The testimony of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former chief security officer to late General Sani Abacha, is seen as part of his tactics to shift attention away from the main issues in his trial and cause division among the political family of late MKO Abiola
By ADEJUWON SOYINKA
At the height of his glory his words were literally laws. As the chief security officer, CSO, to the late General Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s former dictator ruler, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was law unto himself. He could decree anything and it would be just so. Love him or hate him, you must smile and pretend you were in love each time you see him otherwise your days in the military would be determined. And this was without prejudice to rank or position.
Generals cringe at the sight of Al-Mustapha. So also were the military administrators who were in charge of the states of the federation at that time. He was practically god to them all. It could not have been otherwise. They knew that if they wanted their proposals to sail through, the all-powerful CSO must be appeased. They begged and fretted before him because they knew that he had the keys that could open the doors to Aso Rock Villa, the seat of government. So wide was his sphere of influence that sometimes in 1997 he organised the launching of an appeal fund in Zungeru, his home town in Yobe State. Expectedly, governors, ministers and businessmen who needed to be in the good books of the powerful CSO were literally falling over each other to get to the event. Not only that, they also actively competed against each other in the race to determine who will donate the highest amount.
Such was the place and importance of Al-Mustapha. In fact, under the dictatorship of Abacha, the CSO wielded so much power that he always determined who could or could not see the late dictator. Beyond that, he was also powerful enough to determine the days he wanted the late Abacha to go out and days he would not permit him to venture out of the State House. He wanted the power. He loved and craved it. As it turned out, Abacha gave it to him.
It had always been so. Even before Abacha became the head of state, Al-Mustapha as his CSO had always been in charge of the late general’s life. This much was attested to by Gabriel Ajayi, a retired colonel. Recalling how Al-Mustapha had always been in charge of the late Abacha’s life, Ajayi said “as the officer in charge of quartering, engineering services and movement at the army headquarters, I had the responsibility of maintaining the Chief of Staff Guest House where Sani Abacha, the then chief of staff used to lodge. During this period, I observed that anytime Gen. Abacha and his entourage were around and it was time to observe the Islamic prayers, Lt. Al-Mustapha who was his chief security officer used to lead all of them in prayers.”
Ordinarily, this would not have raised eyebrows if Al-Mustapha was an officer in the Directorate of Army Islamic Services. Far from that, Ajayi said, “Al-Mustapha was revered by the late general and the other senior officers around him because they all believed that he was endowed by Allah with special spiritual powers.” With time, Al-Mustapha used this position to wield so much power such that Abacha deferred to him for spiritual guidance. It was thus easy for him to subject Abacha to spiritual manipulation. Ajayi added that, “Al-Mustapha was able to use his grip on Abacha to turn him into a recluse, limiting his interaction with people when he became head of state. He ensured that Abacha hardly stepped out of his abode in Aso Rock.”
He even went beyond that to also then fabricate issues especially phantom coup plots and then rope in officers he wanted out of the service. Ajayi is one of the victims. He was arrested, tortured and court martialled over the 1995 phantom coup plot. That phantom coup was also the one that saw to the arrest of late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. They were all tried and imprisoned. While in prison, the forces that kept them under locks and keys were still not satisfied. As it was later revealed by Ibrahim Yakassai, a lieutenant colonel and medical doctor who was also commander of the elite Strike Force set up and ran by Al-Mustapha, Yar’Adua was forcibly injected while in prison on the orders of the CSO. Yakassai was reporting directly to Al-Mustapha at that time inspite of the fact that he (Yakassai) was senior in rank to the CSO. Yakassai while being interrogated by a Special Investigation Panel in 1999 told of how he was instructed by Al-Mustapha and Ismaila Gwarzo, the then national security adviser, NSA to eliminate eminent detainees like Yar’Adua, Obasanjo, late Moshood Abiola, undeclared winner of the 1993 presidential election; Colonel Lawan Gwadabe and Ibrahim Dasuki, the deposed Sultan of Sokoto. He told members of the panel of how he forcibly injected Yar’Adua after the retired general had been bound hands and legs. His story was also later corroborated by Obasanjo who told of how Bola Ige, then a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO had sent messages to him while in prison that there was a plan to eliminate him (the former president) through a lethal injection or food poisoning. Obasanjo survived the orchestrated assassination attempt then but Yar’Adua was not that lucky.
