Murder is a crime many people seek justice for. They crave for the day when a tooth will be pulled for a tooth and an eye for an eye. As great their eagerness for justice is, so is their aversion to its miscarriage?
When the duo of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan were convicted for the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on 20 January, 2012, the judgement was greeted with both knocks and kudos. And so was their discharge and acquittal on 12 July, 2013. What actually is justice?
The crowd at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on Friday 12 July, 2013 were ambivalent about where the pendulum would swing in the appeal of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan against the death verdict passed on them by a Lagos High Court on 30 January 2012.
But the voice of Justice Rita Pemu who read the lead judgment soon made it known that a dichotomy existed in the gathering.
The eminent panel of appeal presided over by Justice Amina Augie and which also had Justice Fatima Akinbami and Justice Rita Pemu discharged and acquitted Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer to the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha, and Shofolahan, an aide Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, one of the wives of Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the 12 June, 1993 presidential election whose murder they were being tried for.
One group in the court erupted in wild jubilation, while the other slunk away looking forlorn and bewildered. Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan had suddenly become free after 13 years of gruelling trial and detention of almost 15 years.
Justice Pemu who read the lead judgment held that there was no direct circumstantial evidence that Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan conspired with anyone as claims of prosecution witnesses in that regard were contradictory and that the prosecution in totality failed to establish the charge of conspiracy and murder against the appellants.
She further held that based on facts and evidence before the court, it is certainly neither Al-Mustapha nor Shofolahan who pulled the trigger and murdered Alhaja Abiola.
Justice Augie also concurred with the lead judgement, while the third Judge on the panel, Justice Akinbami also toed the line of the lead judgement thereby making the ruling unanimous.
“In a criminal trial the burden of proof is to proof beyond reasonable doubt and this is a chain that cannot be broken. “The prosecution listed four witnesses PW 9, 10, 11 and 12 as witnesses which it intended to call in the trial, but never called any of them.
“PW 1 (Dr Ore Falomo) testified before the lower court that the bullet extracted from the forehead of the deceased, was white and of a special kind, but the prosecution failed to tender the bullet as exhibit and this is fatal to their case.
“The prosecution also called Pw 4 (Investigating Police officer) who investigated the death of the deceased, but this witness was never produced for cross examination by the defence, as he never showed up in court. “This renders the evidence of the police officer inconclusive as it denied the defendants their right to fair hearing, and no reasonable court can safely make a conviction on such inconclusive testimony.
“PW 2 (Sgt. Rogers) and PW 3( Mohammedd Abdul) in their confessional statements to the police, said they were enjoined by the first appellant, to murder Kudirat, but these statements were later retracted by them in court.
“PW 2 and 3 retracting their earlier statement to the police told the court that they were cajoled by the prosecution to indict the appellants, with a promise to give them monetary compensation.
“This is a contradiction in the testimonies of the witness, it raises doubt in the case of the prosecution, and it is unimaginable that the lower court did not expunge this evidence. “For an offence like murder, I wonder why the Nigeria Police did not do a proper investigation.
“Jabila who was initially arrested as a co-defendant, was later called prosecution witness, witnesses who ought to be called were never called, the bullet extracted was never tendered before the court.
“Once there is doubt in the case of the prosecution, as in the instant case, it must be resolved in favour of the accused, and this doubt is accordingly resolved in favour of the appellants.
“One thing is clear, Kudirat was shot, but the big question is who pulled the trigger? “I find nothing in this case which sufficiently links the appellants with the commission of the offence.
“It is preposterous that in a 326 page judgment, the lower court was only concerned with securing a conviction at all cost. “Just as God is, He is no respecter of person, so also is this court.
I hereby order that the appellants be discharged and acquitted while the conviction and sentence of the lower court, is hereby discharged.
“For someone who has been incarcerated since 1999 on a baseless indictment, it is so unfortunate” Pemu held. The ruling has since drawn both attacks and commendations from Nigerians nay the international community.
While many praised the ruling to high heavens, others have concluded that it smacks of deceit, hence, a demonstration of perversion of justice in its basest form.
Kudirat Abiola, the heroine of democratic struggle, was killed in Lagos on June 4, 1996. The trial of Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan began in October, 1999 before a Lagos State Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Ikeja, presided over by Magistrate Gbogodo.
They were later re-arraigned before former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Christopher Segun in 2000 while the judge later withdrew from the case due to allegation of bias raised against him by the counsel of Al-Mustapha, Joseph Dawodu then.
Again, the matter was reassigned to Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun now of Supreme Court, after the elevation of Justice Kekere-Ekun to the Court of Appeal, it was re-assigned to another judge before it got to the court of Justice Mojisola Dada who finally found them guilty of the offence, and accordingly convicted and sentenced them to death by hanging on January 30, 2012.