Last week, a dramatic end came for the celebrated case of Major Hamza Al Mustapha, when he was sentenced to death by hanging. He was found guilty by the court for the murder of late Kudirat Abiola. Since the court’s pronouncement, there have been mixed reactions from many quarters. An interview granted by Al-Mustapha’s grandmother in Kano summarises the mood in the household of Al-Mustapha. Fatima Hamza is frail, very frail, but for a 116 year-old grandmother, there is nothing unusual about that. Something is however unusual about her eyes. They look sad. A first time visitor is easily struck by the pale look of this grandmother, which when coupled with her bent figure, gives the aura of gloom. It shouldn’t be so. At over a century old, Fatima should have lived the best part of her life and be contented; full of sweet memories, while waiting for the day she will join her ancestors.
Life has not played out that way for Fatima, especially in her old age. She is sad, a very sad woman. And the reason: Major Harnza Al Mustapha, her favourite grandson, whom she raised as a son, has been in detention for over 10 years over charges of murder, attempted murder and security breach. Ten years and still no sign that he would be freed anytime soon, until the slammer came last week via the death sentence.
That is the sadness of Fatima. She knows that the clock is ticking for her that anytime soon, she would finish her course here on earth and go home to meet her maker. She doesn’t want that day to come without seeing her favourite grandson, whom she fondly calls ‘Alhaji’. “He is the reason why I am still living”, she says in a quivering voice. “I hope to hold him in my arms again.” Finally, Grandma Fatima gently leans back, looks upwards, and mutters prayers. Then her wrinkled face brightens as she offers a dint of smile. At that moment, it is just as if AI Mustapha, her grandson had walked into the room. Her smile is full of hope. Enjoy the interview she granted two years ago.
Could you share your background with us?
I hail from Wudil Local government area of Kano state. Then later, I relocated to Yobe state. After a brief stint in Yobe, I came back to Kano. And here now I have many children and grandchildren. I also have relatives down in my settlement in Yobe state and even in Wudil too, here in Kano.
How did you meet your husband, late Alhaji Hamza?
Well, we grew up together from the same local government in Nguru. Nguru is in Yobe State. This is where we met as youngsters. He was such a handsome and pleasant man. We later got married as we grew older.
Apart from the fact that AI Mustapha is your grandson, is there any special reason why you love him so much?
A1haji (AI Mustapha) has good attitude and character. He is such a gift to this family. While I was in Nguru, we used to stay together. In fact, it was due to his work in the military that he later had to leave me. Besides he is a very obedient boy. And ever since we lived together and since he left he has never offended me. That is why I am so fond of him.
Why do you refer to him as Alhaji?
He was named after his grandfather, Harnza, my husband and according to our culture he has to be accorded some respect. Moreover, I see him as an embodiment of his grandfather. He also observed hajj at one time and people who do so are referred to as A1haji when they return from Mecca. In spite of the demise of my late husband, I still call him Alhaji.
It is widely speculated that Major AI Mustapha was responsible for some of the killings that characterized General Abacha’ s regime. Do you see him in this light?
No, I don’t believe it. All those things they reported about him are false. That was not the boy I raised. (Alhaji) AI Mustapha has human feelings. Even his childhood friends don’t believe those things they said about him. Go to the streets and ask people about him. He is a wonderful kid. I have known him from childhood. And I believe he is still the same man now. It is definitely not true what people say about him. I don’t believe it. (Alhaji) Al Mustapha is good-hearted.
Why are you not convinced that he was responsible for the alleged killings?
At all, I am never going to be convinced he was responsible for the murder or attempted murder. Not even in my dying days. My grandson is just a subject of victimization by the government. It is all politics. I also think he is only being punished for his loyalty to his boss with this detention. But then, they tell me that you cannot be a true soldier without being loyal to your superiors and to your country. See why I said this is victimization?
Gen. Bamaiyi, Al Mustapha and others were allegedly tried for ‘attempted murder’ and security ‘breach’. Today, the former is a free man while your grandson is still in detention. Do you see this as injustice?
First, it is injustice to his mother and me since I played a major role in his life. Secondly, it is injustice for his wife and children, who until now are yet to set their eyes on him. His incarceration has dragged for too long. They should give him justice. This is all we pray the government and authorities. Because everybody wants him out. The best is for him to be out.
How are his wife and children?
They are not happy. For almost 10 years now their father has been kept in custody. You don’t expect such family to be happy. I mean these children go to bed every night without any hope their father will come home to be with them. It hurts. And it hurts even more when everyday all the people that had earlier lied against him in court are now coming out to confess that they were forced to lie. That is why we are all very unhappy, that it took them ten years to discover this …
Do his wife and children visit you?
They do come from time to time. They have consistently kept in touch and hoping to see their father walk home someday. In fact, his younger child, would quietly sit in front of his picture that hangs here (she pointed at one of the photograph of AI Mustapha hanging on the wall). And when he turns from it he would ask me, ‘Hajiya, when is my daddy coming home?’ And I would reply soon, Insha Allah.
Can you share with us his days as a school boy?
All I can remember is that he stayed in peace and harmony with all of the people while with me. He would bring some of his friends from school home. And together he would share his lunch with them. Alhaji was particularly helpful to his mother. He sometimes helped in the kitchen. He was a giving and very hardworking person.
Do you have any regret that he enrolled in the military?
Well for me it is a good thing he went to the military. I have no regret about his enlistment. He did it to become a bread winner to his family and to his mother in particular. I think it is a good thing for him. I am sure he has no regret either, he had always wanted to go the military to serve his country. Most importantly that is what Allah wanted for him to become.
