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Published On: Sat, Jul 13th, 2013

Afenifere, OPC kick against Freedom of Al-Mustapha as Kano Erupts in Jubilation

Al-Mustapha in an open motorcade waving to admirers after gaining freedom yesterday

LAGOS JULY 13TH (URHOBOTODAY)-The Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos, on Friday discharged and acquitted Major Hamza al-Mustapha, the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late General Sanni Abacha, who was sentenced to death over the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on June 4, 1996.
Both the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) and the Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere, however, condemned the verdict which they noted was a set back to the rule of law and justice.
There was, however, spontaneous jubilation in Kano on Friday as the news of al-Mustapha’s acquittal filtered in, while anxious family members and friends of the former CSO besieged the gates of the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons, Apapa, Lagos, in anticipation of his release.

In a unanimous decision, the appeal court upturned the judgement of a Lagos High Court which convicted al-Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan in January 2012.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Dada, had on January 30, 2012 passed a death sentence on both men after finding them guilty of the murder of the wife of the late acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
While reading the lead judgement in both appeals, Justice Rita Pemu observed that al-Mustapha, in the issues submitted for determination, wanted the court to determine whether the offence of conspiracy had been established; whether the offence of murder had been established and whether there was any evidence, apart from that given by the four prosecution witnesses, which linked the appellant (al-Mustapha) to the offence.
On the issue of conspiracy, Justice Pemu observed that 12 witnesses were listed to testify for the prosecution at the Lagos High Court and wondered why only four were made to testify.
She also said that the special bullet said to have killed Kudirat was not tendered in court. Justice Pemu said, “the prosecution has failed to prove the allegation of conspiracy and murder of Kudirat Abiola against the appellants. The prosecution has failed to produce in court the bullet extracted from the forehead of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, and no reason has been given.
“There is no evidence before the court that the appellants conspired to murder Kudirat. The totality of the evidences brought by the prosecution is of no moment and consequently baseless.
“There is nothing connecting the appellants with the murder of the deceased. There is even nothing to show that the appellants had the intention to murder the deceased.”
She held further that the contradictions in the testimonies of the second prosecution witness, Barnabas Jabila (a.k.a. Sergeant Rogers) and Mohammed Abdul (a.k.a. Katako), rendered their evidence discredited.
“The fact that both men first testified of how they were recruited to participate in the murder and then recanted under cross-examination, saying that they were induced by the state to lie against al-Mustapha, discredited the evidence of the prosecution.
“It is evident that the lower court did not evaluate the evidence before it,” she stated.
Justice Pemu said it was not in doubt that Kudirat Abiola was killed by a single bullet to her head, but that “there is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, that links the appellant to the murder.”
She also faulted the police investigation, which she described as “wishy-washy.”
Faulting the lower court for holding the evidence of Rogers and Katako as material to the case, she said that suspicion cannot become conviction, and that though Kudirat was a person of note, the case still had to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“Who killed her? Could the person be in this court? There is only one person that knows: God. He alone will judge. God is not a respecter of persons. The law is also not a respecter of persons. The law is not interested in persons,” the judge said.
The court also acquitted and discharged Shofolahan for the similar reasons.
Jubilation in Kano
As soon as the news of the acquittal filtered in, a large crowd trooped out in Kano in jubilation, while special prayers were offered in mosques and other places to express gratitude to Allah for the historic event.
Saturday Tribune also gathered that a special plan is ongoing to mobilize the teeming masses to welcome al-Mustapha back to the city of Kano.
The state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Ransom Bello, however, said al-Mustapha’s release put a question mark on the dispensation of justice in Nigeria.
Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, noted that his release after so many years in incarceration was a pointer to the fact that Allah has a definite time for whatever problem human beings pass through.