That was not an isolated instance. By 1997, Yakassai had fallen out of favour with Al-Mustapha. So, there was a December 1997 coup involving General Oladipo Diya, the then deputy to Abacha, Colonel Bello Fadile, Diya’s CSO; General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, former minister of communications; General Abdulkareem Adisa, former minister of works and housing and Yakassai. They were all rounded up on allegations of plotting to overthrow the regime of Abacha and as usual, Al-Mustapha was at the centre of the entire drama. He was the chief interrogator and there are even video recordings of how the generals were made to prostrate begging the all-powerful major to spare their lives.
That was after they had been subjected to corporal punishment on the orders of Al-Mustapha. He was said to have ordered the beating of the generals including Diya, who was then the second in command to the head of state, while in detention. Sergeant Barnabas Jabila, better known as Sergeant Rogers, later testified that he was instructed by Al-Mustapha to beat up Diya and the other generals while in detention. Rogers who also confessed to being part of the group that killed Kudirat Abiola, wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections added that the Strike Force of which he was a member, was also directed by Al-Mustapha to attack pro-democracy activists including late Abraham Adesanya, NADECO leader.
Rogers had later recanted his testimony, while Al-Mustapha insisted that these accounts were everything but the truth. In spite of his denial, Al-Mustapha still admitted to being instrumental to the establishment of the dreaded Strike Force, which he said, was necessary for the sustenance of every military presidency. He also denied ordering the beating of any detainee except Turner Ogboru, younger brother of Great Ogboru who he ordered to be tortured. “I said at the Oputa panel that it was only Turner Ogboru that I ordered to be kobokoed (horse whipped) because he was bringing heroine for soldiers who were killing people,” Al-Mustapha said in his defence. He added that NADECO and its members were not the strongest opposition to Abacha’s administration. On the contrary, he said, the military was the strongest opposition to the administration. “By my understanding, Abacha remained the most hated Head of State Nigeria ever had. Everyone probably has its shortcomings and General Abacha had his and that was why I personally had to stop about four military coups,” he said.
As far as Ajayi is concerned, statements like that showed just how powerful a CSO Al-Mustapha was. “The spiritual template of the regime was in the hands of Al-Mustapha, who used to organise and source for marabouts, séances, necromancers, soothsayers and sorcerers for Abacha,” Ajayi said. He added that in his intoxication for power, Al-Mustapha “cornered and combined the duties of the National Intelligence Agency, with that of Defence Intelligence Agency, State Security Services, and in the process became so powerful that he became a loose cannon beyond the control of anybody.”
But that was then. Today, the man Ajayi described, as a loose cannon is no longer in power. He no longer holds court except, perhaps at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons, Lagos where he had been kept in the past 13 years while being tried for his alleged involvement in the murder of Kudirat and attempted murder of Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian newspaper and former minister of internal affairs under the Abacha regime.
In spite of the fact that he is out of power and had been in prison since 1999, Al-Mustapha has remained his crafty, controlling self. Led in evidence by Olalekan Ojo, his lawyer, Al-Mustapha appeared before a Lagos high court, Igbosere on August 3 to regale the country with tales of how some South-west leaders allegedly received monetary inducement from the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led administration that succeeded that of Abacha. He claimed that that the monetary inducement was meant to pacify the South-west region after the death of Abiola while still in detention on July 7, 1998.
But by the time he was cross-examined by the prosecution last week, Al-Mustapha was singing a different tune. He denied some of the things he told the court the previous week. For instance, while being cross-examined by Lawal Pedro, SAN and Lagos State solicitor-general, Al-Mustapha, contrary to his earlier claims, said he had no proof that Yoruba leaders were bribed by the Abubakar administration.
He also modified his statement that those who met Abubakar a day after Abiola’s death and were allegedly bribed were South-west leaders. This time, he would have the whole country believe that those he was referring to were leaders of NADECO a pro-democracy group that was opposed to the continued presence of the military in power at that time.
Asked to confirm his earlier claims that he had video evidence of how money was shared to the NADECO leaders, Al-Mustapha said, “No. I did not say there was a tape where money was shared. Where highly classified meetings, like this one are taking place in the Presidential Villa, cameras and other recording devices are not allowed.”
While being led in evidence by his lawyer, Al-Mustapha had also insisted that he knew how Abiola died. He had said Abiola was murdered by poisoned tea while having a meeting at the Aguda House in the Presidential Villa. But by the time he was cross-examined by the prosecution last week, the former CSO said he was only technically present when Abiola died. “I was technically present when MKO Abiola died. I got and watched the video from a central recording by the people who were present with him. My technical presence by the virtue of my duty and profession is as good as my physical presence,” he said.
