By Amy Oyekunle
The Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) hereby expresses its shock and disappointment at the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, today, July 12, 2013, which overturned the Judgment of the High Court of Lagos State, which had found Major Hamza Al Mustapha, one time Chief Security Officer to General Sani Abacha (1994-1998), and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan guilty of the June 4, 1996 murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola in Lagos, during the reign of terror of General Sani Abacha, the late military Head of State of Nigeria.
It will be recalled that Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada of the High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere Lagos, had on January 30, 2012, found both Major Hamza Al Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan guilty of the offences of conspiracy to murder and murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, contrary to 324 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State and accordingly had sentenced them to death by hanging.
On that occasion, KIND issued a statement. The statement recalled the gruesome murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola in 1996 and the supreme sacrifice made by many other Nigerians, including Chief M.K.O Abiola and Pa Alfred Ogbeyiwa Rewane, to restore democracy to Nigeria. The statement then acknowledged the fact that the verdict issued by Mojisola Dada would bring closure to the children of Kudirat Abiola, the M.K.O Abiola Family and Nigerians committed to justice.
The finding and the reasoning of Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada in her judgment was that the evidence of Barnabas Jabila ( a.k.a Sgt. Rogers) and that of Muhammed Abdul (a.k.a Katako), the two prosecution witnesses was credible, reliable, sufficient and believable, and that the Court could safely convict Major Hamza Al Mustpaha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan on that evidence, regardless of the fact that during cross examination and re-examination, the two witnesses retracted their earlier given testimony and recanted. The Court found that retraction as an after-thought.
Barnabas Jabila ( a.k.a Sgt. Rogers) and Muhammed Abdul (a.k.a Katako) had, at the early stage of the trial testified that they were directed to murder Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, by Major Hamza Al Mustapha; that they were given information on her movements by Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan; and that they, respectively, shot and killed Alhaji Kudirat Abiola and drove the Peugeot 504 Car, which they used in trailing her car and bolting away, after killing her at the Cargo Vision Area of the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, by the Toll Gate.
The Court found that it was cogently, compellingly and irresistibly proved beyond reasonable doubt by the Prosecution that Major Hamza Al Mustapha was the person who procured Barnabas Jabila, the ‘Force striker’, to eliminate Alhaja Kudirat Abiola by direct instruction, handing over of the murder weapon, the UZI SMG with 9mm rounds with which she was assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Lagos and who provided ‘the logistics’ for their movement from Abuja to Lagos by flight, their accommodation at his Lagos official residence at Dodan Barracks and linked them up with their contact person and facilitator, Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan.
Today’s judgment of Hon Justice Amina A. Augie (presiding justice of the Court of Appeal’s Panel), Hon. Justice Rita N. Pemu, and Hon. Justice Fatima O. Akinbami, reversing the judgment of Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada, has now discarded that Court’s findings and rejected the Court’s reasoning.
KIND is informed that the grounds of the Court of Appeal’s decision included the “contradiction in the testimony of the Prosecution Witnesses”, the non-corroboration of their testimony, being co-accomplices; the non-adducing of medical evidence (including non-tendering of autopsy and ballistician report), the non-investigation of the crime by the Nigeria Police Force, which it is argued has the sole power to investigate the crime, instead of the hybrid Special Investigation Panel (SIP) and the non-calling of the Police to give evidence.
While KIND will obtain this Judgment and commission a team of legal experts to study it in detail, with a view to determining whether a civil action is advisable at this point, KIND respectfully acknowledges but vehemently disagrees with the Judgment of the Court of Appeal.
True, the Prosecution Witnesses recanted and alleged that they were tutored to frame up the accused person. The question is, why was their recantation more believable than their initial and original testimony? Could Sgt Rogers, who was not put on trial, have killed Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on his own, without having been directed to do so; or was his confession a lie also?
With this reversal, the Nigerian Judiciary has now exonerated ALL persons that were brought to trial for the gruesome acts of murders and attempted murders that took place during the Abacha regime (before now, the persons tried for the attempted assassinations of Alex Ibru and Pa Abraham Adesanya had been set free, Muhammed Abacha, General Ishaya Bamaiyi, and the Police Officers, Alhaji Danbaba, and Rabo Lawal). Also, the men who were herded into Court for the assassination of Pa Alfred Rewane were released, for want of evidence.
KIND notes that the Nigerian Judiciary was also unable to resolve the issue of who murdered, in December 2002, Chief Bola Ige, a sitting Attorney General of the Federation and, indeed the husband of a then serving Justice of the Court of Appeal, Late Justice Atinuke Omobonike Ige. Is it that the Nigerian Judiciary is incapable of resolving cases of political murders and assassinations, or that the Nigerian State lacks the competence, capability or will to prosecute cases of political murders?
KIND is of the view that justice has not been served by the Judgment of the Court of Appeal. KIND therefore calls on the Attorney-General of Lagos State to exercise his power over all public prosecution in Lagos State to appeal this verdict in the interest of the dead and the living.
In making this call, KIND is not set on seeking vengeance or retribution. As an organization founded in honour of Kudirat Abiola, it, along with all well meaning Nigerians, seeks a final judicial resolution of the question, “who killed Kudirat Abiola?”
Ms. Oyekunle is the Executive Director, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND).
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