“There is time for everything. This is the time Allah has destined that Major al-Mustapha would regain his freedom,” he said, adding that it was gratifying that some judges eventually got the courage to finish the case, many having withdrawn from the case.
“It was so funny that those people who charged him for the offence did not believe that Major (he) could get justice soon, especially being a case involving a Yoruba man, being tried in Lagos,” he enthused.
The chairman for the Movement of Justice and Defence of Democracy in Nigeria, Captain Mohammed Garba (rtd), also hailed the judgment, but warned that it was not “yet Uhuru” as the Lagos State government may appeal the judgment.
In his own reaction, Colonel Yakubu Bako , former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, simply said “justice has been done; we thank Allah for the pronouncement that set him free at last.”
Also, a chieftain of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Haruna Danzago, said that with the release of Major al-Mustapha, President Goodluck Jonathan had scored another point in Nigeria, saying that this was what former president Olusegun Obasanjo and former military head of state, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, could not do.
Afenifere, OPC kick
However, not all were pleased with the development. The National Coordinator of the Yoruba socio-cultural organsation , the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, condemned the judgement, saying it lacked element of fairness and that it was a bad omen for the development of democracy in Nigeria.
The OPC chieftain said the Friday judgment that acquitted al-Mustapha would encourage present and future governments as well as their agents to perpetrate evil.
He said: (This judgement gives) “an impression to Nigerians and the whole world that justice in the country has been defeated and therefore needs urgent reform.
“This judgment will in no small measure discourage the will of Nigerians to stand against injustice and oppression in Nigeria.”
He also said that the judgment would greatly psychologically affect Nigerians in their determination to stand against oppression and other forms of injustice.
The OPC chief said the judgment “has defeated the hope of the people who feel that whatever injustice that befell them can be redressed by the judiciary.”
Lagos lawyer, Ladi Rotimi-Williams (SAN), reacting to the judgement on Friday, also described it as shocking and surprising. He wondered how the judges arrived at the conclusion when, according to him, there were sufficient evidence linking al-Mustapha to the murder case.
“I don’t know how they arrived at their conclusion. The law is an ass, I must say. It is surprising; very surprising and shocking. I believe the state will appeal that judgement. The facts are there,” he said.
Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere, through its spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said the judgement was a direct license to murderers to shed innocent blood, knowing that they will escape the long arm of the law.
He added that the killers of Kudirat Abiola would know no peace because her spirit would continue to torment them for the rest of their lives.
In his reaction, chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Monday Onyekachi Ubani, said the judgement was a temporary relief for al-Mustapha because the Lagos State government would proceed to the Supreme Court.
Mr Fred Agbaje, a human rights activist, said the decision of the appellate court did not come to him as a surprise, saying “the level of evidence in that case left too many loopholes for the defence counsel to take advantage of; and that is exactly what they have done.”
According to him, the judgment has shown that there is no reasonable ground to detain al-Mustapha and Shofolahan for almost 15 years.
“It is good for the development of the rule of law in this country. The innocent shall not be unjustly punished. I hope the matter will now rest, except the Lagos State government wants to pursue an appeal.
“Lagos State must not only be ready to pay damages for unlawfully and unconstitutionally detaining and prosecuting an innocent citizen for 15 years, but must be ready as well to offer apology to al-Mustapha and co,” Agbaje said.
Also, a criminal defence lawyer, Mr Yemi Omodele, said the judgment was a good development for both the bar and the bench.
Omodele said: “al-Mustapha has rightly exercised his constitutional right and he has got what he wants from the Court of Appeal.
“If the prosecution is not satisfied with the decision, they can file an appeal at the Supreme Court. But I believe that the appeal court’s judgment was very sound.”
A constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), cautioned that there should be no impunity in the country.
“That principle must be established in this country that anybody who infringes on a person’s right, particularly the right to life, must pay fully for it under the law.
“That is what I want to say,” Sagay emphasised.
Also, Mr Bamidele Aturu, a human rights activist, said he would need to thoroughly review the judgment before commenting on the merits or demerits of the decision.
Source: Tribune

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