Now That Al-Mustapha is Free….By Ali M Ali



almustaphaMajor Hamza Al-Mustapha is jumping for joy. He should be. Anyone with the vaguest idea of prison shouldn’t begrudge him his newfound freedom. Prisons anywhere are hellholes. In Nigeria, prisons are like being in the belly of an elephant suffering constipation.
For 15 solid years, he was in the slammer for a crime, the Appeal Court now said he didn’t commit. What a price to pay for 15 minutes of fame. To waste 15 years as price for doing one’s job is costly, too costly even by our standards. In Nigeria’s deadly shortened lifespan of 45 years, this means that he has spent one third of his life behind bars. And for what? For a crime he didn’t commit. The law, truly, is an ass. It wasted a decade and a half to confirm what was long suspected-that Al-Mustapha’s prolonged trial was more political than judicial.
On July 12,a Friday, in the year of the lord 2013, the ‘fearsome’ CSO to late General Sani Abacha, regained freedom. His acquittal by the Appeal court in Lagos was as dramatic as his arrest and detention so many years ago.
Lets open the grey pages of history. His trip to Golgotha began on October 21,1998.On that fateful day, Al-Mustapha and co-travellers were arrested on sundry allegations. Among them was one that engenders a choking mirth-possession of ‘illegal’ firearms.
Firearms to a soldier, to me, is what a pen is to journalist. A soldier- and one that was a very powerful Chief Security Officer to a fearful leader, heading a hassled regime, without firearms will be a complete dunce. A bigger nitwit will be one that would keep ‘illegal’ firearms when he was no longer CSO.I am skeptical if the Major was a dimwit. If he were, he probably wouldn’t have lasted a day in the dog-eat-dog jungle that was military politics.
But this was Al-Mustapha code named ‘Lion heart’. He was not too many people’s favourite person at the time. He certainly wasn’t my ‘man of the year’. I recall a personal not too pleasant encounter in 1994.The regime which he attained dubious infamy had called for the first and only ‘international press conference’ at the heavily fortified Aso Rock Presidential Villa where the late Abacha was holding court.
A hapless Walter Ofonagoro, the Minister of information at the time, thought it was his ‘show’. He was mistaken. In attendance were curious media executives and all the industry’s local and international icons.
By rank, I was far too junior as deputy editor of the state run but now rested Triumph to be in that August Assembly. In breezed a haughty stoned faced Al-Mustapha literally shoving aside a visibly bewildered Ofonagoro. I witnessed my idols being shepherd like cattle by the unsmiling ‘thirtyish’ looking Major barking orders and shoving people. I took an instant dislike. I thought it irreverent to hound world-renowned editors. These were my own “Generals” being tossed by a common ‘Major’ who probably couldn’t report a straightforward story in the newsroom! Editors are known to have ruin governments with just a lone story or editorial.
In the course of the subsequent four years, the man stepped on toes. Diplomatically expressed, he trampled on heads, walked on faces and crushed security threats with a swagger.
At the height of his glory, he frustrated the 1995 coup plot against Abacha. Its alleged sponsors including the late Shehu Yar’adua and Chief Obasanjo were hurled into jail. A court found both former No 1 and 2 guilty of the crime charged. By law, both men were to be executed, ironically, by a piece of legislation signed by Obasanjo as Head of State in 1976.
The charitable however, dismissed the plot as ‘phantom’ that it existed only in the realm of imagination. They argued that the ex leaders were victims of an egoistic regime petrified by its own shadow.
Obasanjo particularly was seen as the ‘conscience’ of the nation. A gadfly and nemesis of bad governments. Internationally he was seen as a statesman who ‘willingly’ handed power in 1979 at a time it was fashionable to sit-tight.
The knowledgeable and versed in the labyrinthine politics of the time, countered that there was, indeed, a conspiracy to forcefully end the regime in power.
Seen but barely heard, Lion heart’ was whispered as the ‘muscle’ who wasn’t impressed by the Generals’ profile and ensured that they faced the music of their misdeeds. Where the faint hearted feared to walk, he treaded with sure-footedness swelling his enemy list by the day. Less than two short years later in 1997, serving Generals led by the No 2 man in the regime got caught in the snare of Al-Mustapha planning to upstage Abacha. . Again, and dutifully, Lion Heart was at hand doing what he knew best protecting the life and person of the Commander-in-Chief.
In discharging this onerous task-he spared no ox. He left ‘no turn unstoned’. You call it ‘no stone unturned’.
His subordinates revered him. His contemporaries marveled at his temerity. His superiors dreaded his snare. As CSO, he was ubiquitous. He was on duty 24/7. He had his finger in every pie so long it had the potential to spell ‘trouble’ for his boss, the C-in-C. His loyalty was totally unwavering.
Generals like Victor Malu who call a spade by its name recommend and commend Al-Mustapha as the quintessential CSO.
The hit on Kudirat Abiola was tragic. It is unpardonable. The killers shouldn’t go unpunished. They must be fished out no matter how long it takes. Other unresolved murders too, shouldn’t be left hanging. Bola Ige, Harry Marshall, AK Dekiboh, Isyaku Muhammad etc. deserve justice. These men were brutally murdered post Al-Mustapha’s days. Their killers are still at large.
A lazy government blames armed robbers for the heinous crimes of snuffing lives of citizens perceived as stumbling blocks.
Al- Mustapha is lucky. Probably because he was innocent of the crime, he lives to tell his story. Those who designed his life behind bars didn’t reckon with his resilience. But nonetheless, as a security top gun, he failed to appreciate Idi Amin’s justification of silencing the enemy when there is a change of government. “Any time there is a change of government in Africa, heads will roll”. I just wonder why he didn’t flee the country like the notorious Frank Omenka of the DMI.Now that Al-Mustapha is freed; I would expect his tormentors to ‘flee’ or to open a new frontier of battle.

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