KUDIRAT ABIOLA : AL-MUSTAPHA TO DIE BY HANGING
By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Bartholomew Madukwe
LAGOS-Twelve years after he was charged with the murder of the amazon of the pro-democracy movement in the early nineties, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola , wife of late business mogul and politician MKO Abiola, a Lagos high court yesterday found Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, guilty and held that he should die by hanging.
The court ruled that the same fate should befall Lateef Sofolahan who was accused with Al-Mustapha of taking the life of the late Kudirat. To the family of Chief Abiola it was relief that 16 years after her murder justice has finally been done while Al-Mustapha's relations wailed in court yesterday describing the verdict as unjust. They said that after he had spent twelve years in custody sentencing him to death was cruel.
Late Kudirat was murdered on June 4,1996.Justice Morenikeji Dada found Al-Mustapha and Sofolahan guilty on two count of murder and conspiracy to commit murder
In her judgement, Justice Dada in a six hour judgement held that the evidences before the court established that the murder of Kudirat was skilfully planned 'by the 1st and 2nd defendants with the assistance of Al-Mustapha, Shofolahan, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila, aka Sgt. Rogers and Mohammed Abdul, alias Katako.
Alhaji Shofolahan, Late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola and Major Hamazat Al-Mustapha
The court ruled that it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that PW 3 (Katako) drove the car that the killers of Kudirat were before PW 2 (Sgt. Rogers) opened fire on her, stressing that whether SMG 9mm round ammunition or Oozze riffle 5.6mm was used or not was not the substantial matter to be weighed by the court.
'It is a fact that 1st defendant, (Mustapha) and the 2nd defendant, (Sofolahan) met, and it is also a fact that the 2nd defendant aided the killers of Kudirat with information to enable them carry out the execution.
'The defendants are found guilty of conspiracy and murder and are thereby sentenced to death by hanging until you are pronounced dead,' the court said. She said, 'as argued by the prosecution, the court could also reach a decision of conviction based on inference as against relying solely on direct evidence.
She held: 'All that needs to be established is that the criminal design alleged is common to all of them,'
According to her, it was unnecessary for the prosecution to proof how they (Accused) were connected with themselves in perpetrating the crimes. She said that a conspirator may be in another town and still perpetrate a crime.
'It is settled law that conspiracy can be inferred from the conduct of the parties. It does not necessarily have to be by direct evidence of agreement. The proof of conspiracy is generally a matter of inference deduced from certain criminal acts of the accused done in pursuance of an apparent criminal purpose in common between them,' she held.
The judge who was strong in her condemnation of the murder of Kudirat and how it was carried out, described Sofolahan 'as a willing tool in the hand of the devil, adding 'they (Abiola family) never knew they were harbouring a viper (Sofolahan).
'It is clear that light shines in darkness, understand it or not- those who shed blood are those who fear death most, therefore according to section 319 of Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State 2003, I therefore sentence you to death by hanging until you are pronounced dead.'
Emphasising the roles of the court in ensuring that justice is not only done but seen to be done, Justice Dada said the court discovered the truth in accordance with the law, in spite of the argument canvassed by the defence after two of the principal prosecution witnesses disowned their earlier evidence indicting the convicted duo.
After the sentenced was passed on them, Alhaji Sofolahan who was standing inside the dock immediately took his seat, while Al-Mustapha did not betray any emotion, the state's key witnesses, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila (aka Rogers) and another soldier, Mohammed Abdul (aka Katako) had recanted on their roles in the alleged murder.
The key evidence that nailed Sofolahan was given by Jabila who stated that Sofolahan provided the intelligence that led to the murder of Alhaja Kudirat.
Jabila, a member of the special security outfit established to protect Abacha and his family had confirmed he shot at Kudirat, while Abdul who served as personal driver to Mohammed, Abacha's son narrated how they (himself and Jabila) went out the day after meeting Sofolahan, trailed a white Mercedes Benz car from Ikeja to the old Lagos toll gate and how Jabila shot at the white Mercedes and directed him to drive back to the Dodan Barracks where they were staying.
In his evidence-in-chief, Jabila narrated how Al-Mustapha summoned him to his office in Aso-Rock, gave him some bags containing guns, and briefed him on ' a special assignment'.
