By Muyiwa Adetiba
And so Major Hamza Al-Mustapha went home last week to a tumultuous welcome after 14 years of incarceration. His daughter who was five years old when he was locked up is now 19. That special father/daughter relationship that is usually forged in teenage years might be lost for ever.
He probably would come home to find a home he doesn’t recognise, a wife who has become independent and children who have to get used to having a father again.
Fourteen years is a long time. There was no GSM for example in 1999. But it is not only the internet and social media revolution that has passed him by. Life itself has moved on—in Kano where he was born, in the Military where he used to hold sway despite his rank, in his family where he was Lord of the Manor, and in the larger society where his name alone sent shivers down many spines. Now, the man they call the lion-hearted has to prove the stuff his heart is made of as he picks up the pieces of a truncated life. Yet, all things considered, the very fact that he is alive to tell of his prison ordeal makes him one of the lucky ones.
Unknown to me, I was put under surveillance during the June 12 struggle. By the time I realised I was being followed, they had known almost everything there was to know —where I lived, some of my contacts, my watering holes etc.
Twice, the evening paper I was publishing then was prevented from coming out. My printing press could not print for certain pro-June 12 publications for fear of being swooped in on. We worked in palpable fear on a day-to-day basis. Yet, in spite of my loss of privacy and commercial income, my person was not touched. I am indeed, one of the lucky ones.
Niran Malaolu and Ben Charles Obi had worked with me at different times. They, together with Kunle Ajibade and Chris Anyanwu, etc, spent years in prison because of trumped up charges. Niran came out to become a Press Secretary, Chris a Senator, while Ben and Kunle became publishers. They must count themselves, along with those who got top political positions, among the very lucky ones.
Generals Diya, Olanrewaju and Adisa grovelled before a certain Major because he had the power of life and death. They lived to enjoy the freedom of democracy and rule of law. They are among the lucky ones.
General Obasanjo was a Military Head of State who became a prisoner for daring to shoot his mouth. He lived to become the President and tell his story in ‘This animal called man’. He is obviously one of the lucky ones.
Alex Ibru was shot at and blinded. He survived the experience and lived for another 10 years or so. He was one of the lucky ones. So was Senator Abraham Adesanya whose car was riddled with bullets but still lived to lead the struggle.
Many left lucrative businesses and young families to flee into exile. Many have not come back since then while some of those who did found it difficult to piece their fragmented lives together again. Many, like Gani Fawehinmi had their premises bombed and lived to tell the story. They all can still be counted among the lucky ones.
For the five or so years that the June 12 war raged, homes were shattered, businesses destroyed, relationships fractured. The Directorate of Military Intelligence became known — and feared— for its ingenious and creative ways of interrogation. People spent days in conditions that even animals should not be subjected to.
They emerged with broken minds and bodies. My late childhood friend Major Akinyemi was one of them. Many disappeared and were never traced. Many were shot for daring to protest. These were the unfortunate casualties of the inglorious era only because they paid the supreme price.
They, along with General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was poisoned in prison and Chief Abiola who was poisoned when every body was expecting his release, represented the unlucky ones.
So when Major Mustapha recounts his 14years ordeal, he must remember its genesis. He must remember the days when he co-ordinated a ruthless and clinically effective intelligence network. He must remember lives that were irrevocably altered. He must remember how they played one tribe against the other (some of our Igbo brothers died on their way home), and one interest group against the other all in the name of security. If he indeed mourned the loss of his mother, then he must remember the many people who also lost their parents.
He said he has forgiven his enemies. He must also seek the forgiveness of the many lives he has participated in ruining—both the ‘lucky’ and the ’unlucky’ ones. Those who say he was wrongly incarcerated for 14 years must also think of the many who were not only incarcerated, but who lost their lives.
They must also ask themselves if the judgement might not have been different if we had a swifter and more efficient judicial system where vital evidences are not easily tampered with—never mind that he has benefited from a judiciary that was not made available to many victims.
So, 15 years after, who killed Kudirat Abiola? Who made her sun to set at noon and her children orphans at sunrise?
There are many things for Mustapha to ponder upon. And if he wants to be at peace with himself and his God, he should tell us what he knows.