He further insinuated that Abiola must have been killed by the Abubakar administration by arguing that, “as part of our 16-point agreement, we agreed that all detainees are to be set free and that was done. Obasanjo was released, but MKO (Abiola) was kept perpetually in custody. The question then is why? Pa Abraham Adesanya and others came to the Presidential Villa, the day after Abiola was murdered talking about the Government of National Unity not minding what had just happened to Abiola.” He added that, “Bola Ige was asked to bring Abiola’s family members to the Presidential Villa on July 6, 1998, Abiola died on July 7, one month after Gen. Abacha died. In just one month, two personalities who were political obstacles gave way. That raises the question and that is too automatic to believe.”
In view of this he said, “If only the court can ask Gen. Abubakar to return my properties or just the inventories of what they took from my home. With the inventory, I can prove that I have the video recordings of many other things that happened that I am yet to disclose.” He alleged that Abubakar sent people to his house in Yobe State and packed 11 bags of “Ghana-must-go” bags containing his personal belongings including compact discs, CDs and videotapes.
He also spoke about Abacha’s death. “I saw Gen. Abacha around 2:30am. I later left him with some ministers, some protocol officers and some ambassadors. So, I was not with him when he died. Though, the former security aide claimed he knew “how Abacha was murdered,” he said he would refrain from speaking on it because it had no relevance to the charge.
And on the substantive suit, Al-Mustapha told the court presided by Justice Mojisola Dada that he could not tell how Kudirat was killed or who killed her, as it was not his duty to investigate the murder. During the cross-examination, Al-Mustapha further denied complicity in the murder of Kudirat. He said he only knew about Kudirat’s murder through the occurrence report sent by the then inspector-general of police, IGP to the office of the then NSA.
“There were arrests after the murder of Kudirat Abiola. The police effected the arrests. Confessional statements were made, a case diary was opened and occurrence report was sent to the national security adviser, for the attention of the president. That is how I got to know of the murder,” he said. “I was not in the police. I did not do the investigation, but in the proof of evidence, there is a statement of one of those arrested in 1996, one Mr. Adesina. I read the statements; it was even the prosecution that even gave it to us. It’s in our proof of evidence,” Al-Mustapha said.
He added that, “My duty as the CSO begins and ends in the Presidential Villa. If Al-Mustapha is there in Abuja, that is different from policing the country.” While saying that, he probably forgot that he had told the same court of how he sent Rabo Lawal, a former chief superintendent of police, CSP and head of the Mobile Police Unit in Aso Rock Villa, Abuja to Lagos on official assignments on a number of occasions.
Whereas he claimed not to know anything about the murder of Kudirat, the former CSO alleged that the reason he had been kept in prison custody for the past 13 years was because he knew too much about the alleged murder of Abiola. He also would want anyone who cared to listen to believe that he was a great fan of the late Abiola. He told the court of how he had been close to Abiola and facilitated access to the late politician by his doctors and family members. But Ore Falomo, Abiola’s doctor does not seem to remember much of these claims. In an interview with the magazine, Falomo said, “I don’t know what he meant by the word facilitated. It was the late Abacha who granted me access as the personal physician to Abiola. It was a precedent that he set and he had good reasons for it. I had treated Al-Mustapha himself of an acute abdomen problem when he was a lieutenant. I was also a personal physician to Abacha and his wife when he was the Chief of Army Staff. I think all these put together made Abacha to allow me see Abiola. It was a favour he granted to me.”
The doctor added that, “he (Al-Mustapha) did not allow any member of the family that I know of to visit Abiola throughout the five years. They decided those they want him to see. The lawyers and the family members were only allowed to see him at the office of the CP (commissioner of police) for five, 10 minutes and then they would drive him off. Later on, they stopped that and did not allow any family member to see him again. They did not allow them to see him where he was kept until the night before his death when Bisi Abiola, Doyin Abiola (Abiola’s wives) and Lola Abiola-Edewor (Abiola’s first daughter), were allowed to see him at Aguda House where the then vice president lived. It was a conspiracy visit meant for them to look at him before he was killed. As a matter of fact they had let them think that he would be released shortly after the visit”.
Falomo’s views notwithstanding, Al-Mustapha insists that he is being persecuted for knowing too much about the killers of Abiola. He added that the Lagos State government that is prosecuting him over the killing of Kudirat did not know the intrigues and game plan behind his trial. He claimed that by prosecuting him, the Lagos State government was simply playing into the hands of retired General Abubakar who he insisted wanted to keep him out of circulation because he knew too much about the murder of Abiola. The former CSO may also have reasoned that Abubakar, who is being called by some people to speak up on the allegations, may not want to talk about matters of state security. In that case, the public would then be left to grapple with what he said in the court about the former head of state and the deceased leaders.
