Major Hamza Al-Mustapha: Anatomy of a long trial


EVEN his friends dreaded him. his name struck terror in the hearts of his enemies. Al-Mustapha was feared.
As Abacha’s CSO, he was allegely  in charge of the dirty jobs, which was euphemism for killing  of innocent Nigerians.Al-Mustapha was quickly removed from his job by the transitional regime established by General Abdulsalam Abubakar after Abacha’s sudden death in June 1998.
In October that year he appeared in court with Abacha’s son Mohammed, charged with the murder in June 1996 of Kudirat Abiola, wife of the presidential candidate M.K.O. Abiola (who had died in jail in July 1998).
At the trial the killer, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila, said he was obeying orders from his superior, al-Mustapha.
Al Mustapha and four others were also charged with a 1996 attempt to murder Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian and Abacha’s Minister of Internal Affairs.
Another charge was laid against al-Mustapha for the attempted murder of former Naval chief Isaac Porbeni.
Al-Mustapha’s journey to prision
While the trials proceeded, al Mustapha was detained at the Kirikiri maximum security prisons. While imprisoned, on 1 April 2004 he was charged with being involved in a plot to overthrow the government. Allegedly he had conspired with others to shoot down the helicopter carrying President Olusegun Obasanjo using a surface-to-air missile that had been smuggled into the country from Benin.
In 2007, there were appeals for al Mustapha’s release by four newspapers and by former head of state Ibrahim Babangida.
Eventually, after 12 years of imprisonment, trials and retrials, al-Mustapha and his co-defendants were acquitted of most charges on December 21, 2010.
The co-defendants were former Lagos State Police Commissioner James Danbaba, former Zamfara State military administrator Jibril Bala Yakubu and former head of the Aso Rock Anti-Riot Police Rabo Lawal.
However, al-Mustapha was still not cleared of the alleged murder of Kudirat Abiola, for which he was being tried separately.
In May 2011 there were rumors that al-Mustapha had been murdered at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons where he was being held, but these turned out to be untrue.
Later that month a judge set 31 May 2011 as the date for deciding whether to re-open the trial against al Mustapha.
The case was reopened in July 2011. In the first two weeks of August, Hamza Al-Mustapha and his co-accused Lateef Sofolahan testified to their innocence of Abiola’s killing. The court adjourned the case to  November  10, 2011 when counsel to both parties were expected to file and adopt their written addresses.
After receiving written submissions and hearing the addresses by the counsel to both parties on that date, Justice Mojisola Dada fixed the date of 30 January 2012 for delivering a judgement.
While he lived there, Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons was more than a temporary home to Major Hamza Al-Mustapha. It was his fiefdom. Like a king, prison warders and officials deferred to him while fellow detainees and prisoners kow-towed with gladness.
Until he was taken into custody via the combined efforts of a security detail comprising operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Nigerian Police Force, General Sani Abacha’s former Chief Security Officer had no equal in the prison. He was first among equals. Not even his co-detainee and superior in the army, General Ishaya Bamaiyi could boast of the influence Mustapha wielded within the prison walls.
To the prisoners he was several goodies rolled in one. He was a motivator (he attends major prison functions and gives motivational pep talks on how to make the best of prison lives), a philantrophist (helped with the feeding and upkeep of some prisoners), a keep fit instructor (organises fitness classes), sports enthusiast (maintained a football team and sponsored a tournament) and a facilitator (he had the ear of not a few senior prisons officials). 
Unlike others such as detained 419 suspects, Fred Ajidua, who’s only claim to prison fame was their scantily attired female consorts Mustapha’s followership derives from his adroitness in making the prisoners and even prison officials believe that he cares. (“I am a simple person. I have invested in people. I personally do not worship money I invest in people. If you know my family background you would know that money means very little to me. At a point my family was one of the five richest families in Nigeria,” he once told an interviewer.) 
Thus it was no surprise that Al-Mustapha sometimes held court in the office of the most senior prisons official at Kirikiri. He had a steady retinue of hangers on and was allowed to receive five visitors in a day. He had access to telephones and was said to have been running his business in prisons. It is an irony that though the majority of the 5000 prisoners the prison haboured lived in abject poverty Mustapha was well loved. Such was Mustapha’s popularity that when the prison authorities finally gave in to the demands of the DMI to hand Mustapha over to them they requested for police support to avert a possible jail break.
Al-Mustapha and Ibru’s attempted murder case
Major Hamza al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, and three others standing trial were however freed by the Lagos High Court for attempted murder of The Guardian publisher,  late Mr. Alex Ibru, and former Delta State Director of Sports Mr. Seigha Porbeni.
Tried  alongside with former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Mr. James Danbaba; former Zamfara State Military Administrator, Lt.-Col. Jubrin Bala Yakubu; and former Head of the Aso Rock Anti-Riot Police Squad, Mr. Rabo Lawal, al-Mustapha was freed by Justice Mufutau Olokoba because of  the inability of  the prosecution to establish that the defendants caused bodily harm to Ibru and Porbeni.According to the judge there was no evidence of conspiracy among them to commit the alleged crime.“The prosecution also failed to produce the original tapes of the Special Investigation Panel that carried out investigations into the alleged crime, in spite of long adjournments.
In the verdict on the no-case submission by al-Mustapha and others, Justice Olokoba declared that the evidence on all the counts preferred against the accused persons were baseless.
Abacha the despot
Gen. Sani Abacha, this is the  man Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. He  was instrumental in the 1985 military coup that brought Gen Ibrahim Babangida to power, and he remained valuable to Babangida throughout his presidency.
Appointed Minister of Defense in 1990, he inherited power after  Babangida annulled the June 12 presidential election. Abacha desposed  the transitional government inaugurated in August 1993 and installed himself as head of state in November. He abolished all state and local governments and the national legislature, banned all political parties, and replaced many civilian officials with military commanders. He named an 11-member Provisional Ruling Council, consisting mainly of generals and police officials, which would oversee a 32-member Federal Executive Council. The executive council included prominent civilians and some pro-democracy activists and was created to head government ministries.
In January 1994 he presented a budget that abandoned market reforms instituted in 1986, making it impossible to negotiate for aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In the face of increasing foreign debt, low industrial output, and harsh autocratic rule, resentment against the military grew. In response, Abacha announced details of his political transition program, but when the constitutional conference held in May 1994 was widely boycotted by pro-democracy groups, Abacha had the police issue a strong statement affirming that nongovernmental political activity was illegal.
And after Abiola proclaimed himself president in June Abacha arrested him for treason; civil unrest intensified, and oil workers declared a strike in support of Abiola’s release. The strike crippled Nigeria’s leading industry, but Abacha clung to power. He suppressed opposition even within his own camp. The more the general quells dissent, the more dissent there is. His power is to make things worse. In June 1998, shortly after Abiola died, Abacha died of a heart attack.

