Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (retd) was the Chief Security Officer, CSO, to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. In this interview, Mustapha speaks on the never ending Abacha loot recovery among other issues surrounding the deceased Nigerian leader.
Many Nigerians feel that the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha was notorious for fraud. The looting of the country under the administration, according to revelations, is mind boggling. As his former Chief Security Officer, CSO, what is your story?
I spoke on this subject earlier but, whether alive or dead, the truth remains the truth and the truth should be told. There is no fear in saying the truth. I appeared in numerous functions and I spoke. The first time I was given the opportunity to speak was at Oputa Panel in 2000 and 2001 and when God Almighty granted me freedom I spoke In 2013.
Till date, I have been talking about what I know. For me and for those who really know how the government worked, Gen. Abacha suffered a lot of attacks. The first time I heard the word loot associated with the government was when we were in Kirikiri Prisons. I think it was in December when we were transferred from Ikoyi Prisons to Kirikiri. I saw the word ‘loot’ in the papers even though we hadn’t the opportunity of looking at newspapers properly.
And I saw some security operatives coming to discuss with Mohammed Abacha (Gen Abacha’s son) in that respect. Nobody throughout my stay with the Head of State had any transactions with me, nobody gave me money. I was operating within what was in my own office to protect the government. Now, there was an issue I talked about in 2016 in Lagos concerning Abacha loot.
What I know is that there was a time sanctions were imposed on Nigeria by the UK, US and two other countries and that was at the behest of some senior Nigerians who believed that they must fight Gen Abacha.
But to counter the sanctions, then-Head of State requested to talk with stakeholders from across Nigeria, North and South, and there was a discussion on the sanctions and the threat against the country; the meeting held in Abuja but outside the Villa because of the size of the people in attendance that was bigger than the size of the Conference Hall inside the Presidency.
The agreement at that meeting was to take funds outside into the hands of people in the private sector so that the nation could still import and export to, at least, beat the sanctions. That I know of. Any other thing outside that I really do not know, nobody consulted me.
I had nothing to do with money and that is why I said in that interview in 2016 that I was embarrassed to hear the word loot because I know how prudent the late Gen. Abacha was and I know that when the government came to power, there was nothing left in the foreign reserves. Government had less than 200 million dollars in the reserves meaning that the administration was to start afresh and people didn’t know that. He had to scavenge to run the country and build the foreign reserves to nine billion, seven hundred and thirty two dollars as of June 1998 when he died. People didn’t know but I know.
At Oputa Panel, I asked questions, the monies that were transferred into numerous accounts outside Nigeria, in whose accounts were these monies and in whose companies’ names? When were the monies taken out? Was it during General Abacha’s tenure as Head of State or when he was Minister of Defence? Nigerians need to know how much monies were in such banks and in whose accounts were they lodged? What was the agreement between the account holders and Gen. Abacha? Were the monies for Abacha or for Nigeria? Basic questions as to how monies were moved outside Nigeria must be asked and the countries in whose banks such monies were kept also have reports; what were the reports at the time of deposit? Which year?
Which time and what was the reason given for the deposit?
The unfortunate thing for Gen. Abacha was the fact that he was succeeded by two governments where personalities in them fought him and hated him to death. And I asked both governments that “if you want to investigate Abacha government, start with me”. There was nothing they didn’t do. They brought INTERPOL. They had all sorts of investigations and I challenged them they were paying me salary in Bank of the North and that they should look out for any account of mine whether in Nigeria or abroad and see what was there; if there was anything that I had taken outside what I was supposed to earn as salary, I should be exposed and prosecuted. For the 4 years 7 months of the Abacha regime, oil price remained at $8 or $9 per barrel. And General Abacha never took any loan. So the country was scavenging to survive. And from 200 million dollars in the foreign reserves, it went up to nine billion.
If he was alive, do you think so much would have been said about this loot?
If the monies recovered were associated to looting, Abacha stole nothing compared to what we are seeing. What many people don’t know genuinely is how much Nigeria is earning monthly not only from oil sector but also from every other sector of the economy. And the price of oil shot up. But there was nothing left. And you can say looting but, to me, it is all being said because he is dead. If there is true investigation, I am sure the story would be different. I know of a particular government after he died that was giving people the condition that they should abuse or condemn Abacha as a looter to get appointment. If you accept, you will become a minister or be given a parastatal to head.
But some countries have also attested to the fact that they received some loot and they tied it to Abacha. We have heard government saying monies were stashed in Switzerland among other countries.
The questions I raised earlier on every of the accounts traced, were they answered? If they are answered to the satisfaction of the laws of those countries and those of Nigeria, then you would be able to know the truth. Were the monies taken from the Central Bank? What was the reason for moving the monies?
Earlier you talked about some individuals who were invited…
I said individuals, stakeholders were invited and there was a large meeting and it was in that meeting where this decision was taken. And it was in prison that I first heard about loot, that was when the word ‘loot’ was mentioned to me and I said I was embarrassed.
Were funds given out at the time to those individuals invited for the meeting?
How can money be given there? You mean cash?
If money moved, I haven’t seen that and if there was movement of cash physically there, everybody would have seen it. Elders from the North, elders from the South, some people from the traditional institution and some people from Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and many other stakeholders including ministers were there, members of the Provisional Ruling Council were there. The question is why are they not being asked questions? So many people are afraid to talk not because they don’t know the truth. The man Abacha suffered propaganda which affected some of us with numerous attempts on our lives just to shut some people up.
If you are asked today, did Abacha loot Nigeria’s money, would you say yes or no?
You cannot speak on what you do not know. All I know is that Abacha suffered propaganda and games of hate. He did so much in rescuing this country and helping the country but I would never speak on what I do not know. There are rumours that, to me, remain rumours and, when I see facts, I say them the way I see them and, if you see the way I testified at Oputa Panel, it tells you my character. You can threaten my life with ABCD, but, I tell you, numerous lies in high places were cooked and sponsored against General Abacha and were sustained with so much money. Nigerians were talking about $16 billion power money, right? Why was the matter covered? The whole of the Abacha loot that they are talking about was how much? But in one single incident, there was $16 billion and the whole country is defrauded and nobody can talk and I tell you it is much more than that. And a top government official was shot and that was because of that money.