Obasanjo: I Left Prison Broke in 1998

  •  Reveals how Ford, Turner rescued him from ‘financial mess’
  •  Speaks on his pastoral work in prison

Gboyega Akinsanmi

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has disclosed that he left prison broke in 1998, after he was released by former Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar following the death of General Sani Abacha, then head of state on June 8, 1998.

Obasanjo, who claimed he had no money by the time he regained his freedom after serving in Kirikiri, Jos and Yola prisons for about four years however revealed that the Ford Foundation and the founder of the Cable News Network (CNN), Mr. Ted Turner, surprisingly gave him a lifeline through the sum of $150,000 that was donated to him and which enabled him to settle the tuition fees of his children, whose studies were almost truncated by his incarceration.

The former president, who shared agonising memories of his prison experience at a recent programme organised by Christ The Redeemer’s Friends International (CRFI) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, however revealed how he became born again in prison and won souls for Christ.

Obasanjo was sentenced to life jail in 1995 by the Abacha junta after he was tried by a military court on trumped-up charges of felony and conspiracy to overthrow the Abacha government, an allegation the former president denied with evidence.

But exactly one week after Abacha passed away on June 8, 1998 under unclear circumstances, Obasanjo was released from the Yola Prison by the administration of Abubakar.

Giving the testimony on how God rescued him from Abacha’s plot to inject him with viral poison at the fellowship recently, Obasanjo said he was broke immediately after he regained his freedom from the Yola Prison, revealing that he had no cash at that time to settle the tuition fees of his children, who were studying in the US.

Before he left the Yola Prison, Obasanjo said he resolved “to live a new life – quiet, peaceful and possibly private. But it was surprising when I got to the airport; a presidential aircraft was already waiting for me. I did not believe it. When I arrived Lagos, two cars with pilots were waiting to convey me to my residence. I held my peace.”

Shortly after he returned home, Obasanjo said he decided “to travel to the US for two reasons. First, I needed to see my children. When I was in prison, they could not pay their tuition. One of them was not allowed to continue because he could not pay his tuition.”

On this ground, the former president said it was very urgent that he travelled to the US to visit his children, even though he was confronted with the paucity of funds to settle their tuition.

“I did not have money after I returned from prison. And the experience was agonising. I did not even have money to settle their tuition and upkeep. As a father, I decided to travel first to see my children after a long time and second to encourage them, even though I did not have much with me at that time.

“To my surprise, the federal government provided me a presidential aircraft to take me to the US. I was equally surprised at the way the federal government then treated me. My transformation was so sudden. I said this is not ordinary. It is God in action.”

Obasanjo cited the need to appreciate former US President, Jimmy Carter, an American media mogul, Mr. Ted Turner, Ford Foundation and other associates that tirelessly fought for his freedom as the second reason he decided to travel to the US.

He disclosed that he first visited Carter, whom he said, played significant roles in the global campaign for his release and subsequently Ted Turner, whom he described as his good friend.

“Both Carter and Turner fought hard for my release. When I got to Carter, he was happy to see me. Before we started discussing, he asked me if I had seen my friend, Ted. I said I had not seen him. He said Ted had been asking of me. He advised me to visit him before I travelled back to Nigeria. I assured him that I would visit him. He also told me about the roles Turner played to secure my release from Abacha’s claws. He said he really tried for me and that I should visit him in appreciation.

“After I left Carter’s place, I visited Ted. Oh, Ted was so glad to see me. He said you would need some money.
I asked him why he was asking such question when I just returned from prison and I had no money. He looked at me and smiled.

“Turner, then asked his secretary to give me $50,000. After I received the cash, I looked somehow unhappy and I did not say anything. He discovered I was not too excited about the money he asked his secretary to give me. He asked me why I was not looking happy.

“I told him directly that the money was not enough. I said you knew your friend had been in prison for a long time and that the money you gave me would not be enough. He smiled at me again and directed his secretary to add $50,000. I received $100,000 from Ted alone. I was relieved that I got some money to settle my children’s tuition.”

From Turner’s office, Obasanjo said he visited the office of Ford Foundation in New York, because he was the sole African on its Board of Trustees before Abacha framed him in a coup plot that landed him in prison.

At Ford Foundation, Obasanjo said: “I was well-received. After we had short discussion, I was asked if I had checked my account balance. I said there was no need to check it because I did not have any money in my account. I was advised to check my bank account.