Al-Mustapha, the powerful man-Friday
Major Hamza Al-Mustapha joined the army and was trained as an intelligence operative. He was involved in at least two investigations of coup attempts. His conduct of interrogations brought him to the attention of Sani Abacha. When Abacha was Chief of Army (August 1985 – August 1990) al-Mustapha was his Aide-de-Camp.
Hamza al-Mustapha was appointed Chief Security Officer to the Head of State (CSOHS) with a Special Strike Force Unit during Abacha’s military regime (17 November 1993 – 8 June 1998). Other security outfits at the time were the Office of the National Security Adviser under Ismaila Gwarzo, the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the State Security Service and the National Intelligence Agency. All of these units engaged in extrajudicial killings of people seen as threats to the regime.
Both Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha gave Captain (later Major) Hamza al-Mustapha exceptional power, considerably greater than other officers who were nominally his superior.
After being appointed Chief Security Officer, Al-Mustapha established a number of small security outfits recruited from the military and other security organizations, and trained in Israel and Korea. Abacha’s National Security Adviser Ismaila Gwarzo and al-Mustapha were said to be responsible for much of the “torture, killing and wanton looting” during Abacha’s rule.
On the orders of Sani Abacha’s wife Maryam, al-Mustapha detained and tortured several women suspected to be Abacha’s girlfriends.
As head of the State Security Service (SSS) al-Mustapha was also said to be involved in drug trafficking, using diplomatic pouches to transport the drugs. His wife, an Arab in origin, coordinated a ring of traffickers in the Gulf states.