He also told the court that Sofolahan provided them with information about Kudirat's movement and even led them to her residence after which his team planned strategies for the operation.
Jabila, also said Sofolahan's information aided them in trailing Kudirat until he shot her on June 4, 1996 in the car driven by Abdul.
Abdul, who acted as the third prosecution witness, corroborated Jabila's testimony.
Despite the fact that the prosecution witnesses disowned their evidence, the judge still held on to their statement. The prosecution witnesses on their part had claimed that they recanted because the state failed to compensate them materially in its witness protection programme.
Al-Mustapha in his defence denied sending anybody to kill Alhaja Kudirat. Besides, he denied sending any emissary or sponsored anybody to kill Kudirat.
In his defence on August 17, 2011, Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan, who defended himself denied being involved in the murder. He also rejected claims that he worked for the Abiola family. He claimed he only heard about the woman's death in the news.
Speaking about his relationship with Abiola family, he went down memory lane and said he only served as a Protocol Officer in the late Chief Abiola's campaign organization in 1993.
He, however, told the court how he worked for the transmutation agenda of the late General Sani Abacha while Abiola was in custody. He also said he later worked in the campaign organization set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo In 1998.
The defence lawyer to Al-Mustapha led by Olalekan Ojo urged the court to acquit his clients on the ground that the prosecution had failed to satisfactorily discharge the burden of proof placed on it by law.
Ojo, who argued it was impossible for the court to find his clients guilt based on 'the bunch of contradictory and unreliable evidence provided by the prosecution, particularly by its star witnesses, Jabila and Abdul.'
The prosecution counsel and the state Solicitor General, Mr Lawal Pedro, SAN,had argued that in proving conspiracy, it is immaterial that there should be direct communication between each conspirator . He added that the court could also reach a decision of conviction based on inference as against relying solely on direct evidence.
He argued: 'All that needs to be established is that the criminal design alleged is common to all of them. Proof of how they connected with themselves or how the connection was made is not necessary for there could even be cases where one conspirator may be in one town and the other in another.
'It is settled law that conspiracy can be inferred from the conduct of the parties. It does not necessarily have to be by direct evidence of agreement. The proof of conspiracy is generally a matter of inference deduced from certain criminal acts of the accused done in pursuance of an apparent criminal purpose in common between them,' he said.
He argued that though Jabila and Abdul recanted, having earlier admitted carrying out the murder on the order of Al-Mustapha, the court could still establish the accused' culpability from the available circumstantial evidence.
Proving the case of murder, the lawyer relied on Section 7 of the Criminal Code. He submitted that it was immaterial for the accused persons to be present where Kudirat was shot or participated in the shooting for them to be guilty of the offence.
In his view, what was material was the circumstantial evidence brought by the prosecution before the court, adding that despite the argument by the defendants that prosecution's key witnesses, were inconsistent and unreliable, the court could still establish a guilt verdict against the accused persons.
In his reply Ojo, counsel to the defendants raised five issues for determination.
First, he argued that the court has to find out whether or not Jabila and Abdul were credible and reliable witnesses, whose evidence could be accepted and relied upon by the court having regard to the contradictions and inconsistencies of their evidence.
He drew the attention of the court to what it required of it to pass conviction on the defendants, since the law says, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Also, he spoke on what evidential value the court could attach to the extra judicial statements made by the defendants and the extent to which they could be used by the court in the determination of the suit.
He maintained that since some of the evidences, especially statements obtained from the defendants were allegedly taken under duress, Ojo urged the court to discountenance them and not to attach any significant value to them, saying such statements could not pass as confessional statements.
On what evidential value the court could attach to the testimony of PW4 (DCP Ahmed Yusuf) who did not conclude his evidence in chief and who could not be cross-examined by the defence before the case of the prosecution was closed, Ojo urged the court to discountenance same.
Rounding up his defence, Ojo told the court that the defence has shown to the court that the defendant was not in anyway connected to the case. He submitted that the prosecution did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt having regard to the quantity and quality of the evidence it adduced to prove the case. He therefore urged the court to rule in his favour and set free his clients.