It is not that Nigerians did not suspect the late Kudirat Abiola, wife of the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, may have been killed by agents of certain powerful interest.
The circumstances surrounding the murder on June 4, 1996 were too glaring to make many people suspect the goons in the Sani Abacha murderous junta. But then it was a mere suspicion that only began to wear the robe of truth during the trial of Hamza Al-Mustapha and others some years later.
With the judgment last Monday, January 30, the veil that covered the murder was officially lifted and the nation is no longer in doubt as to the hand that pulled the trigger and those behind the dastardly murder. For the daylight killing, Al-Mustapha, the former chief security officer to the late Abacha, and Lateef Shofolahan, Kudirat’s personal aide, are to pay the supreme price – to be hanged by the neck until they are dead.
If really the dead do turn in their graves, Kudirat would be turning happily in her grave now that the truth in her matter has been known and justice appears to have been done.
However, unlike Kudirat, many others murdered in similar circumstances still have their cases unresolved till today. Among these unlucky ones are Pa Alfred Rewane, businessman and elder statesman; Bagauda Kaltho, journalist and senior correspondent with The News; Tunde Oladepo, senior correspondent with The Guardian newspapers; Shola Omatsola, chief security officer at the Murtala Muhammed (International) Airport, Ikeja; Suliat Adedeji, Ibadan-based politician and women leader; and scores of others killed in the crisis that followed the annulment of June 12 election by the Ibrahim Babangida military junta.
Rewane, believed to be funding the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, a coalition of politicians and civil rights activists that was strongly opposed to prolonged military rule, was gunned down in his Ikeja, Lagos, residence on October 6, 1995. Some hoodlums were arrested and tried but not a few believed that they knew nothing about the crime.
Months after Kaltho disappeared, the police claimed that the charred body of somebody they said detonated a bomb at Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, on January 18, 1996, was that of the journalist. The story was that Kaltho was a NADECO agent sent to throw a bomb. Desperate to be believed, the security said the man had a copy of The Interpreters, a book by Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate and a major campaigner against Abacha’s iron rule. Oladepo was killed in his home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on February 26, 1998 in the presence of his wife and children while Adedeji was also shot, in a very callous manner, in her Ibadan home. Omatsola met a more gruesome death: he was bombed in his official car. Anthony Enahoro, now late, and Soyinka had to escape from the agents of the junta who were already trailing them.
It was a period many people were gunned down, mostly in cold blood in the name of defending the state and those who hijacked the apparatus of power. The attacks were meant to suppress opposition to military rule and safeguard the interests of those in power.
Although the opposition pushed on in spite of life-threatening challenges and succeeded in bringing about a democratic rule, the culture of killing with impunity continued particularly during the eight-year tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo as a civilian president. No fewer than 50 cases of assassination, including those of Bola Ige, prominent politician and minister of justice, and Marshal Harry, an opposition leader in the South-south, were recorded between 1999 and 2007 (See table in print edition).
Apart from some appearances in the courts and, in fewer cases, a parade of suspected hoodlums, the cases remained unsolved. Many believe that the suspects and their sponsors are known but they are people with powerful untouchable toes who are still in the corridors of power at the local, state or federal level. Deaths under mysterious circumstances and with no clue about the assailants bring stress to the victims’ families. For instance, Atinuke Ige, a respected jurist, watched helplessly as the trial of those suspected to have murdered her husband was being muddled up by politicians in the corridors of power. Unable to cope with such charade, she died in pain and distress.
This is the burden being lifted off Kudirat’s children. Celebrating the judgment last week, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Kudirat’s first daughter, recalled that she had often wondered, “If those that executed the assassination of our dear mother might not simply get away with it,” pointing out that over 15 years later, “when all hope had been lost, Justice (Mojisola) Dada restored my faith in my country’s judicial system and in the integrity of the Nigerian people when she courageously chose to hear my mother’s cry from the grave for justice.”
Maybe one day the cries of other victims from the grave will be heard when nemesis catches up with their assailants as it did to Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan.