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Al-Mustapha: The Colour of Justice

18 Jul 2013

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

“The Don often quoted the saying, ‘Rather a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished,’ then added, ‘What a beautiful country.’”

The foregoing is taken from Mario Puzo’s novel, “The Last Don”, the gripping sequel to his classic, “The Godfather”. In that short narrative, Don Domenico Clericuzio was mocking the American justice system he took maximum advantage of to amass enormous wealth and power, while living above the law. Yet it is within the context of his sarcasm that one can easily situate the controversy currently trailing the acquittal last week of Major Hamza Al Mustapha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, in the murder trial of Mrs Kudirat Olayinka Abiola.

Having followed the case very closely from the beginning, including all the contrived drama that for several years rendered prosecution almost impossible, I sympathise with members of the Abiola family who now have to relive the painful memories of Kudirat’s gruesome assassination. In a statement last weekend, titled “Is This The Face of Justice in Nigeria?”, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), founded by Mrs Hafsat Abiola-Costello, argued that the upturned verdict of the Lagos High Court which convicted Major Hamza Al Mustpaha and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, was credible, regardless of the fact that during cross examination and re-examination, the two principal witnesses retracted their earlier testimony.

Said KIND: “...The court found that it was cogently, compellingly and irresistibly proven beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution that Major Al Mustapha was the person who procured Barnabas Jabila (aka Sergeant Rogers) to eliminate Alhaja Abiola by direct instruction, handing over of the murder weapon, the UZI SMG with 9mm rounds with which she was assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Lagos and who provided ‘the logistics’ for their movement from Abuja to Lagos by flight, their accommodation at his Lagos official residence at Dodan Barracks and linked them up with their contact person and facilitator, Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan.”

Not a few people share the sentiment expressed by KIND that the Lagos High Court actually convicted the people responsible for Kudirat’s assassination. However, nobody can also deny the fact that this has been one unusual prosecution that could only have ended the way it did. The point being made here is that the course of justice is already perverted when an accused has to stand trial for almost one and a half decades (even if in this instance, he was responsible for that); and it worsens matters if in the process of that protracted trial, the prosecution witnesses began to change their narratives. What that does is to create doubts, which in criminal prosecution could only be resolved in favour of the accused, as the appeal court did in this unfortunate trial.

If there is anything that reinforces the difficulty of bringing high-profile killers to book under a system of law, it is the United States trial of George Zimmerman over the murder of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, which last Saturday ended in acquittal even when there was no dispute as to who pulled the fatal trigger. The doubt the Florida jury resolved in favour of the shooter of a harmless teenager was that he acted in “self-defense”.

Quite naturally the verdict sparked outrage but on Monday, President Barack Obama waded in and I commend part of what he said to those who feel hurt about al-Mustapha’s acquittal. Said Obama: “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken…we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this…”

For me, there are two take-aways from Obama’s intervention, especially in the light of what has transpired in the last one week in our country. One, with al-Mustapha now being treated like a Nollywood star in Kano, there seems to be no compassion for the Abiola family and a lack of appreciation of the fact that a woman was brutally hacked down in her prime and in broad daylight. Whatever the motivation for the gloating that is going on in some quarters, it cannot be right. Two, if we accept al-Mustapha’s position that he was not responsible for Kudirat’s death, it is also a notorious fact that the terror machine he presided over at the time created the atmosphere for her murder. What therefore flows from that is a timely warning for us all, especially at a time like this when our democracy is going through some convulsion, that never must we allow our nation to experience such brutal dictatorship again.

On Monday ‘The Economist’ magazine published a piece on the Florida trial titled, “Getting Away With It”, where the lead writer stated: “I seriously doubt Mr Zimmerman needed to shoot Mr Martin, even if Mr Martin did attack him. And I seriously doubt Mr Martin would have been shot if he hadn’t been a black kid. In my heart of hearts, I too think Mr Zimmerman did something terribly wrong”. Yet the conclusion from that damning summation is that considering the unpleasant reality “that the least privileged, the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, are far and away most likely to stand accused” for murder (there is ample evidence of that in our country) “a legal system making it harder for the likes of Mr Zimmerman to get away with it would be a system of even more outrageous racial inequity.”

