Kudirat Abiola’s Murderers To Die By Hanging
A High Court sitting in Lagos, Lagos State of South Western Nigeria on 30 January 2012, sentenced former Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the country’s late President, General Sani Abacha, Major Hamzat Al-Mustapha, and former protocol officer to late MKO Abiola, Lateef Shofolahan, to death by hanging. The verdict came after 12 years of trial of the duo for involvement in the 4 June 1996 murder of Hajia Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief MKO Abiola.
Handing down the verdict, the trial judge, Justice Mojisola Dada, said it came after a comprehensive review of the evidence adduced by both parties, which lasted for seven hours, and convicted them of conspiracy and murder in accordance with the provisions of Section 219 of the Criminal Code of the Laws of Lagos State.
“The evidence of the prosecution is manifestly reliable and has established all the ingredients in this case. The crime of murder under Section 219 of the Criminal Code of the Law of Lagos State is punishable with death by hanging.
“The first defendant magnified himself and his office that he felt nobody could touch him,” the court said.
Despite attempts by the accused lead defence counsel, Olalekan Ojo, to recant the earlier testimonies of the star witnesses in the case, Barnabas Jabila, aka Sergeant Rogers, and Mohammed Abdul, aka Katako, Justice Dada maintained that the recanting did not cancel the earlier statements made by the witnesses during the investigation by the Special Investigation Panel, SIP, in 1990. In the witnesses’ earlier statements, they had stated that Jabila was sent by Al-Mustapha to kill Mrs. Abiola and that Katako was the driver of the car used in the drive-by shooting.
They had also stated that Al-Mustapha’s co-accused, Lateef Shofolahan, was their informant on the movements of the deceased, contrary to evidence by Shofolahan that he met Al-Mustapha during a two million-man march for Abacha at Eagles Square, Abuja, in 1998 and the former CSO’s claim that he met Shofolahan at the SIP.
According to the court, Shofolahan was not only a great acquaintance of Al-Mustapha in the Nigerian Presidency, Aso Rock, but one of the witnesses confessed that he met with Shofolahan on 3 June 1996, a day before the murder, at the National Theatre in Lagos to finalise plans for the act.
Stating that most of what the witnesses said when they were being cross-examined by the defence counsel showed that they were saying what the defence wanted them to say, the court held that the prosecution had been able to prove the two-count charge of conspiracy to murder and murder sufficiently.
Defendant Weeps In Court
While opening his defence, the second defendant, Shofolahan, wept bitterly before the court. But Justice Dada described his crying attitude as putting up a theatrical show to deceive the court and hide his guilt.
“The second defendant wanted to be relevant no matter whose ox was gored. It was his greed that took him to such acts. He participated actively in the two million-man march while MKO Abiola was still in detention and he was his protocol officer. This traitor gratuitously found his way into the presidency. He tried to turn the case into a huge joke by his theatrics in court, thinking it would be carried away by his acting,” she stated.
Defence To Appeal Judgment
However, apparently dissatisfied with the outcome of the trial, the defence hinted that the verdict would be contested before the appellate court in an effort to challenge the death sentence passed on the two defendants by the trial court. In a swift reaction to the judgment, lead defence counsel, Olalekan Ojo, prayed the court to avail them of a copy of the judgment so that they could prepare their brief on the appeal on time. “We shall certainly test this judgment before the Court of Appeal,” Ojo said.
Meanwhile, there was an unusual heavy presence of security around the court premises as the entire area and the adjourning streets were cordoned off as early as 7:00 a. m. by stern-looking security operatives, who were armed to the teeth.
The gates leading into the court yard were manned by security operatives and fierce-looking police dogs, and both passers-by and members of the public who wanted to enter the court premises were thoroughly screened by the heavily armed mixed operatives of prison guards, Lagos State special anti-crime force, the Rapid Response Squad, RRS, and State Security Service, SSS.
The tight security persisted until 5:00 p. m. when the court finished delivering its judgment. When the death sentence was pronounced on the duo of Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan, there was a dramatic movement of people trying to get out of the court premises, apparently for fear of a possible riot from the defendants’ supporters who had invaded the court premises as early as 7:00 a.m. in solidarity with them. But the security remained calm until the convicts were whisked off amidst security details.
