By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Bartholomew Madukwe
In 1998 when they were arrested for interogation by the Special Investigative Panel, SPI, hardly did they realised that that was the beginning of an end. Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, a former Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha was one of the many people invited for interogation over several criminal activities perpatrated during Abacha’s regime.
However, among the cases that attracted public outcry and eventual prosecution was the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the late politician and presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Prior to the death of Abacha, Al-Mustapha as his CSO was very powerful. The death sentence verdict passed on him started moment he was arraingned before an Ikeja High Court in December 1999.
Specifically, after the state amended the four-count charge earlier preffered against Al-Mustapha and four others including Mohammed, son of the late Head of State, Al-Mustapha was charged on a two-count charge of conspiracy and murder of Kudirat.
The charge read in part, : “Statement of Offence -1st Count
“Conspiracy to commit murder contrary to Section 324 of the Criminal Code Cap 32 Laws of Lagos State 1994. Particulars of Offence Hamza Al- Mustapha, Mohammed Rabo Lawal, Mohammed Sani Abacha, Lateef Shofolahan between 1995 and June 1996, at Ikeja Judicial Division conspired to murder Kudirat Abiola.
“Murder contrary to Section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code, Cap 32, Laws of Lagos State 1994. Particulars of Offence Hamza Al-Mustapha, Rabo Lawal, Mohammed Sani Abacha and Lateef Shofolahan on or about the 4th day of June, 1996 along Lagos/Ibadan Expressway opposite Cargo Vision, Ikeja in the Ikeja Judicial Division murdered one Kudirat Abiola.”
The then Lagos State Attorney General, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, SAN, led the team of the prosecutors while the defence team was also led by the current President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN.
To get to the root of the murder, the state commenced the trial before Justice Morenikeji Dada who in July, 2011 ruled on a no-case-submission by the defence, acquitted one of the accused, Rabo Lawal on the ground that the prosecution could not establish his involvement in the crime.
However, full trial resumed with prosecution witnesses given account of what they knew about the gruesome murder of the late Kudirat. But, the state’s key witnesses, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila (aka Rogers) and another soldier, Mohammed Abdul (aka Katako) recanted on their roles in the alleged murder and how the whole murder was perfected.
As part of their testimonies earlier, they told the court that Sofolahan, acting as Kudirat’s aide, gave them information on her itinerary, which aided them in accomplishing their task of eliminating her.
In his evidence-in-chief, Jabila narrated how he was, some days before Kudirat’s assassination, summoned by Al-Mustapha to his office in Aso-Rock, handed some bags containing guns, and briefed on “ a special assignment.”
After the written submissions by parties on their case, the court fixed a January date to deliver its judgment.
Last Monday, the verdict of the court was however unpredictable except the anxiety created by the trial Judge, Justice Dada who earlier told counsel about the volumes of her judgment, stating it may take the whole day to read it. She was equally moving in and out of her chambers for upward of three times, creating a sense that the day may be a different one.
After reviewing arguments of the counsel, she began her judgment. The Judge started by dealing with some naughty issues relating to the evidence in chief given by the prosecution Witnesses 1 and 2, ( Sgt Rogers and Katako) where they earlier established that on the instruction of their principal, Major Al-Mustapha, they came to Lagos and killed Kudirat.
But under Cross-examination they recanted and said they knew nothing about the killing and that they were lured by the state represented by the state Attorney-general and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF to say what they said in their evidence-in-chief and as contained in their statements to the Special Investigative Panel, SIP.
Also, Al-Mustapha denied ever sending anybody on emissary to kill Kudirat and that all the charges preffered against him were an attempt to nail him by all means by some Nigerians including former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar. He added that Rogers was induced to implicate him.
Sofolahan in his own case denied ever having any close relationship with Late M.K.O. Abiola’s family except when he worked as protocol officer at the ‘Hope 93’ , campaing organisation of M.K.O. Abiola. He added that all his statements to the SIP, subsequently used in court were made under duress and were written by the investigators for him to sign.
The judge in her findings stated that it was evident that the statements of the prosecution witnesses as well as that of the defendants were not contested by the defence during trial while they were being tendered. She noted that the statements were outright facts of what transpired between the PW1 and PW 2 as well as the two defendants.
