Former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Late Gen. Sani Abacha, Major Hamzat Al-Mustapha yesterday told the court that the Abacha Strike Force was created on January 2, 1995 and began work in May of that year and that its members were sent for training in Libya.
This was as he urged Justice Mojisola Dada of the Lagos High Court to order former head of state, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar to release some bags he seized from him in 1998 when he was arrested.
Led in cross examination by the Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN), the former CSO, who is standing trial alongside one Lateef Shofolahan for the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola (wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola), told the court that the bags contained some incriminating evidence which included tapes that are "fundamental to show light in this darkness."
He also maintained during cross-examination yesterday that he never ordered the killing of Kudirat and any other persons assassinated while Abacha was head of state; saying his duty as CSO to Late Abacha restrained him to the safety of the presidency, Abacha's family members and his properties.
Al-Mustapha who restated that he was enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1980 at the age of 19 as a cadet argued that the prosecution handling the case doesn't even understand the game plan in his ongoing trial in the attempted murder and murder of Kudirat.
He said the Lagos State government can not get the original version of the VHS tape recorded during the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) proceedings showcasing what actually happened at the time.
He said: "I did not order anybody to kill Kudirat Abiola. There is no doubt that there were oppositions to the government of General Abacha at the time just as it happens in other governments. The government of Gen. Abacha was a government totally misunderstood and hated. The strongest opposition then was within the military and not NADECO. I can also confirm to you that the struggle by NADECO at the time was not genuine. At some point, the NADECO chiefs were conferring with the government," he added.
He told the court that he could not have ordered the murder of Kudirat whose husband took him as family; saying that on several occasions he assisted her to see late MKO who was in detention.
Al-Mustapha whose hundreds of supporters (as it has become the custom of late) besieged the court premises, denied ordering the murder of Kudirat and explained that he heard about the death in the news and promptly contacted Abiola and commiserated with him over the incident.
Asked who ordered the arrest of Abiola, Al-Mustapha said it was the Inspector General of Police then and that he (Abiola) was kept in Police custody until he began to complain. He however added that he later became responsible for Abiola's custody and took very good care of him; saying that those who stood against Abiola are high up and can never be brought to court,
On the issue of one of the witnesses, Sgt Rogers admitting that he shot Kudirat on his order, Al-Mustapha said it was untrue, pointing out that Rogers has confessed that what he said was dictated to him under duress. He also told the court that he admitted that he ordered the killing of Kudirat due to the severe torture he was going through in the hands of the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) so he could be given the liberty to go to court as well as to see his lawyers which was denied him for one year.
"I appeared last before the SIP in October 13, 1999 after intense torture that I cannot forget and my statement to them was like a visa that they needed to begin my prosecution. It was under duress that I made it.
'If the prosecution has seen the torture and in any of us and the conditions we were subjected to, they would never have accepted this case," he told the court;' displaying scars of burns in his stomach which he claimed was as a result of the tortures he received.
He said the statement which he described as a dictation became a visa because it was on account of it that he was taken to Lagos for prosecution. 'It was a dictation. I decided to do that so that I would be sent to court or the prisons so that I can see my lawyers. For one year, I could not set my eyes on my lawyers or members of my family,' he said.
Attempt by the prosecution counsel to ask him questions on the content of the statement he (Al-Mustapha) allegedly made to the SIP received stern opposition from the defence counsel, Olalekan Ojo.
Ojo said: "Objection my lord. The statement he is referring to has not been tendered before this court. It is elementary to ask questions on a document that is not before my lordship. I am vehemently opposing this question unless my colleagues will cite an authority. Questions on the content of the statement cannot be raised unless the statement is admitted as evidence before the court." An objection Justice Dada upheld.
He denied knowing the closely late Pa Alfred Rewane and one Isaac Porbeni (whose life was also attempted on during the period), but admitted knowing the Guardian publisher Mr. Alex Ibru, whom he said was known to him because he was a minister under Abacha. He said that Pa Anthony Enahoro was a father to him.
He said the late elder statesman was always communicating with him in the prison before his demise. "Pa Enahoro was like a father to me. Until he died, we were communicating," he said, adding that he never ordered for the murder or arrest of all those mentioned.
He insisted that as the CSO to the head of state, he was not a member of the Military Ruling Council and so was not privy to any security decisions taken to arrest anybody. He maintained that had he belong to the group, he would have resigned or taken a different decision about certain issues that would have saved him the trial he is facing today. He also insisted that the Strike force where Rogers belong to was the creation of National Intelligence Bureau in March 1995 and that they do not take direct orders from him.
Al-Mustapha who declared that the Strike Force is a norm in every government was conceived with the primary responsibility of protecting the head of state from external attack while the body guard was primarily charged with the responsibility of being with VIP's at the Villa. He said that he was only interested in their routine functions, insisting that the Strike Force was never trained in Korea but locally.
He said: "I did not order the arrest of any political figure in the country during the administration of Abacha but I sent Rabo Lawal to confirm the planned burning of Abacha's properties in Lagos and not to checkmate the activities of NADECO in the state. In fact, it was the Garrison Command in Lagos led by retired General Patrick Azazi that was directed to take over protection of the said property".