Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
AL-MUSTAPHA AND THE COUP STORY
A bee on the scrotum. A bee with its proboscis poised. A bee which would keep adversaries away. A bee which held death in its very caress. For the three men who straddled the seat of power in the last decade Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was like a bee on the scrotum. Both good and bad news. After his initial spell of service with General Abacha, while the latter was Chief of Army Staff, ended with a punitive transfer to Port Harcourt, Al-Mustapha returned. This time he left nothing to chance as he deployed his guile, ruthlessness and 'ingenuity' to supplant rivals and make himself the only formidable force around Abacha. Abacha lived on his very word. Mustapha's was the last word, on who he could keep as friends or allies. The goggled General did all this not knowing that his trusted ally had all his telephone lines and conference halls bugged. After Abacha's demise, Al-Mustapha would admit bugging his boss and leaving Aso Rock with an impressive memorabilia; 13 Ghana Must Go bags which contained documents and tapes. It was no surprise that Abacha never bothered to swat this fly, even though it kept the rest of the world away from him. Even though it made him a prisoner of his fears. Abubakar cast a benevolent eye on the fly, assessed its worth and abstained from any bodily movement that could have resulted in the fly digging in for a suicide sting. But only one man could have risked a swat even if his scrotum would have been crushed. President Olusegun Obasanjo. Since he came into power Obasanjo had stopped at nothing to cut the former powerful Chief Security Officer down to size. First was Al-Mustapha's arrest and initial detention for alleged gun running. This was followed by his incarceration and trial for murder. Now a spell in the gulag for alleged treasonable activities. Is Mustapha a victim, or a smooth operator who dipped his hand into his bag of tricks and came up with blanks?
culled from THISDAY, April 3, 2004
And the plan died!
If unconfirmed hints are a guide, Nigeria's democracy was due for yet another interment. Pockets of military officers, it has emerged, were allegedly plotting to end the Obasanjo Administration. The first indication that anything was untoward emerged from sketchy, but cautious newspaper reports of arrests of officers and civilians suspected to be connected to the plot. Neither the military authorities nor the government appear keen to confirm or deny the reports. Equally, no family of any allegedly arrested officer or civilian has owned up to it.
Newsmen who spoke to Lieutenant-General Martin Luther Agwai, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) heard the army chief's deft effort to calm the nation, worried about talk of another coup, when the country was settling in to democracy.
"I am believing that if the army has been involved in anything like that, I would have known", he said. "But I am telling you with all sincerity that because I am not hundred percent sure of all I have read in the newspapers, I have to crosscheck from military sources." Agwai did not tell them about what part of the 100 percent he was sure of. But even if he spoke as a security chief to douse anxiety, his body language indicated all was not well.
Government's attitude has been to douse anxiety. Yesterday, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, Minister and top government officials were at the convocation of the Imo State University. Mrs Remi Oyo, the President's spokesperson, tried to hide the fact. But what she gave away appears to confirm that indeed, there was a problem in the military. "I do not know of any coup anywhere", she said. So why are people being arrested? "What happened was that there was a breach of security by some military personnel and civilians and the matter is being investigated." The difference between a coup and breach of security is a matter of semantics. But the truth is that, in the custody of military authorities are serving and retired military officers and civilians who are being questioned for roles in allegedly plotting abort a few days ago. Of all, the only person whose identity is known is Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the former Chief Security Officer to former Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha. Al-Mustapha who has been in prison custody since the inception of the Obasanjo Administration, from where he goes to court to defend his roles in accusation of human rights breaches, state sponsored killings and other alleged crimes of the Abacha Administration.
Nipping the plot
Since the third year of the Obasanjo Administration, the nation has lived under the shroud of rumours of coups. Every retirement in the military is read to be a pre-emptive strike against would-be plotters. The administration tinged on, into the second term. The disputation over the election and the degeneration of the security situation heightened anxiety over the future of democracy in Nigeria.
Government was not unmindful of the situation. In the wake of the mass disaffection over the increasing hardship caused by government policies, democracy, many read, was heading for the precipice. To douse the tension, President Obasanjo decided to talk to the military in their turf. He visited Kaduna, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan and all other divisional headquarters in an effort to douse anxiety.