“I did not know Ford Foundation was paying honorarium into my bank account. Ford was treating me as though I was attending its conferences, programmes and seminars. I was surprised to find a balance of $50,000 in my bank account. I got $150,000 during my trip to the US.

“Oh, I was so happy that I had more than enough to settle my children’s tuitions and other outstanding issues. I later visited my children, and they were all happy to see me after a long time. At some point, there was no hope of meeting again with what Abacha did to me. I settled their tuition. I shared my experience with them. I encouraged them to always trust God. And I returned to Nigeria after my mission. At the time I was released from the prison, I was really broke. But Ford and Ted rescued me from financial mess.”

After he returned to Nigeria, Obasanjo said pressure was mounted on him to contest the 1999 presidential election, which he said, was difficult to resist at some points where leaders from different parts of the country kept calling him to consider contesting the election.

When he could not resist it, he said he had to travel to South Africa to seek advice from the late President Nelson Mandela and an Anglican Bishop and social rights activist, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

When he sought Mandela’s advice, Obasanjo said the late president simply told him “to do whatever my instinct told me. I did not argue with him. But I was comfortable with Mandela’s piece of advice.

However, he explained how Tutu strongly encouraged him “to contest the election if my people wanted me to serve them. If your people said they wanted you to be their leader, you had to do what they wanted or do you want to disappoint them?

“Tutu told me to go back home and honour my people. I was not really comfortable with his piece of advice. Honestly, I was more comfortable with what Nelson Mandela told me than what Desmond Tutu told when I visited at different times.”

But Obasanjo said he made up his mind to contest the 1999 presidential election the day he opened his Bible “to the Book of Esther and read about the elevation of Mordecai and Haman.”

After reading Mordecai’s story, he said he came “to a conclusion that God was talking to him. I also came to a conclusion that God wanted me to serve my fatherland again. Despite what some people said, I served two terms and Nigeria is still together.”

In spite of his agonising experience during incarceration, Obasanjo said he decided to live the rest of his life for God, which he said, explained why he became pastor at the Kirikiri Prison.

While at Yola Prison, Obasanjo narrated how he met an inmate, Baba Ali, stating that “Baba Ali was a hardened criminal. He was the leader of Arewa Boys, a group of armed robbers in the North. Baba Ali commanded so much respect in the prison.

“If an armed robber came to the prison, he must first of all pay homage to him. If he was going out, he would go to him and ask for instruction on what to do next. I preached Christ to Baba Ali. He said I should not worry him because God can never forgive him.

“Baba Ali told me not to bother him at all because he had killed so many people in his life. He said he had drunk the blood of so many people. He said he had eaten the flesh of so many people. He said God would never forgive him. He said I should not waste my time.

“I left Baba Ali for a while. But I told him one day that you are not coming to fellowship. I encouraged him to start coming to the fellowship. He repeated what he told me at the first time that God would never forgive him, citing different evils he had done in life.

“I said Baba Ali, whether you killed only one person or a thousand people, you are a murderer. Have you forgotten that Moses was a murderer, but God used him to bring His people of Israel out of Egypt? David was a murderer, but God called him a man after my heart.

“Baba Ali was touched. He eventually surrendered to God. When I was leaving the prison, I promised to send Baba Ali to Bible College if he was able to make it. Baba Ali was released three years after I left Yola Prison. But I had become President then.

“Baba Ali came to Aso Rock to meet me. I reminded him of my promise to send him to Bible College. He said he was ready to go to the Bible school. So I sent him to the seminary, Baba Ali spent two years in the seminary. Today, he is a pastor of a Baptist Church.

“What is more? He was the sixth of the 11 children his parents had. He lived a terrible life, but God changed him. Maybe, he was one of the reasons Abacha sent me to prison. Baba Ali’s younger brother took after him. He has also become a pastor.”

Apart from evangelising in all the prisons he served and pastoring the fellowship in prison, the former president said he eventually wrote a book, ‘Sermon from the Prison’, which gave detailed account of his evangelistic and pastoral activities while in the prisons.

CRFI, a non-denominational fellowship was established by the General Overseer of RCCG Worldwide, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, with a mission to reach men and women in the middle and upper echelons of every society worldwide with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

National Coordinator of CRFI, Pastor Edmond Ayoola, explained that Pastor Adeboye established the fellowship out of concern for those, who occupied privileged positions in politics, business, industry, commerce and government so that they could benefit from the gospel of Jesus Christ and escape the wrath of the end time.

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