Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has revealed why he turned down an offer by his “foreign friends” to break him out of prison after the late Maj.-Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua died in detention.
Obasanjo disclosed this during the 20th memorial anniversary of Yar’Adua’s death in Abuja, on Friday.
The former President revealed that he was in South Africa when he received news the first time Yar’Adua was arrested.
He further explained that on his return to Nigeria, he confronted late Gen. Sani Abacha to demand an explanation why Yar’Adua was detained.
Obasanjo said, “I asked the man (Abacha) who arrested him (Yar’Adua) and the man who arrested him said to me that he did not know that Shehu had been arrested, and I said, Mr. Head of State, tell 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 thereafter.
“Our destiny — the verdict had been given of what would happen to us. We met in Kirikiri Prison and I believed that was a mistake. That was the last time we actually stayed together. We had about three nights together, we were able to talk, think and work together.”
Yar’Adua (1943 – 1997), a retired major general, had served as the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters under Obasanjo’s military government from 1977 to 1979.
He (Yar’Adua), Obasanjo, Lawan Gwadabe (a former military administrator of Niger State) and others were arrested in March 1995 on allegations of plotting a coup to overthrow the Abacha regime.
Yar’Adua was thereafter sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1995, after calling on the military government of Abacha and his Provisional Ruling Council to reestablish civilian rule.
The sentence was commuted to life in prison, but Yar’Adua died while in detention on December 8, 1997.
Speaking on the incident on Friday, Obasanjo said it was unfortunate that the strategy he and his former deputy (Yar’Adua) worked on did not work out.
The former President said, “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 a helicopter to take me out of Yola prison and take me into Cameroon and they sent a message to me.
“But I told them that if you did, I would not come out of prison and that was when they dropped the idea of using commando effort to get me out because that would have defeated what we stood for, and we stood to face whatever consequences standing for Nigeria would cost us.
“It cost Shehu Yar’Adua his life. Those of us who believed in what Shehu Yar’Adua believed in 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 in the middle of the struggle.”
Also speaking during the event, Kola, son of late Chief Moshood Abiola, who read a tribute to the late Yar’Adua, said the late general lived a life of sacrifice worthy of emulation.
In an e-mail, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Yar’Adua Foundation, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, described the deceased as an inspiration.
Atiku, who served as Vice President under Obasanjo, revealed how Yar’Adua inspired him through his “extraordinary courage and organisational and mobilisation skills”.
Atiku described Yar’Adua as a fearless politician who was not ready to compromise his principles at the expense of the cause he was fighting.
The e-mail by his media office partly read, “The Waziri Adamawa noted that although Yar’Adua was a military man, his passion for democracy was amazing and his courage extraordinary.
“Atiku also explained that Yar’Adua’s patriotism and commitment to Nigeria’s unity and peaceful coexistence was one of the remarkable virtues that attracted him to the Katsina general.
“According to Atiku, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was not a timid democrat who abandoned his beliefs because of fear or opportunistic reasons for political survival.”
Atiku further explained that during the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference, Yar’Adua was among the few voices that told Abacha not to stay longer than one year in office and prepare a transition programme within the shortest time frame.
He said Yar’Adua’s position turned out to be inconsistent with Abacha’s “hidden agenda,” and that from that moment, Yar’Adua became a marked man.
Former Vice President Abubakar said his being mentored by Yar’Adua was enduring to his political life, especially as it related to the unity of Nigeria and the promotion and defence of it.