If the government succeeded, it was temporary. The increasing breakdown of security, assassinations, abductions and uncertainty in the economy raised the speculations about coups.
What remained in the realm of speculation became real three weeks ago. Details of the plot remain hazy at this point. But sources told THISDAY that the government became uncomfortable about three weeks ago and quietly directed proper intelligence check.
The exercise yielded alleged evidence of a plot to overthrow the government. The exercise confirmed that there were rumblings in the military. Thick in the alleged plot were majors and lieutenants. Further probing yielded a strange link. It was discovered that all those arrested were either associates or those who had worked closely with Al-Mustapha. This preliminary find encouraged the military intelligence to look harder. One of the clear leads, sources say, was a naval captain.
In the course of the preliminary investigations conducted into the plot two middle level army officers and a civilian were arrested by security operatives. In their statements the three suspects implicated the Navy Captain. When the Navy Captain analyzed the situation he knew the game was up. Realising that delay could place him in peril, he fled. The operatives arrived and only met his security men. They were picked up and interrogated, but they yielded little.
The efforts of the security agents were however rewarded during a search conducted on the house. They discovered what a very reliable source described as "very implicating evidence.''
The evidence provided clues to a coup hatched by a group that include politicians, retired military officers and serving military officers.
One of the officers implicated was Major Hamza Al-Mustapha the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to late head of state, General Sani Abacha detained at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons.
Before DMI operatives made for Kirikiri Prisons to effect the arrest of Al-Mustapha during the week, they had arrested the serving and retired military officers and some civilians indicted by the documents discovered at the Navy Captain's house.
THISDAY checks revealed that one of those arrested is believed to be a one-star general, a former top DMI officer. From the evidence gathered so far, a reliable security source told THISDAY that the DMI is working on a theory that Al-Mustapha was the "originator, planner and mastermind of the alleged coup." The coup plot according to the source has been long in the making and that the plotters would have taken advantage of the last fuel strike.
"They would have struck in January during the NLC (averted) strike but the government got wind of unhealthy 'rumours and discussions' in the barracks and arrived at a face saving truce with the NLC thereby nipping the plot in the bud," the source said. According to the source the plan of the plotters was to strike as soon as the strike commences. But how could Al-Mustapha have hatched a coup from the 'seclusion' of Kirikiri Prisons?
First Among Equals...
While he lived there, Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons was more than a temporary home to Major Hamza Al-Mustapha. It was his fiefdom. Like a king, prison warders and officials deferred to him while fellow detainees and prisoners kow-towed with gladness.
Until he was taken into custody via the combined efforts of a security detail comprising operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and the Nigerian Police Force, General Sani Abacha's former Chief Security Officer had no equal in the prison. He was first among equals. Not even his co-detainee and superior in the army, General Ishaya Bamaiyi could boast of the influence Mustapha wielded within the prison walls.
To the prisoners he was several goodies rolled in one. He was a motivator (he attends major prison functions and gives motivational pep talks on how to make the best of prison lives), a philantrophist (helped with the feeding and upkeep of some prisoners), a keep fit instructor (organises fitness classes), sports enthusiast (maintained a football team and sponsored a tournament) and a facilitator (he had the ear of not a few senior prisons officials). Unlike others such as detained 419 suspects, Fred Ajidua, who's only claim to prison fame was their scantily attired female consorts Mustapha's followership derives from his adroitness in making the prisoners and even prison officials believe that he cares. ("I am a simple person. I have invested in people. I personally do not worship money I invest in people. If you know my family background you would know that money means very little to me. At a point my family was one of the five richest families in Nigeria," he once told an interviewer.) Thus it was no surprise that Al-Mustapha sometimes held court in the office of the most senior prisons official at Kirikiri. He had a steady retinue of hangers on and was allowed to receive five visitors in a day. He had access to telephones and was said to have been running his business in prisons. It is an irony that though the majority of the 5000 prisoners the prison haboured lived in abject poverty Mustapha was well loved. Such was Mustapha's popularity that when the prison authorities finally gave in to the demands of the DMI to hand Mustapha over to them they requested for police support to avert a possible jail break.
