By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Freed former Abacha strongman, Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha, is like a beautiful bride being courted by sundry suitors ever since he left Lagos prison. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is believed to have begun discussions with the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, on how to use him to advance the cause of the party in the 2015 elections. Will they succeed? If they do, can Al-Mustapha deliver the goods and in what capacity?
He remains the cynosure of the moment. Like a prized item, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha is a man, who is being sought after like a hot cake. Unlike a man, who has become used to solitary confinement and who should actually be hiding away and reflecting on what happened to him, the soldier in him has continued to propel him to be on the road, seeing, thanking and, in many instances, shedding tears of joy in the process.
Many of the visits have been conducted quietly while others are known to have attracted large crowds of people, some of whom were so moved by emotions that they shed tears after listening to the story of the stoic army officer.
In the process of going round, many have come to see Al-Mustapha as a man, who has paid the huge price for a decaying political and judicial system that can turn the innocent into a villain and coerce a good man into crime.
Reject or accept it, Al-Mustapha is like a rising star on the horizon, whose rays are not just about to dim. Those angling for the soldier know his true worth and are convinced, albeit momentarily, that his mounting popularity and connections can fetch them new political converts and swing the next polls in their favour.
Voyage of thanksgiving
Although the optimism of his political admirers might have been blown out of proportion, the former Abacha strongman has not left anyone in doubt that he is relishing in his new-found souring fame. Since emerging from his gulag, Al-Mustapha has been on a voyage of thanksgiving to some individuals and groups across the country, as if he was on a pilgrimage for some religious rites.
Among the personalities that the former CSO has so far met and showered with undiluted appreciation for standing by him during his incarceration are: Chief Edwin Clark, TB Joshua, Asari Dokubo and the former Kirikiri Prison Controller, Mr. Iorbee Ihiagh.
He has also visited Kano State governor, Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and held rallies in some northern states as part of his effort to reconnect with his friends and admirers across the land.
But the visitation by the feared ex-CSO has triggered more than a passing interest in the minds of Nigerians and brought about a new thinking within the political circles. In fact, the searing feeling in the camp of the opposition is that the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has already used its fronts to corner Al-Mustapha to its side, with a view to exploiting his assumed clout to curry the elusive support of the North, particularly the crisis-ridden states of Yobe, Borno and others controlled by the opposition in the region.
The suspicion has been bolstered by the visit of the former strongman to Clark and what transpired when a former Education Minister under Abacha, Dauda Birmah, visited the headquarters of the PDP and met with its National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur on July 26.
While Clark was deft enough to discuss privately with the Major on the possible role he would want him to play in the polity, Birmah went viral, almost announcing to the world it was President Goodluck Jonathan and Tukur, who were instrumental to the freedom granted Al-Mustapha and not the court of law.
“I know how much the PDP Chairman has been working hard to get Al-Mustapha released,” the former minister said.
“I know that someone who has worked with a former head of state and was incarcerated for 15 years cannot be released by mere pronouncements of the judiciary without the concurrence of the executive.
“I must thank Mr. Chairman for getting the ear of the President for this gesture. I must also thank the Nigerian women: three staunch women sat on the judgment and we want to thank the Nigerian women.
“Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership has been rated as the best administration so far. With what Jonathan has done in Maiduguri, I can affirm that the city is now safer than most parts of the country. “
On that occasion, Birmah, who heads the Northern Elders and Youth Forum, NEYF, said that Jonathan and Tukur provided the enabling environment for the release of Al-Mustapha. He was accompanied by two other groups: Fresh Air Youth on Continuity and North/South New Nigeria Forum, which are actively campaigning for Jonathan’s re-election in 2015.
Old man and his ‘loyal son’
While that remains the position, Al-Mustapha has stirred the dust of his own, when he described himself during his visit to Clark as ‘his loyal son’ and poured encomiums on the old man for standing by him throughout his incarceration. The Major said, “I have come to thank you for the support, for standing by me all these years of my incarceration. I am aware of your appeal to the federal and the Lagos State government for my release. I am still your loyal son,” the officer stated.
Of all the people visited by Al-Mustapha, his call on the former Niger Delta militant leader, Asari Dokubo, on July 28, in his Abuja residence lends credence to the suspicion that Jonathan’s men had actually laid ambush for the army officer to recruit him for some roles in the government. Some northerners, who are close to the army officer, whispered to their close associates that the least post the government can dangle before him is that of National Security Adviser given his intimidating pedigree in that sector.
The post is currently being occupied by Sambo Dasuki, a retired Colonel, who served as aide-de-camp, ADC, to former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, who is not known to be at war with Jonathan. Dasuki’s appointment did not also come without the knowledge of the former military leader.
