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Dictator's aide sentenced to death


Hamza Al-Mustapha leaves the court after the verdict in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Hamza Al-Mustapha leaves the court after the verdict in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

Hamza Al-Mustapha leaves the court after the verdict in Lagos, Nigeria (AP)

A judge in Nigeria has sentenced to death the feared right-hand man of the country's former military dictator over the 1996 killing of an opposition candidate's wife.

Hamza Al-Mustapha sat without expression, slowly shaking his head "No," as the high court judge ordered him to be hanged over the killing of Kudirat Abiola.

His co-conspirator Lateef Shofolahan received the same sentence after the two men were found guilty of murder and conspiracy charges. Shofolahan was described by the court as a trusted employee of the Abiola family who ultimately betrayed them for money and power.

Al-Mustapha was found guilty of ordering a security agent to kill the wife of Moshood Abiola, a businessman widely believed to be the winner of an annulled 1993 presidential election in Nigeria. Al-Mustapha denied taking part in the 1996 machine-gun killing in Lagos, saying he was tortured into a false confession.

Al-Mustapha served as the chief security officer to General Sani Abacha, a paranoid military ruler who stole billions from the oil-rich nation while brutally suppressing dissent.

Abiola was imprisoned by the dictator at the time of his wife's death, and died in prison a month after General Abacha's own death as the nation struggled toward democracy.

Judge Mojisola Dada, though speaking in a hushed tone over the several hours it took to read her judgment in the stifling hot courtroom, barely controlled her rage over the killings. Dada described Al-Mustapha as a "venomous beast" and Shofolahan as a Judas who "sold his master for 30 pieces of silver".

"I think it is amazing that those who are most willing to shed the blood of others are the ones always scared of death," Dada said when handing down the sentence.

The daughter of the two murdered democratic activists, Hafsat Abiola, said the verdict came as a surprise after previous trials ended without convictions.

Nigerian authorities still view Al-Mustapha as a security threat, holding him in Lagos' maximum-security Kirikiri prison. In 2004, officials claimed he planned to have someone shoot down a helicopter carrying then-President Olusegun Obasanjo with a Stinger missile. He's also escaped convictions in other trials.