“I left my parents in full flesh. I returned to meet them as corpses”.
These words from the main character in a Yoruba epic play could, as well,have been spoken by the former Chief Security Officer (CS0) to the late General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, who returned from 14 years in jail to meet both parents, whom he left alive, dead. “I lost my father and mother whom I forced the authorities to allow me to see two times only in 14 years”, a tearful Al-Mustapha told Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State whom he visited after he arrived Kano last Sunday.
He had about 48 hours earlier been set free by the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos following his acquittal of the charge of murdering Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola.
Al-Mustapha’s arrival in Kano marked a new life in freedom.
The former security operative was flown into Kano aboard a chartered flight that touched the ground around 12 noon in company of the founder, Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, Chief Frederick Fasheun, and some Nigerians who were visible during the days of the Abacha government.
The Yobe State-born military officer walked into a reception organised by the Abacha family. Youths in their thousands lined the strategic route to catch a glimpse of the former detainee.
Commercial activities in the Kano’s four major markets came to a standstill. Motorcyclists violated the law prohibiting them from carrying passengers to convey well-wishers round, chanting praises to Allah over Al-Mustapha’s release.
Even women in purdah sneaked to the gates of their houses to see what was happening.
The stringent security measures put together by the military for one of their own frustrated thousands of people from securing access to the VIP Lounge and tarmac of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, while hundreds climbed trees to watch proceedings at the airport where hundreds, comprising mainly members of the Abacha family, the Al Mustapha family and notable members of the Abacha regime gathered to receive him.
Spotting a maroon kaftan with a cap to match, Al-Mustapha, led by Fasheun, emerged from the aircraft, beaming with smiles. He waved and kissed the air in appreciation of the turnout. He shook hands with personalities that lined up at the tarmac before walking into one of the three waiting vehicles provided by Kano State government to carry him round the city that he last visited in “chains and tattered clothes”, October 24, 1998.
The military, supported by local security outfits, had a hectic time securing the airport as thousands of supporters of the one they called Madiba surged into the place until Al Mustapha appeared through the roof of the convertible sports utility vehicle (SUV) conveying him alongside Fasheun.
The intimidating crowd of supporters forced the organizers of the reception to cancel some items on the itinerary as it took one and a half hours for the convoy to leave the airport, and headed for Kano Government House, where Governor Kwankwaso and his commissioners were waiting to meet with the hero of the moment.
Once at the Government House, Al-Mustapha was received by the commissioner, State Affairs, Aminu AbdulSalam, who ushered him into one of the lounges.
Al-Mustapha, seated with his family, Hafsa, wife; Babaji, son; and Fatima, daughter, who was meeting her father for the first time clung to her father during the waiting period. Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for when AbdulSalam ushered Al Mustapha and the entourage into the expansive office of Mr. Governor for a private meeting before a courtesy call.
Inside the office, Kwankwaso welcomed the freed CSO and requested to know about his experience while out there on the streets. Al Mustapha told his host that “the crowd was overwhelmingly huge but orderly”. Thereafter, the guests were asked to move to the ante chamber hall where the governor later joined them.
The MC introduced Al Mustapha and his entourage that included Mohammad Abacha, the head of the Abacha family and Fasheun, and was asked to explain why he was at the Government House.
Al-Mustapha stood up and tendered apology for mixing up protocol, pleading understanding that “it has been a long 14 years that I am out of circulation and you can understand why I had to fumble”.
The former security operative told his host that his entry into the Government House was a reminder of an event on October 24, 1998 when he was brought into the place, chained and in tattered clothes by security men in what he described as an attempt to rope him into a coup against constituted authorities.
“I am yet to reconcile with my freedom for I am yet to believe that this was the same Al-Mustapha that was brought into this place (Government House) in tattered shirt, and in chains on October 24, 1998. I was kept between Kano and Yobe between October 24 and 26, 1998 all in an attempt to incriminate me over an alleged coup to overthrow the government”, he said. “I am yet to understand what is happening to me, it is still a dream and I am finding it difficult to adjust to the reality.
“My brother by your right, referring to Mohammad Abacha, was also arrested and they forced him into accepting some conditions that never existed; thank God he was discharged and acquitted also, just like I have gotten my own—he (Mohammed Abacha) got his from the Supreme Court. Mohammed Abacha was charged along with me in 1999, and he got his own freedom in 2002. I suffered a series of allegations, arranged and well scripted by some people, just to continue to keep us on charges that had no substance. We thank God almighty that we have met justice at the end of the day.”