How Kudirat Abiola Was Killed
The car of Hajia Kudirat Abiola, the articulate wife of the widely acclaimed winner of the 12 June 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, Chief MKO Abiola, was ambushed and she was shot dead by gunmen on Tuesday 4 June 1993, in the streets of Lagos, at the time her husband was in detention. It was reported at the hospital where she was rushed to after the incident that she was unconscious with a bullet wound on her forehead and concerted efforts by doctors to save her life proved abortive.
The grief that trailed the announcement of the death of the 44-year-old businesswoman, alongside her driver, by MKO Abiola’s brother, Mubashiru Abiola, literally cut like a knife. Before her death, she had been in the forefront of campaign for the release of her husband and to install him as president with the view to restoring democracy in the country.
Before Kudirat’s murder, MKO Abiola was detained by the military regime of former Nigerian Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, for proclaiming himself winner of the 1993 presidential poll, thereby charged with false publication.
Born in Zaria, a city in the current Kaduna State of Northern Nigeria in 1951, where she completed primary school, Kudirat attended a Muslim Girls Secondary School in Ogun State in the South Western part of the country where she was head prefect in her final year. At the age of 21, she got married to MKO Abiola, a union which produced seven children.
When the 4 June 1993 presidential election which her husband was widely believed to have won and adjudged the freest, fairest and most transparent in Nigeria since the inception of democracy, was annulled, Kudirat was brought into the limelight and pro-democracy activities. She provided leadership during the period of general confusion that brought Nigeria to its knees, caused by the annulment of the election.
Mixed Reactions Greet Judgment
The court ruling sentencing Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan to death by hanging was received with mixed feelings by the general public. Some family members, relatives, supporters, sympathisers, and even defence counsel of the defendants described the judgment as biased, atrocious, harsh, strange, cruel, unusual, and the highest form of injustice.
Meanwhile, others hailed the judgment as a welcome development, even terming it belated. The most grateful with the decision of the court were members of the Abiola family. According to Kudirat Abiola’s daughter, Hafsat Abiola, whose mother died when she was only 16, “everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” She saw the sentence against her mother’s killers, Major Hamzat Al-Mustapha and Mr. Shofolahan, as the beginning of the end of a sad story.
“The story had many twists and turns such that my six siblings and I often wondered if those that executed the assassination of our dear mother might not simply get away with it. After all, the crime took place in Nigeria where we often say, ‘anything is possible.’
“Yet, over 15 years later, when all hope had been lost, Justice Dada restored my faith in my country’s judicial system and in the integrity of the Nigerian people when she courageously chose to hear my mother’s cry from the grave for justice.
“Every story has morale; I hope the morale of this story is that though retribution may be slow in coming, one day everyone will get what they deserve. After all, in some parts of Nigeria, we say, ‘every day for the thief, but one day for the owner,” she said.
Hafsat’s brother, Yushau Lekan Abiola, simply described the judgment as “justice over injustice,” adding, “we then seize the opportunity to appeal to the crooks that are killing innocent people in the country now to stop and hold talks with the government because human life is sacred. We know how painful it is when they killed our dear mother and we can appreciate the feelings of the families whose members are being massacred on a daily basis.”
The Abiola family members were corroborated by some politicians, civil society groups and lawmakers, among others, to welcome the judgment, commending the ‘sagacity, erudition and sound legal’ decision of the judge. Further stressing that ‘when Al-Mustapha was in power, he was power drunk, and describing the judgment as repercussion of their excesses, and a vindication of steadfastness of the Nigerian judiciary, which showed that the wheel of justice may grind slowly but will gradually roll over eventually, this group of people prayed that the judgment should serve as a deterrent to other wicked officers of the state in occupation of temporary public office where they imagine to occupy eternally.
MKO Abiola’s personal assistant on political matters, Rev. Adebiyi, saw the court decision as a lesson for anybody in power that nobody is above the law, and that anybody saddled with any state responsibility should discharge it responsibly and honestly without injecting personal interest, so that a just society would be built.
Most importantly, this latter group were of the opinion that the judgment would strengthen the resolve of the people that the judiciary, surely, is the last hope of the common man, and through it, the spirit of the slain Kudirat would now rest in perfect peace.
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