It is better for 99 guilty persons to be set free, than for one innocent person to be sent to prison. That – or something to that effect – is the spirit of the Law. There is a presumption of innocence for anyone accused of perpetrating criminality, until a court of competent jurisdiction says otherwise.
In light of the recent release of Major Hamza al-Mustapha from prison custody, following his acquittal by an appellate court in the case of the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of the presumed winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential Elections, MKO Abiola; and the mixed reactions that have greeted it; the opening lines of this piece may come across as though his release joyed this writer. Far from it. I am one of those who feel, and for good reasons too, that al-Mustapha, following his ignominious role in the Sani Abacha administration and the fear that his name, not to imagine his presence, invoked in the minds of serving Generals in that administration, was very capable of the crime he was accused of and methinks he had plenty of motive to eliminate Mrs. Abiola, whose crusades to see her husband released from detention, was discomforting to the administration.
The truth is that motive, a witness statement, and a preponderance of prima facie evidence, together with a groundswell of public opprobrium against the accused; are not enough to secure a conviction in a court of law. The key ingredient that was undoubtedly missing in the al-Mustapha saga, was a diligent prosecution by the State. For one, to put witnesses on the stand who find cause to recount their earlier testimonies, is a major minus to the chances of any legal team to get victory at the courts. A situation that saw the key prosecution witness, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila (aka Sgt. Rogers), reported to have made contradictory depositions, was a pointer to an unwholesome prosecution. Further, it is a trite saying in the legal parlance, that, “justice delayed, is justice denied”. Fourteen years is too long a time, for anyone to be standing trial, even for the most grievous of offences. The al-Mustapha trial served to bring to the fore, the inadequacies of the Nigerian judiciary. We are aware that thousands of Nigerians have been kept in prison custody for years, while the State is yet to commence their trial. The seeming sympathy that al-Mustapha received is a function of the high profile nature of his case, and the fact that the case has been in the public domain.
As for Kudirat Abiola, it is unfortunate that justice has continued to elude her. Her case is a representation of the innumerable number of instances in which the judiciary, and by extension, the Nigerian State, has consistently failed Nigerians. Ordinary Nigerians are being killed daily by gun-wielding marauders, be they assassins, armed robbers, or kidnappers who had their abduction go bloody. Justice continues to be elusive to many. The elite class is as exposed to this elusive justice, as the class of the commoners. The only difference, being that in the case of the elite, there’s some pretence on the part of the authorities to get the assailants and serve the course of justice. It ought to be noted, however, that for the elite, it is mostly a case of politically motivated killings, or targeted assassinations sponsored by competitors in the business environment. Whatever be the case, it appears to me, that since the inglorious era of military rule, there are ample reasons to indict the political leadership of the time, of complicity, if not outright culpability in the perpetration of the killings. The reason is not far-fetched. Since the murder of Dele Giwa, high profile assassinations tend to eliminate persons adjudged to be causing some measure of inconvenience to the government of the day.
It is against the backdrop of the foregoing that a certain hypothesis begins to take shape in ones mind. The chances of solving the murder of a high profile individual is directly proportional to whether or not the victim’s elimination, makes things easier for the government of the day. In other words, who benefits from the murder? Is it a coincidence that most of the unsolved murders in the land, happened to victims who were not too friendly to the government? Do we then expect such governments to uncover the perpetrators?
The al-Mustapha case is an example of justice being turned on its head, as no matter how one looks at it, the State has again failed to perform its most sacred duty of ensuring the security of life and property; and where life had been violently taken, the State again has failed to bring the perpetrators to book. That said, we must not be unmindful of the dramatic twist in the case. How often is it, that a higher court has had course to reverse a conviction in a murder case, and in the same breath, discharged and acquitted the criminal suspects? Very rarely do we find such in these parts. It is the contention of some, that a retrial, would have been more like it. But this is Nigeria. We all seem to be authorities in every field of endeavour even when we are obviously unaware of the intricacies that abound therein.
For the friends and family of al-Mustapha, their joy is understandable. But to many other Nigerians in the court of public opinion, there is no way in which the man would be unconnected with the murder of Kudirat Abiola. He must have been responsible for her death, to some degree. But do we really know? Would we ever know? The law is said to be an ass to be ridden by all manner of people. For Alhaja Kudirat, her family and friends, justice is still undoubtedly an alien concept. It does not exist in these shores. While we must continue to feel the pain of the Abiola family, that saw the man and his wife face death in questionable circumstances; we should understand that injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice, everywhere. Ordinary Nigerians are being killed and maimed daily, and we carry on unperturbed, or is it out of sheer helplessness? But when a high profile gladiator is served a similar fate as the commoners are forced to experience daily, we become self-righteous advocates and social crusaders for the course of justice. A State that cannot protect the common man, however uncommon he may be, cannot and will not protect the elitist oligarchy.
The lives of each Nigerian must mean something to us. If al-Mustapha should not be made to face an unending trial, no other Nigerian should. If Kudirat’s murder must be solved, so must every other murder in the land. We must begin to place premium on the life of our citizens, rich or poor; in government or out of government.
The Nigerian Senate has effectively legalised child marriage and in essence, canonised pedophilia. In their estimation, any woman (girl) who is married, must be treated as having come of age.
Did you see the video of (dis)Honourable Farouk Lawan receiving bribes from Femi Otedola to influence the fuel subsidy probe by the House of Representatives Committee that Lawan chaired? Are you unaware that Farouk Lawan is still part of the Legislature that has Ahmed Yerima, the number one child marriage proponent, as a Senator, that meets in the so-called hallowed chambers of the National Assembly?
Where is the anger? Where is the outrage?
I am on Twitter as @efewanogho.