"The authorities called us and told us that there was likely to be a jail break and we detailed our men there to cordon off the prison yard so that they (the prisoners) would not run out of the place. The Area Commander actually went there took care of the situation and the prisoners all went back to their rooms," Lagos State Police Commissioner young Arabamen said on the events of that day.
Trouble in Kirikiri
However, going by eyewitnesses, accounts, the explanation of the commissioner and that of the Inspector General of Police (The IGP claimed the police played no role in the event, "We were not involved in any way. We are not prison officials. No. No. The police had no hand in it.") were simplistic versions of an event that had the measure of an earthquake on the serene surroundings of Kirikiri prisons. According to sources, the posse that came for Mustapha made its first appearance in the evening of Tuesday. Their efforts to whisk him away were however resisted by prisoners who on hearing the news of the imminent arrest of their benefactor mobilised and came to his rescue. When the security operatives realised that they were overwhelmed they appealed to the prisoners to let them take Al-Mustapha without bloodshed. The prisoners refused to budge. Thus DMI operatives left. A team led by a police Area Commander had arrived the scene to take charge. According to a reliable source the prisons officials invited the police because they had learnt that some prisoners had plans to use the opportunity to execute a jail break. The second time the DMI operatives came calling it was in the early hours of Wednesday morning and even though Mustapha's proteges put a spirited fight they were subdued and he was whisked away. Fifteen heavily armed DMI operatives reportedly entered Al-Mustapha's cell to arrest him.
One other victim of the bust up is the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons in Charge of the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons, Mr. Iorbee Ihagh. Ihagh was also placed under arrest. His arrest took place hours before Mustapha's was effected. Sources said the DCP who has been in detention ever since then was returned to his residence later by security operatives for a very thorough search. Ihagh who is known to be very close to Al-Mustapha is believed to have frustrated initial efforts to transfer Al-Mustapha to the custody of the DMI. Nigeria Prisons Service boss, Mr. Abraham Akpe who later came out to explain the incident from the Prisons authorities' perspective was said to have received a letter from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) requesting that the NPS should allow DMI operatives to move Mustapha into their custody. The letter had given the reason for the order as, "matters of national security.'' Sources close to the NPS said Akpe immediately forwarded the letter which he received on March 25, to the Lagos Zonal coordinator of the NPS instructing him to give Al-Mustapha up for interrogation. Ihagh allegedly requested a written instruction or a warrant that would authorize the transfer. A move which was said to have infuriated highly placed government officials.
Security operatives are however linking his alleged refusal to his perceived closeness to Al-Mustapha.
Why he was picked up...
Al-Mustapha's abduction during the week also brought to the fore rumours in some quarters that it was connected with a coup. According to newspaper reports in the days following the abduction about twenty military officers were picked up and are currently undergoing interrogation in army formations in Lagos for trying to compromise 'national security', an euphemism which the papers claim stands for a coup de tat. A reliable source in the highest echelon of power in the country told THISDAY that the suspected plotters who moved around military formation inciting soldiers with the manifest failings of the Obasanjo administration had been under watch for sometime.
The first time Al-Mustapha was arrested a relative of late General Sani Abacha at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in August 1998 had been found in possessions of arms at the time of his arrest. And in the investigations that followed both the homes of the Abacha in Kano and those of Al-Mustapha in Kano and Nguru were thoroughly searched by security operatives.
Quote me! I Never Spoke to you...
In the wake of the coup scare the government, albeit through proxies, have been making efforts to assure Nigerians that there have been no coup.
One army spokesperson told a reporter, "I did not speak to you and please quote me that I did not speak to you!"
However, the army provided some explanations on Thursday through the Director of Information in Defence Headquarters, Colonel Ganiyu Adewale. Col. Adewale who gave further insights to the events of Wednesday said Al-Mustapha's arrest was not done in an unusual manner.
