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Kudirat Abiola’s murder: A judgment and its implications

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From Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos

A Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere, presided over by Justice Mojisola Dada on Monday January 30, 2011, finally delivered judgement in the celebrated thirteen year trial of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security officer (CSO) to the late Head of state, General Sani Abacha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, a protocol officer in the MKO Abiola campaign organisation, over the murder of late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. The court pronounced Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan guilty and sentenced them to death by hanging.
Delivering judgement in the conspiracy to murder and murder of late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola in June 4, 1996, preffered against the duo by the Lagos State Government, Justice Dada said in view of the overwhelming evidences before the court, it was clear that the principal character in the trial, Al-Mustapha invited Sergeant Banabas Jabila (Rogers) to his office, and instructed him on a special assignment in Lagos to kill Kudirat .
Before the verdict, the trial no doubt took various turns and attracted reactions, hence, the believe in the possibility of the judgement going either way given the passion surrounding a very profile political cum criminal case. The implication of the judgement, analysts say, may have a far reaching effect either negatively or positively.
According to them, if the judgement went in favour of the accused persons after many years of what they termed unwarranted incarceration, it would amount to an academic exercise and blatant waste of the precious time of the court by the prosecution and government money.
However, with the judgement tilted against the accused persons, the Lagos State government and indeed Many in the Southwest who bore the brunt of the June 12, 1993 debacle have felt vindicated.
Before the verdict, Founder of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Fredrick Fasheun, believed that justice would be done in the matter having witnessed virtually a larger part of the trial.
“Am always in court whenever the matter is coming up. I can say confidently that the judge is competent enough to dispense of justice in the matter without bias, “ he said.
On his part, President, Centre for the Rule of Law, Olasupo Ojo maintained that though the trial was protracted, the joy of every Nigerians is that the truth would eventually be known after the judgement. Ojo advised Nigerians to strongly believe in the Nigerian judicial system as the last hope of the hopeless in the country.
For Nelson Imoh, a Lagos based lawyer, “the law should be allowed to take its course on any party that deserves to be vindicated or punished.
The expectations or emotions of Nigerians on both side of the divide on the case, was aptly captured by the prosecution and defence in a matter which has kept Major Al-mustapha and Shofolahan in the court and prison since June 4, 1996.
Earlier in its submission on the matter before Monday’s judgement, the defence, led by Mr Olalekan Ojo, maintained that the court should commit the credibility of all the prosecution witness to scrutiny having been dented by numerous contradictions.
Ojo who cited numerous Supreme Court decisions on criminal matters, posited that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants in the murder of Kudirat Abiola.
“The issue of contradiction on the part of the prosecution witnesses makes it terribly bad. Inspite of the inconsistencies manifest in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses, the prosecution did not make any attempt to declare any of them as hostile witnesses.”
According to Ojo, “Murder is a very serious offence and the prosecution was not able to establish that Shofolahan was a protocol officer in the MKO Abiola campaign organisation office” and that the prosecution was not able to establish the culpability of the defendants in the killing of Kudirat.
He urged “this honourable court to acquit and discharge the defendants accordingly.”
But the prosecution led by Lawal Pedro (SAN), asked the court to take judicial notice of the reign of terror on some Nigerians while the late General Abacha held sway as Head of State and Commander in Chief.
The SAN maintained that even though the defendants(Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan) claimed not to have known themselves until 1999,”My lord, the prosecution have succeeded in proving a case of conspiracy to murder and murder of late Kudirat Abiola against the defendants.
“I urge your lordship to convict them accordingly,” Pedro (SAN) added.
Replying on point of law, Ojo urged the court to disregard the submission of the prosecution that the regime of Late Abacha should be held liable for the numerous horrible situations in the country at the time and that there must be moral certainty that the defendants committed the offence.
