By Mohammed Adamu
LIKE one writhing in the pangs of judicial guilt, in a valedictory about a decade ago marking his retirement from service, Justice Abdullahi Mustapha –one of the infamous Federal judges who presided over the treason trial of the late MKO- said that the winner of Nigeria’s freest and fairest election would not have died in detention if he had not spurned the conditional bail he (Mustapha) had granted him.
Besides being proverbially an ‘after-death-the-doctor’ kind of self-praise, this unsolicited piece of irrelevant orbiter merely reversed the saying that ‘the witch cried at night and the baby died at dawn’. Justice Mustapha should have dedicated his retirement quietly to seeking God’s forgiveness for the despicable role he played not only in that deceptive bail offer, but more despicably so in siding with the Abacha junta to give Abiola a tough trial. But he chose to attempt to re-write history, casting his odious role in the epic of a ‘benevolent judge-hero’ who had gratuitously offered the gift of life –but that Abiola rejected it.
This judge, like the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme –the ill-foretoken female judge who granted the dead-at-night judgment leading to the annulment of June 12- was one of those ‘hand-in-glove’ with the Abacha junta in its desperate efforts to bury the ghost of June 12 by keeping its acclaimed winner under judicial lock and key. After toppling Shonekan not a few unconscionable politicians, lawyers and judges were prostrate at the foothill of Abacha’s jackboots offering all manner of advice on how to tame the genie of June 12 to create an imperial presidency for Abacha. The late ‘Comrade’ Chukwumerije, a member of that interregnal contraption called ‘Interim Government’, even toyed with the idea of a decree outlawing the mention of ‘June 12’ in public places.
In retrospect an untrustworthy General Babangida, to reassure Nigerians about the sincerity of his unending Transition Programme had promulgated a decree ousting the jurisdiction of courts in any suit seeking to stop the forthcoming 1993 presidential election. In fact, Babangida’s second in Command, the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu had made a habit of bragging about the regime’s fidelity to its promise, citing this ouster decree as proof. But behind the scenes, the regime was working with the notorious Arthur Nzeribe under a dubious ‘Association for Better Nigeria’ ABN, first to de-campaign the forthcoming election and eventually, as planned, to use the courts to abort the entire process. Ironically, when the suit seeking to stop the election was filed, the same Judiciary which had laboured under the yoke of military decrees and ouster clauses, was only too glad to provide the services of a newly appointed Justice Bassey Ikpeme who ignobly disregard the subsisting ouster decree, and granted an order that would set the chain of judicial events leading to the annulment of June 12.
The bail circus
After the arrest and arraignment of MKO for declaring himself President, Justice Abdullahi Mustapha must have been deliberately selected too for the case and who, in the course of a long, tortuous trial neither hid his aversion for June 12 nor his readiness to compromise the judicial process in the service of the military junta. Else why would a judge claiming to act independently be flown by government in a Presidential jet from his Benin base then, to Abuja on a Saturday to grant bail -on a treason charge- to an accused person who previously was not even allowed a leave of court granted to him to have regular access to his lawyers and personal physician? This ‘Saturday’ bail which could not wait just two more days to the next Monday and which had to be given so surreptitiously in a court without clerks or bailiffs, many said had more to it than met the eye.
Because, what manner of bail was that at the grant of which not even Abiola’s lead Counsel GOK Ajayi was in court, but some curious-looking Abacha foot soldiers claiming to ‘represent Abiola’s interest’?. Many had wondered if Justice Mustapha, -claiming to have acted independently- had thought it necessary to convene his court on a Saturday in order to grant a bail that could not wait till Monday, why was it not equally expedient that the accused should be served the bail papers as expeditiously as the bail itself was surreptitiously arranged? We would later discover that the Mustapha bail was a ruse -a carefully choreographed offer never intended to be executed. Abacha’s pariah junta needed some breather from the harangues especially of an international community pushing for the release of MKO and the resolution of June 12. And so creating a make-belief bail grant and then alleging that Abiola had spurned the offer would kill two birds with one stone: it would revitalize the worsted image of the junta abroad and most importantly shift the onus of resolving the June 12 impasse off a now ‘benevolent’ Abacha.
When it was expedient for Abacha to prove the ‘Diya coup’ attempt, he merely gave a video tape to NTA showing a contrite Diya begging for clemency. If the bail offer was real and Abiola had truly rejected it Nigerians would have been treated to another epic footage revealing a belligerent Abiola or his lawyers refusing the offer. In actual fact, it was not until six days after the bail grant that Abiola’s lawyer G.O.K Ajayi was allowed to see his client and during which Abiola was to know about the Greek gift called ‘Abiola bail’ for the first time. And the proof of this came after the late FRA Williams took over the case from G.O.K and his attempt to perfect the same bail was now vehemently opposed by the same prosecution on the flimsy grounds that the bail documents were ‘forged’. And you wondered ‘by who?’ And to what end?
If memory serves right, it was at this point in the absurdly frivolous debate over the quality of the bail documents that a certain Justice Senlong -newly appointed to the Abiola case- went a little out of judicial decorum to even accuse the government of ‘executive rascality’. Justice Mustapha lied about Abiola refusing bail; because there was in fact no bail.
In the Hall of Saleh’s infamy
And now long after the ignoble post-retirement orbiter of Justice Abdullahi Mustapha, came another despicable icing on the cake of a familiar judicial infamy: the post-dismissal bombast of another June 12 enemy, Justice Dahiru Saleh, claiming in a recent interview that it was he -and not Babangida- who annulled June 12. And now ‘with the rusty curb of old father antic the law’, our judicial system has degenerated so much that a judge would proudly stake claim to the ignoble anti-democratic deed of a military dictator!
In disregard of an ouster decree, Justice Ikpeme granted a dead-in-the-night order stopping the conduct of the June 12 election. The electoral Chief Humphrey Nwosu rightly disregarded this order and conducted the election. Then Justice Saleh –also in breach of the ouster decree- granted another order- stopping further announcement of the election results, followed by another declaring the election ‘null and void’. This order was in disregard of the Electoral Commission’s pending appeal against Justice Ikpeme’s obnoxious injunction which started it all. And then Babangida, -relying on or in disregard of -Justice Saleh’s last declaration, announced, on behalf of the ruling Military Council that the election stood annulled! And so, it was not so much about who deserved the trophy for annulling the election, as it was that the election was annulled.
The horde of hunters by which the lonesome rabbit of June 12 was environed, and the multiple bangs from their anxious guns obviated the search for who killed the poor rabbit. And so what does it matter if we prove that Babangida, Ikpeme or Saleh annulled June 12? Isn’t it sufficient that a confederacy of all of them did it?