Hamza Speaks Again, Awaits Divine Blessing
The story of Major Hamza al-Mustapha is nearly one of a bestseller. A major actor in the draconian five-year reign of late head of state General Sani Abacha as chief security officer, he was still largely unknown to many Nigerians until one year after Abacha’s era in 1999 when he was docked at the Oputa Panel to narrate his alleged iron-fisted carriage while the Abacha’s government lasted.
A star was in the making, as spectators that thronged venue of the panel soon realised. Al-Mustapha charmed his audience with wit and intelligence that not only kept the listeners and his interrogators spell-bound, but also left them struggling to catch their breath.
Well, not that he made any remarkable revelation that should have literally brought the country to its knees. He also did not reveal sensitive information in his possession that should have helped to unravel certain events that had arrested Nigeria’s development during Abacha’s regime.
Indeed, if he made any revelation at all, it was no more than open-ended. And he knew it! But he was well aware that Nigeria had lacked authentic orators that could sweep their listeners off their feet so easily. So, he took his chance and turned a centre of attraction to many.
Very few remembered anymore that this dreaded soldier was being ferried to the venue from Kirikiri Maximum Prison where he was kept by Abacha’s successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and kept further by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who succeeded Abubakar. Everyone just wanted a piece of him. His life has never been the same.
Al-Mustapha later regained his freedom in 2013, granted by former president Goodluck Jonathan, after spending effectively 15 years in custody without trial.
Soon after his release, however, he attempted worming his way to the hearts of the people he dazzled at the Oputa Panel and he got considerable reception that some people were tempted to believe he was entering the political train in the weeks that followed with an eye for some top job. He soon denied his interest in politics, although very few took the denial seriously.
Obscurity had somewhat recently threatened to upstage the people’s man. Without any doubt, he also realised it. Promptly, he staged what he carefully called “media interactive session” and chose burning issues for discussion.
He told the selected reporters that it was erroneous to report that Jonathan had influenced his release from jail.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he said as the awe-struck reporters contemplated a talk-filled day.
“The fact of the matter was that the prosecutor had no case against me from the beginning,” he added, apparently impressing that his ordeal was no more than one suffused by high-wired politics.
In what would shock many around the world who have since associated the Abacha era to mind-boggling plundering of the commonwealth, al-Mustapha offered a sturdy defence of his much-maligned boss. Hear him: “I was very embarrassed in 1999 when we were taken to Ikoyi Prisons and I first heard of “Abacha Loot”.
Where was the money from and who kept the money? How much was the money? When was this money stashed out? How was it taken out? Abacha’s trips were mostly around Africa during his regime because the initial powers he stepped on were bent on kicking him out.”
He was done on the defence. Hear him again: “When Abacha was in government, loans were not taken even when oil was being sold for $7 per barrel and yet he was able to have left $9.732billion out of nothing. But within eleven months, the money disappeared.”
Not that he kept things lying low, anyway, as he launched personal efforts at rescuing Abacha’s soiled public image even in prison. Hear him yet again: “At one time from prison, I wrote a note to the late Abacha’s family and I said in the name of God, they should resist being bogged by pressure and the abuses they received every day. I pleaded with them to go to the world and give details of the money. The date of that lodgement will show whether that money was kept in his name before he became head of state and whether the money was kept in his name after he became head of state.
As far as al-Mustapha was concerned, those who peddled the “Abacha Loot” story are being cruelly economical with the truth. He spared no word in expounding this assertion: “During Abacha’s regime, he had numerous attacks. Apart from the few that were mentioned, there was collaboration between some notable Nigerians and international powers to move him out of office. He had stepped on many people and these people simply decided to smear his name. He is dead but is yet to be forgiven by the people he stepped on. It will interest many people that some of the money traced to Abacha’s foreign accounts was saved for Nigeria and on behalf of Nigeria.”
Only the unwary among the reporters would insist that the “interactive session” had no political undertone. But al-Mustapha himself put matters beyond doubt as he lavished praise on incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Buhari is a man who has well-established character and is an upright individual,” the speaker declared.
“He was dragged into politics, nonetheless. But there is no doubt that he is transparent, sincere, committed and cares for the country. His love for Nigeria and Nigerians cannot be questioned by anybody. Indeed if his avowed enemies are sincere to God almighty, they will still admit that he really cares about the people,” he added.
But if the foregoing is not convincing enough as evidence that al-Mustapha has his eyes fixed on some political pie, as it were, here is the clincher, after he was asked, ‘Are you interested in joining party politics?’: “I have remained in touch with the grassroots but I am not yet a member of any political party. In any case, I am still undergoing rehabilitation after the trauma I went through in prison. Ultimately, I am leaving everything about my political ambition in the hands of God.”
He left the reporters pondering the phrase “in the hands of God” as the “session” ended.
In truth, al-Mustapha should do well in the political arena. Thankfully, his appealing personality has not ebbed.
In truth, also, the oratory with which he dazzled his audience at the aforementioned Oputa Panel is still intact. Anyway, there is a yawning space to be filled by orators in the country’s political terrain and he can easily pick his spot and get entrenched in there.
