By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (retd) was the Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. In this interview, Mustapha speaks on the never ending Abacha loot recovery among other issues surrounding the deceased Nigerian leader.
Many Nigerians feel that the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha was notorious for fraud. The looting of the country under the administration, according to revelations, is mind boggling. As his former Chief Security Officer, CSO, what is your story?
I spoke on this subject earlier but, whether alive or dead, the truth remains the truth and the truth should be told. There is no fear in saying the truth. I appeared in numerous functions and I spoke. The first time I was given the opportunity to speak was at Oputa Panel in 2000 and 2001 and when God Almighty granted me freedom I spoke on 2013.
Till date, I have been talking about what I know. For me and for those who really know how the government worked, Gen. Abacha suffered a lot of attacks. The first time I heard the word loot associated with the government was when we were in Kirikiri Prisons. I think it was in December when we were transferred from Ikoyi Prisons to Kirikiri. I saw the word ‘loot’ in the papers even though we hadn’t the opportunity of looking at newspapers properly.
And I saw some security operatives coming to discuss with Mohammed Abacha (Gen Abacha’s son) in that respect. Nobody throughout my stay with the Head of State had any transactions with me, nobody gave me money. I was operating within what was in my own office to protect the government. Now, there was an issue I talked about in 2016 in Lagos concerning Abacha loot.
What I know is that there was a time sanctions were imposed on Nigeria by the UK, US and two other countries and that was at the behest of some senior Nigerians who believed that they must fight Gen Abacha.
But to counter the sanctions, then-Head of State requested to talk with stakeholders from across Nigeria, North and South, and there was a discussion on the sanctions and the threat against the country; the meeting held in Abuja but outside the Villa because of the size of the people in attendance that was bigger than the size of the Conference Hall inside the Presidency.
The agreement at that meeting was to take funds outside into the hands of people in the private sector so that the nation could still import and export to, at least, beat the sanctions. That I know of. Any other thing outside that I really do not know, nobody consulted me.
I had nothing to do with money and that is why I said in that interview in 2016 that I was embarrassed to hear the word loot because I know how prudent the late Gen. Abacha was and I know that when the government came to power, there was nothing left in the foreign reserves. Government had less than 200 million dollars in the reserves meaning that the administration was to start afresh and people didn’t know that. He had to scavenge to run the country and build the foreign reserves to nine billion, seven hundred and thirty two dollars as of June 1998 when he died. People didn’t know but I know.
At Oputa Panel, I asked questions, the monies that were transferred into numerous accounts outside Nigeria, in whose accounts were these monies and in whose companies’ names? When were the monies taken out? Was it during General Abacha’s tenure as Head of State or when he was Minister of Defence? Nigerians need to know how much monies were in such banks and in whose accounts were they lodged? What was the agreement between the account holders and Gen. Abacha? Were the monies for Abacha or for Nigeria? Basic questions as to how monies were moved outside Nigeria must be asked and the countries in whose banks such monies were kept also have reports; what were the reports at the time of deposit? Which year?
Which time and what was the reason given for the deposit? The unfortunate thing for Gen. Abacha was the fact that he was succeeded by two governments where personalities in them fought him and hated him to death. And I asked both governments that “if you want to investigate Abacha government, start with me”. There was nothing they didn’t do. They brought INTERPOL. They had all sorts of investigations and I challenged them they were paying me salary in Bank of the North and that they should look out for any account of mine whether in Nigeria or abroad and see what was there; if there was anything that I had taken outside what I was supposed to earn as salary, I should be exposed and prosecuted. For the 4 years 7 months of the Abacha regime, oil price remained at $8 or $9 per barrel. And General Abacha never took any loan. So the country was scavenging to survive. And from 200 million dollars in the foreign reserves, it went up to nine billion.
If he was alive, do you think so much would have been said about this loot?
If the monies recovered were associated to looting, Abacha stole nothing compared to what we are seeing. What many people don’t know genuinely is how much Nigeria is earning monthly not only from oil sector but also from every other sector of the economy. And the price of oil shot up. But there was nothing left. And you can say looting but, to me, it is all being said because he is dead. If there is true investigation, I am sure the story would be different. I know of a particular government after he died that was giving people the condition that they should abuse or condemn Abacha as a looter to get appointment. If you accept, you will become a minister or be given a parastatal to head.
But some countries have also attested to the fact that they received some loot and they tied it to Abacha. We have heard government saying monies were stashed in Switzerland among other countries.
The questions I raised earlier on every of the accounts traced, were they answered? If they are answered to the satisfaction of the laws of those countries and those of Nigeria, then you would be able to know the truth. Were the monies taken from the Central Bank? What was the reason for moving the monies?
