By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Tosin Adejuwon
Sergeant Barnabas Jabila (a.k.a Sgt Rogers), the self-acclaimed hit man for the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, yesterday made a volte-face in his fresh testimony before an Ikeja High Court on the alleged murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
He contradicted himself when he admitted shooting Kudirat in one breath but stated that he was influenced by the government to make his statement at the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) put up by the Federal Government.
He said his earlier testimonies on the shooting of the woman were a make-up masterminded by the government.
However, while he was led in evidence-in-chief by the Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN),Â Rogers admitted shooting at the vehicle conveying Kudirat, but absolved the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Abacha,Â Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and his co-accused from the plot to carry out the killing.
Rogers, a member of the dreaded Strike Force killer-squad set up under the military government of the late Abacha, betrayed emotion as he wept profusely in an open court and said Al-Mustapha ordered him to kill the late wife of the late politician, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, because â€œshe (Kudirat) was carrying out some bad things against the state.â€
He made a volte-face under cross-examination by counsel to Al-Mustapha, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, that he was persuaded by the government officials, who promised him some juicy inducement to implicate Al-Mustapha and others standing trial over the murder of Kudirat and other killings in the country.
The trio of Al-Mustapha, CSP Rabo Lawal, officer-in-charge of the Mobile Police unit at the Presidential Villa, and former aide to late Kudirat, Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan, are before Justice Morenikeji Dada over the charge of conspiracy and murder ofÂ Kudirat on June 4, 1996.
Under the cross-examination, Rogers said a statement he made at the Special Investigative Panel (SIP) on September 29, 1999 which is being used by the state to prosecute the defendants was the outcome of a meeting he held with the state officials, where he was promised some gifts, including cash and a beautiful building, among others.
He said one of his statement tendered before the court by the defence counsel, admitted as â€œExhibit A2 was produced by me and those government officials.â€
In his evidence, Rogers saidÂ Lawal was attending a course in Libya when Kudirat was killed and that he met Shofolahan for the first time in September 1999 atÂ SIP, contrary to the views that he was the one that gave them tips on how they got Kudirat, and that al-Mustapha, never sent him to assassinate Kudirat.
He told the court that he made a voluntarily statement to the police in May 1999. â€œI said the truth in the statement as at that time.â€
In his evidence-in-chief, Rogers had informed the court that al-Mustapha gave him the instructions to kill Kudirat and made arrangements for logistics and transportation to Lagos.Â He admitted thatÂ Lawal took them to Shofolahan, who showed them Abiolaâ€™s house, after which they returned to their base in Dodan Barracks â€œand started planning strategy.â€
He submitted that Shofolohan later called to inform them of Kudiratâ€™s movements, where they trailed her as she drove in a white Mercedes, somewhere around the Secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja, where she was killed.
â€œI fired at the vehicle. The 4thÂ of June 1996 was the day we opened fire at the vehicle carrying Kudirat, and she was later confirmed dead. Mohammed Abdul, also known as Katako, drove the vehicle.â€
He told the court that he was surprised when he was arrested in connection with Kudiratâ€™s death
â€œI thought I was only doing my job, and I was reluctant to talk because that would be revealing governmentâ€™s secret. Mustapha said we should deny everything.â€
Twisting his statements under cross-examination by the defendantsâ€™ counsel, Ojo, Rogers, who said he was a born-again Christian, said all he had just told the court was what the state instructed him to say. The lawyer said: â€œI put it to you that all you have told this court today was what you were told by the authorities,â€ to which Rogers responded, â€œItâ€™s correct.â€
Rogers told the court that while being detained by the State Security Services (SSS) before he appeared at a Special Investigative Panel (SIP), federal and state government officials visited and made him unfulfilled promises.
Among those whom he claimed visited him were the late former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige (SAN); former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osibajo (SAN), former Solicitor-General, Mr Fola Arthur-Worrey, and former Director-General of SSS, Mr Are.
He said. â€œBola Ige also gave me money. He made phone calls to me. He gave me the handset which had a line in it. I was made promises for agreeing to be a witness in this case. They promised to buy me a house, provide me a place of work, and whatever I needed. The promises also included a foreign posting and getting my wife a job.
â€œBecause of the promises, I agreed to give evidence against the defendants. I agreed to play my part in the agreement as a person loyal to the state. They told me what to say during the investigation. The promises were not fulfilled.â€
Rogers said he wrote the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a letter complaining about the unfulfilled promises, and copied the Chief Judge and the D-G of SSS.
At this juncture, he broke down in tears saying, â€œItâ€™s human. I was not happy how people were attacking my parents.â€
He disclosed also that he held a meeting with the officials before appearing before SIP.
â€œWe were coached on what to say. We had a meeting room where we agree on strategy. It was at the meetings that Shofolahanâ€™s name was included. I also did what they wanted me to do at the Oputa Panel.â€
The witness also said his life was threatened. â€œAn SSS officer told me that if I donâ€™t cooperate, Iâ€™d be told to go, and then on my way, Iâ€™d be killed. I was afraid, so I cooperated”.
â€œI said in the statement that I was in Abuja when Kudirat was killed, that I heard the news in Abuja, and that the first defendant never sent me on an assignment to kill anybody. I also said I was never involved in monitoring the activities of NADECO, and that I knew nothing about the murder of Kudirat Abiola.â€
He also disclosed that his wife was being paid by the government monthly.Â â€œThey were giving her a monthly allowance of N15,000. It was later increased to N20,000. She was not in the employment of the government.â€
Towards the end of the trial , Rogers confronted the Solicitor-General that he warned the officials that what they were asking him to do could backfire. â€œI warned them,â€ he said.
Hearing continues tomorrow.