This, perhaps explains why Hafsat Abiola-Costello, the first daughter of the late Kudirat, has cautioned Nigerians not to be “transfixed with the drama” playing out in the courtroom with the ongoing trial of Al-Mustapha. Abiola-Costello, who is now special adviser to Ogun State governor on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs reminded Nigerians of the challenges that the civilian movement faced in forcing the military back to the barracks during the June 12 struggle.
“For civilians, unversed in the art of war tactics like dissembling, camouflage, blackmail, intimidation, extortion, torture and assassinations things like this are only ever encountered on the pages of Ludlum novels. Hapless and quite naïve, it took us a while to grow the healthy scepticism needed to secure the modest gains we made in 1999,” she said. However, she noted that, “it seems that we have returned yet again to that age of innocence” as, she added that, reactions to statement made by Al-Mustapha in his hearings, leaves all “transfixed.”
“When someone who drove the sadistic machinery of the Abacha regime speaks, we would do well to remember the antecedents from which he comes, to remember that he, mentored no less by General Abacha, would have learned well how to weave tales based on half-truths and sinister insinuations,” she said.
With this Abiola-Costello may just have hit the bull’s eye. With his recent insinuations that some Yoruba leaders were bribed to look the other way after the death of Abiola, Al-Mustapha has already succeeded in sowing some seed of discord even among the Yoruba elite as well as the nation in general. Shortly after he made his allegations, Frederick Fasehun, leader of the Odua Peoples Congress, OPC said the former CSO might be saying the truth. He said Al-Mustapha had told him the same story some years back. But while Fasehun seems to believe Al-Mustapha, other leaders of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group and associates of Adesanya and Ige like Bisi Akande, former governor of Osun State and current chairman of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria; Ayo Opadokun, former secretary of Afenifere and Reuben Fasoranti, incumbent leader of the group argued that Al-Mustapha’s allegation should be dismissed outrightly. They all argued that no Yoruba leader took money from Abubakar while adding that it was rather curious that almost everyone Al-Mustapha mentioned in his wild allegations were dead.
Indeed, on the allegations that South-west leaders were bribed after Abiola’s death, Al-Mustapha was once again simply at his diversionary best. As a former CSO, Al-Mustapha is privy to some classified information regarding the withdrawal of $200 million, £75 million and N500 million by the Abubakar administration. But being his crafty self, he simply decided to use the information to create some diversion from his trial while also protecting the Abacha family to which he has always been loyal.
The magazine’s findings indicate that the money withdrawn by Abubakar’s administration was used for the purpose of getting members of the late Abacha’s family and some of his cronies to return public funds in their hands. The money was said to have been used for what was called ‘sighting’ in which case many of the persons concerned were invited individually and shown the money as evidence that others had returned their own loot.
This explains why it is on record that the money referred to by Al-Mustapha was returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN by the office of the NSA. The entire scenario was also reported by national dailies and news magazines in 1999 including Abuja Mirror, published by Abadina Coomasie, the late older brother of Ibrahim Coomasie, former IGP, Al-Mustapha ironically claimed was poisoned in order to suppress the same story.
Besides that Al-Mustapha also knew the norm in Aso Rock Villa at that time which includes offering money to almost every visitor to the villa. This, perhaps, made him guess that the Adesanya-led delegation that visited a day after Abiola’s death was offered money. In this instance he guessed right. What he however failed to take into account is the fact that there are Nigerians who could refuse such gifts, as the late Adesanya did. This much was attested to in separate interviews granted by Ayo Adebanjo, an Afenifere chieftain and Francis Okpozo, a South-south regional leader, both of who were associates of the deceased in NADECO. Okpozo was on the southern leaders delegation that met Abubakar the day the bribe was supposed to have been given. He corroborated Adebanjo’s claim that the offer was turned down. Both men said after the meeting, Adesanya was offered envelope-containing money by Abubakar but that the late elder statesman turned it down adding that he felt insulted by Abubakar, and he made that known to the general.
As far as Abiola-Costello is concerned, arguments such as whether some Yoruba leaders took bribe over the death of the late Abiola or not should never be allowed to distract from the issues before the court. “Even if his allegations are taken as fact, telling us that people were to be bought off following the death of MKO Abiola should not distract us from the fact that, however craven such behaviour was, these people did not kill the symbol of the movement,” she said. She further noted that pertinent to the trial is that these people did not “order that his wife, Kudirat Abiola, be assassinated.”
