Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (Rtd), the presidential candidate of the Action Alliance (AA) for the February 25, 2023, general elections, is like the proverbial cat with nine lives sequel to the strategic roles he played as a military officer and his ability to survive several legal, political and security battles.
As an intelligence officer, Al-Mustapha served as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to General Sani Abacha when he served as head of state from 1993 to his death in 1998.
Born in July, 1960, Al-Mustapha started his early education in Nguru, Yobe State, and was enrolled at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, after which he was commissioned into the Nigerian Army (NA) in 1983.
He held various command positions in the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), 82 Division, Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence before Abacha appointed him CSO.
Following Gen Abacha’s death on June 8, 1998, Al-Mustapha assembled the top military hierarchy in order to avoid a succession crisis. Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar emerged as head of state on June 9, 1998, and Al-Mustapha was removed from office and subsequently arrested.
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In one of his interviews read by our reporter, Al-Mustapha said, “On October 21, 1998, I was arrested because of a video cassette, not because of the late Kudirat Abiola. The family of the late Abiola was, as it is, a very close family to me. But something happened, which a particular camera in the villa captured.
“So, they wanted to take the videotape and burn it so that Nigerians would not know what happened. That was the beginning of my travails. Many people, particularly lawyers, took money from those who were looking for the cassette, who ruled Nigeria.
“They would go to radio and television stations to rain abuses on me, rather than coming to court because they were paid to do so. But they did not know what was going on in the court of law.
“I appeared before 14 judges in Lagos. As soon as the matter was about to finish, they would stop it and take us to another court. For 15 years, I was in that state. Out of the 15 years, five years and two months I served in detention with torture. The remaining were in Ikoyi Prison, Kirikiri Prison and Jos Prison.”
Gen Abacha seized power in 1993 and appointed Al-Mustapha as CSO on November 17, 1993. In this role, he was responsible for the security of the regime and established a number of elite military-security organisations, including the dreaded Strike Force which personnel were trained in Libya and North Korea.
Al-Mustapha was, therefore, respected even by his superiors in the military because of his affiliation with and proximity to Abacha. His sagacity and influence in the regime were overwhelming.
Politics and power
It is imperative to state that Al-Mustapha oversaw the reorganisation of Nigeria into six geopolitical zones. With this he cultivated a vast network of spies and informants across the country.
As an intelligence officer, Al-Mustapha was involved in counter-intelligence activities and was involved in the investigation of at least two coup attempts in the 1980s which brought him to the attention of General Sani Abacha who was the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
He was also involved in operations in Chad, Liberia, Bakassi, Gambia and Sierra Leone.
On January 30, 2012, Al-Mustapha and Lateef Shofolahan, a protocol officer in the Moshood Abiola campaign organisation, were sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Kudirat Abiola, wife of Abiola, widely believed to be the winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
Al-Mustapha was convicted for ordering a security agent to kill Kudirat, but he denied taking part in her 1996 assassination, saying he was tortured into a false confession earlier.
In an interview, Al-Mustapha said, “It was under duress that I made it. If the prosecution had seen the torture and the conditions we were subjected to, you would never have prosecuted this case.
“It was a dictation. I decided to do that so that I would be sent to court or the prisons so that I can see my lawyers. For one year, I could not set my eyes on my lawyers or members of my family.”
But the trial judge, Justice Mojisala Dada, was not convinced with his argument, ruling that both men were responsible for Kudirat’s machine-gun killing and should die by hanging.
On July 12, 2013, Al-Mustapha was released from the Kirikiri Prison, Lagos, following his discharge and acquittal of the murder charge by the Court of Appeal.
Emergence as AA candidate
Al-Mustapha emerged the presidential candidate of AA at the party’s primary poll held in June 2022, in Abuja.
He defeated another contestant, Samson Odupitan, after two other aspirants, Felix Osakwe and Tunde Kelani, withdrew from the race and pledged their support for him, polling 506 votes to defeat Odupitan who got 215 after the Chairman of AA, Kenneth Udeza, had said 842 delegates were accredited for the primary using option A4.
Before then, in 2019, Al-Mustapha was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN).
Al-Mustapha told the delegates that his experience as a military officer and while working with Abacha would enable him to tackle the nation’s security challenges if given the mandate in 2023.
He added that, “I’m a humble person and I have what it takes to contain the insecurity ravaging the country.
“If I become the president, I will live in Sambisa; I will stay there during weekends, holidays and see if anyone will touch me. I will deal with the problem of insecurity no matter whose ox is gored.
“Look at the silly acts of Boko Haram, I swear, if it is not possible in six months to deal with them, I will demote all these senior officers and send them home. They would be prosecuted and must return the money given to them. I will probe them.
“So, within these six months, I will bring sanity into the way the Nigerian military operates to be able to confront emerging security threats with renewed vigour and commitment.”
Pundits say Al-Mustapha is a good presidential material but that the vehicle on which he wants to clinch office is unpopular.
Some say he will remain a key player in the nation’s scheme of things even if he doesn’t win the poll.
A political analyst, Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, told Daily Trust on Sunday in a telephone chat that, “Al-Mustapha is very intelligent, knowledgeable, articulate and hypersensitive to the issue of national growth and development. He is a presidential material.
“He knows much about Nigeria – the economy, security, inclusiveness. But the only unfortunate thing is that he belongs to a very unpopular party, and in Nigeria, we don’t appreciate individuals, we appreciate political parties.
“If we are in a nation where we respect the driver, Al-Mustapha is supposed to be one of the leading presidential candidates.”
However, with the February 25 presidential election fast approaching and politicking getting more intense, it is left to be seen how Al-Mustapha would slug it out with the candidates of the other political parties.
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