By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Supreme Court, yesterday, upheld the appeal by the Lagos State Government, against the discharge and acquittal of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha over the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
Al-Mustapha was a former Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the late Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
He was accused of complicity in the murder of Kudirat, a wife of the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that was annulled by former President Ibrahim Babangida, late Chief Moshood Abiola.
Lagos State approached the apex court, seeking its permission to challenge a Court of Appeal judgment that freed Al-Mustapha on July 12, 2013.
A seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, granted the re-opening of the case against Al-Mustapha.
In a brief ruling, the apex court said it was minded to allow Lagos State to lodge its belated appeal, despite being out of time.
Consequently, the Supreme Court gave Lagos State 30 days within which it should enter a notice of appeal against Al-Mustapha.
The ruling followed an application that was moved on behalf of the state by Mrs. Osunsanya Oluwayemisi, a Senior State Counsel in the Lagos Ministry of Justice.
Al-Mustapha’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Dauda, SAN, did not to oppose the application.
The acting CJN stressed that going by the ruling, the time for Lagos to appeal against findings of the Court of Appeal on the celebrated murder case has been extended from July 12, 2013, when Mustapha was discharged, till yesterday.
Though out of time, Lagos had prayed the apex court panel to allow it to challenge the appellate court findings of Justices Amina Augie, Rita Nosakhare Pemu and Fatimo Omoro Akinbami, on ground of mis-carriage of Justice.
It expressed determination to test the validity and correctness of the decision of the Court of Appeal on the matter.
It wants the apex court to determine whether or not there was any direct or circumstantial evidence establishing the guilt passed on Al-Mustapha in the murder case.
It justified its lateness in filing the appeal on the ground that it had constituted two legal teams to review the circumstances of the case vis-a-vis the verdict of the Court of Appeal.
Lagos State told the apex court panel that it took a long time for the two legal teams to present their findings and recommended that an appeal should be lodged.
The state, its notice of appeal marked SC/45/2014, is praying the Supreme Court to not only set-aside the appellate court verdict, but to also restore the death sentence by hanging earlier passed on Al-Mustapha by a Lagos High Court on January 30, 2012.
It will be recalled that Al-Mustapha, Mohammed Abacha and one Lateef Shofolahan were arraigned before a Lagos high court on two-count criminal charge of conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of Kudirat on June 4, 1996 in Lagos State.
Justice Moji Dada had in a judgment in 2012, found the accused persons culpable as charged and sentenced them to death by hanging.
The verdict was however, reversed by the appellate court following an appeal Al-Mustapha filed on April 27, 2012 for a review of the trial and conviction.