Clad in a white robe and a prayer cap, Hamza Al-Mustapha, sat quietly in the courtroom seemingly unshaken as the judge read his death sentence bringing a definitive end to the first phase of a 14-year journey to the gallows.
Mr. Al-Mustapha served as the Chief Security Officer to late dictator, General Sani Abacha. He served as the dictator’s right-hand man, allegedly aiding suppression of dissent through fear and assassinations.
Mr. Al-Mustapha, a major in the Nigerian Army, was convicted and sentenced alongside Lateef Shofolahan, a protocol officer in the Moshood Abiola campaign organisation.
Both were sentenced for the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of Moshood Abiola, a flamboyant businessman widely believed to be the winner of the 1993 Nigeria’s presidential poll.
Al-Mustapha is convicted of ordering a security agent to kill Kudirat but he denied taking part in her 1996 assassination, saying he was tortured into a false confession earlier.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisala Dada, was not convinced by his argument, ruling that both men were responsible for Kudirat’s 1996 machine-gun killing and should die by hanging.
Justice Dada took over four hours to read – word after word – the events of 1996 and the testimonies of all the witnesses in the trial of Al-Mustapha and Mr. Shofolahan, building up to her judgment.
She resisted pleas by the defence Counsel, Olalekan Ojo, to skip part of the recap to make proceedings faster, reading through all witness accounts and Al-Mustapha’s two-week witness-box account.
Al-Mustapha worked for the autocratic Mr. Abacha, who seized power from Ernest Shonekan’s interim government in 1993 after the June 12 election was annulled. Abacha seldom tolerated opposition and went ahead to set up a brutal squad that went to any length to silence opposition to the regime.
His regime imprisoned critics, sent intellectuals on exile and stole trillions of state funds.
Mr. Al-Mustapha, prosecutors say, controlled Abacha’s security forces, including bodyguards and a covert “strike force” that travelled to Libya and North Korea for training.
Mr. Al-Mustapha, who once boasted he had “license to kill,” still has hordes of supporters. Recently, his trials were greeted by crowd of supporters wearing postage-stamp-sized photographs of the soldier pinned to their clothes and offering prayers for his release.
The Abiola’s are happy with the ruling. “God doesn’t sleep,” Hafsat Abiola-Costello said. “(this is) Justice for my mum at last. I am so happy.”
But Al Mustapha’s wife, who was hopeful for freedom for her husband, is devastated.