By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja | 04 November 2016 | 6:35 am
Major Hamza Al-Mustapha
The Lagos State government has asked the Supreme Court to set aside the July 12, 2013 judgment of the Court of Appeal which discharged and acquitted Major Hamza Al-Mustapha of the the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
Kudirat was a wife of the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
In place of the Appeal Court judgment, the Lagos State government urged the apex court to uphold and restore the death sentence by hanging, which was earlier placed on the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the 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 a two-count criminal charge of conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of the Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on June 4, 1996 in Lagos State.
In the High Court judgment delivered in 2012 by Justice Moji Dada, the accused persons were found culpable as charged and sentenced to death by hanging.
The judgment was later set aside in April 2012 by the Court of Appeal, for the review of the trial and the conviction. The three Appellate Court justices, in a unanimous judgment, not only voided the decision of the High Court, they went further to discharge and acquit the accused on the ground that the evidence against them was not strong enough to warrant the death sentence on them.
But the Lagos State government, in a bid to reopen the case, filed a notice of appeal at the Supreme Court, asking for the permission of the court to allow it to challenge the findings of Appeal Court Justices Amina Adamu Augie, Rita Nosakhare Pemu and Fatimo Omoro Akinbami on the ground of miscarriage of justice in the matter.
The state prayed the apex court to allow it to exercise its constitutional right to test the validity of the decision of the Appeal Court.
It added that its ground of appeal raised arguable legal and factual issues, especially the question of whether there was any direct or circumstantial evidence establishing the guilt passed on Al-Mustapha in the murder case.
Lagos State 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 held that it took a long time for the two legal teams to present their findings and recommend that an appeal case could be filed and sustained.
However, the matter could not go on after it was raised by the counsel to the Lagos State government, Mr. J. I. Jacobs. Shortly after Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN) announced his appearance for Al-Mustapha, a member of the five-man panel of Justices, Centus Chima Nweze, asked to be excused out of the case.
Justice Nweze’s ground was that he had participated actively in some aspects of the matter at the Court of Appeal and as such, it would be morally wrong and improper for him to participate in the same matter at the apex court.
Daudu did not object to the request, which prompted Justice Bode Rhodes – Vivour to adjourn the matter till January 12, 2017 for a full panel to determine whether the court will allow the appeal to be heard, having been filed out of time.