BY OUR REPORTERS
LAGOS—AFTER 159 months of trial, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the former Chief Security Officer to the late Head of State General Sani Abacha and Lateef Shofolahan were yesterday sentenced to death by hanging by a Lagos High Court sitting at Igbosere over the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
The verdict drew mixed reactions from the Abiola family, Al-Mustapha’s family and eminent Nigerians. Most of them said the trial adjudged as the longest criminal trial in the nation’s history having been initiated in October 1998 and lasting exactly 13 years and three months met the expectations of observers.
Among those, who spoke on the ruling, yesterday, were veteran Presidential Candidate, Dr Tunji Braithwaite, former Governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, legal icons -Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), Ladi Wiiliams (SAN), Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Maxi Okwu, Ayo Adebanjo, Clement Udegbe and Bamidele Aturu. Others include Kudirat’s daughter – Mrs Hafsat Abiola-Costello; Dr Frederick Fasehun, Alhaji Yerima Shetima Usman, Chief Olusegun Osoba and Reuben Fasoranti.
God doesn’t sleep, justice for my mum at last – Hafsat
An elated Hafsat, said though the ruling was late it would serve as notice to those in government, who felt they could do anything and get away with it.
Her words: “God doesn’t sleep. Justice for my mum at last. So happy. I am very happy for getting justice although it is coming a little late since the woman they murdered had been in the grave for about 15 years. However this will serve as notice to those in government who think they can just do anything. One day , they will give account of their actions.
“For all those involved in the prosecution, it is a good omen particularly for lawyers that continued to press the charges. This is also going to be a joyous moment for the pro-democracy people since democracy has lost a lot of people. I salute the courage of some of those in the judicial sector for having the courage to deliver justice.”
It’s well desered– Jamiu Abiola
In his reaction, son of the late Kudirat and a Lagos-based business magnate, Alhaji Jamiu Abiola, described the judgment as long deserved.
“I’m very much happy that judgment has eventually come over those who killed my mother. You and I know that whether the legal period is long or not does not apply to the law. And that definitely whether long or short, judgment will come one day and that is exactly what we have seen. “My message to the Judiciary is that they should continue to be above board and do their job independently without influence because, they are the hope of the common man and many Nigerians and even in the outside world are looking up to them.”
But former Minister of Communications and Member, Provisional Ruling Council during General Abacha regime, served by Mustapha, Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju told Vanguard that there should be room for consideration.
“Having taken that long time (over 12 years) over the case and considering that many people were involved some had been released and now the number narrowed down to two or so, the alternative to the death sentence should have been life jail. That is what happens in England where such a case will be considered for life jail and they give minimum sentence you can be par-rolled.
“I am talking as a free citizen and I know what I went through with Mustapha during our crisis but I don’t think he should be judged based on that. Take our own case for instance; we were all sentenced to death. I never expected that I could survive from the onslaught of death but God did His own thing and today I, like others, am a free person. Only that we are now waiting for our own pardon,” Olanrewaju said.
The punishment fit the crime – Braithwaite
National Chairman of the Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), Braithwaite, said the judgment was right and congratulated the judge for doing her duty in an era when people thought they could always get away with impunity.
“I think it is the right judgment. The word of God said those who take the sword shall fall by the sword. Al’Mustapha had shed innocent blood. The punishment fits the crime. I have to congratulate the judge for doing her duty. Because of the widespread corruption in this country many were beginning to think that people could get away with murder. We are beginning to see that a revolution will come that will take care of all that. Seeing what is happening, it is clear that Nigeria is going through the urgently needed revolution. I urge people to read my book: Jurisprudence of the living oracles serialised last year,” he said.
It’s unfortunate – Musa
To Balarabe Musa, the decision was unfortunate. He nevertheless, said Al-Mustapha had the right to appeal.
Judgement is biased – Fasheun, Shetima
Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr Fredrick Fasehun described the judgement as an outburst of emotionalism, “he has been sentenced to death by hanging after 14 years of incarceration? Well, I think they should go to the Appeal Court. That is no judgment, that is an outburst of emotionalism. They should go on appeal.”
Relatedly, President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shetima Usman described the judgement as biased
“The judgement was nothing but biased, the judge is very biased. We knew from the onset that she was biased and that she was going to do that. But then, the beauty of it is that we are in a democracy, we are going to follow other legal means to ensure that justice is done. We are going to explore other legal means. That is our position, we are not in anyway intimidated, it is not yet over until it is over, we are optimistic that justice will come from the appeal.”
