I refused to beg Abacha, says Obasanjo
Former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on Saturday narrated how the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, made spirited efforts to plead on his behalf to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha over the alleged 1995 coup plot in which he and his erstwhile Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua were framed.
While sharing his prison experience during a programme organised by Christ The Redeemer’s Friend International (CRFI), a body in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Lagos Province 39 chapter, the former president said “Abacha and those around him had made up their mind to terminate me because I was vocal against his government.”
According to him, “My crime before Abacha was that I stood my ground he should put down his uniform and join a political party to context election if he is interested in ruling. This did not go down well with the late Head of State and he decided I must be silenced.”
He continued: “I was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Arewa House in Kaduna that time but Abacha invited me to Abuja and demanded to see the copy of the speech but I refused to give him. He also offered me a plane that will take me to Kaduna, if I surrendered the speech but I also refused and I went to Kaduna and said what he didn’t like. He actually planned to terminate my life but unfortunately left God out in his plans and he failed.
“He arrested Yar’Adua but in my efforts to plead on behalf of the former Chief of Staff, Abacha told me he wasn’t aware of the arrest but I replied he should tell that to the marines, that it was not possible for a former number two man and a retired four-star general to be arrested and you the sitting Head of State would claim ignorance.
“After that I travelled out of the country and it was then that people all over the world started informing me that the government was planning to arrest me for planning a coup. The American ambassador to the country specifically informed me about my planned arrest and said his home government has offered to grant me asylum but I rejected on the premise that I had done nothing to warrant my arrest.
“I planned to travel to Paris from where I was then and the government was actually waiting for me to return to the country on Tuesday after my Paris trip but I cancelled my trip and returned to Nigeria on Sunday. The government seized my passport but I went to my farm in Otta, after all, the passport is Federal Government’s property.
“Few days after, I received a message that the Ooni of Ife wanted to see me. We met and the late Oba Sijuwade was panicked saying to me that we needed to go and see and beg Abacha. I refused because I didn’t do anything wrong. But by the time I returned to my farm, security personnel had surrounded the place. Some people suggested that I should run away but I rejected the advice.
“ In the process, the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar came to me wanting to narrate to me what has been happening while I was away and the ordeal of Yar’Adua but while we were discussing an officer came in, he was on mufti, to inform me that the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) wanted to see and advise me. But I said to him, I do not know your rank but if you know whom you are talking to you would know that it is the AIG that needed to come to me for advise and not otherwise.”
Obasanjo further disclosed how he was detained for over three months in Ikoyi and the efforts made by the likes of former President of America, Jimmy carter and several presidents before he was released.
He said, “I was released and went back to my farm but restricted under house arrest. I was there until one day they came to arrest me again and started my investigation. Later four majors in the army came to inform me that I have been charged for treason punishable by death.”
Obasanjo also narrated how he was taken to Kuje Prison in Jos after he was sentenced and Yar’Adua transferred to Port Harcourt Prison. He further explained how he became very popular among the prisoners in Kuje, which eventually forced the government to transfer him to Yola Prison where he was able to impact positively on the lives of two hardened criminals, Baba Ali and Aliyu, whom he succeeded in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to and got them converted to Christianity.
He further gave the details of how Carter, Ted Turner and the Ford Foundation came to his financial aid after former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, released him from jail.
The former president further narrated the interaction between him and erstwhile President of South Africa, Dr. Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu over the pressure on him to contest for the 1999 Presidential election after he was released from jail “when I joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and won the election, some people came to me saying I would be the last president of Nigeria and I will preside over the dissolution of the country. The story was not so because we did our best to keep the country.”