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    Abubakar ready for Oputa *Aides storm Minna to brainstorm

    (Sunday 26th  August, 2001)

    By Jide Ajani, Vanguard

    Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, is set to confront Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (rtd), erstwhile chief security officer (CSO) to the late General Sani Abacha and Brigadier General Mohammed Sabo (rtd), former Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), both of them levelled allegations of official misconduct against him while in office before the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC).

    Abubakar who has been under pressure alongside former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida and his predecessor, Major General Muhammadu Buhari to appear before the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel to defend various charges levelled against them, reported summoned top aides who played key roles in his government to his Minna residence last weekend to help prepare his defence.

    Many top rated lawyers, some of them Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), were said to have been contacted to handle the defence.

    The Commission on the last lap of its sitting in Abuja is expected to resume hearing in the petitions filed before it Monday, September 3.

    Mustapha who testified before the panel in the petition filed on the death of Chief MKO Abiola had alleged that he handed to Abubakar on his assumption of office as head of state various sums of money, including 40 million dollars which, according to him, was contributed by some multinational companies in aid of the self-succession project of the late Abacha.

    The late Abacha CSO also claimed to have handed over several houses to Abubakar which he said the former head of state shared to girlfriends, associates and relations.

    The allegation of Sabo who also testified in the Abiola petition is that Abubakar misappropriated the money earmarked for soldiers who participated in the ECOMOG project.

    Sunday Vanguard sources said aides summoned by the former head of state to his Minna residence met throughout the weekend to assemble documents to build a foolproof defence, for the former Nigerian leader.

    Although it could not be ascertained at the weekend if Abubakar had settled for the lawyer to represent him at the Oputa Panel’s resumed sitting, it was learnt that many of the former head of state’s aides were of the opinion that Mustapha and Sabo’s allegations should be replied point by point.

    For instance, a source said Mustapha’s allegation that the 40 million dollars Abacha self-succession fund was misappropriated by Abubakar was baseless to the extent that the former CSO failed to name the multi-nationals who allegedly contributed it.

    "The onus would be on Mustapha to name those who contributed such a money when the former head of state confronts him at the trial", the source stated.

    On Sabo’s charge that the former head of state illegally took public funds by awarding 35 U.S. dollars per day to each soldier who participated in the ECOMOG project, the source said there were records to show that each Nigerian soldier involved in the project took only five U.S. dollars per day under the Abubakar government.

    "If Sabo’s claim is that each of the soldiers took five dollars per day and the records show that $35 was paid to each of them, the onus is on us to prove that what left the government’s coffer to each of the soldiers was five dollars indeed", the source said.

    The source added: "So, it will be left to the former DMI boss to produce documents to back his claim".

    The source explained that the ECOMOG soldiers allowances of five dollars each was fixed by the late Abacha, saying that Abubakar did not alter the position throughout his stay in office.

    According to the source, "If anybody benefitted from the ECOMOG project, it was Abacha’s associates, friends and relations who allegedly supplied foods and other needs of the troops at highly inflated costs.

    The source said that there were documents and evidence to tender at Oputa Panel to show that Mustapha and Sabo lied on all their allegations against the former head of state, saying the intent may have been to settle scores with Abubakar for retiring them from the army following the allegation that they were planning to topple his administration.

    Although the initial response of the former Head of State to Mustapha and Sabo’s allegations was that of sealed lips.

    Sunday Vanguard also gathered that what may have emboldened the former Head of State to prepare for his appearance before the Panel was the admonition handed down by President Obasanjo when he held talks with Justice Oputa.

    President Obasanjo, it was learnt, charged that Justice Oputa should not allow witnesses at the tribunal to trivialise and settle scores with people.

    This was the high point of the discussion between the President and Justice Oputa when the two met on the continued reluctance of some past Heads of State to appear before it.

    The president was said to have frowned at the emerging situation whereby witnesses were beginning to use the opportunity of providing evidence to run down other people.

    The president, it was learnt from Aso Rock sources, wanted the Commission’s proceedings to be guided by what the source called decorum.

    This, it was explained, would be carried out by ensuring that evidences of witnesses would be petition specific.

    Henceforth, it was agreed at that meeting, Justice Oputa would ensure that the witnesses answer petition-specific questions.

    This was explained out as being a way to ensure that the witnesses would not stray out of the line of questioning, a development which had made some of the evidences quite tendentious.

    That way, it would not be easy for witnesses to attack the personality of other people, just as the lawyer carrying out the cross-examination would not ask questions that are not directly of relevance to the petition in question.

    The president was said to have given some assurances to former Heads of State including General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), based on his earlier meeting with Justice Oputa, on the need to take charge of proceedings and ensure that cross-examinations are limited to the petitioner’s point of petition and not as an opportunity to smear people.

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