THE Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos, last 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.
In a related development, shortly after Al-Mustapha left the high walls of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison where he had spent more than a decade, the topmost image on his mind was that of T.B Joshua, a Lagos prophet and leader of the Synagogue, Church of All Nations.
Clad in the same apparel he left the prisons in, Al-Mustapha raced across the city to the prophet’s synagogue in Ikotun Egbe.
Speaking on their relationship, the man of God said”I got to know him many years ago when a petition was addressed to General Bamaiyi who was the then Chairman of the NDLEA. As you know, several efforts had been made by my detractors to bring me and my ministry down. One of those efforts was that petition. I was arrested for investigation and it was later discovered that it was a tissue of lies.
I spent nine days with them for investigation and they found the whole thing to be a fabrication. From there, I was taken to Aso Rock (City of Power) to see the president. It was there that I met Mustapha.
I was able to reveal to them who I am by telling them what was to come as a prophet. One of those things I mentioned to them and to Mustapha in particular, was what he went through, though he did not believe me then. That was why when it came to pass, I was the first person he remembered. I told him that he would spend several years in prison and would be finally released which no one else had ever told him.
That is why you see him coming here as his first port of call. Where there is no vision, people perish.”