Earlier you talked about some individuals who were invited…
I said individuals, stakeholders were invited and there was a large meeting and it was in that meeting where this decision was taken. And it was in prison that I first heard about loot, that was when the word ‘loot’ was mentioned to me and I said I was embarrassed.
Were funds given out at the time to those individuals invited for the meeting?
How can money be given there? You mean cash?
If money moved, I haven’t seen that and if there was movement of cash physically there, everybody would have seen it. Elders from the North, elders from the South, some people from the traditional institution and some people from Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and many other stakeholders including ministers were there, members of the Provisional Ruling Council were there. The question is why are they not being asked questions? So many people are afraid to talk not because they don’t know the truth. The man Abacha suffered propaganda which affected some of us with numerous attempts on our lives just to shut some people up.
If you are asked today, did Abacha loot Nigeria’s money, would you say yes or no?
You cannot speak on what you do not know. All I know is that Abacha suffered propaganda and games of hate. He did so much in rescuing this country and helping the country but I would never speak on what I do not know. There are rumours that, to me, remain rumours and, when I see facts, I say them the way I see them and, if you see the way I testified at Oputa Panel, it tells you my character. You can threaten my life with ABCD, but, I tell you, numerous lies in high places were cooked and sponsored against General Abacha and were sustained with so much money. Nigerians were talking about $16 billion power money, right? Why was the matter covered? The whole of the Abacha loot that they are talking about was how much? But in one single incident, there was $16 billion and the whole country is defrauded and nobody can talk and I tell you it is much more than that. And a top government official was shot and that was because of that money.
Are you surprised or worried that the whole talk about Abacha loot has refused to die years after he died?
Yes, because there are people whose toes Abacha stepped upon who believe that they should continue to recycle the matter, it is being sponsored and it is a game. The more they talk about Abacha loot, the more it covers other serious loots, away from the sight of Nigerians and it is a psychological warfare in the minds of Nigerians so that others would be painted as holier than thou.
Are you in essence saying that some Nigerians still siphon money and tie it to Abacha’s loot?
I didn’t say that because I cannot talk on what I do know not. All I said is that from the time Abacha died till now, there is gross stealing, 100% bigger than what was alleged against Abacha and all I am saying is that if there is any looting, I am not defending any looter or any type of stealing, I am not that type of person. If you know my attitude towards that in terms of bringing sanity and prosperity to this country, if there must be total zero tolerance for looting, it must start from the top. I have spoken before to say that even EFCC and ICPC are not doing what they are supposed to do. They are not strong enough to fight corruption in Nigeria.
Why do you think so?
They are just fighting corruption at the periphery.
How do you mean?
I know what I am talking about.
Then, let Nigerians know too
I have said it severally on television. I said if EFCC must fight, my understanding of fighting corruption is to allow the little cases of stealing to remain with the police. For example, if a billion will be the starting point for EFCC and ICPC to investigate, that would be good for the country. Any case that is less than a billion cannot be an EFFC case but, today, EFCC is into little matters like few thousands for which people are detained. That should not be the task of EFCC.
The essence of the EFCC is not to displace the police from their routine work of minor cases that are meant for the police which today is taken over by the EFCC; to me, that is waste; after all, if you have to fight corruption, the answer is to start from the top. The courage, the guts to do it, the patriotism to fight and help this country from total waste is all that matters and that is the essence of EFCC; it is not gimmicks. It is not just playing with the minds of Nigerians. EFCC should not have any business fighting thousands or millions. There are numerous examples of many serious countries that started fighting corruption from the top and today there is sanity there. That’s what I am saying.
Looking at the anti-corruption fight of the present government under President Buhari, would you give it a pass mark, thumbs up to have secure some convictions?
I have not looked at the records and the cases before EFCC and ICPC to be able to know but these are the examples I gave you and, to me, that is how EFCC and ICPC should work.
At the moment, some former governors are cooling off in correctional centres. Hasn’t that really proved a point that this government is actually trying?
EFCC is an institution, you treat the EFCC as an institution and the same thing applies to ICPC, but if you now say the yardstick of performance of ICPC or EFCC separately or collectively is the hallmark of assessing the performance of the government, that is also, in itself, wrong. Every institution should be seen to be evaluated on its own performance alone. Then what you can now say that affects the government is that is the government giving them the right backing? Do they have the right tools, do they have the money to run the place; do they have the equipments?
Do you think some Nigerians are really untouchable because you talked about fighting corruption from the top?
Definitely, there are some Nigerians that are seen to be above the law. I have been saying this and I have never minced words.
Would you like to mention names?