Specifically on Sofolahan and Al-Mustapha, the court stated, “they both lied in saying they never met but they only met for the 1st time during the Abacha 1 million man march in Abuja. The two defendants have agreed to work together. Exhibits ‘D1, D2’ cannot be product of SIP as alleged.”
According to her, “the evidence before the court against Mustapha and Shofolahan was very strong and manifestly reliable and their defense was an afterthought which failed to persuade the court to otherwise conclude.”
She stated, “Apart from what the court saw, the verbatim recording also assisted the court; their retraction was not enough to invalidate their earlier statements made under oath. The fact that they were discharged and acquitted in the sister case by the Court of Appeal is not a magic-wand on the court because each case has its own peculiar nature,” the court held.
On Jabila’s statement, Justice Dada stated, “Sgt Jabilla was not an ordinary witness but rather a self-confessed killer who was ready to kill for the state hence he was surprised when he was arrested and interrogated by the SIP.”
She concluded that the contradictions in the evidence of the principal witnesses did not vituate the fact of the case.
“The fact that the PW2 and PW3 denied what they had earlier told the court does not make their initial statements incredible. The duty of the court is to discover the truth in accordance with the provisions of the law. ”
She said, “ Contradictions in the testimonies of two of the prosecution witnesses did not seriously affect their evidence before the court as they maintained throughout their testimony that they killed the victim and that they were send by Al-Mustapha to carry out the act.”
She added that the defendants lied all thorugh their defence. Dealing with Al-Mustapha denial, the court held, “The statement of the 1st defendant in court was that his sole responsibility was to safe guard the government of Abacha and his family at all cost. This shows that he felt obligated to silence any perceived opposing voice to the administration.”
“He admitted in court that he set up an anti-terrorist force called Strike Force in 1995 to protect his boss against enemies of the government and that he send Rabo Lawal to Lagos to monitor the activities of NADECO.
“He carried himself in such a way as if no one can touch him. The documents and video in his procession showed how powerful he was. In considering the compelling evidence, it is clear that she (Kudirat) was murdered by the government of the day because of her role in demanding for the release and restoration of her husband’s mandate.” The court added.
She noted that the claim by Al-Mustapha that he was being victimised was not genuine.
“The allegation of torture by the 1stdefendant is nothing but fallacy. Even by the name, Strike Force and the anti-terrorism job, it is billed to strike with force any opposition to government of that time.”
“Having not denied his signature in Exhibit A2, he (Al-Mustapha) said he gave his arms to PW2 for cleaning. This is an after-thought and it is evident that he indeed gave PW2 his arms. The allegations of promises made to the prosecution witnesses were never substantiated before the court.”
The court concluded that, “The first defendant, (Al-Mustapha) magnified himself and thought nobody could touch him. He was bitter that after the death of Abacha he was not made the Chief Security Officer (CSO) by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.”
Castigating Sofolahan for his roles in the murder of Kudirat, the court have this to say, “The 2nd defendant was a willing tool, he was like Judas Iscariot who betrayed Lord Jesus Christ. It was his greed that led him to Sheriki Shasha who took him to the 1st defendant, Al- Mustapha, it was his greed that made him participated actively in the two-millionman march in Abuja in favour of the government of the day. He is a blood thirsty traitor, the fact that he made people to laugh in court while giving his evidence was a facade that he deliberately sacrificed Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.”
She noted that there were facts that he travelled with Sarkin Sasa to meet with Al-Mustapha as well as sleeping in same hotel with Sarkin Sasa in Abuja in anticipation to meet the former CSO.
“Not long after the death of his boss, he began to romance with Abacha government and engaged in a two-million man match in Abuja in support of Abacha. He was a viper, whose employers did not know while habouring him in the house. He showed them the picture of Kudirat and quietly sneaked away. He deliberately sacrificed Kudirat Abiola for the purpose of achieving his personal gains.”
Concluding her judgement, Justice Dada stated, “By virtue of Section 319 of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State, the defendants, Major Hamzat Al-mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan are accordingly sentenced to death by hanging until they are pronounced dead. “May the lord have mercy on your souls.”