By Abdulwahab Abdulah
LAGOS — Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan, an alleged informant to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, who is presently standing trial alongside Major Hamza al-Mustapha, over the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, in 1996, yesterday, denied ever stepping into Abiola’s house while he worked as protocol officer with the Abiola’s presidential campaign organisation, ‘Hope 93’.
In his evidence-in-chief at a Lagos High Court, Sofolahan, who was accused of giving away Kudirat to her assailants before she was shot in Oregun area of Lagos, disowned the contents of the statement he made before the Special Investigative Panel, SIP, saying he made the statement under duress.
He told the court that he never worked as an aide or a protocol officer to the late Kudirat except that he came in contact with Kudirat and other Abiola’s wives while collecting campaign materials from him.
He also denied any knowledge that Kudirat was shot by unknown assassins but admitted that he heard of her death like any Nigerian on the radio and refused to attend her funeral because the programme was taken over by some ‘Area Boys’.
He admitted participating in the Abacha two-million-man march organised to support Abacha’s administration while his former boss, Abiola, was languishing in detention.
In his evidence before Justice Mojisola Dada, Sofolahan also told the court that he was arrested at the Aso Rock Villa, the seat of power while working as an aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
On his relationship with Abiola
On his relationship with late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Sofolahan admitted that he was a staff at the Abiola’s campaign office but never had cause to meet with him or visited his house for anything apart from his office job.
He said: “Yes, I was protocol officer at the Hope 93 presidential campaign organisation. I was number 22 on the hierarchy to Dr. Jonathan Zwingina, Director General of the ‘Hope 93’. Though Abiola’s house is not too far from the campaign office but I could not enter. Abiola himself could not recognise me because of the gap and the hierarchy.”
I was never Kudirat’s personal assistant
Led by his counsel, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, Sofolahan was asked whether he knew the late Kudirat Abiola, and he responded: “I knew her when we campaigned at Hope ’93. She usually came in company of Dr. Doyin Abiola and Alhaja Bisi for campaign materials. I was in charge of souvenirs. I had never worked with Alhaja Abiola. I was never her personal assistant or driver or gate man. Nobody from Abiola’s house can come and testify that I worked for her.
“At least, somebody should have come forward for over 12 years now to say yes, Alhaja has sent you to me as a personal assistant or somebody should have approached the DPP telling her, he knows that I worked with Alhaja of blessed memory. Everything is lie and just newspapers reports.”
He said on several occasions, he urged the investigative panel to bring him to Lagos and confront the family for identification on whether he had ever worked for the late Kudirat, but all to no avail.
“I begged the woman that headed the SIP, Mrs. Ojomo, that she should invite Abiola’s family to identify me as having worked with the late Kudirat Abiola. My Lord, before I was taken before her, I begged her and she promised to take me there but they never did up till today.
When I said I don’t know these people and I have never worked there, they said they would take me there but they never did. I have never worked with late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola either as a personal assistant, a driver or in any capacity.”
I was into beer distribution
He said he was into beer distribution before he joined the campaign train of Abiola as protocol officer giving “accommodation to people at Gateway Hotel. After sometimes, I was moved back to Hope ’93 office to be in charge of gifts, posters and campaign materials.”
Denying knowledge of Abiola winning the June 12 Presidential election and his subsequent detention, Sofolahan under cross examination from the state Solicitor General, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, said: “That is for the general public as you too should know my lord.”
He said, he was not aware of Abiola’s detention while he participated in the rally in support of Abacha’s government as well as how his wife, Kudirat was murdered.
Why I didn’t attend Kudirat’s burial
He said: “I am aware that Alhaja Kudirat died, it was a national issue. I don’t know whether she was shot or not. I did not attend her burial ceremony and I did not watch the video of the burial, but it was shown on the television. I did not attend the burial because ‘Area Boys’ took over the Ikeja area.”
On Abacha’s rally
On Abacha’s rally, he said: “I was there and it was not only me that went there. There were delegations from the 36 states. That is where I saw Major Al-Mustapha, but I did not know him as Major Al-Mustapha because they were many on the high table, including the then Minister of Sports. I followed them to Abuja for the two-million-man-march with Gov. Marwa.
Those of us who went for Abacha’s rally from Lagos were over 3,000 and over 116 from my area, Ojuelegba, where I was one of the youth leaders. I went with people like one Muniru Banire and Tajudeen Akanbi. I was not aware that he (Abiola) was in detention when we went for Abacha’s rally. It was long since 1998.
Disengagement from Abiola’s campaign
Recalling his experience on how he disengaged from the Abiola’s campaign, he said: “When the election was cancelled in 1993, at the end of July 1993, everybody was paid off. After the closure of Hope ’93 by Dr. Jonathan Zwingina, I went back to my shop at 12, Abeokuta Road, Mushin, where I was selling beer. My business name was ‘September 10 Enterprises.’ I have been in beer business since 1986.”
On his employment at the Presidential Villa, he said he had no work until 1998 when he joined Obasanjo campaign for 1999 presidential election during which he stayed at Ota Farm House until Obasanjo won the poll.
“When Obasanjo won the election, I moved to the Villa. I started working as a staff until they came to arrest me. Even Obasanjo’s aide, Bodunde and Chief Fasawe confirmed to them that I was a staff.”
Shedding light on what led to his arrest on October 8, 1999, Shofolahan said he was working at the presidential villa when he was arrested over allegation that he was using former President Obasanjo’s name to collect money from the Central Bank.
He added that he was later taken to the police headquarters in handcuff around 4 p.m same day, where he was interrogated by about 10 officers who only recorded him, but not asking him to write anything. “About 8 to 10 of the police officers came with recorders and video. They threw questions at me and I answered them.”
He added that he was forced to copy a statement he never made the following day. He said: “The statement I wrote is not what I said, I was forced to copy it. When I was in Abuja before the SIP, I begged AIG Ojomo that I have never worked with her (Kudirat) either as a personal assistant or a driver. I have never worked with Alhaja Kudirat Abiola all my life. It is paper propaganda, it is a lie.”
How I met al-Mustapha
On how he met the 1st defendant, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the witness said: “In March 1998, during the two-million-man-rally for Abacha, I did not even know that the 1st defendant was among those on the high table at the Eagle Square. That was the first time I met him. The second time I met him was at the SIP in Abuja.”
He also denied ever having anything to do with the second prosecution witness, Sergeant Bernabas Jabila, aka, Sgt. Rogers, saying he met him for the first time at the SIP in 1999. He also denied giving any information about Kudirat to him.
On the accounts of the third prosecution witness, Mohammed Abdul a.k.a Katako, contrary to his statement that he took them to his house in Ojuelegba and that he met him through one of his brothers, he said: “I don’t know Mohammed Abdul. He has never come to my house before. Mohammed Katako has never met me at the National Theatre. He was the same person that told the court he was in Azare on the same day.
How come he now met me at the National Theatre? I never took Katako to Ikeja. M.K.O Abiola’s house is not a hidden place.”
On the allegation of conspiracy and murder of Alhaja Abiola, Shofolahan said: “I don’t conspire with anybody My Lord and I don’t kill anybody. All these allegations, I don’t know where they come from. May be, my family has committed any offence before and it is now my turn to suffer.”
He said the only truth in his statement was his name, age and house address.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s proceeding ended the 12-year trial of the duo of Al-Mustapha and Sofolahan over Kudirat’s murder. Counsel to both parties are expected to file and adopt their written addresses on November 10, after the court resumes from vacation.