Former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to late former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, in this interview speaks on his 15-year travails in detention, his involvement in Abacha’s government, the death of Chief MKO Abiola and the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
What is your present status in the military? Are you still in the Nigerian Army or have you been retired?
When I got my release, the same big men, who subjected us to the persecution and travail we went through, were very quick at telling the army to issue us a paper of retirement.
But the truth is that until the Supreme Court hears and gives judgement on the pending appeal, which was filed by Lagos State government in 2013, nobody can take any decision. That is the provision of the law, the old and new military law. Of importance is that when I was arrested in Enugu on October 21, 1998, I was charged first for been in possession of late General Sani Abacha’s property. Later on, the charge was changed to holding General Abacha’s money.
And it was also changed to gun running from Libya to Nigeria. I was also charged for a coup and the case was again changed to security breach and was also changed to another thing entirely involving late Kudirat Abiola and Alex Ibru. When these manipulations were coming up and I was been tried for a coup and gun running from Libya to Nigeria; I said rather than handing me over to civil authority, I should have been courtmartialled over the offences I was charged for. That is military law.
They refused to do so because they have no substance for court-martial. The essence was to take me through the journey of travails as they were sure that I was not going to come back. So many members of the panels would come and meet me secretly when I was in chains on my hands and legs tied together to my neck. They will seek for apology and wash their hands off of it and they were revealing some of the secrets to me as to who was manipulating what.
So many things happened after General Abacha’s death and they wanted them covered. I am waiting for the Supreme Court to go through my evidence, because under a democratic dispensation, we must follow the issue through the provisions of the law.
Eighteen years after Abacha’s death, the Federal Government is still talking about recovering that funds he stashed in foreign countries. What is your take on that; are you privy to the transactions?
During the four years and seven months that General Abacha found himself in power, he had numerous attacks apart from the few that were mentioned. There were collaborations between some notable Nigerians and international powers to remove him out of office.
General Abacha is dead but those he stepped on, decided to revenge by smearing his name. Over the years, there are some people who have grown bigger than the laws of Nigeria; bigger than the security agencies and government.
But during Abacha’s tenure, in the course of trying to remove him from office violently, Abacha had to defend himself and he allowed the law to take its cause. So, notable Nigerians were arrested; they were tried and they never took their trial in good faith and they have not forgiven General Abacha even after his demise. At a time, there were threats on Nigeria but the sustainability of the government then, to my knowledge was a key thing.
There was also a decision at one point, where some stakeholders of Nigeria; key traditional rulers, politicians, businessmen from North and South, were invited to converge at Abuja. Chief Tom Ikimi was Foreign Minister then. And when sanctions were threatened on Nigeria on the request of some notable Nigerians, some modalities were taken to allow some money go to some accounts abroad, so that when sanctions come, that money would be able to keep Nigeria afloat.
At that time oil was between $7 and $8 per barrel and no money was taken to run Nigeria but policies were taken to run Nigeria including Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), so that Nigeria could grow. You would be shocked that out of hardship, God endowed some of us, as little as we were then with the wisdom to create PTF and it helped so many families in Nigeria. It is my joy that families, lives, institutions, the poor and orphans were touched.
For me, that is what is required, not physical money. Many people are rich in Nigeria today when you talk in terms of money but they are nothing but stock keepers because they care less about humanity. They keep the money for white men to utilise and leave their home dry. These people are worse than Abacha. They are in the North as well as the South.
What was your reaction when the claim of billions of naira looted by Abacha came up?
At one time, from prison, I wrote a note to Abacha’s family and I said that in the name of God, they should not be cowed by pressure and abuses they faced every day. I told them to come to the fore and tell the world about the money people are talking about.
The date of lodgment of that money will show whether the money was kept in his name before he became Head of State or after he became the Head of State. That is the way to do justice. Secondly, is to give history as to what that money was kept and meant for; there are stakeholders you can go for. I can remember the faces of so many big men who attended that Abuja meeting, where the decision was taken and many of these people are still alive.
But unfortunately, up till this moment, I don’t think there was any interview of these personalities, who attended the meeting in large number. I was highly embarrassed in 1999, when I first had the word ‘Abacha’s loot.’ I was embarrassed and I reacted.
Where was the money from and who kept the money? How much was the money? Where was this money stashed? How was it taken out?
I remembered that Abacha was not always leaving Nigeria. He travelled at the beginning of his regime to India, South Arabia, Pakistan and so many other countries in 1994 but later so many of his travelling were within African countries; South Africa and many West, Central and North African countries. In most cases, he was represented because the initial toes he stepped on were vehement in kicking him out.
What is your assessment of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last one year?
There were two political parties that contested keenly the 2015 presidential election; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). Al- Mustapha is not a card carrying member of APC, PDP or any other political party in Nigeria. I am busy trying to recover from what I went through. Other than the fact that God has endowed us with some strength that I cannot define, I am supposed to still be in coma. For example, for eight months I went through a punishment, where I was hung and burnt with nylon and the people who were sent to torture me were ashamed to look at my face.