He said he was taken into custody to answer questions on the military aspect of his other offences.
"He is still under investigation he is still being investigated it is an ongoing process," the Colonel told an interviewer. The colonel also debunked speculations that a coup detat was nipped at the bud. "I am confirming to you that as far as I'm concerned I am not aware of any coup attempt. I am not aware of any officer that has been arrested for a coup attempt. No officer was taken to prison it is not true," he said. In the wake of the arrest the NPS also downplayed eyewitnesses account that there was a shootout when the men from DMI arrived Kirikiri to effect Al-Mustapha's arrest.
While the Prison Service in a statement confirmed that Al-Mustapha was taken away from Kirikiri Maximum Prisons by operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence it denied it was an abduction. "He (Al-Mustapha) was only taken away to where he is being interviewed by the DMI because he is still a serving officer of Nigerian Army. He will be returned to Kirikiri Prisons or any other prisons across the country after his interrogation by the DMI." But what may be government's position came from the President's Senior Special Assistant Media and Publicity, Mrs. Oluremi Oyo yesterday.
"I donot know of any coup anywhere. what happened was that there was a brech of security by some military personnel and civilians and the matter is being investigated," she said.
An ear to the ground...
An event that reportedly precipitated Al-Mustapha's arrest was a recent call he put to President Obasanjo.
As exclusively reported by THISDAY, from his cell in Kirikiri, Al-Mustapha was alleged to have called President Obasanjo's hotline recently. During the call, Al-Mustapha bemoaned his present fate and attributed it to the work of his traducers in high places. he was also said to have made some 'unguarded' statements on the state of the nation.
Obasanjo was reported to have been taken aback by the security breach particularly from a detainee being tried for murder.
This development was said to have informed why the President ordered an immediate investigation into how Al-Mustapha got Obasanjo's hotlines.
Investigation carried out by security operatives was also said to have indicted the Ag. Controller of Kirikiri Prisons who was accused of relaxing the security around Al-Mustapha. Based on this fact, the controller too is said to have been invited for questioning by the DMI "and is still undergoing interrogation like Mustapha as at yesterday evening.
The Legal Tussle...
Before the battle went to the trenches on Wednesday the DMI had already tried to get Al-Mustapha using legal means. On Wednesday, hours after he was abducted, Justice Joseph Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court had directed the Lagos State Attorney General and Justice Commissioner Prof. Yemi Osibanjo (SAN) to make enquiries into the factors which prevented Al-Mustapha from appearing in court. Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Ishaya Bamaiyi (rtd.), Colonel Jibrin Bala Yakubu (rtd.) former Zamfara State Military Administrator, ex-Commissioner of Police John Danbaba and retired Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Mohammed Rabo Lawal are all standing trial for the 1995 attempted assassination of Mr. Alex Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian newspaper titles.
The other accused persons had appeared in court before the judge on Wednesday leaving out Al-Mustapha.
Al-Mustapha's counsel, Frank Ezekweche, then informed the court that Al-Mustapha was abducted earlier that morning even as he reminded the court that an application to stop the SSS and DMI from removing Al-Mustapha from Kirikiri maximum prison, without a courts order was before the court.
On the last day in March the Director of Military Intelligent (DMI) had filed a counter affidavit to Mustapha's application, asking among others, a relief that Mustapha should be handed over to them for interrogation.
Argument had alreay being fixed for Wednesday when the DMI sttruck.
Justice for the prodigal son...
That Al-Mustapha would seek to truncate the plans of the DMI through the courts was predictable. During his first appearance in court after his arrest and detention at both Gado Nasko Barracks, Abuja and Ikoyi Prisons Al-Mustapha had sported a shabby look. But all things, including Al-Mustapha's appearance, changed when he got to Kirikiri. His bushy, overgrown moustache and opaque pate gave way to the clean, almost sartorial look he had on when he was abducted during the week.
The murder trial itself has dragged on for a little above four years and has being adjourned six times since the case was transferred to the Ikeja Judicial division.
