Tomorrow, January 30, 2013, marks exactly one year after Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, was sentenced to death by hanging by a Lagos High Court.
Al- Mustapha was found guilty and sentenced over his involvement in the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of the winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, late Chief MKO Abiola.
Today, years after his first arraignment, the matter has gone on appeal before the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. However, is the statement, "time heals all wounds" applicable in the instant case?
There have been calls in some quarters for families of the victim(s) to have a rethink and find a place in their heart to forgive the convict who has continued to state that he was not culpable.
Barrister Abdul Mahmud, President, Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL) and co-founder, Campaign for Democracy (CD), while talking with Daily Trust yesterday, said it was a very difficult call to make.
Abdul Mahmud who was himself arrested and detained for allegedly knowing about the murder of Kudirat before he was finally released, said "it is difficult to make the call since Al-Mustapha was at the heart of the most dictatorial regimes in Nigeria."
This, according to him, was because justice in this case is two ways - justice for Major Al-Mustahpa and justice for Alhaja Kudirat Abiola's family.
However, the call for Al-Mustapha's freedom has continued to resonate nationwide, especially in the North and some say that he was only performing his duty of protecting the late Head of State, General Abacha being a dedicated officer. According to them, to deny Major Hamza Al-Mustapha the right to state pardon is ridiculous, selfish and vicious.
Said Abdul Mahmud: "What Al-Mustapha was found guilty of was not pulling the trigger but his involvement in the conspiracy. Since the matter is before the Court of Appeal, it may as well go up to the Supreme Court."
In some other jurisdictions, according to Prof. Itse Sagay SAN, Al-Mustapha has already been incarcerated for more than the prison term he would have been sentenced for the said offence, since he did not pull the trigger.
Still, while standing trial, he was alleged to have plotted to kill former president, Olusegun Obasanjo by shooting down his helicopter with a stinger missile in order to take over the government from prison. This case was, however, thrown out by the Federal High Court, Lagos as the government failed to prove its case.
Al-Mustapha's trial, it could be recalled, lasted from 1999 to 2012 a period of more than 12 years. In prison calendar it has actually lasted for about 20 years, since nine months equals one year in its calendar.
The prolonged trial was characterized by witness inconsistencies, all of which shattered the foundation of the solid evidence that was needed to achieve the requirement of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Sergeant Rogers (Barnabas Jabila Mshelia), the star witness who purportedly confessed to the killing (with an Uzi gun) at Al- Mustapha's orders, at one stage of the trial, turned a hostile witness to the embarrassment of the prosecution by telling the court in graphic details how some officials of both the Lagos and the federal governments had promised him handsome rewards if he cooperated with the prosecution to convict Al-Mustapha.
This dramatic turn of events brought to the fore one of the reasons for the clamour for the abolition of the death penalty from our statute books since life once taken can never be replaced.
Kola Adebiyi, legal manager, Lawyers Without Border also said that if the matter goes on appeal up to the Supreme Court and the court affirms the death sentence, then the only option left for Al-Mustapha would be to apply for prerogative of mercy to the governor of Lagos State through his lawyer for total pardon or to reduce the death sentence to life imprisonment.