Near-extinct journalism still serves useful purpose
Many concerned people may cry over what has become of the journalism profession in Nigeria, especially since the country’s return to democratic governance on May 29, 1999. The concern should be genuine, nonetheless, considering the heroic and patriotic roles played by journalists during the heady and dreadful military era which lasted for 16 years from December 31, 1983
Yet, hardly can any individual be more eminently qualified to offer the cry than the renowned journalist, Chief Segun Osoba who, as it were, has seen it all. From a hard-nosed reporter, he had risen to the pinnacle of being managing director of the good old Daily Times, in addition to mentoring many journalists and ultimately foraying into the political arena whereupon he reigned as governor of Ogun State. It is to Osoba’s credit and distinguished journalism career that many would still view him only from the lens of journalism than politics.
Worried that journalism has so far failed to reposition in tune with modern-day demands, Osoba said in Lagos recently: “Journalism is on the brink of extinction and the media is on its way out.”
Like a quintessential gatekeeper that he has been for the profession to which he has devoted most of his productive life, he also said: “For most of us in the profession, we must check the action of quacks and all others claiming to be journalists. We should not allow this profession to be corrupted by a few individuals who are turned to tools in the hands of some people to serve selfish interest.”
Wayward and biased reportage also worried the icon. Hear him: “Journalists must aspire to balance their stories by getting the other side and not engage in what I refer to as “escapist journalism.”
But is Nigerian journalism really going extinct?
This is debatable in the sense that Osoba’s fears may have been expressed only because he compared his time when passion was deployed to achieving an end without pecuniary benefits taking a prime spot and now when the profession has become what one casual observer termed “cash-and-carry” the other day.
For sure there are still many newspapers as there are many television stations while radio stations have since assumed mushroom status; to be found virtually in every street corner, no matter how obscure. But they cannot be counted to do more than parroting or, in the case of radio and television, simply collating newspapers and other journals and analysing the pack while unprofessionally injecting personal opinion to smoothen the rough edges of their presentation. Dead and interred, therefore, is the investigative genre that marked out the journalists of the Osoba era as core professionals.
But parroting has served, and is still serving, its purpose.
Here is one headline in a major national newspaper: “We borrow N600bn monthly to pay salaries, says Buhari”.
In the report, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose government had promised the populace “complete turnaround” in their lives and living, blamed the previous government’s “leaving nothing in the treasury” for its resort to borrowing.
For the umpteenth time, the president also stated in the report that “efforts are being geared” towards diversifying the economy “to save the country from total dependence on oil.”
Here is another headline: “Kidnapping to attract death sentence in Oyo”.
The report said Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, has signed into law “Kidnapping (Prohibition) Bill 2016” which makes kidnapping offences to attract death sentence in the event of the death of a kidnap victim while in captivity of the abductors. “I will enforce this law to the letter and I wish to warn kidnappers to steer clear of Oyo State in their own interest,” the governor was quoted as saying.
Even university students who have turned themselves to tools in the hands of politicians ostensibly to survive harsh times on campuses are no less parroted, according to this headline: “NANS disowns group in Ondo”. In the report, the student body said in a statement made available to journalists in Akure, the Ondo State capital: “The group known as Council of Ondo State Students’ Leaders does not represent the interest of Nigerian students and if it exists at all, it does in the imagination of its sponsors.”
For illumination, the NANS declared: “Our investigation revealed that the group is serving the interest of the former senator representing Ondo Central, Mr. Ayo Akinyelure.”
But in what made the NANS’ action more curious, it declared: “We are not politicians and we will not allow anybody to impersonate our association to fight any political battle.” It is even more curious that it did not bother journalists who published the statement that a students’ body as NANS which said its members were not politicians would still openly talk about partisan politics. But then, hasn’t it been said already that investigative journalism is extinct and that “cash-and-carry” has taken over?
Here is yet another headline: “Bello gives quit notice to drug peddlers”. The report said Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello, has asked drug peddlers in the state to relocate elsewhere or face dire consequences. “We are declaring total war against drug dealers and peddlers in our state because they are agents of destruction. We don’t want them and they are not allowed in here,” Bello was quoted as saying.
As it appears, there is more to come on kidnapping after the news from Oyo State. Here is another headline in that regard: “I kidnapped my uncle because of frustration”. One of the suspects that were paraded by the Police in Enugu, Enugu State had confessed to journalists, according to the report: “We were to kidnap a rich woman but we missed her through our carelessness. So, I suggested that we kidnap my uncle and we received N500, 000 from him as ransom.”
In a laughable plea made by the confessing suspect, however, he said he was a first offender. “I did his act out of frustration and I want to beg not to be killed but to be kept in prison so that I can learn from my mistake and later work for the government,” he submitted in tears.
One newspaper parroted pharmacist-turned writer, Yusuf Mafu Jerome, and hardly will anyone declare this parroting as purposeless. Asked how lucrative writing is in Nigeria, Jerome did not keep anything back: “Writing is not lucrative because Nigerians don’t read.
Even reading doesn’t interest university graduates. All we are interested in is where we can get money. We have intellectuals but we don’t produce value and if we don’t produce value, we can’t have money. This is a painful reality and unfortunately, we just have to live by it while hoping for a huge turnaround someday and somehow.”