This is exactly the opinion of Olu Akerele, former aide of Abiola who was also detained for 18 months on the orders of Al-Mustapha. Akerele is of the view that by telling stories about who killed Abiola, Abacha and who allegedly paid or took bribes to look the other way; Al-Mustapha is simply playing diversionary tactics. His view that Al-Mustapha’s delayed trial was as a result of deliberate effort of his legal team is reinforced by Yemi Osibajo, a professor of law and former commissioner for justice and attorney general of Lagos State under whose tenure the Al-Mustapha trial started. He insisted that Al-Mustapha and his lawyers are the ones responsible for the prolonged period he had been on trial. “From the beginning of the trial, their strategy had been to delay the trial. There were over 49 adjournments within a year at the instance of the accused persons. After we had taken seven witnesses and the case adjourned, the accused persons got up one day and accused the judge of taking bribe – a totally frivolous allegation as it turned out to be at the National Judicial Commission, which found that the allegation was totally false,” Osibajo said. His views were supported by Bamidele Aturu and Fred Agbaje both human rights lawyers who also argued that Al-Mustapha’s case had dragged on for this long simply because of his diversionary tactics and the frivolous suits his lawyers often come up with.
The legal team has not changed that tactic. In the course of proceedings on his case last week, Al-Mustapha’s lawyer had also sought the permission of the court to appeal a decision of the court dismissing their “no case submission” on July 14. Earlier on, Al-Mustapha and his co-accused, Lateef Shofolahan, aide of Kudirat who was alleged to have assisted her assassins had asked the court to dismiss the murder charge against them, saying the prosecution had no case against them. The court, presided over by Justice Dada, on July 14 dismissed the defendants’ no case submission. Justice Dada insisted then that the nature of allegation levelled against them required explanations from them.
But by last week Ojo moved an application to appeal that ruling. “The law prescribes that where there is interlocutory decision, in the proposal to appeal containing grounds of facts or mixed law with facts, the leave of the honourable court must be sought,” Ojo said. Justice Dada, delivering her ruling on the applications, held that “the defendants have the right to appeal and the appeal if itssucceeds has the potential of terminating the whole proceeding in this court.”
The implication is that the substantive suit will be suspended for as long as Al-Mustapha’s lawyers pursued the motion in the appellate court. This further confirms what Osibajo meant when he said Al-Mustapha’s was “the very first case in the history of this country where an appeal on bail was fought to the Supreme Court. … They asked for stay of proceedings several times, so if you appeal and ask for stay, a judge of the high court will say, ‘I will wait pending the decision of the court of appeal.’ So, that was the way they delayed the case.”
In this case, the accused has not only succeeded in casting doubts on the integrity of the late leaders in the minds of some people, he has also put a clog in the judicial process concerning his trial.
But Ojo would have none of that. He argued that, “no sane person would like to be in detention even for one month. He never liked it. Every human being values freedom and he values his own. There were so many reasons for the protracted trial. But my conclusion is that there were circumstances beyond both parties.” He is not alone in holding this view. Hadi Al-Mustapha, younger brother of the former CSO also does not believe that his brother could be stalling his own trial. “How can somebody want to stay in the dehumanising conditions of a prison for all these while? Nobody would want to stay in prison for a day. Al-Mustapha has not received justice at all. It is very unfair and inhuman for anybody to suggest that Al-Mustapha is keeping himself in prison,” he said.
Wondering why his brother would have decided to keep himself in prison for this long, Hadi said, “I know him to be a very patient person. He is very honest, truthful and straight forward in whatever he does. He’s somebody who doesn’t talk much; he talks when it is necessary for him to talk,” adding that the witnesses that were brought against him in court have also come out to recant their earlier statements. What he however failed to mention is the fact that this could be the very reason why his older brother may have stalled his own trial. As the case dragged, it was possible to get key witnesses for whatever reasons to change their earlier statements and claim that they were made under duress.
Whatever the case may be however, Abiola-Costello is of the opinion that “if the tragic murders of the twin martyrs (Kudirat and Moshood Abiola) are to have any consequence, the democracy they fought for should be made to work. It must be made to work for all citizens of Nigeria, not just for the ‘good guys.’ This means that the judicial process should move to resolve the question of whether Al Mustapha used the instruments of state to order that Kudirat Abiola be gunned down on the streets of Lagos in 1996. For if Al-Mustapha grows tired of the long wait for justice, he cannot imagine the sentiments of the woman’s seven children and of the rest of her family.” That is food for thought.
Additional reports by
HELEN ENI, TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN AND FOLASHADE ADEBAYO