Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar called last Saturday to commiserate with me over the loss of my mother and father-in-law. But the reporter in me would not allow the conversation to end before asking how he feels about the allegations by Major Hamza Al-Mustapha that he bribed some Yoruba
leaders with huge sums of money in foreign currency after the death of Bashorun M.K.O Abiola in August 1998. While saying he had developed a thick skin to the sundry accusations by Al-Mustapha, General Abubakar nonetheless expressed shock that the former Chief Security Officer to the late General Sani Abacha would now choose to make damaging allegations against people who are no longer alive to defend themselves. "It is so sad; maligning respectable people who are now dead, that is the aspect that worries me."
Al-Mustapha who is standing trial for the murder of Mrs Kudirat Abiola last week told his usual tales about the death of Abacha and Abiola on which he is weaving conspiracy theories. Surprisingly, some people are excited by his ‘revelations’ essentially because we live in a country where people forget things so easily. Now, let us examine some of his claims. One, Al-Mustapha said he retrieved a memo from ‘counter espionage photocopy machine’ signed by General Abubakar and his National Security Adviser (NSA), General Abdullahi Mohammed, directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor to release $200 million, £75 million, and N500 million which he alleged was used to appease South West leaders over Abiola’s death. He added that Mr. Abadina Coomasie, the late publisher of Abuja Mirror, also got the memo but was poisoned while planning to publish it. Now what are the facts?
The memo Al-Mustapha tendered in court for which he alleged Coomasie was ‘poisoned’ had actually been widely published in 1999 by the late publisher and several newspapers and magazines also ran it. As at that time, there was no allegation that any Yoruba leader was bribed. I recall that THISDAY did a comprehensive story of how a stockpile of foreign currency running into millions was used to bait the Abachas into surrendering the initial loot that was recovered from them. While we may query such primitive tactics and raise questions of transparency and accountability, the fact remains that the money was not meant to induce Yoruba leaders as claimed. Incidentally, it is on record that the entire sums were returned to the CBN less $30 million which apparently went the way of all ‘security votes’, especially during an election season in which the military authority had anointed a candidate!
Instructively, the August 9, 1999 edition of TheNews magazine (vol. 13, No 05) titled ‘War in the Villa: N32 Billion Deal Splits Obasanjo’s Men’, was devoted to the issue. Authored by my friend, Muyiwa Adekeye, the cover story included bromide of the memo Al-Mustapha is touting. There was also an interview with Coomasie against the background of the allegation that he was a permanent guest at Hilton hotel at the expense of the Abacha regime that had expended $900,000 on him. He of course denied the allegations. So for Al-Mustapha to claim that Coomasie was killed to prevent him from publishing documents that he in fact published is therefore false.
Two, Al-Mustapha claimed that the late Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige and other Yoruba leaders were paid to keep quiet over the death of Abiola. This flies in the face of logic. If Yoruba leaders had indeed compromised at that particular period in question, there was no way two Yorubamen (both Christians) would have been pitched against each other in a presidential contest that left no room for a third candidate. Even when General Olusegun Obasanjo had practically been dragged into the race by the military high command, they still did not want to leave anything to chance hence the sleight of hand that led to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, Chief Olu Falae being also handed a ‘joint ticket’ after Dr. Ogbonaya Onu had been made to surrender the All Peoples Party (APP) presidential candidature in curious circumstances. It was indeed the stance of Adesanya, Ige, Ayo Adebanjo, Olanihun Ajayi and others which culminated in the manipulation that saw to the emergence of Obasanjo as president just to ‘pacify’ Yoruba people. So Al-Mustapha’s tale about Yoruba leaders collecting money does not add up.
Three, the former CSO also painted himself as Abiola’s friend. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Between 1992 and 1995, I was the African Concord State House Correspondent in Abuja so I knew a little about what was going on but the main man then was Chief Olu Akerele, the Concord Bureau Chief in Abuja who happened to be a confidant of our late boss. On account of Abiola, Al-Mustapha made life very difficult for Akerele who actually penetrated his so-called tight security. Incidentally, Abiola was in Al-Mustapha’s custody yet in one of the letters published after his death, the late Concord publisher wrote: “Abacha is keeping me in an open grave, what is left is for him to bury me.”
Four, on 27th November, 2000, Al-Mustpaha was the star attraction at the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel where he regaled his audience with tales of how he made General Abubakar the Head of State after Abacha’s death. He also told tales about Abiola’s death. As usual, he claimed to have both audio and documentary evidence. Even though he spent several hours testifying, he never mentioned Adesanya, Ige or any Yoruba leader as being complicit either before or after Abiola’s death. As at that time, the duo of Ige and Adesanya were still alive.
