The Nigerian Army High command yesterday insisted that the discharged and acquitted former Chief Security Officer to late General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, is still in service just as it is mulling whether or not to promote and retire him.
The Army spoke yesterday, as the Lagos State Government that prosecuted Major Al-Mustapha has mandated its Justice Ministry to advise it on the way forward.
The Lagos State Executive Council, met yesterday to review the Court of Appeal judgment which on Friday quashed the conviction of Al-Mustapha and his co-accused, Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan over the murder of late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
The state Ministry of Justice, headed by Mr Ade Ipaye was mandated to study the judgment and decide if there was any need to appeal same.
However, sources in Lagos Ministry of Justice informed Vanguard that the Court of Appeal decision would certainly be appealed.
Lagos yet to decide on appeal
Special Assistant to Governor Babatunde Fashola on Legal Matters, Mr Lanre Akinsola said: “The position of the Lagos State Government is that we are reviewing the judgment to see whether there is a need for us to appeal same. If we feel there are grounds to appeal, we will certainly do so. We have 90 days to study the judgment before appealing.”
According to him, government cannot jump into conclusions on what to do, except it examines in detail the decision of the appellate court and weigh merit of the judgment delivered by the panel of Justices of the Appeal Court.
He said: “The Lagos State Government would look critically into the judgment, after which the right decision would be made.
“As a government, we are going to study the judgment and from there, we will take decision on what next to do. We are convinced that he has a case to answer; that was why we prosecuted him. There is need for us to study the judgment to know what to do.”
It will be recalled that the Lagos State Government prosecuted the case from the lower court, where it secured the convictions and defended the appeal it lost.
Lagos ACN, ORF fault judgment
Meanwhile, Lagos State Chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and Oodua Republic Front, ORF, yesterday, faulted the Court of Appeal’s acquittal of Al Mustapha and called on the state government to appeal the judgment.
Reacting to Al-Mustapha’s status at the Joint Security Committee’s briefing in Abuja, Chief of Staff in the Department of Army Public Relations, Colonel John Agim, said: “Major Al-Mustapha is still in the Army. His case is going to be handled by the Army administratively in line with the harmonised terms and conditions of service.”
Options on Al-Mustapha
However, reliable military sources told Vanguard that one of the options open to the Army High Command was the promotion of the officer to the current rank of his course mates in the military and then retire him, while his entitlements would be calculated and to paid.
It will be recalled that before now, the army authorities had paid the immediate family of Major Al-Mustapha, half of his salary since his detention in prison for about 14 years because the case was still in court.
Judiciary takes flak on judgment
In separate statements, ACN and ORF, said the acquittal is a shame and follows a pattern that has never punished high net-worth offenders for crimes they committed either against the state or fellow Nigerians.
The added that if the judiciary continues to operate at the behest of the highest bidder, we see no hope for the country.
ACN in a statement by its state Publicity Secretary, Joe Igbokwe, said: “Given the weighty evidence against Al-Mustapha, including confessions of Sergeant Rogers, Major Muhammed Abdul, the men that allegedly pulled the trigger on Mrs. Abiola, and Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, dismissing the case for lack of evidence seems to be a way of ensuring that Al-Mustapha escaped justice for acts of crime he committed and not in any way a means of helping the soiled image of the Nigerian judiciary.
“We are still in shock over the acquittal of Al-Mustapha, given all the evidences that had so far been adduced against him and his co-accused.
Even when we had not seen any iron-cast defence put up by Mustapha, except throwing about raw tissues of illogical blackmail that refused to sink with Nigerians, who knew all that happened during the Abacha reign of fear, we are left to wonder how the Appeal Court arrived at its judgment.
“We are aware of the huge cache of evidence marshalled by the prosecution and we are aware that these are incontrovertible evidences against Mustapha, contrary to the ruling of the Appeal Court, which chose to hide under the well-abused lingo of Nigerian judges that ‘the prosecution had not proved its case beyond all reasonable doubts.’
“We see this as a convenient alibi for a pliable judiciary such as ours, without the healthy interface of a jury, to pervert justice and ensure that criminals are not punished for their crimes in Nigeria.”
On its part, ORF distanced itself from the judgment, saying “we foresee foul play from the beginning of the hearings, but we assure all and sundry that believe in a sincere justice and people-oriented judgment that the blood of every slain hero of democracy will form a merger to hunt down those behind the murder.”