World-wide, there have been more than a thousand “trials of the decade,” or “trials of the century.” Amongst these are the trial of Socrates in 399 B. C.; the trial of Galileo Galilei in1633; the Salem Witchcraft trial of 1692; the infamous Alger Hiss Trials 1949-50 ; the apartheid-era trial of Nelson Mandela1963-64 ; and the 1995 O. J. Simpson trial. And then there was the Nuremberg Trials which took place in Bavaria, Germany, from 1945 until 1949, and of course the recent Slobodan Milosevic trial at The Hague, which ended after almost five years without a formal verdict because Milosevic suffered a fatal heart attack.
Even in Nigeria, there have been some very famous court trials — real and shambles. For instance, in November1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and 28 other members of his party, the Action Group (AG) was put on trial for treasonable felony. In the intervening years, great men like Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Gani Fawehinmi were also dragged through the court system on trumped up charges. University students, journalists and members of the intellectual class were also dragged through the system. Sometimes, the verdicts are clear; at other times, the cases simply “disappear.”
Every so often, however, we have instances were the cases go on and on and on almost without end. One such case is that of Al-Mustapha (and his alleged coconspirators). Indeed, peculiar circumstances may elongate trial durations. Under such a condition, the accused and the general public are made aware of the reasons why — unless of course there are issues of national security at play. In the case of Al-Mustapha, the government, it seems, have simply decided to abridge his constitutional rights. If not, how else can they explain a decade long trial: a trial without end in sight!
Retired Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the Late General Sani Abacha. Amongst other charges, he was accused of “planning or helping to plan the murder of Mr. Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian newspaper.” Al-Mustapha may not be a nice man; and indeed, he may be one of the most despicable human beings that ever traversed Nigeria. But that’s not the point: he is not being held simply because he was not a nice fellow. He and his alleged coconspirators are being held because of a series of criminal complaints made against them.
Why are they still being held a decade after the allegations was first made? Why is Al-Mustapha still being detained without speedy and fair trial? A recent report by the Punch newspaper (Friday March 26 2010), stated that the “Absence of electricity supply at an Ikeja High Court on Thursday stalled the ongoing trial of Maj. Hamza al-Mustapha … Our correspondent, however, observed that there was power supply to all other courts except that of Justice Olokooba…” Other media houses also reported this strange event.
Is Al-Mustapha a security risk? We don’t know. Did he endanger the wellbeing of the nation? We don’t know. Is he a murderer? We don’t know. Did he conspire with others to kill the innocent? We don’t know. We don’t know the answers to these and other legal questions because the courts, either at the state or federal level, have not made a legal proclamation. A decade later, we still don’t know. Must it take another decade before he knows his fate and for us to know the answers? This is a travesty, a violation of his rights.
Sadly and unfortunately, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Civil Society in Nigeria have not deemed it fit to protest this illegality. To detain a man — whether we like him or not — for this long is unconscionable. His continued detention is against the law and common sense. Whatever Al-Mustapha did while an aide to General Abacha should not factor into how the courts treats him. If he committed prosecutable offenses, well then, let justice take its course — fairly and speedily. Prosecute him now or set him free; prosecute him now or let him return to his family.
We cannot now embrace the same things we abhorred during the military regime when fellow Nigerians were detained without fair and speedy trials. We cannot condemn Al-Mustapha and then turn around and do to him what we are alleging he did to other Nigerians. Revenge is not justice; tit-for-tat is not justice. Throw the Criminal Code of Conduct at him, throw the Constitution at him; but do it in a fair and just manner.
What manner of law allows the government to incarcerate a man indefinitely; and what kind of people turns blind eyes to the illegal dealings of its government? The continuing detention of Hamza Al-Mustapha and others should be denounced by all peace and democracy loving Nigerians. If government can arbitrarily detain fellow Nigerians, then, none of us must feel safe and secured. At a time when we should be reaping the benefits of democratic rule — our government is, essentially, kidnapping fellow Nigerians. If after ten years they cannot secure a conviction, how many more years do they need?
As responsible and civic-minded Nigerians, therefore, it is up to us to faithfully protest and vigorously condemn his continuing detention. It is our duty to help protect Hamza Al-Mustapha’s civil liberties. By doing so, we help to strengthen our position and our freedom before this and future governments. We safeguard our own constitutional rights if we help guarantee the constitutional rights of fellow Nigerians. We cannot and must leave this or future governments to its own devices. No. We’ll be courting disaster if we do so. Therefore, we must demand that government conclude this case within 90 days, or set the accused free. Let’s demand justice, not just for ourselves and for our friends, but also for our enemies and our critics.