AL-MUSTAPHA VERSUS ZIMMERMAN: A TALE OF TWO JUDGMENTS.
On Friday 12th July 2013, the court of Appeal sitting in Lagos discharged and acquitted Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the former Chief security officer to the late General Sani Abacha. Major Al-Mustapha had been on trial and in prison custody for over 14 years due to allegations that he masterminded the assassination of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of presumed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential elections. This ruling has become a very bitter pill to swallow, especially for those in the pro-democracy and human rights community.
As at the time of this article, the ruling party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other major opposition parties have not issued any formal reaction to this ruling-apparently it seems most of them are quietly studying the situation and looking at leveraging Major Hamza Al-Mustapha's apparent popularity in core Northern Nigeria. Talk about popularity, on Sunday 14th of July 2013, barely two days after his release, Major Al-Mustapha flew into his home based of Kano where a jubilant crowd of sympathizers and supporters were on hand to give him a rousing welcome.
Interestingly, a sizeable delegation of the Odua People’s Congress, including its founder Dr Frederick Fasheun was part of Major Al- Mustapha's Kano entourage. Analysts are still trying to process these peculiar associations in order to determine the future political linings of the newly freed and politically relevant military officer.
Expectedly, after Major Al-Mustapha's discharge and acquittal, many Nigerians especially those sympathetic to the June 12 struggle condemned both the ruling and the Nigerian judiciary, calling it a sham, a miscarriage of justice. As is typical of Nigerians’ displeasure at a single occurrence in their country, they tend to relate and equate that single occurrence with several other (nonrelated) issues that make Nigeria a failed or failing country.
As usual, President Goodluck Jonathan who has hardly ever commented on the Al-Mustapha trial since assuming office was blamed by some as having a hand in his eventual freedom...2015 things!
Just as Nigerians were in the process of digesting Al-Mustapha's unexpected freedom; in far way United States of America, an equally controversial character was set free by their courts. His name George Zimmerman, his crime? Racially profiling, stalking and killing a 17year old black teenager. George Zimmerman is not exactly white but he is closer to that race, probably ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’ or mixed, but his victim Trayvon Martin was a pure black kid.
Zimmerman was set free based on the US state of Florida's ‘stand your ground’ rule, which in a nutshell makes it legal to kill someone in self defence if you are convinced that your own life was truly at stake. This ruling shocked many Americans and global watchers who had expected at least, worst case scenario, a manslaughter verdict. George Zimmerman walked home free and many American and civil rights groups are protesting, peacefully for now.
Many Americans condemn Zimmerman's not guilty verdict, describing it as extremely racist and an injustice. In as much as America remains the greatest nation on earth, it still has a racism problem that may never go away. Many American civil rights scholars have argued that most of America’s judicial laws were enacted when blacks and other minorities were yet to find their voices. According to them, the American Judicial system was never designed to protect the blacks and other minorities.
It is obvious that in America, race will continue to play a major role in their polity regardless of the racial makeup of their president.
In Nigeria, tribe, religion and political lineage will (unfortunately) always play a major role in our polity but it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Many societies have been able to prosper their economies in spite of numerous inequalities and social tensions. America has always been a racially divided society but the country has still prospered same as Brazil and even South Africa under apartheid.
The problem in Nigeria is that whenever our inequalities rear its head, the first point of action for most of us is to run back into our respective ethnic, religious or political enclaves, until the dust settles. When the dust settles we all come out of our shells and together keep wondering why 'Nigeria' has remained stagnant.