No. I wouldn’t. Wait for my books. But you know yourself that there are Nigerians bigger than institutions and laws of Nigeria. They are bigger than our courts, prisons and you know them and this is one of the major damages done to the psyche of Nigerians and to the unity and development of Nigeria. Mutual suspicion sets in because some people have money and anytime their interest comes up, they use money to safeguard it. Let’s be blunt.
What are we talking about? Welfare and well-being of Nigerians! We cannot be rich and be scavenging for what to eat. What I am talking about is that people have money but they use the stolen money to attack institutions and then create gaps between them and the haves-not and what we end up doing is promoting deeply rooted hate and mutual suspicion among all classes of Nigerians, especially between the rich and the poor, Muslims and Christians, North and South for no reason. The genesis of all of these is corruption.
Who was the man Abacha? Some feared him, some say he was brutal, some say he was mean, some say he was humane, he was kind, some say he was a pragmatic leader, while some say he was a dictator. To you who worked closely with him, who was the man Abacha? How do you describe him?
Lying against the dead, by the teachings of my religion, is an offence that is huge and whoever tells such lies will answer for it before God Almighty. I saw Gen. Abacha as a person who was very, very upright, who could face any issue no matter how big, no matter how threatening it was to his life. He could stand up to face it and when there were issues challenging the state, he could look into the face of any person and call white, white and they hated him for that. It didn’t matter whether you were his senior or junior, he would point at it and say it raw. And that is why to those who kept abusing him; what I would have loved you to do is to go to his colleagues.
They speak the truth in the name of God Almighty. You know in Nigeria there are some people, the moment you challenge them, they will use all they have to destroy you through propaganda. Abacha suffered from that. You cannot say he was perfect just like you and I; nobody is perfect, but to those who knew him sincerely, he was a father by character and he was also a soldier indeed.
He was extremely humane and extremely patient but once he was provoked, he could face any person and tell him exactly the way it is. So this aspect of his character of presenting things the way it is, raw even at a very wrong time and to the wrong people, that brought hatred between him and those who decided to team up to fight him and they are still fighting him. They have money to fight. Some of them are bigger than the laws of this country. Some of them belong to the class I talked about, bigger than the institutions in Nigeria. And in any country when you see a class of people becoming bigger than the institutions of those countries, that is the yardstick of measuring the depth of corruption in that country.
Many people actually believe that Gen. Abacha died because of an apple he ate. Is that true?
I have been asked same questions in numerous places and all I kept saying is what I will write. There is something I did in comparing how he died and how Chief MKO Abiola died. There was a conspiracy in Nigeria that Nigerians are afraid to investigate.
Abacha died in June, MKO Abiola died in July. These two were regarded as political obstacles and they both left exactly one month after the other. What happened before Abacha’s death, what happened before Abiola’s death and what happened after? Those are questions you must ask and it is a national question. And the lies told as to how Abacha died, there were people who spoke on television of what they knew nothing about. But I tell you and I have the conviction, God Almighty will place this country in the right course and this country will rise again.
Should power return to the South because recently Governor El-Rufai said yes to it? But the Arewa Youth Forum President, Shetima Yerima, earlier said the North will continue in power after President Buhari in 2023.
Politics or no politics, some of us are lovers of every zone of Nigeria. Remember zoning was done with us. Whose initiation was it you will get to know later. If go to the East, I associate with every state there. I mingle with the traditional rulers and youth associations in the East.
If you look at some of my speeches at the late Ojukwu remembrance, since I came out of prison in 2013 and how much messages I have delivered in Igbo land, you will realize who they are politically and that they are united to rise as a power bloc and then go to participate within the scheme of things in terms of providing leadership in Nigeria. I was one of those who spoke about how the cooperation between the North-East and South-East started it all in 1960 and for us to stay. The potentials that are hidden in this country are enormous, therefore Nigeria is being deliberately attacked so that we will not get there and that is why you see from what we have and from the failures, if Nigeria should come together, united to harness the resources available, with the manpower that God has given us, if you put all of them together, you will know that Nigeria indeed is a power bloc within the comity of nations and we can influence many things.
But the more divided the country is, the more mutual suspicion, the more deliberate religious differences and tribal sentiments and the effects of corruption in high places that is destroying Nigeria, the more the enemies of Nigeria are happy and that is why we are not making any progress. We have it but we are not using it.
Before the zoning came in, I don’t know if you have any opportunity of meeting, I call him father, Justice Karibi White, you will find out when they did the National Conference at that time, who was the silent coordinator of what was going on between the seat of government and the assembly. Then found out also how some of these topics were brought which gave birth to zoning of Nigeria. In every zone, you have all it takes that numerous bigger countries are looking for.