By Chido Onumah
This should be the question on the lips of every man and woman of conscience, considering the acquittal last week of Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha, Chief Security Officer of ex-military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. Al-Mustapha, until his acquittal, had been in detention since 1999 for the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of M.KO. Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election who himself died in detention in July 1998.
The state reception and effusive welcome party for Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha must be gut-wrenching for any Nigerian who lived through the horrors of the Abacha dictatorship. As Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Al-Mustapha was the point man of the murderous triumvirate that comprised Ismaila Gwarzo, National Security Adviser and Frank Omenka of the notorious Directorate of Military Intelligence. They had as their henchmen Barnabas Jabila (a.k.a Sgt. Rogers), Muhammed Abdul (a.k.a Katako), Alhaji Danbaba, and Rabo Lawal amongst others.
The High Court of Lagos State under Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada had on January 30, 2012, found both Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, one of Kudirat’s aides, guilty of the offences of conspiracy to murder and murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, contrary to sections 324 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State and accordingly had sentenced them to death by hanging. Justice Dada had based her judgment, amongst other things, on the strength of the testimony of two prosecution witnesses, Barnabas Jabila and Muhammed Abdul.
Both witnesses had testified that they were “directed to murder Alhaja Kudirat Abiola by Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha; that they were given information on her movements by Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan; and that they, respectively, shot and killed Alhaji Kudirat Abiola and drove the Peugeot 504 car, which they used in trailing her car and bolted away, after killing her at the Cargo Vision Area of the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway”.
Justice Dada’s guilty verdict was reversed last week by the Court of Appeal. While lashing out at the lower court, Hon Justice Amina A. Augie (presiding justice of the Court of Appeal’s Panel), Hon. Justice Rita N. Pemu, and Hon. Justice Fatima O. Akinbami, based their ruling, amongst other things, on the “contradiction in the testimony of the prosecution witnesses” who had during cross examination and re-examination recanted, alleging that they were forced to implicate the accused persons.
It would be interesting to know why the learned justices of the Court of Appeal found it appealing (no pun intended) to believe the latter story of the prosecution witnesses. With the acquittal of Al-Mustapha, it seems the Court of Appeal wants to erase our memory and close a chapter in the sordid history of the Abacha dictatorship. That also means that not a single person will be held responsible for the political assassinations that took place under that regime. So much for justice!
Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State has described Al-Mustapha as a “hero”. In a country were true heroes are in short supply, the governor may well be right. I would add that Al-Mustapha is also a “hero” for justice because in Nigeria justice is for the highest bidder. Alhaji Maitama Sule has asked Al-Mustapha to “forgive his detractors” who obviously were responsible for his “unjust” incarceration. The Nigerian Army should go ahead and promote Al-Mustapha to a general, pay him his salaries and allowances for the past 14 years – if they were ever stopped – and assign him a command to put into good use his experiences in the service of the fatherland.
Today, Al-Mustapha is a free man, free to run for governor of Kano State, senator or even the president of the Federal Republic. I hope he appreciates the value of life and liberty, things that he and his former boss denied Nigerians for five years.
If Al-Mustapha didn’t kill Kudirat Abiola or order her assassination, it would be nice to know what Al-Mustapha and the regime he served so faithfully did to find the killers of Kudirat, Pa Alfred Rewane and others murdered during the Abacha regime.
It is the same question that Gen. Babangida must answer concerning the death of Dele Giwa.