FRIDAY DISCOURSE BY DR.
Hamza al-Mustapha and the Mysterious Deaths
I had my suspicion right from the beginning regarding the deaths of the
three biggest politicians in the Nigerian political landscape of the 1990s
– Maj. General Shehu Yar’adua (rtd), General Sani Abacha and Chief Mashood
Abiola. The ‘big three’ died mysteriously and suddenly within the spate of
exactly seven months.
It all started on December 8, 1997 when Shehu Musa Yar’adua died in prison
where he was serving a life sentence for his involvement coup plot. The
then government said that his death was natural while the opposition
claimed that he was killed by the agents of the then President, General
Sani Abacha. Shehu was the politician to beat in the country. He had the
strongest political structure that cut across the country’s regional,
ethnic and religious divides. Though I was not surprised of his
involvement in a coup plot given his notoriety as a power schemer,
however, I doubted the opposition’s claim that Abacha assassinated him. If
Abacha had wanted to get rid of him, I thought, the President had enough
alibi in Shehu’s conviction as a coup plotter. Two, Nigerians will attest
that Abacha was not a coward by any measure. Three, the opposition to date
has not presented any credible evidence to substantiate its claim other
than speculation. Four, the person who was alleged to have administered
him the lethal injection was never convicted even after the demise of his
supposed sponsor. He is still a free person. Incredible. One.
Then exactly six months later, on June 8, 1998, the country was told that
the night before, President Abacha has died of cardiac arrest which was
caused by eating a poisoned apple served him by an Indian lady. Of course
that was not a natural death. Mysteriously, the Indian lady was never
arrested or convicted. Nothing about her was heard again. And surprisingly
too, the death was never investigated by his successors. The body was
rushed to his hometown of Kano and immediately burial without any autopsy
conducted. His wife, Hajiya Maryam, was to later look at Jerry Useni in
his face and tell him, “You killed my husband.” Two.
Then almost exactly a month later, on Tuesday, July 7, 1998, Chief Abiola,
the widely acclaimed winner of the cancelled June 12, 1993 presidential
election was announced dead. The cancellation of that election had for
years generated heat in the polity. After declaring himself President,
Abiola was imprisoned in 1994 by the President Abacha. He died just after
being released from prison by the successor of Abacha, President
Abdulsalami Abubakar. Before he could even return to his family, he was
invited to the State House for a meeting with US delegation where he
suddenly died after being served with a tea. That is all Nigerians knew.
They cried foul. But the government, together with US officials, said it
was a natural death caused by cardiac arrest, again. The family protested,
demanded for an autopsy by overseas doctors to which the government
yielded. But nothing came out of it. The family went silent on the matter.
Surprising too was the sudden silence of protest voices from the champions
of Abiola’s mandate, who had accused him of cowardice. Three.
Nigerians, gullible as ever, ascribed the serial deaths to God, whom they
accuse of every death. However, I did not see the hands of God here, even
then. Without the benefit of hindsight, anyone who reads the scenario
would be compelled to arrive at the same conclusion. Those behind it were
careful in concealing the truth from Nigerians by virtue of their high
positions in the land.
Until now, perhaps.
The bombshells dropped by Hamza al-Mustapha in a Lagos High Court in the
past three days are likely to give the world a glimpse into the myth
behind these deaths. He is one person whose footprints were not washed
away by the waters of the conspiracy.
Al-Mustapha, as he is popularly known, was arguably the second most
powerful person in the country during the period of Abacha presidency. His
claim that he ‘helped’ Abdulsalami to become the President after Abacha’s
death can hardly be disputed because he was in a position to do so, being
in control of the security of the Presidency and given the fact that
Abacha loyalists were heading major military command positions in the
country. Naively, instead of staging a coup, he acceded to installing
Abdulsalami and remained in the country.
Abiding by the tradition of power, few months later, President Abdulsalami
arrested Al-Mustapha, who was later accused, among other things, of
assassinating Kudirat Abiola, the wife of Chief Abiola, on 4 June 1996.
Since 1998, Al-Mustapha has been in custody where, he believes, successive
administrations have tried to keep him at bay by frustrating any progress
in his trial. As it is turning out now, after thirteen years, he has
decided to fight back using the arsenal of information he has as a former
Al-Mustapha has also told the court that large sum of money - $200m, 75
Sterling Pounds and N500m – was used to buy the silence political leaders
of Chief Abiola’s from ethnic group – the Yoruba. The money was withdrawn
on the directive of the President Abdulsalami from the Central Bank of
Nigeria. Two days ago, he tendered to the court a document signed by
Abdulsalami to support his claim. He also submitted a tape – to be played
today in the court – showing the Yoruba leaders’ visit to the Presidency,
into which, according to Al-Mustapha, they went looking angry but from
which they came out smiling.
It is difficult to dispute Al-Mustapha on his claims. Using money to
settle people is a common practice in managing security matters in
Nigeria. An ambiguous vote called “security vote” exists in every
government in the federation, whether local, state or federal. So
Al-Mustapha is not at all sounding Greek to the ears of Nigerians. The
truth-value of his statement is very high. It can be proved otherwise only
if the money can be traced to the Liberian peace keeping mission it was
officially meant for.