They wore mask and I could only see their eyes and mouth open. They will put chain in my hands and legs and hook them to the floor. For eight months, I was not allowed to see my doctor, lawyer and family.
They fed me when they felt to do so and I was entitled to a cup of water daily. I was not allowed to even know what was going on anywhere; no light where I was. I wore only a singlet and trouser and the singlet that was full of blood from breaking of my head and tearing of my body. There was also another aspect of torture, where they will bring a piece of bread to me after two days when they know that I am really weak.
They will open the bread and break it into pieces it. I remembered in that room that I was, there were people who will go to the gutter and bring smelling debris in a bucket and load it in the room. Then the bread would be broken into pieces into the debris and marched up, so I will see food and reject it even when I am extremely hungry. When you see food and you are denied the food, the punishment can only be appreciated by one who went through that. I have a lot of marks on my body but yet we were told not to talk. We had no right to talk and no right of representation. I was treated like an animal.
There was a time when the punishment became really unbearable and a medical doctor was sent to examine me. The doctor insisted that they should stop torturing me because anything could happen to me but there was a directive from high authority that: ‘Let him remain there. The much we can do to help him is to have his leg amputated and make sure that he continued to go on this.’
You have not answered the question on Buhari’s government?
The impression I have about President Buhari is that he is a president who has character. Buhari is an upright person. President Buhari was dragged into politics but in politics you require a team that will form a leadership that is transparent, sincere and committed. I have seen all that in him because as a lieutenant when he was Head of State, I was able to serve one month and two weeks with him in restructuring the security in the Presidency. Nobody can question his love for Nigeria and Nigerians.
If his enemies are sincere to God Almighty, they will speak the truth that he really cares for the people. It is this quality that qualified him during Abacha’s regime to have been entrusted with the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and I thanked God that he served and I am happy that God used me as a toddler at that time to set up the PTF.
Is there the possibility of Al-Mustapha contesting for governorship or any other position in future?
I am still waiting on God to finish my case at the Supreme Court. When it is over, I will be able to face the Army Council and take a step formally. I am still trying to recover from all that I lost. Al-Mustapha cannot define the future, I am still settling with recovery and my rehabilitation and medical treatment from internal injuries I sustained.
You may be looking at me that I am okay now but the truth is that I am still suffering from internal pains. I just returned from Holland Orthopedic Centre and I am still going for two more surgeries. On my body, legs and knees are tortured marks and injuries still healing and I thank God for helping me to overcome the sign of spinal cord problem. That is the major one, the remaining are surgery around my hips and thighs.
There were reports on how General Abacha died. As someone very close to him, can you give account of how he died and what led to his death?
Many things had happened and you would have listened to what happened at the Oputa Panel though we scratched the issue. While in detention, it was wrong for me to come to the fore to present this matter and I said what killed General Abacha was what killed Chief MKO Abiola. I can never distort the truth. Even if I changed it, that cannot take us away from the truth but if you can have little patience, once I am through with the court case, I will launch a book, which will be in three volumes.
These are documents of the court of law, particularly High Court of Lagos on facts that were deliberately suppressed and refused to be brought to the media; endorsed and signed by judges of courts, where witnesses revealed how much they were given at the point of inducement contract, how an administrative legal directive in two pages were arrived at to ensure that we were convicted secretly, hanged and forgotten. The books will reveal the hidden facts that were kept away from the society to see the other side of the real things that happened in court.
I appeared before 13 judges and two magistrates in 15 years, minus the five people for the coup trial. I think that was unprecedented. Despite all I went through, I thank God Almighty for the energy given to me to have been persevered so far. What led to General Abacha death is coming in a separate book titled “The Mustapha’s Memoir.”
The memoir will be in volumes also because before Abacha came to power, many things had happened. The genesis that brought Abacha to power, the formation of his council and economic policy, enforcement of policies for and on behalf of Nigerians, the reason why loans were not taken even when oil was $7 per barrel and how money was been recouped from places to make ends meet and yet he was able to leave $9.732 billion out of nothing. But yet in 11 months, this money disappeared.
Nigerians can ask Chief Oluse gun Obasanjo how much was in government’s coffers when he came to power in 1999. How was the money left by Abacha spent in 11 months? Nigerians should ask more questions rather than asking about the peanut of $500 million that is called Abacha’s loot.
Today, there are few little ants that have stolen billions of dollars but the media are not asking questions and yesterday elephant that served this country for four years with numerous records have taken few hundreds of millions that is still being scrutinised. We need to ask whether the money traced to Abacha was stashed when he was in power or before he came to power.
Is it true that there is a pact between you and former President Goodluck Jonathan, who many believed facilitated your release from prison with the intent of currying the favour of Northern elites, who then insisted that you should be released?