Others, who have been following Al-Mustapha around, speak with the optimism that given what they know, the former Abacha CSO may even replace Vice President Namadi Sambo as running mate to Jonathan in 2015 and stay on to become the President the North is clamouring for in 2019.
Those in that camp have not hidden their anger against the likes of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, Gov. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State and Dr Junaid Muhammed, who have since asked Jonathan not to even declare his intention to run in 2015. Among the protagonists of Jonathan’s re-election is Mohammed Abba Gana who has made a strong case for the President to run in 2015, arguing that doing so would not hurt the North in any way.
A close associate of Al-Mustapha, who has been junketing round the country with him, argued that it would not be out of place for the Jonathan administration to saddle him with a position of responsibility given his pedigree.
“It is obvious that this man has a lot to offer for the 2015 games. That is one step of it; at the same time, there is the likelihood that with the way things are going in the Villa, it is clear that the number two-man is losing his popularity in the North,” the source said.
“They see him as more of a political liability. So, it is either he is going to be replaced when that time comes or, at the end of the day, the NSA may likely have to give way because his presence anywhere you fix him is enough threat to the major opposition and the northern part of the country right now. One of these scenarios is likely to happen.”
Split in opposition
It is clear that there has been a major split in the ranks of the opposition in the North against Jonathan with the release of Al-Mustapha. Unlike in the past when the North spoke of presenting a consensus candidate in the 2015 presidential election and pressurising those who have a counter opinion to fall in line, there is a marked shift in that direction in recent weeks.
The new song on the lips of the northern elite is that the area has never been united politically and will never be made to do so in 2015. The National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, is of the view that any attempt by anyone or group will backfire. Sani cited the case between the late Aminu Kano and former President Shehu Shagari in 1979 as a typical example that the North has never stood behind a particular candidate and asked those mooting the idea to jettison it.
Sani is supported by the president of the Arewa Youths Forum, AYF, Gambo Gujungu, and the president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, AYCF, Shetima Yerima. They all agree that the North is divided and that Al-Mustapha is entitled to any post that he can possibly get from the system.
“Today, as I speak with you, Al-Mustapha remains a rallying point for all of us. I don’t think he is contesting any governorship election, but with the way he is enjoying the support of the grassroots in the northern part of the country and the like minds, I believe strongly he doesn’t need to go to state politics. He should go to the central government. We need him more there,” Yerima said.
“I don’t want to go into conclusion until we get there. But right now, he remains a military man, so let us not talk and implicate him. He remains the property of the Army until the day he retires, and then we will know what to do with him.”
But a top Kano official cautioned Al-Mustapha to be wary of those who are trying to draft him into the murky water of politics without allowing him to study the atmosphere and seek integration into the society; he has been kept away for about 15 years.
“My innocuous advice to Al-Mustapha is that he should not mistake the growing sympathy of Nigerians following his unjust incarceration for political popularity because he may end of opening a can of worms that may dry up that fleeting sympathy,” the politician said.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
Good for Al-Mustapha: he has maintained a studied silence over his career and ambition. He might have been compelled by the military authorities to seal his lips if he still wants to continue as an officer of the Nigerian Army. Under a proposed deal, he may be promoted to an appropriate rank with his contemporaries and formally eased out of the army.
While that is yet to happen, political jobbers have taken turns to drum into his ears that it is the transformation agenda that quickened his freedom and that he should be keen on joining the winning team in the next contest.
But of what relevance is Al-Mustapha in the current political dispensation?
If he joins the Jonathan train, the South-west, which still harbours some grudge against him might use it as a campaign issue against the PDP in 2015. On the other hand, if Al-Mustapha pitches his tent with the opposition, the government that freed him may feel pained and may begin to see him as an ingrate.
Truly, whichever way Al-Mustapha goes in the current political juggling is likely to pose some ethical issues against him. He should bear at the back of his mind that even though he has been discharged and acquitted over the murder of Kudirat Abiola, the moral burden remains as long as the tears of those left behind by the deceased continues to drip like a fountain.
Al-Mustapha may become the hero that some persons are trying to make of him if he clearly shuns the murky path of politics and retires quietly to his chosen career and communes more with his God for the rest of his life. Somehow, God will tell him what to do, how to do it and when that will be.
Leaving the prison after 15 years, a period that has effectively cut him off from the socio-political reality in the country, and jumping on the political bandwagon, could expose him to another round of mistake that has the capacity to dent his image forever. Al-Mustapha must be wiser than those who are goading him from the sidelines of his life: he must not allow the enemy to throw weeds into his wares.