Nigeria: Al Mustapha and the new political opening
By Chude Nwokolo
The release of Major Hamza Al Mustapha, the former Chief Security Officer to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha from prison has obviously sparked varied passionate interests and speculations. First off, is that a very confusing signal is being sent by the media. To the unpredictability of many people, a large section of the media which so vilified him in the
past fourteen years whilst in prison has suddenly reversed and became bogusly charitable with publicising his adoring activities. Ordinarily, one would think that it is probably for what looks important to gaining patronage for their newspapers but in reality, this is a stark contradiction because ever since the Appellate Court overturned the Lagos High Court death sentence on Al Mustapha, the superior judgement did not only take away the dark cloud that hung over his survival but the same media has introduced a new elevation to his status.
Beyond the media somersault, Al Mustapha’s release by the Court no doubt has had its fair share of theatrics and noisy commentaries but the extra ordinary and outpouring welcome that greeted his entrance into the ancient commercial city of Kano even in the holy period of Ramadan when most people were busy observing the compulsory religious fast certainly caught many people by surprise. From every logical analysis, it is obvious that Al Mustapha’s detention for about fifteen years has served to make him admired and now a celebrity of sorts.
While many had wished to associate Al Mustapha’s heroic welcome in Kano to a phony event, the truth remains that his release has inspired a massive outpouring of emotion laden youths and what happened in his native Kano seems to have had an infectious impact on other places he has visited in the Northern Nigerian. From Damaturu to Nguru, Zaria to Kaduna, Lafia to Makurdi, Abuja to Bwari and many more, the feeling has been the same. Indeed, Al Mustapha’s presence along side with Mohammed Abacha, the scion of the late General Sani Abacha in such communities might easily have been mistaken for the victorious outing of a National football team.
What stands obvious in the past weeks about the duo appearance of Al Mustapha and Mohammed Abacha is that a message is clinically being sent which may not be far from freedom from political victimization. By and large, what the celebration galore portrayed is that there exist many people in the North who for a slew of reasons believe that Al Mustapha’s incarceration for the past fourteen years was an act of vendetta, probably along ethnic and political divide. Right or wrong, for these sympathizers of Al Mustapha, justice has been done by the Appellate Court even in the midst of the controversy that still greets the judgement.
Right now, there is little doubt that Al Mustapha’s victorious home coming and wide rejoice by many people has not only drawn sympathy to him but has earned him loyalty often associated with victors of a strong battle. The ready guess is that presently, Al-Mustapha with his popularity seems to be on a good run with winning the trust of the many economically and politically displaced persons of the North. Today, almost every ‘keke’ tricycle, a most popular means of commuting in a large section of the North has a sticker of Al Mustapha on it. Indeed, any objective analyst and student of political history would affirm that beyond the ongoing drama and carnival of Al Mustapha’s legal victory, it is very unlikely that such rare fame would be dumped in the waste bin. The fear that the growing popularity and acceptance of Al Mustapha has the potency to spring up a new wave of political followership is almost real especially in the youth dominant populated North. Indeed, this calls for a deep analysis not just because Al Mustapha’s documented visits attracted many youths who passionately and openly joy but for the very simple fact that present turbulence in the North depicts the picture of a people awaiting a new socioeconomic and political direction.
An interesting twist here is that even though Al Mustapha’s utterances may not contain any potential indication that he would embrace active politics, the current popularity he enjoys from a large section of northern youths rightly contains sufficient hints that he has a role in politics of the North especially for the middle and low class people that have expressed rejuvenated hope with his return. Realistically, Al Mustapha’s vibes that he is not a politician given his engagement in the Nigerian Army may not stand for long because from every logical thinking, the Nigerian Army, his present constituency, is unlikely to have a provision that would keep him in service as most appropriate. If really anyone wants to be fair-minded, then the right assumption would be that before long the public may begin to hear a lot more about Al Mustapha’s new vocation.
Like it or not, fate and history has thrust Al Mustapha into fame and responsibility. As he stands out so conspicuously as a new hero of the northern youths, he may as well get ready for the tasks that will come with it. Indeed, if really, Al Mustapha’s mind was working well in his prison days, the guess is that in his random and wishful thoughts on survival, he would have reasoned on how best to get back to relevance especially in using his assumed status of emerging from nothingness as a prisoner to a hero which is a usual trend for politically victimised persons. In any case, the most important task before Al Mustapha now, would be to dig the many northern youths from socio economic and political mire to relevance. This is where Al Mustapha must be ready to present solid and convincing hope for a youth population that seems to be in a web of exploitative socio-economic and political setting. How well he so does such, depends on the nature of tent he builds for them but the way to go, is participation in politics that will offer his teeming supporters hope, resources and proper engagement. The postulation here is that an Al-Mustapha in politics may be a harbinger of hope for many people especially those northern youths that feel betrayed, exploited and marginalized both politically and economically by the existing ruling political class. What this portends is that if Al Mustapha properly articulates his popularity, many youth groups and the peasantry class may not search too far to find a shelter for their aspirations.
Already, it seems a script is being played out even in Al Mustapha’s denials of not having politics as a priority interest. Indeed, ever since it was reported by the media that Al Mustapha announced his willingness to invite all youths’ representatives from the 19 northern states to a conference in Abuja to preach peace, unity and progress, the broad assumption is that Al Mustapha is nurturing a political platform and new route if he eventually decides to join active politics.
