Saturday, July 13, 2013

On Al Mustapha’s murder acquittal

Abdul, Kudirat, Al Mustapha

The statement by a son of the slain Kudirat Abiola, Abdul Abiola, referring to the judgement of the Appeal Court discharging Al Mustapha and co as a stab in his heart is one many who followed the case can relate to. I feel a sense of personal loss. If these gentlemen had nothing to do with the murder, who did?

I recall covering this case as a judicial reporter. I was in the court room when the earliest testimonies were given in court.

But it was clear from those early days of the trial that the prosecution was up against an unusual set of accused persons. They were determined to use all they had to beat the rap against them.

To begin with, as much as the prosecution tried, they simply could not get the case to proceed expeditiously. The defence inundated the court with preliminary objections. The competence of the charge was contested. Jurisdiction of the court was contested. Every ruling of the court was contested. There were frequent trips to the Court of Appeal to determine each of these challenges, while the case would be halted at the trial court in the interim. Then there were numerous adjournments.

When they could not have their way, they asked a judge to excuse himself from the trial because they lacked faith in him to be fair.

They came up against a tough judge in one Justice Alabi of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere then. He was determined to make progress in the case, and he did. It was in his court that Sgt Rogers gave the earliest testimony of the trial, detailing how he came to pull the trigger.

At some point, the defence asked Justice Alabi to excuse himself from the trial. Desperate to kick him out of the trial, Al Mustapha openly insulted the judge during one of the sittings. It was unprecedented. Many people in the court-room thought the heavens would fall.  The judge kept his cool. In the end, the accused got what they wanted. The judge excused himself from the case.

The problem with a delayed trial is that a series of things happen that may take the trial in a different direction than it would have normally have gone. The public baying for blood forgets. The aggrieved have adequate passage of time to move on with their lives. Even the witnesses begin to struggle with the exact order of occurrences and some minute details. They easily get confused under intense cross-examination, making nonsense of their credibility.

Whatever the case, it no longer matters. The accused are free. Only the Supreme Court can rule otherwise, if there is any fight left in the prosecution after this long exhaustive battle. But there is yet a judge who saw what happened and requires no witnesses to tell him how it happened. He will deliver his own judgement at his own time.

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