Since he was sentenced to death by hanging in January last year for the 1996 murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, I’d had mixed feelings about the fate to befall Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
Something in me wanted him hanged so that the course of justice would be duly served, and those with propensity for evil would take warning, while another thing in me cringed at the very idea.
Hang Mustapha after almost 15 years in Kirikiri prisons, standing trial? Fifteen years! That was like first waving a man over hellfire for that long a period before then dropping him into the cauldron. He would be many times dead by then.
I was between and betwixt. I wanted Mustapha hanged, I also wanted him freed, what a dilemma! Have you read Snake, that classic poem by D. H. Lawrence? Then you would understand my mixed feelings.
The poet had gone to his water-trough on a hot afternoon, only to meet a long yellow-brown snake drinking from the same place. “He sipped with his straight mouth, Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body, Silently,” wrote D. H. Lawrence. And there came the poet’s dilemma. He began to hear two voices.
One, the voice of his education, and the second, the voice of his naturalness. “The voice of my education said to me He must be killed, For in Sicily, the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.” But what did the second voice say?
The poet described the feelings evoked in him by that second voice this way: “But must I confess how I liked him, How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough, And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless, Into the burning bowels of this earth?”
The poet was transfixed, as the snake drank enough “and lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken, And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black, seeming to lick his lips, And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air, And slowly turned his head, And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream, Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round, And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.”
As the snake retreated to where it came from, that was when the voice of the poet’s education became predominant. D. H. Lawrence took what he called “a clumsy log,” and “threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.” It did not hit the snake, but the creature writhed like lightning, and disappeared into the black hole from which it had come. But the poet regretted his action. “I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act! I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education… And I wished he would come back, my snake…”
That was a 1923 poem by D. H. Lawrence. Today, 90 years later, one is experiencing the same dilemma. Hang Al-Mustapha, no, free him. Bludgeon him, no, let him drink free at your water-trough and go. Let him pay fully for the crimes he committed as Abacha’s CSO.
No, he has suffered enough. Between and betwixt, oscillating between two opinions… However, let’s make one thing clear at this point. Al-Mustapha is not an assassin, he’s not a murderer, no matter what we think or feel. Feelings have nothing to do with the law.
Emotions or sentiments have no place. Only cold, plain, hard facts do. Emotion says Al-Mustapha ordered the killing of people like Pa Alfred Rewane, Dr Shola Omosola, Olu Onagoruwa’s son, the shooting of Alex Ibru, Pa Abraham Adesanya, and was generally behind the disappearance of many others during Sani Abacha’s evil regime. So, he is guilty, and must be hanged. But the law says otherwise.
This law, which they say is an ass. Even if the law was present and saw Mustapha performing all those heinous acts, it still asks you for evidences.
If you can’t provide any rock-solid one, the law tells you the accused is not guilty, even if he is as guilty as hell. That was what happened last Friday at the Court of Appeal in Lagos. The honourable justices, irrespective of what they felt personally about Mustapha, said he had no case to answer on Kudirat Abiola’s murder.
So he not only got discharged, he was also acquitted. Even if some of the justices personally wanted the accused hanged upside down by his toenails, or right side up by the very hair of his head, they had no choice, as the cold facts were not there. So, Al-Mustapha went home a free man. I say it again, the law is an ass.
But it is a supreme ass, before whom we must all bow, otherwise, anarchy will ensue in the land. What were the points of law raised by the justices that made them overturn the earlier death sentence given last year by Justice Mojisola Dada of the High Court? No direct evidence that Mustapha and his co-accused, Lateef Shofolahan, conspired to kill Kudirat. The statements of the prosecution witnesses were contradictory.
Sergeant Barnabas Jabila, popularly called Rogers, who had earlier confessed that the former CSO sent him to kill Kudirat, later recanted. The bullet extracted from Kudirat’s head was not presented at trial. Other witnesses who ought to have been called were not called. And on, and on. And the justices submitted: “In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is to prove beyond reasonable doubt, and this is a chain that cannot be broken.”
True. No matter how we feel about Mustapha’s acquittal, it was solid on points of law (as far as we laymen know). And one other thing to be deduced is that the prosecution was poor, sloppy, wishy-washy, harum-scarum. I think the prosecutors were the ones who did the case in. They are the ones who opened fresh wounds in the hearts of the Abiola family, particularly Kudirat’s children, last week. How can you handle such landmark case and bungle it?
