Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The Supreme Court has granted Lagos State the leave to challenge the Court of Appeal’s judgment which set aside the death sentence passed on the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Lateef Shofolahan by the state High Court for the killing of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of the late Chief MKO Abiola.
The apex court in a brief ruling on the application by Lagos State for permission to re-open the case out of time, granted the request for the Lagos to challenge the Court of Appeal decision of July 12, 2013 that discharged and acquitted Al-Mustapha from the murder case.
Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, in the ruling of a panel of seven justices, ordered Lagos State to file its notice of appeal within 30 days.
The decision of Justice Onnoghen on the Lagos application argued by Osunsanya Oluwayemisi, a Senior State Counsel in the Lagos Ministry of Justice followed the consent of Al-Mustapha’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Dauda (SAN), not to oppose the application.
The acting CJN said by the decision of the apex court, the time for Lagos to appeal against the findings of the Court of Appeal on the celebrated murder case was extended from July 12, 2013 when the appeal court judgment was delivered till yesterday.
The coast is now clear for the Lagos to challenge the no guilty verdict granted in favour of Al-Mustapha and his co-accused.
Lagos had filed its notice of appeal out of the time allowed by court’s rules to challenge a judgment of a lower court.
It then required the leave of the Supreme Court before the appeal could be deemed to have been properly filed.
The state had therefore sought the permission of the apex court to allow it challenge the Appeal Court findings of Justices Amina Adamu Augie, Rita Nosakhare Pemu and Fatimo Omoro Akinbami on ground of mis-carriage of justice in the matter.
The state, had in the application, prayed the apex court to allow it to exercise its constitutional right to test the validity and correctness of the decision of the Appeal Court.
Lagos said the appeal raised legal and factual issues especially the question of whether there was any direct or circumstantial evidence establishing the guilt of Al-Mustapha.
It 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 said that it took a long time for the two legal teams to present their findings and recommended that an appeal should be filed and sustained.
Lagos is asking the apex court to uphold and restore the death sentence by hanging passed on Al-Mustapha by a Lagos High Court on January 30, 2012.
Al-Mustapha and Lateef Shofolahan, the driver of the late Kudirat were arraigned before a Lagos high court on a two-count criminal charge of conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of Kudirat Abiola on June 4, 1996 in Lagos State.
In the judgment of the high court delivered on January 30, 2012 by Justice Moji Dada, the accused persons were found culpable as charged. They were consequently sentenced them to death by hanging.
However at the Court of Appeal approached by Al-Mustapha on April 27, 2012 for the review of the trial and the conviction, the three-member appellate court justices in a unanimous judgment of July 12, 2013 voided the decision of the high court, set it aside and discharged and acquitted the accused on the ground that the evidence against them was not strong enough to warrant the death sentence.