Former President Olusegun Obasanjo says he rebuffed an opportunity to escape while he was in Yola Prison serving a jail term for coup charges levelled against him by the late military dictator, Sani Abacha in 1995.
The former president said this Friday at the 20-year memorial of Nigeria’s former ex-Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, late Shehu Musa Yar’adua.
The event held at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre, Abuja.
Mr. Obasanjo, at the event, described Mr. Yar’adua, who was his deputy when he was a military head of state between 1976-1979, as a noble and selfless man.
“For those of us who knew Shehu very well, we would know the type of man he was, the type of life he lived, his commitment to work, his commitment to family, religion, friends and nation.
“And then when you ask the question what is life? I think Shehu ‘Yar’ adua’s life has defined the answer to that question. How he lived his life gave us an eloquent answer to what life is,” he said.
The former president said he had a good working relationship with the late Mr. Yar’adua that even extended to while they were both incarcerated.
“When Shehu was first arrested, I was in South Africa and I rushed back home and I asked the man who arrested him and the man who arrested him said to me that he did not know that Shehu had been arrested. I said Mr. Head of State, say that to the marines. There is no way the number two man of a country at one time would be arrested without your knowledge.
“Soon after that, Shehu was released but he was released only for a short time. When he was arrested for the second time, I was arrested along with him and we were in separate locations after – our destiny. The verdict had been given of what will happen to us, we met in Kirikiri and I believed that was a mistake. That was the last time we actually stayed together. We had about three nights, we were able to speak and think and work together,” he said.
Mr. Obasanjo also narrated how he turned down an escape plan from prison that was organised by his “international counterparts.”
“Even in prison, we strategised together, unfortunately our strategy did not work. But when Shehu died in prison, my international friends decided that they would use a ‘commando’ plan to get me out of prison and they actually did, they made the plan, they raised the money and their plan was to get an helicopter to take me out of Yola prison and take me into Cameroon.
“They sent a message to me, and I told them that if you do that I would not come out of prison and that was when they dropped the idea of using commando effort to get me out of prison because that would have defeated what we stood for. We stood to face whatever consequences standing for Nigeria would cost us,” he said.
“It cost Shehu Yar’Adua his life. Those of us who believed in what Shehu Yar’Adua believed in and that are still alive – I think the only thing we can do is to allow the struggle to continue and we are not at the end of the struggle, if anything we are at the middle of the struggle,” he added.
In his remarks, Ernest Bai Kono, president of Sierra Leone described the late general as a great patriot.
“We have gathered here together in memory of a great African, General Shehu Musa ‘Yar’ adua who was greatly loved by so many people. But like all of us would, the late general came, played his part and transitioned and although we are greatly hurt by his passing but we are consoled and inspired by his exemplary life.
“He was a great patriot and from what we have hear so far this morning, we have been provided with enough evidence that he was a great soldier and a politician,” he said.
Associates of the late Mr. Yar’adua gave tributes to him at the event.
Some dignitaries, who attended the occasion include a former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Adamu Ciroma, a retired major-general, Paul Tarfa, a former ambassador, Patrick Dele-Cole, and others.