Death during Ramadan
According to him, “during the travails, members of our families suffered degradation, humiliation, deliberate mischief, including attempted kidnapping of my children when they were very small; and campaigns of calumny on pages of newspapers and magazines and the rest; but today, we thank God almighty.
“I can just sum it up by saying 15 years after, with all respect and praises unto God almighty, that it is the liberty and honour restored. I lost my father and mother whom I forced the authorities to allow me to see two times only in 14 years”
The controversial major, who, as he spoke bowed, went on: “I was their first child, I must say I was their confidant and best friend in my family. Even when the court forced the then authorities to allow me set my eyes on them, the approvals were flagrantly refused. And I was kept and punished the more as a ploy to ensure that I didn’t set eyes on my parents.
I saw my father in 2001, and later in 2007 May; my mother, I was allowed to see her in 2001, and then I was allowed also to see her after a long battle that led to instructions from Federal High Court, Lagos in 2006; she died last year, in the month of Ramadan. Things we went through are things that I cannot sum up; those who perpetrated what they did against us have done it in their own deductions, analyses, feelings, but, to us, yesterday is gone. We have drawn a line and we have forgiven them. We are forging ahead to set examples.”
‘He stood by me’
Turning to the OPC leader,Fasheun, Al Mustapha told Kwankwaso: “I have found a father, highly dogmatic, a senior citizen of this country, a detribalized elder, an intellectual, a person that is a father indeed with a wide shoulder and a big heart, a man that is very reliable, responsible, dependable. He stood by me, having taken time to come to the court to realize that what was going on in the court of law was different from what was being scripted and sponsored on the pages of newspapers, magazines, television and radio. He now decided to stay on the side of justice and insisted that justice must be served.
“I know of the humiliation he suffered. I must say that I have a father in the South-West. I respect him as a father that can look through issues in this country beyond tribal sentiment, beyond religious issues, he is an asset to the country, and that is why I have anchored upon him as a father with whom we can look into the future together.”
Life in prison
Narrating his prison ordeal, Al-Mustapha said, “I was every now and then subjected to be friendly to the world of mosquitoes, of smelly, horrible environment. I thank God for the freedom God has granted me which we shall utilize for friendship, for respect and service to our land. Even, while in detention in the South-West, we utilized the wisdom God almighty has endowed us with through that hardship to build bridges”. Al Mustapha, who lamented his inability to meet with his parents, said, “Your excellency, it might interest you to learn that I have an empty house now to go to”.
At this point, he could not control himself as he sobbed profusely before Kwankwaso abruptly brought to an end his almost 40 minutes speech. Responding, the governor commended the judiciary for standing by the truth, adding that Al Mustapha’s ordeal was a lesson to all human beings.
“Al-Mustapha’s freedom gives me joy, and his freedom is a big lesson to all of us. I wish to seize this opportunity to commend the judiciary for taking sides with the truth”.
Later in an interview with reporters at the Government House, Al-Mustapha defended his visit to Pastor TB Joshua, describing him as “an old friend who cannot be forgotten so easily”.
According to Al Mustapha, “immediately I regained my freedom, I headed straight to the palace of Oba of Lagos, then I visited T B Joshua and other dignitaries who identified with us during our travails”.
Asked to confirm when he was going to resume office against the backdrop that he remained a major in the Nigerian Army, the former CSO stated that “the decree that set up the military is very explicit on the issue, and the court verdict left no vacuum on same”.
The street went alive again when Al-Mustapha cruised in an open jeep and headed to the Emir of Kano’s palace and was received on behalf of the ailing emir by Wamban Kano, Alhaji Abbas Sunusi. Sunusi praised Allah for seeing the former CSO through the long period of incarceration, stressing, “We are grateful to Him for His mercies”.
Prayer at tomb
He then left for the residence of his former boss, the late Abacha. There, Al-Mustapha prayed at the tomb of the late Abacha.
Al-Mustapha’s efforts, however, to visit the graveyard of his late father were stalled by the huge crowd that followed him.
It was from the graveyard that he began his journey to his family house located at Lamido Crescent, Nassarawa GRA. He arrived home at 5.30pm.
It took him one and a half hour to enter the house he saw last in 1998 due to the surging crowd that came to shake hands with him. The security arrangement by the military collapsed as they confronted the huge crowd.
At home, he broke his fast and joined thousand of well-wishers to observe his Magrib prayers. He was served with a local dish and fruits, even as the same gesture was extended to everyone around.