The Convener of the Coalition for Democratic Electoral Reforms and former General Secretary of National Democratic Coalition, Ayo Opadokun, in this interview tells Bayo Akinloye about his relationship with Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and his meeting, along with other National Democratic Coalition leaders, with Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.)
Do you know the killers of Chief MKO Abiola as alleged by Major Hamza Al-Mustapha?
I don’t know. I was in detention; I was in Ikoyi Prison when Gen. Sani Abacha died. I was released some days thereafter. I was in Lagos – I can remember now. The then deputy American ambassador to Nigeria was going to be sent off to become American ambassador to Sierra Leone. We were then invited for a cocktail in one of the American guest houses in Ikoyi. It was at that place the news filtered in that MKO Abiola had died. For anybody to return home from Ikoyi that day, it was war because of the immediate reaction of the Nigerian people to that wicked act. We had no access to him and we were not in Aso Rock. And, we did not go to the presidential villa the second or the third day as claimed by Al-Mustapha.
In August 2011, while al-Mustapha was still being prosecuted for the murder of the democratic heroine, the martyred Kudirat Abiola, at Lagos High Court, rather than face his criminal prosecution, he claimed that some Yoruba and NADECO leaders had been compromised. He alleged that while they were going into a meeting with Gen. Abdulsalami, they were frowning but when they came out of the meeting, they were laughing because they had been compromised. At that time, I just returned from the United States of America and I interacted with the media a day or two after his accusation and I castigated him. And, as a result of my reaction, two days after, Al-Mustapha recanted. He said he did not say that we collected money from Abdulsalami.
That was the situation in 2011. I really don’t know what has got into the head of Al-Mustapha to want to continue to use Yoruba leaders – credible Yoruba leaders – to whitewash his battered, discredited image as a villain, suspected murderer, scoundrel, and a veritable instrument for oppression, humiliation and dehumanisation of democratic struggle leaders. He is now exploiting the democratic space that many of us laid down our lives for, for pernicious purposes. In any decent society, Al-Mustapha will be consigned to the dustbin of history because of his evil acts. Al-Mustapha was not part of that meeting.
So, where did Al-Mustapha set up a video camera to record our discussion in which money was given to us? I dare say that his claim is patent falsehood; neither was NADECO offered nor received any money from the government of the day. There was no basis for it.
But he said there was a video he presented as an exhibit at the Lagos High Court.
What I was told he exhibited was our entry into the Villa where the meeting was held and then, our exit at the end of the meeting. Since he made the allegation in 2011, six years ago, Al-Mustapha has not shown anybody any video recording. He is an inveterate enemy of Yoruba nation, Al-Mustapha unleashed brutal violence on some Yoruba people – some are dead; few still alive. What is the problem of Al-Mustapha? For Mustapha to say that he was still in control of Aso Rock, he was just over-exaggerating his importance. When his boss (Abacha) died of whatever cause, because Al-Mustapha had been so insolent, insubordinate, unruly, cocky, and disobedient to his military superiors, he was sent out of Aso Rock and posted to Enugu.
No doubt, the new government (of Abdulsalami) having known him to be a shady character would not have allowed anybody related to Al-Mustapha to remain in Aso Rock. So, for him to claim that his boys were still there to record a video was patent falsehood – just to make himself look important. I am sorry for those associating with him. I am also sorry that the Nigerian state has degenerated to the extent that Al-Mustapha is being listened to and given attention. I can’t understand how he got all the money he is spending all around except for the fact that, according to inside stories, he caged his boss by falsehood. He would tell Abacha that either Great Britain or America had arrived with some mercenaries who were stationed around Abuja and so Abacha must not go out for the next one week. Therefore, certain things (security measures) must be done. Through that process he would bring up bills. On a regular basis, he and his cohorts were receiving money from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Al-Mustapha was specific in mentioning your name among those who betrayed Abiola. What is your relationship with him?
I don’t know. I have never met him in my life. I think he’s just looking for somebody that is credible, who has remained constant (in his stance against injustice and corruption) to defame. That’s all; there is nothing besides that. Every effort by some people to make me part of the government was rejected by me. I can tell you this: it was because, while I was underground in 1994 – I went underground in May. Precisely August 15, 1994, a call came through to me by a senior colleague, former Governor of Plateau State, Chief Solomon Lar, who was then minister of police affairs. He was with Abacha and Gen. (Jeremiah) Useni. Lar accused me of preventing leaders of the National Democratic Coalition to hold a meeting with the commander-in-chief. I told him that could not be true. I didn’t have the power to stop the brilliant minds who were part of NADECO to respond to Abacha’s call.
