justice. Even though no date has been fixed for hearing of the appeal, it promises to be another interesting one whenever it comes up. Probably we shall not be seeing TV sets being carried into the arena of the trial but a different thing entirely that would be to the marvel of observers of the political scene. Whatever happens to be the case, the Pandora’s Box is yet to be opened and the big question is far from being answered. Even though justice Mojisola has taken the all important bold step, the hierarchical judicial system has made her attempt more of partial than outright. The mere thought that this matter wouldn’t degenerate to the Supreme Court would be day dreaming in one word

Should the presidency, invoke the provisions of section 211 of the 1999 constitution as amended to the effect of using the power of prerogative of mercy conferred on him as the chief executive officer of the state  to grant the convict a presidential pardon? Perhaps that would earn him the votes of the North come 2015 in the presidential elections but justice shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of political whims. And even if it buys the mandate of the north what becomes of those of the west? Better still should law and justice be allowed to play out themselves as professor Sagay counseled? Many more questions begging for answers indeed.

Perhaps , the new and first female C.J.N, justice Alooma mukhtar would beam that light which his predecessors have continued to shy away from sensing the consequences that may arise out of  it. But can she match the courage of the great queen Amina of Zaria In taking the bull by the horn? Whether she is able or not, the AL-Mustafa fiasco would continue to hunt the judiciary in Nigeria and rob it of its primary mandate in being the last hope of the common man and the mere mention of the accused name will continue to be a question mark on the face of the Judiciary. God bless Nigeria.

Yungsilky is a level 300 student of the faculty of law university of Maiduguri. Follow him on twitter @yung_silky