Despite the seeming apathy attending the plight of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the late General Sani Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, advocates of mercy should never give up the efforts in the struggle to get clemency for this young northern army officer.
Why is this officer forgotten and abandoned to his fate? Is his situation not important enough to deserve the attention of Northern Senators’ Forum, Northern Governors’ Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum? We are all aware of the roles played by Niger Delta governors, lawmakers and other opinion leaders to get amnesty for former militants.
Despite large-scale economic sabotage which weakened Nigeria’s oil production output and other criminal acts, including kidnappings for ransom, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration succumbed to pressure from the Niger Delta leaders and granted amnesty to the former militants.
No reasonable and right thinking northerner would have opposed the amnesty deal for Niger Delta former militants. Nigeria is now better off for the policy of amnesty and reconciliation. In fact, nobody focused on the past criminal activities of the militant because the greater good of Niger overshadowed the desire for petty vengeance, which only sows the seeds of bitterness among members of the society.
One has not as yet come across any arguments to prove that vengeance is better than clemency. Major Al-Mustapha having spent 14 years in detention, facing a trial within a trial, was finally convicted to death by hanging by a Lagos High Court on January 30th this year.
The death sentence was greeted with outrage by leading Nigerians, including former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and the factional leader of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Dr. Frederick Fasheun.
According to Fasheun, the inconsistencies in witnesses’ accounts and their recantations at different stages of the trial didn’t justify the verdict of death passed on Major Al-Mustapha. In fact, the medical doctor-cum-activist, bought advert spaces in the newspapers to express his disagreement with the harsh verdict.
The position of these two Yoruba leaders discredits the arguments that the Yoruba are vindictive by nature and, for the reason, they want Major Al-Mustapha dead at all costs. Let us not forget, however that the sentiments of mercy respect no ethnic boundaries. As a Yoruba man, I gain nothing from the death of any man, whether he is a northerner or easterner. Former President of South Africa, Dr. Nelson Mandela, spent 27 years in agonizing detention under the collapsed apartheid rule.
However, when Mandela regained freedom in 1990 following the emergence of a reform-minded White President of South Africa, Mr. Frederick De Klerk, he pushed vengeance aside and put the future of a united and multi-racial South African society before any petty sentiments. He pursued national reconciliation instead of rounding up white rulers for trial and hanging.
Mandela’s exemplary statesmanship should be a lesson to countries and leaders that elevate vengeance above higher national interest. The problem of Nigeria is selfishness, especially when an issue doesn’t affect us or one of our own. A senior advocate of Nigeria, who was frequently opposed to freedom for Major Al-Mustapha, suddenly changed his tune when former Governor James Ibori of Delta State was convicted by a London court for corruption.
This senior lawyer criticized the London judge for being too hard on Ibori. Curiously, he saw nothing wrong for Al-Mustapha spending 14 years in detention and being convicted to death on the grounds of contradictory witnesses’ evidence. If Ibori deserved fairer deal from the Judge in London as argued by this senior advocate in Nigeria, why did he find it difficult to make the same humane case for Al-Mustapha?
Is Al-Mustapha’s crime the worst in Nigeria that he should be excluded from the policy of amnesty and national reconciliation through forgiveness? In what way can discriminatory application of amnesty help the interest of Nigeria? If the amnesty for the former Niger Delta militants and pardon for leaders of the Oodua People’s Congress, who were once arraigned for mass murder, including the killing of 12 police officers, wasn’t bad for Nigeria, why would Al-Mustapha’s freedom harm Nigeria?
It is apparent that President Jonathan is under pressure from forces driven by petty and base motives not to free Al-Mustapha. President Jonathan should ignore these vindictive forces and act courageously like a statesman and release Al-Mustapha. Former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, noted that one of the qualities of leadership is the ability to take difficult decisions.
In this regard, therefore, President Jonathan should act boldly and pardon this young Army major. The callous indifference of northern leaders to the fate of Al-Mustapha is shocking and incredible. South-South, Southeast and Southwest leaders would not have treated the fate of their own people this way. Northern leaders should not abdicate their responsibility at a challenging moment like this. Their active voice is essential to tackling Al-Mustapha’s case.