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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Abiola Family Rejects Verdict On Al-Mustapha, Shofolahan

Mixed reactions, Saturday, trailed the acquittal of late General Sani Abacha’s Chief Security Officer (CSO), Major Hamza Al Mustapha, and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan of the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola in Lagos.
   Lawyers also considered the legal implication of the Friday’s Judgment, saying that Lagos State has three months within which to appeal the decision.
      While the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) expressed “shock and disappointment” over the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, immediate past Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Anthony Agbo, actually congratulated Al Mustapha on his release from
detention.
The appeal court, on Friday, overturned the judgment of the High Court of Lagos State, which had convicted Al Mustapha and Shofolahan, sentencing them to death by hanging.   
 Relying on the judgment issued by Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada of the High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere Lagos, on January 30, 2012, which found both men guilty of the offences of conspiracy to murder Alhaja Abiola, contrary to 324 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State, KIND, in a statement issued by its Executive Director, Amy Oyekunle, faulted the decision of the Appeal Court. 
  The statement titled: “Is This The Face of Justice in Nigeria,?” argued that “the finding and the reasoning of the High Court Judge 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.”
   According to KIND: “Barnabas Jabila and Muhammed Abdul had, at the early stage of the trial testified that they were directed to murder Alhaja Abiola, by Major Al Mustapha; that they were given information on her movements by Alhaji 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 Al Mustapha was the person who procured Barnabas Jabila, the ‘Force striker’, to eliminate Alhaja 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,” the statement said.
     KIND noted that Friday’s judgment of Hon. Justice Amina A. Augie (the 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.
    The Group said it 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.
      According to the statement, KIND intends to obtain the 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 Abiola on his own, without having been directed to do so; or was his confession a lie also?’
     KIND said that with the reversal, “the Nigerian Judiciary has now exonerated 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 said.
  The group also noted that the Nigerian Judiciary was unable to resolve the issue of who murdered, in December 2002, Chief Bola Ige, a sitting Attorney General of the Federation and the husband of the 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 queried.
      But, in a statement made available to journalists in Abakaliki, at the weekend, Agbo contended that the acquittal of Al Mustapha should bring to a close all recollections about the dark days of Nigeria’s past political history, noting that the former Chief Security Officer to late Head of State, General Abacha, was merely doing his job as a loyal officer.
    While calling for an end to the culture of hate mongering that stirs up strife in the country, Agbo added: “I wish to congratulate Colonel Hamza Al Mustapha and his immediate family on his recent freedom from the protracted trial in the Courts. 
   “The young man has suffered as if he was the sole catalyst of the June 12 saga. There could be other people that could have done much more deeds than he did but they did not pass through what he suffered in the last 15 years. He was only a loyal servant to a head of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I congratulate him.”
   Agbo said the central issue that prompted his message is that “the events of that era should be put behind us as a nation; let us embrace full complete and comprehensive reconciliation and have mutual love for one another.” 
    He expressed the hope that Al Mustapha’s freedom should open up “the great door for national healing and put behind the events of our dark era” even as he thanked God for sparing the life of the soldier so that he could live to help in fashioning a better and secure Nigeria through his varied experiences. 
     Former president of the NBA, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, said the State could appeal the decision within 90 days if they are not satisfied with the judgment.
     “In all criminal cases, the prosecution has the duty of establishing the guilt of an accused person beyond reasonable doubt. In this particular instance, the prosecution has the right to appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court if it is not satisfied with what the appellate court has decided”, he stated.
   According to him, the three Justices who sat on the appeal are all respected and respectable. “I have no reservation about the integrity of each of them. While the killing or cold murder of Kudirat Abiola will eternally hunt and eventually sniff life out of the perpetrator(s), Judges are only expected to give judgments according to law and established facts and no more”, he declared.
Also, a Lagos based lawyer, Chris Okeke, said the question of time and the implication of their release has answers in the Constitution, statute & case law. “This is a criminal trial. If Lagos State government appeals to the Supreme Court, the appeal will run its normal course. The Court of Appeal judgment cannot be stayed; it takes immediate effect. The men will have to come from wherever they are and choose until the appeal is determined.  “Where the Supreme Court sets aside the decision of the Court of Appeal, it will start running from that date. I will add a caveat here by saying that prosecution and all the appeals flowing from it is not for the purpose of persecution. It is not to be done at all cost”, he declared.
    Another lawyer, Theophilus Akanwa, said the Court of Appeal did what it considered right having been approached by the appellant. He said: “The respondent  — Lagos State — has an opportunity to approach the Supreme Court within 90 days from the date of delivery of the judgment to set aside the Court of Appeal’s judgment. While the Court of Appeal judgment subsist, especially without any order staying same, Al-Mustapha has his total freedom. His going home is in compliance with the Court of Appeal judgment and until same is set aside.”
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