By Mike Adedayo
The detention of Hamza Al Mustapha along with other military and police officers has generated significant public interest for two main reasons: The personality of Al Mustapha and the perception in many circles that the incarceration is political.
It has been 12 years since the man and his associates have been detained by the powers- that- be.
The detention has been followed by the trial for coup plotting and attempted murder. An elder statesman says their detention is for ‘record 12 years. That was an admission that the detention of Al Mustapha and colleagues is unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. And it sends a signal: that the motive may be to purnish them.12 years is a long time in the life of mankind. Imagine that the wife of any of the detainees had been pregnant the year-1998- they had been taken into custody, and subsequently delivered of a baby girl or boy. The child would now be close to puberty, and, in a few years time, grow into adulthood. Yet the child would have been denied of the care and love of a father who is not dead or engaged in a war or long trip but is simply incarcerated, not as a convict but a suspect, for the lenght of time the child has lived. It does not look as if the child would see the society that does that to the father as one that promotes justice.
Al Mustapha was the Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the late head of state, General Sanni Abacha. For the five years that the tenure of the former Nigerian leader lasted as the chief tenant of Aso Rock, Al Mustapha’s job was to provide security for his boss. He carried out his assignment with the precision of a sharp shooter. In the military, loyalty tops the code of conduct; every other thing in the code is secondary. Al Mustapha gave Abacha absolute loyalty. And that was the beginning of his problem. He purportedly stepped on many toes. The job of securing the head of state was by no means an easy one, especially in a military setting such as the one we had in Nigeria where every officer wants to occupy the office of the number one citizen thereby making coup detat a lucrative enterprise. The former CSO to the late head of state was believed to have carried out his job in an overzealous manner and to the detriment of many who are now on a mission of vengeance against him. This fits the theory that the detention of Al Mustpha for 12 years, still counting, is political. Some people even vow that those been detained along with him are only there because the powers-that-be want to create a smoke screen that the former CSO is being legitimately held for trial whereas he is the target of the people out on a mission of vengeance.
Al Mustapha had been arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Abacha’s successor, General Abdusalami Abubakar, in October 22,1998, for which they were arraigned for trial at the Federal High Court in Lagos in 1999. The court discharged and acquitted them of the coup charges. The same government created another allegation of gun-running even as he was alleged to be in custody of Abacha money and property. Al Mustapha was later accused of attempted murder of Mr Alex Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, an offence allegedly comitted while in office as Abacha’s CSO. He and the others charged with him have since been in detention while hearing in the case drags through the court. Any dispassionate person on what has become the Al Mustapha saga, and who stands for justice as well as the United Nations fundamental human rights to which Nigeria is a signatory, will subscribe to recent calls for the former CSO’s release. The detention of Al Mustapha ad infinitum does not serve the cause of justice; the incarceration is in fact the other side of justice.
Dr. Fredrick Faseun should have been the last person to call for the release of Al Mustapha. Faseun cuts the picture of a Yoruba irredentist in the wake of the annulment of the June 12,1993 elections presumably won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba, whose death the people blamed Abacha for. Faseun was also harassed under the Abacha administration in the course of the campaign for the revalidation of the annulled elections. Ordinarily, the activist ought not to be in the vanguard of the calls for the release of Al Mustapha because the former CSO worked for the late head of state. But being a man who is passionate about justice and sees the persecution that is going on, he has severally asked that Al Mustapha be left off the hook. Also recently, elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark aligned himself with the agitation for the freedom for Al Mustapha. Said the former Minister of Information and Ijaw leader in a plea to President Goodluck Jonathan: I strongly feel enough is enough. It is very sad that the trial of Al Mustapha and his associates has now dragged on for record 12 years and detained in Kirikiri Prisons for 11 years. My appeal [for release] become necessary because their long years in detention run contrary to the fundamental human rights charter to which Nigeria and other African nations are signatories”. For Chief Clark, a lawyer and former minister of information to have made this plea to the authorities, he must have been convinced of the raw deal Al Mustapha and his colleagues have suffered for more than a decade. And the plea looks genuine because of the antecedents of the elder statesman show he is not given to frivolity.
It is never too late for the authorities to heed the calls for the release of the former CSO. Cases are abound where government intervened to stop a case as the one Al Mustapha and others are facing. Just weeks ago, the authorities stopped the case against a former comptroller general of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, facing corruption charges.
The authorities, in dropping the case, must have been convinced that something was wrong with the suit just as the trial of Al Mustapha and co is coloured by politics. The authorities can even borrow a leaf from the recent release of the Lockerbie bomber who was allowed by the Scottish authorities to go to his native Libya on compassionate grounds. The man, who had been convicted for the bombing a plane that killed more than 200, had been diagnosed of a terminal sickness by doctors who gave a time frame to die. And the Scottish authorities sent him home to die. The Nigerian authorities. Should be no less compassionate in the case of Al Mustapha and co.
The wife of the former CSO sometime ago painted the picture of the agony the family is facing in the absence of the husband. According to Hajia Hafsat, the wife, the head of the family was taken away when the kids were small and the last child only seven years old. Now the last child will be around 18 years and the father is still in detention. The ball is the authorities’ court to end the agony of the family on compassionate grounds and the politics of Al Mustapha and co detention.
* Mike Adedayo, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.