This morning I wish to raise an issue which most people may not be too interested in and which they may not want to talk about or even comment on. Nevertheless, and despite this, I shall still raise it here simply because I believe that it is of vital importance for so many reasons, not least of all because the very liberty and life of a fellow Nigerian is clearly at stake. I also think that it is an issue that we should all find a little time to ponder on, do a little soul-searching about, pray about and perhaps do our own research on and look into.
This is because as far as I am concerned there is a grave injustice that is going on right under our very noses in our land today which is being systematically perpetuated by the Nigerian state even as you read this essay. Major Hamza Al-Mustapha the former Chief Security Officer of General Sani Abacha, together with a number of others that have been accused of murder and attempted murder, including a charming, God-fearing, dedicated, courageous, physically-strong and exceptionally good looking young corporal by the name of Aminu Mohammed whose only crime is simply that he has refused to give false evidence against Al-Mustapha and the others, have all been in prison for the last 12 years for crimes that have not yet been proven by the state and that may well never be proven. Their trial has been going on for a gruelling 12 years now. Yes there is no bail for those accused of murder in Nigeria but should it or does it really take 12 years to prove a case against someone no matter how serious the charge? This is simply unheard of and unacceptable, especially given the fact that there is a presumption of innocence in our laws and that presumption is enshrined in our constitution. What happens if at the end of the day Al-Mustapha and co. are found innocent of all the charges? Who will give them all those years and their lives back? How would they be compensated for the destruction of their lives and their families? What about their wives and children? How would the state make it up to them? Surely it is only in Nigeria that this sort of nonsense can happen.
To those that do not know any better the legal and equitable maxim that should apply here is the principle that says ”justice delayed is justice denied”. You cannot keep a man in chains and under lock and key indefinately and just throw the key away simply on the grounds that the court system is slow and that you are trying to prove a case against him, at least not in a country that lay claims to being humane and civilised. If the state cannot prove it’s case within a reasonable time, like in every other country in the civilised world, then for God sake they should let these people go home to their families and leave them alone. The fact that the government cannot do this and we the people cannot insist on it certainly speaks volumes about us all. It is such vindictiveness, insensitivity, pettiness, sadism, joy at seeing others suffer unjustly and the wholesale toleration and acceptance of any form of blatant injustice that is meted out to others by the state that attracts the wrath of God upon a nation. What the ”system” is doing to Al-Mustapha, and I might add to so many other lesser known people that have been in detention without the conclusion of their trial for dozens of years, is nothing but a manifestation of cruelty and evil. And before I am accused of not pushing for a quicker trial for Al-Mustapha and co. when I was a Minister in the Federal Government myself let me assure you that I certainly did but no-one would listen to me. On a number of occassions I raised it with my leader President Olusegun Obasanjo, my colleagues in the Federal Cabinet and with the various Attorney-Generals that served our government but what I was told was that this was a matter for the Lagos State Government and not the Federal Government as they were the ones prosecuting the case and that had brought the various charges against Al-Mustapha and the other accused persons. And yet 12 years later there are still no convictions or acquitals against any of them but rather what we see is just an evil agenda and design to imprison some of our fellow Nigerians and keep them there as a punishment for unsubstantiated and unproven allegations just because we wish to ”teach them the lesson of their lives” for serving and doing the bidding of General Sani Abacha. My view is that if the Lagos State Government, it’s state’s Attorney- General and it’s prosecution team really have the required evidence then they should endeavour to conclude this matter expeditiously and ensure that the courts convict these people quickly but if they do not have the required evidence then I repeat that they should stop indulging in this ungodly game of sheer wickedness and let them go home. The Lagos State Judiciary themselves should take a cue from this and not allow themselves to be used in this way. And neither can I be fairly accused of playing down the gravity of the allegations against Al-Mustapha and co..
