Mixed reactions from a cross section of Nigerians spanning all walks of life poured in. Even the Clergy, Christian and Islamic; civil society groups and the political class were not left out.
Freedom came to Al-Mustapha after almost 15 years of being incarcerated when many people had lost hope, believing that sooner or later, he and Lateef Shofolahan would be facing the hangman.
The duo was condemned to death by hanging on January 30, 2012 by Justice Mojisola Dada of the Lagos High Court in Igbosere for killing of Kudirat Abiola on June 4, 1996.
But dramatically, the whole scenario changed when the all-female Justices of the Appeal Court, Lagos Division, who heard the appeal, discharged and acquitted them of murder over the killing of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola whose husband, Chief MKO Abiola was presumed to have won the June 12, 1993 presidential election, but annulled by the military.
Nigerians seemed split over the Appeal Court judgement some saying justice has been done, while others believe justice was miscarried. However, the final arbiter is the Supreme Court, if ever the Lagos State Government would appeal the judgement. But for now, they’ve regained their freedom.
By Emmanuel Edukugho
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the Appeal Court verdict setting free the two men who have since returned to their homes.
An enterprising lawyer, Barrister Mercy O. Aminah, shares opinion on the verdict.
Excerpts of the interview:
What do you feel about the judgement?
Before I comment, I want to say, I have not read the full details of the judgement and to study it. But suffice to say, I am just offering ordinary opinion as a Nigerian on the street. I want to say that I am amazed at the whole proceedings beginning from the High Court even to the Appeal Court. I am surprised and bewildered at the judgement. After 14 years in prison for a murder charge that took a long time of investigation and several witnesses called to testify for the state and the defence, the prosecution cannot get it right. When will our justice system be seen to be right and fair! It is amazing.
Should the prosecuting authority be blamed for doing a shoddy job at the beginning which eventually led to the discharge and acquittal of al-Mustapha?
I don’t want to say that the prosecution did not do its work properly. However, when somebody has been charged for committing a crime, but you bring so many persons along over the matter, it could cause some confusion in the process of prosecution. It may be difficult at the end for justice to prevail.
Undoubtedly, there is rot in the entire system – executive, legislative and judiciary, in fact all three tiers of government. The whole thing is nauseating. I mean the entire system is rubbish. Something must be done to clean up the system for we cannot continue this way. Some people have called for a revolution. I am scared about the future of Nigeria.
In this al-Mustapha case, from the very beginning, the prosecution did not get it right. Hence it has ended in this way.
Do you see justice done or you see injustice either in this case?
Justice or no justice, 14 years after he was incarcerated, we are seeing the wheel of justice still rolling. Was the case against him cooked up? Did he confess to killing Kudirat Abiola? Were confessions made under duress? Did he do it? These and other questions have to be considered and weighed before judgement was to be passed.
The Honourable Justices of the Appeal Court must have carefully looked at the whole matter and gave their verdict based on merit.
This is a criminal matter. And there is a standard in this aspect – a criminal charge must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, unlike a civil case which depends absolutely on evidence. If it’s civil case, you will begin to pile up evidence until they tilt in your favour. You need not prove your case beyond reasonable doubt – in civil proceedings. But not so in criminal cases. There is a standard, and the standard is that you must prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. There must not be room for doubt. Once there is doubt whatsoever, it is usually resolved in favour of the accused person.
From what I read of the judgement in newspapers, there were contradictions in the evidence of the witnesses which the lower court had ignored before passing the death sentence on the accused. Based on the proceedings of the High Court, the Appeal Court judges believed there was no evidence to convict the accused.
So this brings us to the issue of prima facie which was not sufficiently established against the accused in the first place during proceedings, at the lower court. So the prosecution could not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. In such situation, the Appeal Court had no option but to acquit and discharge the convicts.
The George Zimmerman acquittal by a jury in the US over the killing of a black youth, Trayvon Martin was because the prosecution was unable to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. There were contradictory evidence and so the jury ruled in favour of Zimmerman who could have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. But he was cleared which caused outrage in the US leading to massive protests and demonstrations across major cities in America. Many people, especially Black Americans felt there was no justice in this case. But taking an incisive look into the Zimmerman verdict, the prosecution could not prove its case of murder beyond reasonable doubt as the accused said he shot Trayvon in self defence when found in the neighbourhood in suspicious and questionable circumstances.