God give us attorneys like the one we read as youngsters in the Perry Mason series, written by Erle Stanley Gardner, the American bestselling novelist.
Al-Mustapha is back home, good luck to him. But I hope he’s not feeling like a hero. The bitter truth is that he was part of what has gone down in history as perhaps the most evil regime in this country. He wielded power as if there would be no tomorrow. But tomorrow came, as it would always come, and yesterday’s man of power was soon fighting for his own life. Let people learn.
Power should be held for the good of the people, and not for personal aggrandizement, not for tyranny, nor for gratuitous masturbation. Use power wantonly like Al-Mustapha did, face the consequences someday later. Only that you may not be as lucky as he is now, escaping the gallows by the skin of his teeth.
Why did we develop some empathy for the ex-CSO along the way? The trial was too long. Almost 15 years to try a case? Damn too long, and let our judiciary hear it. The judicial system begs for reforms, and we need it speedily.
That is the way justice would not only be done, but would be seen to be done. Do it expeditiously, with no room for filibuster. No room for villains to suddenly becomes heroes overnight. Remember the tortoise, which caught his father-in-law stealing yams from his (tortoise’s) farm.
What did he do? He chained the in-law to a tree beside the road on market day. As people went to the market, they laughed the in-law to scorn, calling him all sorts of names, deriding and excoriating him for being a sneaky thief. Tortoise was having a ball, and refused all the entreaties of his father-in-law for mercy.
However, by the evening hours, when people were returning from the market, and still saw the in-law manacled to a tree, their comments changed. Tortoise became the villain. You want to kill your in-law?
What did he steal from you, is it not just yams? Is that why you must kill him? Tortoise, you are wicked. Your other in-laws should denounce you. They must withdraw their daughter from you immediately. When a trial lasts for as long as Mustapha’s did, it becomes like the case of tortoise and his in-law.
The villain turns a hero. On the flipside, there’s another lesson to learn in fidelity from some people who stood by the embattled CSO through thick and thin. Irrespective of what people felt and said, they remained true to Al-Mustapha.
They include his brother Hadi, founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr Frederick Fasehun, soccer coach (of the wobbling and fumbling fame) Fanny Amun, publisher of Conscience International, Chief Abiola Ogundokun, and many others. Like the Yoruba people say, no matter how evil the day is, there are people who stick to you like a shadow. There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Good to see people who remain true to their convictions, irrespective of people’s judgment. Having said all the above, however, if truly Al-Mustapha was involved in the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, he can only be acquitted in the human court. Another judgment lies ahead, in which no guilty can ever go free.
It is the divine judgment. The Good Book says the sin of some people goes ahead of them to the judgment seat.
I believe murder is one of such sins, and whoever murdered Kudirat for fighting for the revalidation of her husband’s electoral mandate of June 12, 1993, will not, and can not, escape the judgement of God. It is sure, inexorable, immutable.
And it is only a matter of time, as nobody lives forever. Again, Al-Mustapha’s acquittal does not mean we should automatically close the file on Kudirat’s murder. The fact remains that on June 4, 1996, the woman was gunned down in the streets of Lagos.
Some people ordered the gruesome act. Some others pulled the trigger. Whodunit? We need to know. For more than 60 years, the world was still hunting down and prosecuting those who perpetrated crimes against humanity under Nazi rule in Germany. Why then should we draw the curtains on who killed Kudirat after just 17 years?
The Department of State Security (DSS) has been doing a great job in tracking down insurgents in recent times. Can they not also be vested with this assignment? Or is the trail cold already? No, it should not be, not as long as those who gave the order and those who actually pulled the trigger are running free.
But Nigeria is a funny country. Kudirat’s murder may join the long list of such unresolved killings: Harry Marshal, Bola Ige, Bisoye Tejuosho, Aminoasari Dikibo, Funsho Williams, and many others. The way things are going, we may soon prove right our foremost filmmaker and leader of Iroko music band, Dr Ola Balogun, who said in a text message early this week: “One day, they’ll tell us that Kudirat Abiola killed herself.”
Yes, maybe it was self-slaughter. She actually put the gun to her own temple, and pulled the trigger! Nigeria? What a country!