By Ise-Oluwa IGE, Abuja
TRIAL Judge in the celebrated trialÂ of late Chief Mko Abiola for offences of treason andÂ treasonable felony, Justice Abdullahi Mustapha, Thursday admitted that his own soul was tried and troubled for a long time by his trial of the politician.Â Justice Mustapha spoke publicly on the issue, Thursday for the first time since he sat on the case, while bowing out of the bench having clocked the mandatory retirement age.
The Judge said handling such public interest litigation was not an easy task saying he was called all sorts of names over the matter.
He however stood his ground Thursday that he was totally fair to the late politician during the trial and in the bail he granted him.
Justice Abdullahi, who spoke in an emotion laden voice Thursday also maintained that Abiola would not have died the way he died if he had accepted in good faith the conditional bail granted him and that the case would not have ended the way it did.
He said in spite of his compassionate position in the matter,Â Justice Mustapha confessed that he received the greatest insults of his life on the MKO Abiolaâ€™s case and urged his colleagues in service to develop a thick skin for such a situation being the price they must pay as judicial officers of Nigeria.
He dismissed the allegation that he played despicable roles and lacked courage during the trial adding that the critics did not weigh the gravity of the charge brought against the late politician by the military government.
â€œIt must not be forgotten that Chief (Alhaji) Moshood Kashinmawo Olawale Abiola was charged with the offences of treason, treasonable felonies conspiracy to commit felony and false assumption of authority. Some of the offences are punishable by terms of imprisonment and some are punishable by death.â€
â€œIn spite of that, my Court on Friday 5th August, 1994 heard the application for bail and released the accused person the same day on his self recognizance without the requirement of any surety to stand for him other than to say that the accused should not do anything that would undermine the peace, unity and stability of his great nationâ€.
â€œAs such he was not to address any political rally or gathering pending the hearing and determination of the case. He was also not to travel outside Nigeria without leave of the court.
â€œNot even his passport was ordered to be seized. Is that role despicable? Is that a display of lack of courage?
â€œWhen the defence asked for proof of evidence and this was objected to by the prosecution on the ground that the case is a summary trial and so no proof of evidence is required, I granted the defence request holding that where an accused person is being tried for a serious offence like treason, the interest of justice should demand that he be availed with proof of evidence that the prosecution intends to call in support of the chargeâ€.
Is that siding with the defence?
â€œWhen the defence counsel complained that the accused suffered humiliation in the hands of the police and he was brought in Black Maria, I ordered that the police should find a more comfortable way of bringing the acused to the court and that he should under no circumstance be in a Black Maria and that he should be given access to his Solicitors, immediate members of his family as well as his personal Doctorâ€
Is that a display of lack of courage?
â€œIn he course of my career on the Bench, like any other judicial officer, came times that tried oneâ€™s soul.
â€œI believed that under the atmosphere prevailing then, it needed great courage to release Chief Abiola on bail. I wonder whatÂ Â would have been said if I had dismissed the application for bailâ€.
â€œIf my role in that case was despicable I believe that the Almighty God would not have allowed me to remain standing up to the time I retired on attaining the statutory retirement ageâ€.
Justice Mustapha thenÂ appealed to the serving judges to be courageous and steadfast in the discharge of their judicial functions.