A Justice of the Court of Appeal, Lagos, Ibrahim Saulawa, on Thursday withdrew from the three man judges’ panel hearing the appeal filed by accused person, Hamza Al-Mustapha, challenging his death sentence for the murder of Kudirat Abiola.
The court adjourned till June 1o for continuation of the appeal hearing.
Mr. Saulawa, who led two other judges – Joseph Ikyegh and Fatima Akinbami- on the panel, said that his experience in a previous “similar case” was the reason for his stepping down.
The judge, however, did not elaborate on his “personal reasons” for withdrawing from the case.
Mr. Al-Mustapha, a former chief security officer to the late dictator, Sani Abacha, was sentenced to death on January 30 for conspiracy and murder of Mrs. Abiola, wife of the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, Moshood Abiola. He was sentenced alongside Lateef Shofolahan, a former personal assistant to Mrs. Abiola.
Mrs. Abiola, 45, was shot in Lagos on June 4, 1996, as the lower court ruled, on the orders of Mr. Al-Mustapha.
Both Messrs Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan had filed separate notices at the Court of Appeal urging the court to quash their death sentences.
Barely 24 hours after the death sentence was pronounced by a Justice of the Lagos High Court, Mojisola Dada, the convicts’ lawyers filed an appeal challenging the judgment.
The convicts contended that the death sentence by the lower court was “unwarranted, unreasonable, and a manifest miscarriage of justice.”
In his argument on Thursday, Joseph Daudu, counsel to Mr. Al-Mustapha, stated that his client was convicted because he served “in a hated administration” – that of the late Mr. Abacha.
Mr. Daudu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said that the evidence of the prosecution’s key witness relied upon to convict Mr. Al-Mustapha was contradictory and unreliable.
However, counsel to the state, Lawal Pedro, said that there were compelling facts to show that prominent members of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, were targets of assassination and persecution by the late dictator.
“It was in the middle of the above situation in Nigeria that Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was shot in cold blood in broad day light in her car on the street of Lagos,” Mr. Pedro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.