Shofolan had on August 17, 2011 told Justice Dada that he was a protocol officer in the MKO Abiola’s campaign organisation tagged ‘Hope 93’.
Shofolahan denied ever working for the late Kudirat in any manner.
He explained that he got to know Alhaja Kudirat at the Hope ’93 campaign organisation office along with other wives of late MKO Abiola.
“I know Alhaja Kudirat Abiola during Hope ’93 campaign. She used to come to the campaign office. Other wives of Abiola such as Doyin Abiola, Bisi Abiola were always coming to the campaign office to collect campaign materials.
“Honestly speaking, after Hope ’93, I have never worked for Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
“Some people refer to me as her Personal Assistant, driver, but I never worked for her in my life.”
Sofolahan who is the second defendant in the criminal trial stated this while being cross-examined by the Lagos State Solicitor General, Lawal Pedro (SAN).
Shofolahan also informed Justice Dada that he was not aware that the late Kudirat Abiola was killed by gunshot.
“I am aware that Alhaja Kudirat Abiola died but I did not attend the burial, but I watched it on the television. I did not attend because I learnt area boys have invaded the campaign office of Hope ‘93 at Opebi”, he stated.
He further informed the court that he was one of the youth leaders that led Lagos delegates to the 2-million-Man-Match rally in Abuja seeking for the election of General Abacha as a civilian President.
Sofolahan who initially denied that he knew that MKO Abiola was in detention as at the time he attended the 2-Million-Man-Match rally at the Eagle Square, Abuja later agreed that Abiola was in detention.
He told the court that his confessional statement dated October 8, 1998, was made under duress by the Special Investigation Panel(SIP), to copy verbatim an already prepared statement.
Sofolahan told the court that because of the torture he was subjected to, he had no choice but to comply with the directive of the SIP adding that he was ordered to implicate himself in the statement.
He told the court that the pains inflicted on him was so severe that if he was instructed to write that he personally shot Alhaja Kudirat Abiola or that he planned a coup he would have done so.
Earlier, in his examination –in-chief led by the defence counsel, Olalekan Ojo, Sofolahan told the court that he has been in detention since 1999 till date.
He admitted he was a protocol officer in the campaign organisation of late MKO Abiola and that he was in charge of providing accommodation for delegates and party officers at the Gate Way Hotel, Ogun state under the direction of the Dr. Jonathan Zwingina who was the Director General of Abiola’s political organisation.
He said his schedule as protocol officer included giving out campaign materials such as posters, caps, T-Shirts to people.
“At the Special Investigation Panel, I begged AIG Ojomo, the leader of the panel to invite any member of Abiola’s family to identify me as either her PA or her driver but my request was not acted upon even though they promised to do so,” he said.
Sofolahan told the court that in 1993 after the annulment of the June 12 election, everybody in the campaign organisation was paid off and that he went back to his previous business as a beer distributor.
“I was arrested on October 8, 1999. I was taken to the Police Headquarters. On getting there I was handcuffed backwards. I was first accused of using Obasanjo’s name to collect money in CBN,” said Sofolahan.
The second defendant in the murder trial said that he denied the accusation but he had to sign that he knew about Kudirat’s murder when the torture was too much.
He said he was made to stay in a cell whose floor was broken, chained in both hands and legs,beaten and even at a point, hanged.
Shofolahan said he was asked to copy the said confessional statement and had to do it to get respite.
Sofolahan denied the allegation that he gave information to those who murdered Kudirat, adding that he never met Sergeant Rogers and Mohammed Rabo-Lawal until he got to the SIP in 1999.
Judgement has been passed but one thing stood out to observers and experts as undeserving of the judge- her seeming lack of neutrality. She strongly condemned the murder of Kudirat and how it was carried out, describing Sofolahan “as a willing tool in the hand of the devil, adding “they (Abiola family) never knew they were harbouring a viper (Sofolahan).
“It is clear that light shines in darkness, understand it or not- those who shed blood are those who fear death most. Therefore, according to section 319 of Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State 2003, I therefore sentence you to death by hanging until you are pronounced dead”.
So far, the defendants have now appealed the judgement and awaiting whether the inconsistencies in the prosecution witnesses are good enough to acquit them or to be upheld. This will go a long way in determining the fate of judiciary either as the last hope of the commonman or the tool of the powerful to silence the truth.

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