Nigeria’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the trial for murder of Mohammed Abacha, son of late de facto ruler Sani Abacha, saying no clear case had been established against him.
Abacha was arrested three years ago for his alleged role in the 1996 assassination of Kudirat Abiola, one of his father’s political opponents. Kudirat was the wife of the late Moshood Abiola, widely considered the winner of the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria. The results of that election were annulled by the military.
The younger Abacha had been charged along with his father’s personal security chief, Hamza Al- Mustapha, and five others. These included his personal driver, who confessed to driving the group that opened fire on Mrs Abiola on a Lagos street on 4 June 1996.
Abacha first challenged his trial in an appeal court and lost. He then took the case to the Supreme Court. "I find great merit in this appeal and I allow it," Justice Falihu Belgore said as he delivered the ruling. "The court below as well as the trial court erred in finding a prima facie case against the appellant ... Suspicion, however well founded, does not amount to a prima facie case."
There was speculation that the ruling might be part of a deal reported in April between Nigeria's government and the Abacha family. Under that accord, the family agreed to return US $2 billion in state funds stashed in foreign accounts by Abacha senior in exchange for the dropping of various charges against the younger Abacha, including several relating to corruption and money laundering. The deal also allowed the family to keep US $100 million deemed to have been acquired before Abacha seized power in 1993.
Gen Abacha arrested Abiola in 1994 after he declared himself the winner of the presidential election. Abiola was still in detention when Abacha died suddenly - reportedly from a heart attack - in 1998, but died a month later, apparently from similar causes.
The death of the two key actors in five years of political turmoil in Nigeria paved the way for political reforms by Abacha’s successor, Abdulsalami Abubakar, leading to presidential and legislative elections in 1999. Obasanjo emerged from prison, where he had been detained by Abacha on suspicion of plotting his fall, and went on to win the presidential poll.
Some analysts felt the court's ruling could be politically expendient for Obasanjo because it could help him make up with influential politicians in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, where the trial of the younger Abacha was perceived as part of an "anti-north" policy.
"But such a move would be a death blow to his much vaunted anti-corruption campaign and put a lid on efforts to uncover the atrocities of previous military regimes," another analyst, Tunde Bamidele, told IRIN.
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