Such a conclusion may sound hypocritical, if not out-rightly silly, to some people but it is not. The message there is that since one can never really be 100 percent certain in murder trials, especially in cases like Al-Mustapha’s where the core evidence is the testimony of some unstable witnesses who should now face trial for perjury; and given the unpleasant reality that murder charges are mostly preferred against the poor and the weak, the society is better served if the doubt is resolved on the side of the accused, no matter what we may think of such characters.

However, it is a serious indictment on our criminal justice administration that the Court of Appeal would dismiss Kudirat’s homicide investigation as shoddy. Against the background that the brutal assassinations of Dele Giwa, Bola Ige, Alfred Rewane, Bagauda Kaltho, Funso Williams, Sulia Adedeji, Bisoye Tejuosho, Harry Marshal et. al. ended in similar cul de sac, some without any prosecution, we should all be worried. If there is any enduring lesson that history teaches, it is that a society which gives free reign to this kind of morbid impunity is greatly imperiled.

Kunle Afolayan’s Musical Classic

Okay, I am almost certain the first question that would come given the above headline would be: “Is Kunle Afolayan also a musician?” And the answer to that is No. The young man is still a movie producer/director, one of the most creative film-makers we have around; and a chip off the old block. What I am referring to is his latest work, the musical video of Dr. Victor Olaiya’s evergreen track, “Baby Jowo” or “Mofe mu yan” as some naughty men have rechristened it (please don’t ask me for the interpretation). In the clip, the trumpet grandmaster did a remix duet with 2Face Idibia, in a rare musical collaboration that could simply be described as the ancient and modern.

Interestingly, ever since Mrs Ayo Obe posted the youtube link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enf68hEsvys&feature=player_embedded) on a listserv put together by Mallam Mouftah Baba-Ahmed, where you have the movers and shakers of our society, I have enjoyed a most rigorous intellectual discourse about the  richness of Nigeria’s entertainment heritage. With respected people like Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Hon Nkoyo Toyo and Governor Kayode Fayemi and several others wading in, and my egbon, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, going into historical excursions to weave together one compelling tapestry after another, it is easy to understand how our diverse cultures intersect and why Nigeria, if we get our acts together, is actually more than the sum of its parts.

In lending his voice to the discussion of the music video, my friend and METROPOLE’s publisher, Waziri Adio, had written: “I think we should see this as a well-realised contemporary twist on a classic. Beyond bringing in the new generation, 2Face adds enormous value with his rendition in Idoma and English, and a hint of that soulful edge that made ‘African Queen’ such a memorable song. It is the rebirth of a classic! And kudos should go to Baba Olaiya for being part of this inter-generational conversation; to 2Face for raising a flag for his generation; and to Kunle Afolayan for being the son of his father.”

Now, the man who brought all of us together in that incredible (even if sometimes dysfunctional) virtual family, would describe the five-minute video clip as a beautiful conversation in which “the restrained, bashful ‘innocence’ of the past meets the excess and licence of today” with a powerful message for mentorship. According to Baba-Ahmed, “When experience and originality meet energy, imagination and unrestrained ideation, the frontiers of achievement are pushed forward. This collaboration attests to that. The universality of music is reflected in this mix, too. Across ethnic and time divides. 2Face’s obeisance, at the end of the clip, seems genuinely spontaneous and unscripted. Which means that the old, as long as they are well-meaning and confident, willing to respect and work with the young, have nothing to fear from the coming generations. Similarly, the young, as long as they are willing to acknowledge the experience, love and goodwill of the old, they (young) and the society will be the better for it.”

What more can I add except to say I give kudos to Dr. Olaiya who will be 83 in December yet still shuffles his feet so elegantly; just as I commend 2Face and Kunle for this brilliant work of art which marries the past and the present, with the promise of a glorious tomorrow.

A Disclaimer!

Ever since several copies of “The Last 100 Days of Abacha” appeared on major streets of Abuja and Lagos, I have made it clear to those who complain about the quality of the various versions that are in circulation that I have nothing to do with them. Not only does the original version of the book not have on its cover the photograph of the late General Sani Abacha (which is on the pirated copy), the last edition from the publisher, Mr. Chris Oshiafi’s BOOKHOUSE, was actually printed in 2005. So while the book being sold unfortunately carries my name, it was not published by me. I am sure readers are already aware that the copies of my latest book on the Yar’Adua years that are equally being hawked by vendors on the streets are also pirated copies. But so are the books by several other Nigerian and foreign authors that are in demand!

Tags: Backpage, Featured, Al-Mustapha, Justice

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