Jonathan had no hand in bringing me out of detention. Right from the onset we had no case. The content of what Lagos State courts themselves produced and signed and took as records of proceedings are there for everybody to see. If there was evidence and witnesses had testified against us; if the exhibits are against us, then we can say we had a case. But there was none. If there was a case, why did they torture us and witnesses induced? If the witnesses had done what they were asked to do, why are they being kept by the state and treated as VIPs?
So, Jonathan didn’t bring me out. If he had brought me out, I would have been a card carrying member of the PDP and if he was the one who brought me out, you would have seen me visibly during the campaigns.
If he was the one who brought me out, I would have done more for him during his campaign. By my nature, if I am resolved to be in a party, I will do it boldly and do it well. If I am with you, I am totally with you Yes, he was the president at the time God destined that we are going to regain our freedom.
And as a Commander-in-Chief at that time, as a serving military officer, I was called by the president; my refusal to go to him would have attracted charges upon me. I must be obedient to the state and the Commander-in-Chief.
What is your take on military involvement in Nigerian politics and government?
There is regret about military involvement in politics. Regret in the sense that the mix grill of the military of the past, working hand in hand with some notable civilians, who were rich. Some politicians, business people and contractors over the years gave birth to military government in our history. If you take a look at every military government that came to power from 1966 to 1999, you can ask yourself some questions on their genesis; beneficiaries; members of executive council, ambassadors and advisers. Most of them were civilians.
You can look at those personalities and say who were they and why did they accept to serve in military governments. Who were their godfathers? Who were they helping? How did the military government last and how did they fair in terms of performance?
You also need to ask about the genesis of exist of the military from power; was it peaceful or forceful? When you look at the immediate civilian government or immediate military government in office, you will be able to see the hands of the people I am talking about, most of whom distorted opportunities out of personal interest and greed.
They are bigger than the law, the people and destiny of the country. Military involvement in politics killed professionalism, created bad blood, disaffection and mutual suspicion. Officers and men of the armed forces are a bundle of knowledge and professional competence but when politics came in, they found themselves in political roles.
But on the other hand, you will realise that the genesis was that the politicians got themselves compromised. I remembered that there was no coup in Nigeria that politicians didn’t ask for; there was none that politicians didn’t invest in. There were some personalities who always benefited from coups and that was why at the Oputa Panel, I described them as Any Government in Power.
Those concerned know exactly what I am talking about.
Was there a pact between Abacha and Abiola that the former would hand over power to latter?
Late MKO Abiola and General Abacha were very intimate friends. There was an understanding between them. There were many prominent men and politicians who never believed that late Abiola was going to make that impact. That is the truth.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida has not spoken about what happened during the June 12, 1993 presidential elections but I used to take Abiola in the car to Abacha even before he became Head of State. They will talk and agree within themselves. I was the one creat- ing access for Abiola to the Ministry of Defence right from when we were at the Independence Building. Abiola was visited by many notable Nigerians. They will see Abiola in the morning and afternoon and come back to us in the evening, castigating him. I did a video recording of all the visits to Abiola and anybody, no matter his status that had interaction with Abiola, when he was in incarceration is on that video.
They will go and see him and come back and tell government a different thing against Abiola. And they will also go to the media to say different things and abuse government. They were captured on video and the agencies of government have the video evidence. Nigerians would be shock if they see the content of the video and it is because of the content of the video that made some people to be afraid of what I say or do. These same people who visited Abiola told him never to accept a conditional bail.
There were some in the video, who usually say: ‘Never in the history of Yorubaland did Aare Ona Kakanfo was brought from the battle; remain and reclaim your mandate. Don’t come to us without your mandate because you are the 13th Aare Ona Kakanfo.’It is only His Royal Highness, Oba Tejuoso that looked into the eyes of Abiola and say ‘this is white, this black; you have to follow it.
Don’t listen to any other person telling you lie.’ The videos are there to testify. He was the only person who told Abiola the truth. I used to bring him out illegally and drive him around Abuja to many places and he enjoyed eating amala in my house.
I once told him that he should accept the conditional bail because Abacha is his friend. I told him that when Abacha leaves office, he can re-contest because nobody has the goodwill that he has. And I guaranteed him that the military will protect him. I told him that if he accepts the conditional bail, he can still become president and if there is an arrangement, we can stay with him and protect him as a president to a certain extent.
Abacha and Abiola are intimate friends but people found opportunity and went in and separated them. That game is still on so long as naira is the question, so long exploiting people is the issue and so long any idea is driven by greed and corruption.
Have you forgiven those behind your incarceration?
To me, I have forgiven and I believe that all I passed through was destined by God. In the cause of incarceration, I have had blessings from God and the blessings are enormous spiritually, physically and morally despite the torture and abuses on me, my family, friends and associates. I have no grudges against anybody.