He (Lar) asked me if I could persuade NADECO leaders on his behalf, promising that nothing will happen to me. I told him that it wasn’t a personal matter. It was a national affair; I learnt an instruction was given to the national intelligence and security to produce me dead or alive. He succeeded in arresting me on October 11, 1994. I was detained for 24 months before I was re-arrested in 1998. I think Al-Mustapha’s prolonged stay in detention has had significant, negative, medical effect on him and his state of mind. I think he suffers from some measure of hallucination. He’s just seeking attention to make himself relevant. He was responsible for his prolonged stay in prison. He didn’t want to be tried under the administration of (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s regime.
With the repeated accusation of Al-Mustapha against you, what do you plan to do?
If Al-Mustapha does not retract his statement within seven days I will instruct my lawyers to go to court and file a libel suit against him. Al-Mustapha must produce that video tape. He is behaving ignobly and acting without restraint. He is now collaborating with MASSOB leader, Ralph Nwazurike, using such platform to defame the hard-earned reputation of people like us. I will not take it anymore. Remember he also made a wicked and baseless claim that he has video recording of how Abiola was killed. He has yet to show anybody any evidence of that. Mustapha will need to explain the circumstances that led to henchmen hitting at key elements in our society, particularly from Yoruba land.
As claimed by Al-Mustapha, was it true that after your meeting with Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, there was some exchange of banter among NADECO chiefs after the meeting?
That was untrue. There was nothing to be happy about. The position of NADECO at that time, which we campaigned vigorously for, was that Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s government should allow the formation of a government of national unity to be headed by Basorun MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12 presidential election and that was not accepted because of the intervention of Mike Akhigbe. So, there was nothing to make us rejoice at that moment.
What role did the then Chief of General Staff, Mike Akhigbe play?
The Government of National Unity which was to be headed by Chief MKO Abiola was a proposal we presented to the Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.). The commander-in-chief was inclined to our suggestion. He told us he would make consultations on the proposal. Then, he said, ‘Chief of General Staff (Akhigbe), what is your take on the government of national unity?’ In reply to that, Gen. Akhigbe said, ‘Nigeria doesn’t need any government of national unity. What Nigerians want is a straight transition from military rule to a democratic government.’ Akhigbe did not want the idea of having Abiola to head the government of national unity. Abdulsalami nearly bought our suggestion except for the negative intervention of his deputy, Akhigbe.
You said NADECO’s main agenda was the enthronement of a government of national unity. In that meeting with Gen. Abdulsalami, was there a discussion concerning the immediate release of Chief Abiola?
Of course, yes! Could we be talking about a government of national unity without talking about MKO being released? He was meant to be the head of the government of national unity. During that meeting with Gen. Abdulsalami, we insisted on seeing Abiola. He did not oblige us. He said we would see him another time when we meet with him (Abdulsalami). He said he would make an arrangement for some of us – not all of us – to see him. Abdulsalami said he would call us again. Unfortunately, by the time he called us MKO Abiola was already dead.
Some people are calling for June 12 to be made Democracy Day. Is that your view too?
Yes, that is my view. I significantly believe in that call. The June 12, 1993 presidential election (won by MKO Abiola) was the first Pan-Nigerian mandate given by Nigerians of all creeds to one single person to rule them for a particular period of time and in that mandate were contained significant points. One, Nigeria buried national, devious divide of Christian/Muslim, North/South; majority/minority and the likes. That is one reason that mandate was very significant. That is a date (June 12) to be celebrated (nationally). Obasanjo decided to choose May 29 (as Democracy Day), perhaps, to spite MKO Abiola. Even though he was the greatest beneficiary of Abiola’s martyrdom, for the eight years he was president of Nigeria, he did not make any reference or give any commendation to MKO. That is the kind of man that he is.
The recall by of the suspended judges by the National Judicial Council has generated mixed reactions. What do you think about the action of the NJC?
That body – the National Judicial Council – has become an albatross to the independence of the Nigerian judiciary and the protection of the rule of law and the dispensation of justice in Nigeria. The current architecture of the NJC has made it totally in opposition to the defence and protection of the rule of law. It is totally unacceptable that the NJC would claim that because certain particular days had gone and the judges were not arraigned that was why it recalled the hitherto suspended judges. What ridiculous and grievous mischief is contained in that decision! A judge that was alleged to be involved in criminal activity is now being recalled to go to the court to preside as a judge. An accused person is now in the dock before him, what moral right does he have (to deliver justice in that situation)? The court is meant to be the temple of justice. Anyone who has been alleged as a judge is no more fit and proper to preside in the temple of justice. It is little wonder that the Presidency issued a very strong statement against the NJC’s awkward and very devious position.