Nevertheless, contrary to what some might think especially for all of the talk in the media that Al Mustapha is evil, the truth is that all these seem to be suddenly changing because his pursuit for peace in the crisis ridden North is not only commendable but a necessity. In fact, it is easy to imagine that the spotlight on Al Mustapha may soon turn from a controversial freed prisoner to a peace preacher. The right guess here is that if Al Mustapha’s new peace measure is implemented with success to the extent that it breeds tranquility and unity that will lessen the present hostilities and agitations by the many aggrieved northern youths, it will not be hard to figure out that such a step will not only enhance the work of the National Amnesty Committee on Boko Haram insurgents but also eradicate a huge liability that the present administration has carried for ages.
However, no matter how hard Al Mustapha supporters pretend not to be testing the murky political water, the truth is that their peace efforts cannot be divorced from a political strategy. Be that as it may, the issue on ground is not about whether or not politics is embedded in this peace motive but the potency of such a measure producing desirable result for restoration of peace in our troubled society should be the focus. So, rather than his critics tear him down, they ought to understand that peace and unity are two major ingredients that all Nigerians have large appetite for.
Besides, the fact that Al Mustapha’s proposal may be highly progressive for the unity of the nation, it certainly has some diverse political implications and consequences. To some people, there is something very uncomfortable and complex with Al Mustapha’s presence in Northern politics. First is that some people from the existing political class will surely feel displaced and irrelevant. Second, is that with the growing acceptance of Al Mustapha by the dominant youth population, there is sure to be huge resistance to his intimidating influence by a few persons that have largely benefitted from the old system. Third, is that with a strong focused youth followership, Al Mustapha is certain to have the potency of upsetting some hitherto political calculations and upturning existing political leadership structures that were firmly rooted and controlled by the old brigades. Indeed, this is another red alert for some politicians and it will not go without a stiff challenge. Nevertheless, the comfort for Al Mustapha here is that even the old brigade of politicians from the North will be hard pressed to complain about his willingness to assist the nation on issues of peace because the tumultuous situation in the North also affects their businesses and personal lives. Another comfort is that the youths seem not ready hear is about anything relating to giving power back to the people that dashed their hopes.
With these assumptions, it becomes very difficult to ignore an Al Mustapha in politics. The derivative and constructive opinion is that the judicial victory of Al Mustapha especially coming in an election preparatory period will remain a great source of concern to some politicians because his presence or affiliation with any party either way, could affect the new direction of votes in the 2015 election in the North. Specifically, with the 2015 Presidential election becoming increasingly complicated and shaky, it is obvious that the two sides in the presidential battle, the PDP and APC may seek new partnerships to address their present shortfalls. In the present situation where on the one hand, the PDP is juggling with dwindling support from the South West and in need of safeguarding measures for its votes in the North and on the other hand, the new All Progressive Congress as presently constituted, seems more interested in taking power from the PDP back to the old brigades in the North, an agenda that is considered most provocative and unacceptable to the Northern youths who constitute the voting majority, either way, victory seems far from assured for any side and this is where it is likely that Al-Mustapha will be an essential part of the new political road map.
Indeed, Al Mustapha and his supporters may offer a potential political opening for any side. Analytically, should a partnership emerge between Al Mustapha’s anticipated new group with the PDP that presently craves for northern alliance, the likelihood is that with its assured votes in the South-South and South East regions, the alliance may be a saving grace for President Goodluck Jonathan because the hold of the CPC, a partner of APC will be grossly weakened in the North and the coalition of CPC with the ACN will die even at its incubation stage. On the other hand, should the new group support the APC, then, it may just be good bye to the 2015 dream of Goodluck Jonathan.
However, these are mere conjectures because for a truly prosperous and politically vibrant North which the youths crave for, analysts believe that the way to go for Al Mustapha and his followers would be to seek resources to register a new party that will offer firm ideology including advancing the interest of a United and prosperous North. If this succeeds, then even without presenting a presidential candidate in the 2015 elections, the group may be strong enough to engage in broad and respectable coalition whilst retaining its independence.
While, awaiting the political tent or any group Al Mustapha and his new group may decide to associate with, nothing seems certain but it is obvious that most strategists of various political parties have gone back to their drawing board because the release of Al Mustapha’s is highly suggestive of a dramatic shift in political leadership in the Northern Nigeria. For those who may wish to think Al Mustapha as having inadequate knowledge of political maneuvering or ability to deliver on these seeming assumptions, it is best to have a quick rethink. This is so because where Al Mustapha has just come out from is akin to a ‘high school’ that does not only offer opportunity to the willing to learn but provides an environment for proper thinking on broad aspects of life including understanding the machinations of the Machiavellian principles. All said, let us not forget easily that Al Mustapha is no stranger to politics especially given his rumoured and skewed association with UNCP and GDM political parties in the days of late General Sani Abacha self styled democracy.
For now, nothing seems crystal clear on Al Mustapha until the Nigerian Army decides on his fate or he declares his involvement in politics by heeding to the call of leadership by his army of loyalists that somewhat perceive him as a messiah. Nevertheless, in every sense of objectivity, the sure bet is that the wait for Al Mustapha’s arrival in politics would not be for long. For now, it is wise to think that history will repeat itself on Al Mustapha like it did to other people who transformed from political prisoners to political leaders.
Public Affairs Analyst, Abuja