These allegations are indeed grave and I take them very seriously indeed for both obvious and personal reasons. I say ”personal” because I was a member of NADECO, the pro-democracy opposition group of the 1990’s that these people were waging a very dirty, terrible and bloody war of attrition against and I was very active within it’s ranks too. As a matter of fact I believed in paying the military government of that day back in it’s own coin but sadly that was not to be. And like millions of others that supported and were actively involved in NADECO in those days, up until today I still pray that those that killed Kudirat Abiola and so many of our other comrades in arms in that terrible and great conflict and those that also attempted to kill so many of our compatriots that played a key and noble role in that historic struggle for the enthronement of democracy and human rights in our country should be brought to justice. But this must be done in a fair, rational, prompt, diligent and reasonable manner and it must be done according to the law and not through the clever and insidious manipulation of an archaic, corrupt, inequitable and manifestly unjust system of justice. The right to a fair and speedy trial is absolutely fundamental in any civilised society. Al Mustapha and co. have been waiting for their ordeal to end for the last twelve years so that they would know their fate one way or the other. For goodness sake it seems to me that this is far more than enough time for the prosecution to prove it’s case and the fact that they have not been able to do so suggests to me that either the state actually has no case against them at all or, at the very best, they have a very weak one. They are just dribbling them, punishing them and abusing the court system and due process in the typical Nigerian way and manner and they are doing so in collusion with the powers that be. If this is correct the questions that then needs to be answered are as follows, ”have we, as a people, no sense of decency, equity, justice or compassion anymore?” ”Is this sort of thing not completely unacceptable?” One thing that I know is this…..that God is watching and He is not mocked. We may not like Al-Mustapha, what he stands for, what he did whilst he was in office, how he did his job or who he worked for but that does not mean that he should be treated in such a barborous way. He is after all a Nigerian and most important of all he is also a human being and a child of God. What the Nigerian state is doing to him is most unfair and the fact that the Nigerian people and media do not speak out against this grave injustice each and every day certainly speaks volumes about each and every one of us.
I never liked Al Mustapha whilst he was in office and I fought and opposed him and the government he served with everything at my disposal and within me. But today I must confess that he has certainly won my respect for two simple reasons. Firstly because not only has he stood firm, with courage, with dignity and with his head held up high despite the monuemental ordeal he is facing and in spite of the obvious injustice that is being meted out to him and secondly because it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that there is every likelihood that he may not even be guilty of all the heinous crimes and atrocities that successive governments, the Nigerian military hierachy, the Nigerian establishment and the Nigerian media have convinced us over the years that he is actually guilty of committing. This was a very tough young man and a highly respected, disciplined, loyal and feared major in the Nigerian Army who General Abacha trusted absolutely and who had complete power over and total control of Abuja, the Presidency and the elite Federal Brigade of Guards battalion of the Nigerian Army at the time. And of course for that brief moment when they all came to the Presidential Villa at his invitation for him to brief them about the mysterious turn of events and the untimely death of General Abacha the top generals of the Nigerian Army of that day were all in his custody, in his power and at his mercy and he could have had them all mowed down with machine guns there and then or perhaps even had them poisoned and then taken power for himself. At that very moment and when it was obvious that the Head of State General Sani Abacha had been murdered by the powers that be and their American allies he could have done a palace coup himself and taken over the reins of government and the levers of power. But Al-Mustapha hesitated and missed his moment and instead he chose to conceede power to the generals and to trust them. And that may well have been his undoing.
The truth is that as far as those same generals that he conceeded power to were concerned Al-Mustapha simply knew too much about what really happened to Abacha that night and at that time and that was his real crime. And up until today he is simply too dangerous to them, to their cause and to their many interests be granted his liberty. As a matter of fact if they had their way Al-Mustapha would either be dead by now or would simply be left to rot in jail forever. That, in my view, explains the ridiculous 12 year ”detention and trial” ordeal that he is facing and the inability of the prosecution to prove it’s case against him and all the others that have been accused with him in all that time. If I am right in my assesment of this situation then it is my prayer that God forgives us all as a people for our culpability and our insensitivity in this matter and that He stays His hand of wrath and judgement over our nation for being so unjust to a man and a group of people that may well be innocent of all the unproven charges that have been thrown at them and for which they have been punished for the last 12 years.