Opinion leaders from the Southwest have challenged Al-Mustapha to mention
the names of the beneficiaries. We do not know how much is in the video
right now. However, I do not expect to see the distribution of the monies
there physically. Nigerians are discrete in deals like this. We await the
speculations, denials and counter-denials that would follow.
It will also be difficult to deny the claim that his continuous
incarceration is a instigated by fear. If he has such implicating
evidences, his imprisonment is a natural, if not a merciful, consequence
in the game of power. He is lucky to be alive, so far. Abidina Coumassie,
the publisher that was to publish the evidence earlier was not that lucky.
He was poisoned to death, according to Al-Mustapha. If there were any
evidence to prove his guilt, as many commentators have argued, successive
regimes would not have wasted time to convict him.
In any case, if the hand behind the scenes is obscure, the beneficiary of
these assassinations is known – former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He
would not have been president were any of the ‘big three’ living – Shehu
Yar’adua, Abacha or Abiola. He was lucky that the mysterious hand that has
worked throughout his life, saving him from death in different coups and
shoving him into power, has remained until now. Let us have a look at the
skill of this mysterious hand.
Obasanjo, then in his twenties, had just returned from a military training
course in India. According to him, he was sharing bed with Nzeogwu when
the latter plotted and executed the January 15, 1966 coup in which many
prominent northern political leaders including Prime Minister Balewa, the
Premiers of northern and southern regions – Ahmadu Bello and Samuel
Akintola – were gruesomely murdered along with many northern military
officers. Immediately after the coup, Obasanjo ran to Maiduguri, for
safety, and hid in the house of Alhaji Maidaribe. He later claimed that he
did not know anything about the coup.
Then in 1975 Obasanjo, along with General Murtala Mohammed, TY Danjuma and
other officers toppled the Gowon regime. Obasanjo became the Deputy Head
of State. However, only six month into the regime, Murtala, the Head of
State, was assassinated in a coup attempt. Obasanjo, again, disappeared,
this time briefly. After resurfacing, he ‘reluctantly’ accepted to become
the Head of State. It is widely believed in Nigeria that the CIA had a
hand in the assassination of General Murtala (www.dawodu.com/cia1.html
Allegations have also been made by a tabloid in the UK, according to an
edition of Hassan Sani Kontagora’s Hotlline magazine over a decade ago,
that Obasanjo had a hand in the assassination. (Unfortunately, I am not
able to quickly lay my hands on the reference but I will give its citation
on this blog as soon as I access it)
After handing over power to civilian president in 1978, Obasanjo retired
from the military and enjoyed the position of an ‘elder statesman’. He was
involved in many international initiatives on the African continent. One
of them, according to www.nigeriatoday.com http://www.nigeriatoday.com, is
“Founder and Chairman of Africa Leadership Forum and Chairman, Board of
Directors, Africa Leadership Foundation, Inc, New York.” He held those
positions until 1999 when he became President of Nigeria, covering the
time when the deaths of the ‘big three’ took place between 1997 and 1998.
I cannot substantiate the widely held belief that the CIA funds the
foundation. However, a visit to the official site of the foundation –
- reveals that it is funded by UNDP, USAID, The World Bank, Rockefeller
Foundation, The Mac Arthur Foundation, and 13 other strong international
And in 1995, he was convicted by a military tribunal in the coup plot
against the Abacha government, for which he was sentenced to life
imprisonment until President Abdulsalami Abubakar freed him after Abacha’s
death in 1997.
Immediately he was released, he was sold the idea of running for the
Presidency. He showed some reluctance, if I will recall well, and pleaded
for time to make consultations. Finally, after Abiola was done, he had no
difficulty accepting the offer.
He became the President in 1999. Nigerians will recall how every step was
taken to ensure he became the President, including the prevention of
anyone from the northern part of the country from contesting in all the
three registered political parties. Thus, Abdulsalami administration
nurtured his journey from prison to the Presidency. Always a lucky guy!
As President, Obasanjo ensured that Hamza Al-Mustapha remained in prison.
Pleas made to his successor, Umaru Yar’adua, to release him were rejected,
presumably either for what Al-Mustapha knows or because the late President
was still nursing the belief that the Major, when he was the Chief of
Staff to Abacha, had a hand in the death of his elder brother, Shehu
To complete the work of that mysterious hand, President Yar’adua also died
of cardiac arrest, opening the gate of opportunity for his successor, who
was appointed to the Vice Presidency by Obasanjo, to become the President.
It is clear this hand has been helping Obasanjo either through coups or
cardiac arrests. Mhm. Na wa!
I am not sure whether Al-Mustapha’s bombshell can conclusively demolish
the mountain of obscurity regarding the role of prominent officials in the
deaths of the ‘big three’ of Nigeria’s 1990s and the political imbroglio
that characterized those seven months. However, one thing is certain:
either he remains alive in prison or his revelations will instigate yet
another ‘mysterious’ death which Nigerians will not find hard to fathom.
Criminals usually forget something behind that implicates them. Major
Hamza Al-Mustapha may just be one such thing.
4 July 2011