Friends of former President Olusegun Obasanjo once toyed with the idea of storming the Yola Prisons with commandoes for the purpose of liberating him from incarceration during the Sani Abacha years, it was revealed yesterday.
They were however talked out of the plot by Obasanjo himself.
“I said no, if you do that, I will not leave the prison,” he said at an event in Abuja to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s deputy when he was military head of state from 1976 to 1979.
The duo were arrested in 1995 in connection with a phantom coup by the Abacha Administration.
They were subsequently sentenced to death before the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.
Yar’Adua died in the Abakaliki Prison in 1997, Abacha a year later, and following the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State,Obasanjo was released from prison.
He went on to become civilian president in 1999 and was re-elected in 2003.
Going down memory lane on how he and Yar’Adua were arrested, tried and sentenced over the alleged coup plot, Obasanjo said: “When Shehu was first arrested, I was out in South Africa, and I rushed back home and 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 in this country at one time will be arrested without the knowledge of the current number one man. Soon after, Shehu was released, but only for a few weeks.
“When he was arrested a second time, I was arrested along with him and kept in separate locations. But after the verdict was given about what would happen to us, we met in Kirikiri. I believe that was his mistake because that was the last time we actually stayed together.
“We had about three nights and we were able to speak and work together even at the Kirikiri Maximum prison. Even in prison, we strategised together. Unfortunately, our strategy did not work.”
Continuing, Obasanjo said: “When Shehu died in prison, my international friends decided that they would use the commando plan to get me out of prison, and they actually did make the plan, got the money and wanted to get a helicopter to get me out of Yola prison and take me to Cameroon.
“They sent a message to me and I told them if you do, I will not get out of prison, and that was when they dropped the idea of using commando effort to get me out of prison.
“That would have defeated what we stood for. We stood for Nigeria and we stood to face whatever consequences standing for Nigeria would cost us.
“It cost Shehu Yar’adua his life. Those of us who believe in what Shehu stood for and are still alive, the only thing we can do is to allow the struggle to continue, because we are not at the end of the struggle yet.”
He described Yar’Adua as the best deputy he could ever dream of.
His words: “I could not have had a better deputy than Shehu Yar’adua. When I was military Head of State, we had quite a number of exciting and serious times together that we shared.
“One day, I had cold and the doctor came to see me, and I said to him, ‘supposed this cold decides to take my life and I slump, what will you do?’ He said, ‘I will try first aid and I will do all I need to do to revive you.’
I said, ‘If you try that and it doesn’t work, what will you do?’
He said, ‘ I will call the Chief of Staff.’
“Just then, Shehu came in and I said: ‘Shehu, listen to what we were talking about’, and I relayed to him the discussion and told him, ‘Now that you have come in, I am here on the ground, what will you do?’
He said, ‘I have no problem with that. I will kick you with my military boot and say get up, this is your job!’
“We had such interesting times together. We also had difficult times together.
“We had to put our heads together and discuss how we could handle the issue of transition, how to implement our own programmers and how to move Nigeria forward.
“We succeeded in doing what I believed was the right thing for the country at that time and putting in place a democratically elected government.
“A few years after that, Shehu came to me in the farm and said he wanted to set up a grassroots party. He said from his study, he had discovered that Nigeria had never really had a truly grassroots party, not even NEPU.
“I asked him if there was anything he wanted us to do while in government that we did not do and he said no. I said then, I pray that this grassroots party that you want to build will succeed.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want to use this grassroots party to get into power?’
“He said, ‘Not really. But if it turns out to be the case, will you ask me not to?’
“I told him not really, but I will be very glad if it turns out to be the case.
“Many members of that party have remained loyal to the cause he set out to build; his ideals and what he stood for both when he was alive and when he departed.”
Obasanjo said Yar’adua lived a life of service, saying, “Those of us who knew Shehu very well, knew the type of man he was, the type of live he lived, his commitment to his family, to his religion, to his nation and his friends.
“When you asked the question, what is life, I think Shehu Yar’adua’s life typifies the answer to that question.
“He lived his life and gave us eloquent answers about what life is, and that is also evident from what we have seen here today. Twenty years after he passed on, we are here with his memory still green and fresh in all of us.”
Former Vice President and one of Yar’Adua’s closest political associates, Atiku Abubakar, who is also the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Shehu Yar’adua Foundation, was conspicuously missing at the event. His wife, Titi, was however present.
President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone eulogised the late Tafidan Katsina for his selfless service to the country, while one of his colleagues in the army, General Paul Tarfa, explained that the coup that toppled Yakubu Gowon was staged principally against the junta and not aimed at Gowon.
Dignitaries at the event include former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma; former Minister of Police Affairs, Adamu Waziri; former Governors Donald Duke of Cross Rivers and Peter Obi of Anambra; Mrs Titilayo Ajanaku; Ambassador Patrick Dele Cole; Gen. Paul Tarfa, among others.