By NBF News
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• Babatope
Last week, the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to late head of State, Sani Abacha, major Hamza Al-Mustapha revealed what could literally be regarded as a bombshell. What was it? He said that some Yoruba leaders were bribed to give up the agitation for the validation of the June 12 presidential election.

It continues to generate controversy among Nigerians especially the Yoruba elite. One of those who joined in the cacophony of voices is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezar Babatope. In this interview, he bares his mind on the alleged bribery scandal. Excerpts…

A major issue of public discourse now is the shocking revelation by the former Chief Security Officer (CSO), Major Hamza Al-Mustapha that South-west leaders were allegedly bribed to dump the agitation for the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumed to have been won by late business mogul, M.K.O Abiola. What is your take on the allegation?

Well, I do not actually know what Al-Mustapha wants to achieve by the revelations that he has been making before the court. He said that several millions of dollars, pounds sterling and Naira were allegedly withdrawn during the Abdulsami Abubakar regime to appease South-west leaders. And then he went further to name the late Papa Abraham Adesanya and the late Chief Bola Ige as some of the people who came to the Aso Rock villa and had a meeting which he claimed scuttled the June 12 struggle.

One of the papers also reported that he said he wrote an 11 page letter to Chief Bola Ige telling him (Ige) that he has been used to murder Chief M..K.O Abiola. First of all, I know these leaders. They were my leaders in the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by Pa Obafemi Awolowo in the Second Republic. I can vouch for their character even while sleeping. Pa Adesanya was also my in-law and he was a very disciplined person who never worshipped money in his entire life.

Anybody who knew Pa Adesanya would attest to the fact that nobody could associate him with anything that cannot be defended either in principle or in reality. So, apparently, what has been dished out by Al-Mustapha on him or Chief Bola Ige is false. We are both Ijeshas. He was my leader in the progressive movement and in the UPN. And he was a leader I respected until he died. As for uncle Bola Ige, he was one of the first generation Marxists and for anybody to now make allegations against him is unacceptable. You can go to his house in Ibadan and visit all the properties he left behind.

You would not find traces of somebody who has had contacts with millions of Naira. And you would never find traces of somebody who mortgaged his conscience on pots of porridge. These are things that are very questionable. Al-Mustapha should name people who are alive and who can defend themselves. There is a principle in law called audi alteram partem(the other party must be heard). If for instance you said Babatope collected money, I am alive, let him name me and I would be able to talk on my behalf. I will tell Nigerians and anybody that I never collected a penny from anybody.

He could mention anybody-Femi Okunrounmu, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, all of them but to name people who are dead honestly opens a lot of gaps in what he has revealed. Honestly, I do not believe it. But having said that, I do not think that our judicial system has been fair to Al-Mustapha. I am not talking now of the revelations he made which I have dismissed but I am talking of over 13 years in prison. This is too long. The Yoruba people have a saying that when you are cutting a tree in the forest, put yourself in the position of the tree and know how hard it is to bear those blows. Honestly speaking, it is not easy for a human being to be kept in prison for 13 years.

And what gives me worry is that the middle age life of Al-Mustapha, this young Nigerian is being wasted. I am 68 and I have passed my middle age life even though in Britain, I will be considered in middle age but in Nigeria where life expectancy is put at 48 years, it is different. So, we are wasting the life of this young man. There is this saying that justice delayed is justice denied. I quite agree that there were things that happened when Al-Mustapha was CSO for this country.

There were matters that were clearly that of sadism but honestly speaking, 13 years is too long to get this boy to justice. So, I want to appeal passionately to the Chief Judge of Lagos State and I know the Chief Judge of Lagos because we were mates at the University of Lagos, I was one year ahead of her. I want her to please look into the system and ensure that the judicial system in Lagos operates very fast to arrive at justice for this young man. If he is guilty, send him to prison and if he is free, let him go home. That is what I want to make of it.

But as for the revelations, I do not believe it one second and what the boy should do to help Nigeria is to name all those who collected money, those who ran foul of the security of the Nigerian people by compromising their principles with the Abacha and the Abdulsalami Abubakar government. Let Nigerians know them and let them react so that people will be able to judge whether they are true leaders.

But Al-Mustapha threatened to show video clips of what transpired in the controversial meeting in Aso villa.