And, I feel pained because the architecture, including the composition and the rule of engagement of the running of the NJC have made the Chief Justice of Nigeria (Walter Onnoghen) the chairman of that body – he is still in service. The rules about the NJC’s composition grant him to request some different bodies of the bar to nominate people and if they do not nominate people favourable to him, he can reject and ask them to nominate somebody else. So, he presides over people – majority of them – who will be in agreement with him on any matter. That is an unfortunate situation. I believe that the step he has taken is to defeat the end of justice and to ridicule the Nigerian judiciary the more. The judiciary used to be a beauty and a thing of glory to Nigeria. In the commonwealth and on the African continent, eminent Nigerian jurists played prominent roles up to the International Court of Justice and in writing the constitutions of other African countries. Today, our judiciary has turned to something else. What we have now is a compromised judiciary; (former dictator, Ibrahim) Babangida (during his reign) commercialised and compromised the judiciary. He started the compromise with the Supreme Court when he bought (Mercedes) Benz (cars) for the justices. That was the beginning of the compromise.
You are an ardent supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. Will you say his health has negatively impacted on the country’s socio-economic and political development?
By the grace of God, President Muhammadu Buhari will return to the country medically sound, fit and strong to run the country and execute the promise(s) he made to Nigerians pretty soon. I am aware, by the grace of God, of what was schemed against him (Buhari) – remember that when the old man came (back from his previous medical trip), he said he had never been this sick. Something went wrong. Some people did certain things. Something wonderfully went wrong.
What were those things and who were those people?
No, no! I am not a medical doctor and I am not an insider. I am also not his spokesperson; this is not the Buhari we knew. By the grace of God, Buhari will return safe, sound and healthy. I have no doubt in my mind that they have laid down the architecture in the last two years for them to be able to perform. If you knew the extent of damage done to the Nigerian economy before Buhari assumed power, you would be sorry for the country. Except those who don’t want to know or are part of the ousted political party, this administration is working. With falling oil prices and poor economic policies of previous administrations and the nefarious activities of the Niger Delta Avengers, what kind of magic do you want him to perform? The four-year mandate given to Buhari is not over. He has two more years to go. I believe that the next two years – particularly the next one year – will witness good service delivered by this administration.
If President Muhammadu Buhari stays fit till 2019, will you want him to run for president again?
I can’t answer that question. I am not a prophet; I am not a soothsayer. I don’t deal in the realm of conjectures.
What do you make of the current agitations for self-determination by some ethnic groups in the country?
Nigerians are agitating for resource control; people are talking about restructuring; others are calling for an independent state of Biafra; people are talking about Oodua Republic and so on. When it gets to this kind of situation anywhere in the world, sane people should appreciate that it is time to sit down to renegotiate. I am for restructuring and I am campaigning rigorously for it. I have been a leading advocate for national restructuring. In fact, two critical objectives of NADECO were for the convocation of a national conference so that we can restructure. The second was for the de-annulment of Abiola’s victory. If the current political operators do not see it that way, certain things, certain events, certain forces will compel them to accept the reality. They will be forced to accept the fact that the country cannot take off at all until they restore Nigeria to the federal arrangement upon which we secured the independence of Nigeria.
Nigeria secured its independence on a federal arrangement. But, having regard to the military organogram where power flows from the top to the bottom, the federal constitution was abrogated. That is the source of our crisis and I am saying, the first thing that we must is to turn to the 1963 constitution. Then, all other things that were agreed upon in the Babangida, (General Sani) Abacha, Obasanjo and (former President Goodluck) Jonathan’s conferences, should be implemented based on the 1963 constitution. It is in that conference that they will be able to resolve two critical questions: one, do national ethnic groups want to be part of Nigeria? That question has not been asked. We have not been given the privilege of responding to that question as a people. The colonial master used force of arms to force us into co-existence in what is called Nigeria. And, just five years after they left, the politicians in military uniform took over and since then, they have kept us with the force of arms to co-exist – the co-existence is not voluntary.
Perhaps, because of long period of relationship, the response to the first question will be ‘Yes’. The second question that must be answered, if we are going to live together peacefully in this country is, ‘On what terms will our co-existence be?’ What will be the modus operandi? What will be the rules of engagement? It is when we can answer those questions – summed up together as a national question – that we can agree on the body of rules that will govern us. Based on that we can now write our constitution; a home-grown constitution called autochthonous constitution. Right now, we don’t have one. I don’t subscribe to the 1999 constitution because it makes me a permanently minority man. I am from Offa; a typical Yoruba town. It is the traditional headquarters of Ibolo people. And, Ibolo people are from Offa to Iwo. But that town was ceded to the North – that makes me a northerner. If they are sharing anything in Kaduna and I show up, I will be told that I am a Yoruba man. If something is being shared in Lagos or Ibadan and I show up, I will be told I am a northerner. So, I am permanently disadvantaged.