Kudirat Olayinka Abiola: Democracy’s heroine
Kudirat Abiola, this is the woman whose murder led to yesterday’s conviction. Wife of Chief Moshood Abiola, Kudirat was born in 1951, in Zaria, where she also had her early education.
Her life was that of an ordinarily citizen, until the military annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by her husband Chief MKO Abiola.
The act brought Kudirat into the pro-democracy movement. The movement had its costs. In 1994, Abiola was incarcerated and kept in solitary confinement for claiming his presidential mandate. But despite the danger, Kudirat stepped forward, convinced that the military’s actions amounted to a violation of the fundamental right of Nigerians to elect their government.
Her participation inspired new levels of activism in Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement. In mid 1994, Kudirat was actively involved in sustaining the oil workers 12-week strike against the military. The strike, which succeeded in isolating and weakening the government, was the longest in history by oil workers.
In December 1995, when the pro-democracy groups decided to march for freedom in Lagos, Kudirat joined such esteemed nationalists as Chief Anthony Enahoro at the forefront of the march, braving the bullets of government forces sent to intimidate them.
On June 4, 1996, a few days to the anniversary of the June 12, assassins’ bullets snuffed out Kudirat’s life. She was killed for demanding the release of her husband and for advancing Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement.
At 21, she married Abiola and they had seven children. Kudirat adopted many social causes, and was to become a prime supporter of the educational programs of the Ansar-Ur-Deen movement in Nigeria. She was a successful businesswoman, building a pharmaceutical company, amongst many other businesses, into a notable name in Nigeria.

Abiola: A rest in peace now?
CHIEF Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola’s insistence on claiming the mandate Nigerians willingly gave him, set him on collision course with history and the military might of Abacha. He was to die under suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1998, shortly after the death of Abacha. Abiola had died on the day he was due to be released from Abacha’s gulag.
The official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, but Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, al-Mustapha had claimed that he has video and audiotapes on Abiola was beaten to death. The final autopsy report produced by a group of international coroners was never released.
Abiola died for June 12. And today, his memory is celebrated locally and internationally, as June 12 remains a public holiday in some states. Abiola, a man of the people, was a social activist, democratic freedom fighter, and successful business figure.
But despite his worldwide successes in business, it was Abiola’s involvement in politics, which started when he joined the NCNC at 19 that he would be remembered for.
After the military handed over power to civilians in 1979, Abiola joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1980. His ambition to run for the presidency was dashed when in 1983 a military coup d’état swept away the Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the NPN and ended civilian rule.
After almost a decade of military rule, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida promised after intense pressure to return democratic rule. Babangida set up two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Abiola ran for the presidency on the platform of the SDP and won the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
And that was the beginning of his plight. Babangida annulled the election and Abiola clung to the mandate given to him by Nigerians across the country till his death. Abacha jailed him for insisting on his mandate in an election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers. Abiola, a Southern Muslim, victory, secured through a national mandate, freely and fairly remains unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.
The annulment precipitated a political crisis, which ushered in Abacha.
In 1994, in Epetedo area of Lagos island, an area mainly populated by impoverished Nigerians, Abiola declared himself the lawful president. After declaring himself president he was declared wanted, accused of treason and arrested on the orders of Abacha, who dispatched 200 police vehicles to haul him into custody.
For four years Abiola remained in detention, largely in solitary confinement with fourteen guards as companions. The condition attached to his release was that he renounce his mandate, but he refused.
For his fight to enshrine democracy, there have been several calls to rename Democracy Day as June 12 Day. June 12, is synonymous with Abiola; it is a day, a nation defied all notions of its dishonest practices, by administering the first free and fair election in its history. It is a day that reminds Nigerians how for about six years following June 12, 1993, Abiola and his co-travelers, including his wife, Kudirat Abiola, were harassed, jailed, exiled and murdered in their quest for true democracy.
By Ibe Uwaleke and Bertram Nwannekanma

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