If he has photocopies of cheques, let him bring them out. I have been in government before and I am telling you from experience and somebody who was a former Minister in this country that it is not true. Which cheque will any government issue? Don't forget that you are talking about people who are politically experienced, mature and sophisticated. Most of them are lawyers. I am a lawyer too and if I do any job for any client, I get paid. If I go to court and I am not paid, I can tell the court. And once a client falls foul of paying a lawyer's fee, of course, the judge knows what to do.

Al-Mustapha's revelation seems to agree with what you said in an interview long ago that leaders of the Pa Awolowo political school endorsed the participation of some Yorubas, and yours in particular, in the government of Abacha. Is that a vindication of your claim?

Yes. They did. Pa Awolowo's political school endorsed it, particularly my participation in Abacha's government when he came in late November 1994.

But from your vantage position, do you think some power brokers are afraid of Al- Mustapha, hence, the delay in his release?

I do not know who is afraid of the former CSO. I think it is just a matter of the long process of our judicial system. It should not be. That is why I am stressing that something urgent must be done to get this boy to justice. If he is guilty, pronounce him so but if he is free, allow him to go home. But for us to allow a slow process to take effect on him judicially and sentence him to perpetual habitation in the prison is not right, just and correct. It is morally and psychologically wrong. No matter what his offence may be, he has contributed to the socio-political development of this country and we must not close our eyes to that factor.

Do you agree with those who insist that there is a political angle to Al-Mustapha's incarceration?

I do not know that. All I know as a lawyer is that charges were brought against him in the court of law and he has been answering to those charges. The politics you are talking about, I do not know. If the boy is given the chance to come out and say everything that he is saying now and Nigerians are able to see that he is making points from his knowledge, Nigerians would be able to discover or to find out whether there is any political connection to his travails. But his travails to me as a lawyer is that he was charged to court and he is answering to those charges. I am questioning the long process of hearing him out and I am urging a quick dispensation of justice to this young man. If Al-Mustapha had been allowed to go before the Oputa panel that investigated issues of human rights, he would have been able to say a lot of things. They would have become matters of debate. But as it is now, the boy is giving evidence in court.

What would you say of the former CSO's claim that M.K.O was beaten to death?

I am not able to ascertain the truth of events. These are security matters which only those of them who are in the security department would be able to pronounce upon. But as an ordinary politically conscious Nigerian, the sequence and timing of the deaths would raise some political questions but these are matters of posterity. About Abiola, it raises a lot of political questions. He was detained and denied of his freedom and suddenly the man was reported to have died. If Abiola did not die all those years and suddenly he was reported to have died, people would ask questions.

Are you in any way worried that Al-Mustapha's revelation would affect the integrity of the Yoruba leadership?

As at now, the revelation cannot affect the integrity of the Yoruba leadership of the Awolowo political school. I am saying it responsibly and as a Nigerian who will never depart from the path of objectivity and truth. We need more facts. I am not saying what Al-Mustapha is saying should be dismissed with a wave of the hand but we need more facts. We need better presentation and better location where this young man could make this thing to the Nigerian public. It will be quick to arrive at a conclusion that the integrity of those he is naming has been questioned. For Adesanya and Bola Ige, I am telling you that what I know of them does not lend credence to what the young man has said.

But would you take the former CSO's actions as that of a drowning man?

No, that would be wrong to say. I think the young man is just talking because he has been long in prison. I was in detention for 20 months and I tell you, it is not an easy matter. Moshe Dayan, a former Defence Minister of Israel said when he came out of prison that nobody leaves the prison completely sane.

When I was released by Ibrahim Babangida from prison after his coup in 1985, believe me, for almost six months, I was still behaving as if I was in prison. It took me a long time to drop the irrationalities associated with prison. So, we must sympathise with the young man because he has been in detention for 13 years. I guess that the boy would require some time to retain his mental balance and then whatever he says after that, we would be able to judge him critically by the Nigerian public that is very volatile.

Do you think the politics of this country would remain the same after the revelations by the former CSO?

Al-Mustapha's revelations in court are just happenings within the political life of Nigeria. There have been other things. Do not forget, there have been coups and counter-coups where Nigerians have been killed. We have had leaders of this country, the great Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the then prime minister murdered in a coup.

We have had pa Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who were titans of Nigeria's history. So, what is happening now is going to pass away. These are not heart-shaking events that would shake the foundation of this country. By the grace of God, Nigeria would remain united as a nation.