Court of Appeal Discharge and Acquit Al Mustapha Over Kudirat Abiola’s Murder
A panel of justices of the Nigerian Court of Appeal today ruled that retired Colonel Hamza Al Mustapha, a former confidante of Nigeria’s late dictator, General Sani Abacha, must be set free of a murder conviction for the June 4, 1996 assassination of Kudirat Abiola, a wife of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Mr. Al Mustapha, who served as Chief Security Officer to Mr. Abacha, was earlier convicted by a Lagos High Court on charges of authorizing, planning and overseeing the murder of Ms. Abiola, who was shot in one of the streets of Lagos as she drove to an appointment. The killing of Mr. Abiola’s wife shocked Nigerians and the world, and made the name Kudirat one of the most revered icons of the Nigerian struggle to force the military from political power. Mr. Abacha, whose regime epitomized the height of military repression, died suddenly in November, 1997, in the midst of an amorous soiree with three young prostitutes. His death brought to an end Mr. Mustapha’s reign as the most powerful member of a small power-drunk clique that carried out Mr. Abacha’s repressive agenda, sometimes by physically eliminating the late dictator’s most visible opponents.
A Court of Appeal presided over by Justice Amina Augie today ruled that the Lagos High Court that convicted Mr. Mustapha for the murder of Ms. Abiola was “stroked to secure a conviction by all means.” On January 30, 2013, the high court had sentenced Mr. Mustapha to death for conspiracy to commit murder.
But the appellate court’s acquittal of Mr. Mustapha is bound to raise judicial dust, said an Abuja-based lawyer familiar with the case. He said the stage for today’s ruling had been set when a no-nonsense judge earlier involved in the case withdrew for inexplicable reasons and was replaced by Justice Amina Augie, who headed the panel. The source described Justice Augie as “one of the justices on the Court of Appeal who is linked to judicial corruption.”
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