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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.