Now, let’s go to the crux of the matter. I read Dr Okey Ndibe on Monday and while I agree that what should be a serious trial (for the murder of Kudirat Abiola) has been turned to a circus, I don’t think the fault is with the court. The trial, it is recalled, started in October 1999 but for almost two years, the case could not progress as there were 49 adjournments at the instance of Al-Mustapha and his co-accused who later separated their cases from his. They objected to practically every step in the proceedings. First, they objected to the judge's use of loose sheets rather than a book to record proceedings. Then they said the trial should be held in Igbosere on Lagos Island and not in Ikeja. For every unsuccessful litigation (and all were), Al-Mustapha appealed the decision.
After three years and seven witnesses, the trial was finally drawing to a close when the former CSO came to court one day to throw a bombshell. Shouting at the trial judge, Justice Augustine Ade-Alabi, he said: "From day one you have been abusing all our counsel. I don’t care what happens, you can call it contempt or whatever you like but what I want to say is that this is no more a court of law. Your intention is to convict us at all cost; you have collected money to convict us at all cost. Do you think I don't see you when you put on your cap and T-shirt and move out in the evening to go and collect money? Yes I have the proof and documents to prove what I said. You don't know I have a tap on your telephone line".
Al-Mustapha subsequently co-authored a petition where it was alleged that the Judge demanded $10 million bribe: "The judge when the issue of our bail was being canvassed, sent someone to us from the Yoruba Tennis Club of which he is a member and demanded money from us. The person came at last three times and when we were not forthcoming, the judge refused us bail. Since then, every application brought before him failed."
With the trial stalled, the National Judicial Council (NJC) set up a panel headed by Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court. Other members were Ambassador M.L. Sambo and a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. T.J. Omonigbo Okpoko (SAN). The panel sat in Lagos from March 25 to 27, 2002 with Al-Mustapha’s trial judge (Ade-Alabi) now on trial. At the end, not only did the NJC find the allegation against the retired Lagos Chief Judge baseless, they also concluded that "the complaints were made mala fide to stall the trial and to bring the administration of justice in the country into disrepute."
When the case resumed following the dismissal of their petition by the NJC, Al-Mustapha filed another suit at the Federal High Court to quash the panel's report but the court declined jurisdiction. Again, he filed an appeal before seeking a stay of proceedings from the same Justice Ade-Alabi pending the determination of the bid to quash the NJC panel report. At that point, Prof. Oluyemi Osinbajo (SAN), then chief prosecutor and the Lagos State Attorney-General objected to the application. He said: "The applicants are not challenging an action that emanated from this court, they are challenging the outcome of the panel set up by the NJC which they filed before the Federal High Court. There is a critical matter of public policy here. What the applicants are asking for is that the report submitted to the NJC should be dismissed. The implication of this is that an accused person can show up, make false accusations against a trial judge and then the trial is discontinued."
When the trial eventually resumed, Al-Mustapha vehemently objected to Justice Ade-Alabi continuing with the case on the grounds of likely bias! Apparently frustrated, Ade-Alabi recused himself but this of course meant that after five years, the trial had to start all over again before another judge. While all this drama was going on, in March 2004, operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) swooped on the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons and forcibly removed Al-Mustapha from his cell for what presidential spokesperson, Mrs Remi Oyo described as "a breach of security by some military personnel and civilians which is being investigated."
According to reports back then, from his cell in Kirikiri, Al-Mustapha was alleged to have called President Obasanjo's hotline not only to complain about the treatment being meted to him but also to make what was described as 'unguarded' remarks. That was the background to what became another side-show as Al-Mustapha became a guest of the DMI where he faced interrogation for allegations of plotting a coup. At the end, he was freed by the DMI to continue his trial for the murder of Kudirat which has sadly become a theatre of the absurd.
I have gone to this length to explain the background to Al-Mustapha’s current revelations which to me appear as no more than a red herring to distract from his real trial. He says Abacha was murdered and he has told interesting stories for which we are still awaiting his promised home video. He claims also that Abiola was murdered ‘to balance the equation’ and that he knows the people who did it as well as being in possession of video and audio evidence. While we also wait for him to release his blockbuster, there is no question about the fact that Kudirat Abiola was gunned down in broad daylight. What that means in effect is that hers is the only death for which there is no dispute: it was cold-blooded murder! Unfortunately, it is for Kudirat’s murder that he is being tried even though he remains an innocent man in the eyes of the law.
It will therefore serve Al-Mustapha well to face that prosecution and save the tales of how M.K.O Abiola and Sani Abacha died for his memoir.
• This piece was first published in THISDAY on 11th August, 2011