The Lagos State government has finally secured an order of the Supreme Court permitting it to re-open the murder case of late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, against Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (retd), the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
Kudirat Abiola was the wife of the late businessman cum politician, Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election that was annulled by former President Ibrahim Babangida.
The apex court in a brief ruling on the application by Lagos State for permission to re-open the case out of time, granted the request for the Lagos to challenge the Court of Appeal decision of July 12, 2013 that discharged and acquitted Al-Mustapha from the murder case.
Reacting to the court’s decision, Chairman of the Arewa Young Lawyers Forum (AYLF), Sadiq Abubakar Ilela, who witnessed the proceedings, hailed the ruling.
Ilela, who said he was in court with some members of his group to show support for Al-Mustapha, said the leave granted Lagos would allow the court to determine the case on merit.
“We were in court to show support to the respondents. We believe in the rule of law.
“We are convinced that, with the ruling, parties now have the opportunity to present their cases before the court to enable them make an informed decision and determine the case on merit,” Ilela said.
Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen in the ruling of a panel of seven Justices ordered Lagos State to file its notice of appeal within 30 days.
The decision of Justice Onnoghen on the Lagos application argued by Osunsanya Oluwayemisi, a Senior State Counsel in the Lagos Ministry of Justice followed the consent of Al-Mustapha’s lawyer, Joseph Dauda SAN, not to oppose the application.
The acting CJN said that by the decision of the apex court, the time for Lagos to appeal against the findings of the Court of Appeal on the celebrated murder case has been extended from July 12, 2013 when the appeal court judgment was delivered till yesterday.
By the granted permission, the coast has been cleared for the Lagos to challenge the no guilty verdict granted in favour of the ex military officer by the Court of Appeal almost four years ago.
In the new move to re-open the case, the Lagos State government had sought to file a notice of appeal out of the time at the Supreme Court asking for the permission of the court to allow it to challenge the Appeal Court findings of Justices Amina Adamu Augie, Rita Nosakhare Pemu and Fatimo Omoro Akinbami on ground of mis-carriage of Justice in the matter.
The state had in the application prayed the apex court to allow it to exercise its constitutional right to test the validity and correctness of the decision of the Appeal Court.
It claimed that it wants to raise its ground of appeal on arguable legal and factual issues especially the question of whether there is any direct or circumstantial evidence establishing the guilt passed on Al-Mustapha in the murder case.
It justified its lateness in filing the appeal on the ground that it set up two legal teams to review the circumstances of the case and the verdict of the Court of Appeal.
The government said that it took a long time for the two legal teams to present their findings and recommended that an appeal case can be filed and sustained.
The Lagos State Government said that it will ask the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal which on July 12, 2013 discharged and acquitted Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, in the murder case of late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
In place of the Appeal Court decision, the state government said that it will plead with the apex court to uphold and restore the death sentence by hanging placed on the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the former dictator and late Head of State, General Sani Abacha by a Lagos High Court on January 30, 2012.
Al-Mustapha, Mohammed Abacha and one Lateef Shofolahan were arraigned before a Lagos high court on two-count criminal charge of conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on June 4, 1996 in Lagos State.
In the judgment of the high court delivered on January 30, 2012 by Justice Moji Dada, the accused persons were found culpable as charged and sentenced them to death by hanging.
However, at the Court of Appeal approached by Al-Mustapha on April 27, 2012 for the review of the trial and the conviction, the 3-member appellate court Justices in a unanimous judgment of July 12, 2013 voided the decision of the high court, set it aside and discharged and acquitted the accused on the ground that the evidence against them was not strong enough to warrant the death sentence.