He deserves it– Opadokun, Adebanjo, Fasoranti, Okwu
However, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftains, Ayo Adebanjo and Ayo Opadokun as well as Afenifere Leader, Reuben Fasoranti and Okwu hailed the judgment adding that Al’Mustapha deserved the punishment.
Opadokun said: “For me, justice delayed is justice denied. Al-Mustapha employed every tactics to see that the matter is delayed for 12 years. Even though the judgement was slow in coming, it was a good one. Mustapha tried on several occasions to twist the hand of justice. He merited the verdict. And it was a wise decision by the judges, who read the sentence. They have set a precedent with that judgement and it would serve as a deterrent to other public office holders, who will think that they have the power of life and death. I commend the judges and the prosecution team for this sound reasoning, despite all the tactics employed by Mustapha to frustrate the cause of justice.”
Fasoranti concurred, saying, “it is the right thing to do. The court should be commended for this judgement. It was the very wicked of them to have killed that woman and we hope that this will serve as an example. My position is that the court did the right thing in the circumstance they are being held.”
In like manner, Adebanjo re-echoed their views. “I am happy that Justice has taken its course and I am also happy that Al-Mustapha got what he deserves. The case has been on in order to make sure that justice is not derailed. The Judiciary took its time to ensure there was no rush in judgement, every opportunity was granted to him to defend himself and the evidence was meticulously gathered to ensure that Justice was done.”
Indeed, Okwu said justice had come with the verdict after a protracted trial.
Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo said: “This is a shame to us all. Shame on you Nigeria. Al’Mustapha and other innocent men will not die. They will live, Insha Allah.”
The court has done its duty – Osoba, Williams
On his part, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba said the court had done its duty.
According to him, “I think the court has done its duty. My very close friend and brother, Alex Ibru was a victim of the actions and activities of those under the government of Abacha. So, I think the court has finally done its duty.”
Ladi Williams noted that the penalty for the crime Al’Mustapha committed in Nigeria’s jurisprudence was death by hanging. He said the judgment had to be read clearly because the convicts had the right to appeal.
They can go on appeal – Bamidele Aturu
Human rights lawyer, Mr Bamidele said the accused persons were entitled to go on appeal, if they were not satisfied with the judgement.
Aturu said “If the judge has actually found that they were culpable, there is nothing anybody can do about that. The only thing they can do now is to appeal because it has been a very long trial. Apart from appeal, I believe the judge must have looked at all the facts. Being a long drawn trial, the matter has come to an end. Since I have not read the judgement, the comment I can make now is that it is okay that the trial has come to an end. While the trial lasted, I believe that the family of Abiola must have had their own trauma. But we will see the other people respond to it, but they have a right to appeal.”
Law and order should take its cause – Prof Sagay
For Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), when asked to comment on the verdict, said “my reply is a very basic reply, let law and justice take its cause. I have no personal comment on it.”
Agbakoba said he could not make an informed comment unless he saw the judgment. “One cannot comment unless one sees the judgment . It will be difficult to make any informed comment without reading the judgment since I don’t know the judge’s reasoning for arriving at the judgment.But personally, I am against death sentence because it doesn’t solve anything,” he said.
On his part, Fagbohungbe said, “I’m sure the judge must have been satisfied with the evidence before they were sentenced. Since they have the right of appeal to Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, they can do so if they are dissatisfied.”
And Ozekhome responded “Al Mustapha and Sofolahan’s conviction and sentence to death by hanging is clearly a case of retributive justice and just desert. The arm of the Law is long indeed. Justice may be slow, sluggish, tentative and even appears befuddled, but it is certain to come as sure as death.”
Femi Falana agreed that justice had been done. “I think justice has been done at long last. But I do hope that the duration of the trial would send all those, who are interested in administration of justice to the drawing board in the interest of our society . It is unacceptable in a modern society to conduct criminal trial for14 years.
To Senator Olorunimbe Mamora, “one thing is certain, the law must take its course and two, we may not have heard the final outcome of the case. It ha showed that we have to be careful with what we do because one day we have to give account of our deeds. Nobody is above the law, and the law is no respecter of anyone. Though, there is room for appeal. It is not over until its over.” Another lawyer, Clement Udegbe described the decision of the judge as harsh and archaic.
“The decision is surprising to me as a person. After being in detention for 12 years, the court now gives such a harsh judgment. He should have been sentenced to a life imprisonment instead of death by hanging. One would have expected that the court would consider the stability of the country in making such a pronouncement at this time. Again, that application of the law shouldn’t have taken place given the fact that the offence was committed during military regime when the constitution of the country was in suspension. I don’t think that any civilian governor will give an assent to such a harsh and archaic decision..I advice them to go on appeal and take it from there,” he said.