Inspite of the affection you have towards him, you encouraged him to join the military. Some parents would not have done so.
I believe his enlistment is bound to assist people especially during the time of war. I felt it was an opportunity for my child to defend his country. He said to me it was the duty of soldiers to defend their nation in time of war and conflict. And that he would like to be among soldiers who will save the lives of women, children and a country at large. He saw it as a way of serving his nation. And I trusted his instinct, and so when the news that he was joining the force reached me, I just gave my blessings.
What is the relationship of Al Mustapha and his siblings?
The relationship is very cordial. He loved them all. I remember, he would draw a wrist watch (with the use of a crayon) on the wrist of his younger siblings. Harisa (AI Mustapha’s youngest sister) used to run over to me and say, ‘Hajiya look at my watch’. And if I want to clean it for her she would protest. She would consider it as though it was a gift. So, when she celebrated her eighteenth birthday, Alhaji bought her a fine wrist watch, which she still adores. He was also very wonderful to his brothers, he used to take them out and play football with them.
It was reported that General Abacha often said about your grandson, “Al Mustapha, a koi brain.” Would you consider him as really intelligent?
Yes, he is very intelligent. Allah has blessed him with wisdom. And I am sure everyone who has ever worked with him, or met him would attest to that. And then he also has a high sense of humour.
Well, it doesn’t appear a lot of people know about that high sense of humour …
He would make you laugh no matter how depressed you were. Alhaji is a cheerful person who couldn’t stand anyone feeling moody. And that is evident, even when we see him on television in court. He is always laughing and smiling and trying to make everyone happy even when he is the one suffering in detention. But then, you have to talk to him, to know how much he could make you laugh.
And did his intelligence manifest in his school work?
Certainly, his intelligence reflected in his work. He proved to be a very sharp-minded person and his mother was very proud of him. His school teachers commended his school work greatly.
What is your fondest memory of Al Mustapha?
I remember when he was a lot younger, I sent him on an errand to a relative of mine in the village at Gaidam local government. I did not give him much money because I thought my relative would give him some money when returning to me.
Unfortunately, Alhaji did not meet him at home, hence my grandson begged some good people for transport fare back home. When he got home he showed no ill will. He told me the tale in good fate. And he said ‘It is always good to be good’. AI Mustapha would go the extra mile in achieving result when sent on errands. He was always contented. He never took what didn’t belong to him … (She sobs).
When was the last time you saw him?
It has been very long. It is almost ten years now since I set my eyes on him … (She weeps) … But I know Allah is aware of all things and I pray He will see him through.
When he was arrested and taken to Kano for a search of his residence. Were you at home and can you share the experience?
No, I was not at home at the time. Moreover they took him to the other house there… (She pointed southward of the house) and conducted the search. Obviously, they found nothing incriminating. I know Alhaji has nothing to hide.
What was your reaction when you learnt of his arrest?
I feel embittered when I learnt of his arrest. But everything is left in the hands of Allah.
Since the trial and detention of Al Mustapha, has the Abacha family stood by you?
Yes they played their part reasonably. They played the role to a large extent. And I appreciate them. They have shown sympathy to this family. May Allah bless their family.
Has the support been monetary or in kind?
We sure are maintaining ties with them. They do come and support us. I suppose his (AI Mustapha) mother or his wife can say better on the matter whether it were in kind or in cash. Because of my old age I usually keep in doors now. His (AI Mustapha) mother and my grandchildren tell me they still keep in touch.
Do you have any regret that your grandson was ever close to the former head of state?
I have no regret really because he did his best in the discharge of his duty. Everything in life is God-given.
Would you say he was too young to have attained such power?
What power had he?’ He was (Chief Security Officer to the head of state. You call that power?’ Don’t forget that he had several bosses both in the army and in the Abacha cabinet. So he couldn’t have been as powerful as you said. Alhaji is a patient boy. More so he had a mature mind. He was so obedient. His travails had nothing to do with his age.
Sure I have my hope in him. His travails make no difference of who he is to me or anyone who had known him for whom and what he represents. Allah knows all things. (She held out her palms praying to Allah).
Will you visit him if you have the opportunity?
Yes, I long to see him. I would like to see Alhaji again. (She weeps). I have had sleepless nights since his incarceration.
I render prayer to Allah to save him and hope to embrace him. He was such a good boy. I am praying that Allah will give him justice soon.
Two years ago, his father visited him in prison. When he (father) came back home to Kano he told me of the visit and said that after they had both prayed together, Alhaji (AI Mustapha) told him he hoped to come home very soon to see all of them. But, that was not to be, as his father died a couple of months after. It grieves every one of us in the family.
Attempted murder is one key allegation leveled against him. Do you think your son kills?
No … No my grandson is not a killer. Even though, I agree he is a professional soldier.
What had he to prove by killing the people he should be protecting? I told you all this talk about his case is political.
What message do you have for him?
May Allah bless him and speed his release. May Allah continue to guide him? Whoever has good intention, may Allah aid such people in order to facilitate his release from detention? And whoever has bad intentions, may Allah cause such person to stop. He should continue to call on his God to see him through the travails. I am told he still observes his prayers, and I’m happy to hear that.
How old are you now?
I am very old. I am around 113 years of age (January 2009).
Do you have the hope you will see him again?
Insha Allah. I believe I would see him again. I pray to Allah every morning to see him and I know He will grant me my wish. I would love to see him and wrap my arms around him before I die. That is my only wish.