The trial judge, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, took over the case in the wake of the false bribery allegations that led Justice Ade-Alabi to abandon the case. While the revered judge whose reputation was almost besmirched by a reckless allegation (the allegation later fell like a pack of cards on closer scrutiny) made by Al-Mustapha's lawyer that the learned judge took a bribe to pervert the course of justice. But since Ade-Alabi handed off the case it has experienced less tumultuous proceedings an event that is not indicative of any negative attribute on the part of Justice Ade-Alabi but a product of a change in the conduct of Mustapha. (In one of such outbursts, Al-Mustapha said, "From day one you have been abusing all our counsel I dont 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," Mustapaha had blurted during another session of vituperation against Justice Ade-Alabi. The subsequent apology tendered to the judge made further scrutiny of Al-Mustapha's claims impossible.
Nevertheless, Al-Mustapha is not new to the cloak and dagger. In the army he was trained as an intelligence operative and would have perhaps remained unknown if not for his membership of that corps of the military. As a young officer in the intelligence corps he was part of at least two investigative teams that probed two coup plots. His unconventional interrogation techniques was said to have endeared him to General Abacha and that earned him a position as his Aide-de-Camp while the latter was Chief of Army. Later when Abacha became head of state Mustapha staged a comeback into his life and became so powerful that even Generals genuflected on seeing him. ("Mustapha you are the only one who can do it you know there is nothing you tell Oga that he doesn't do. If you tell him to forget it he would," one of the Generals arrested in the wake of the 1997 alleged coup was reported to have begged Mustapha.) While he was CSO to Abacha he controlled 17 different security outfits which he set up for the late head of state's security. He recruited soldiers from the DMI, Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps, Military Intelligence Service and other arms of the military for these outfits. He also secured the loyalty of his men via high handed tactics. These soldiers were sent to Israel and Korea for training and on their return obeyed only Al-Mustapha. Of the seventeen bodies the most dreaded among military men was the shadowy Killer Group (KG) and the Strike Force. Both had detention camps spread around Abuja and according to testimonies of one of Al-Mustapha's henchmen, Sergeant Rogers, were responsible for the spate of political killings that shook the nation during Abacha's reign. Apart from this Al-Mustapha also ingratiated himself with the Abacha family, particularly Maryam Abacha. Within a short time he had emerged a formidable power bloc so much that he decided where Abacha could go and where he could not. At a point he advised and made Abacha to stop attending the Friday prayers at the Abuja National Mosque while Maryam was also advised to stop attending her FSP projects launches. Mustapha grew so powerful that he even bugged meetings of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) without Abacha knowing. (Shortly before he was arrested, Al-Mustapha told an interviewer, "I recorded all the proceedings of PRC meetings even though it was illegal and the C-in-C (Abacha) did not know about it. It was all about being security conscious.") But all his influence and power crumbled after Abacha's death. Even though he claimed he installed General Abdusalami Abubakar that regime refused to suffer him gladly. He was posted to 82 Division Enugu as an Intelligence Officer and hence to obscurity. It was from Enugu that he began the journey to prison. But Al-Mustapha would want the bitterness of the past to be forgotten. At the Oputa panel he said he was only doing his duty and pled for understanding from those he had offended. (To a man he once arrested and tortured for planning a coup he apologised after admitting that, "personally dealt with him' saying, "soldiers brutalise when they go to make arrest in order to show loyalty.")
Coups and rumours of coups...
The alleged coup plot which sources in intelligence circles have branded Mustapha's coup, according to a source, is the fourth to be foiled since Obasanjo came into power.
"Security operatives have uncovered at least three attempts to topple the present democratic government since inception in 1999," a competent source said.
THISDAY checks further revealed that in the previous attempts the masterminds of the plots were quietly retired from service while others found to have being tainted either by association with such plotters or any other thing were transferred to 'obscure formations and offices'.
Since the coup was uncovered the last two weeks have being very busy ones for security operatives, particularly those of the State Security Services (SSS). Sources said government seemed determined, this time, not to treat the planners with kid gloves.
"Once a nexus has been established between the various groups working on the putsch...anybody implicated in the putsch would face the music," a competent security source said.
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