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How I Rescued Obasanjo From Angry Convicts in Prison – Shehu Sani


Former senator and leading pro-democracy activist during the military era, Senator Shehu Sani, has shared gripping accounts of his time in detention and how he came to the rescue of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in prison.

Speaking at a human rights symposium tagged “25 Years of Unbroken Democracy”, during the week, Sani shared a compelling narrative of his tumultuous journey through Nigeria’s fight for democracy.

The event, held in Lagos and attended by prominent activists and dignitaries, provided a platform for Sani to reflect on the harrowing experiences he and some other human rights activists endured during the repressive military regime of the 90s.

He reminisced, “It was a journey that began and lasted for four years. In 1995, the team of soldiers, policemen and DSS, visited my house in Kaduna. It was a journey that began and lasted for four years. I was picked up from Kaduna and brought to Lagos together with the late Shehu Yaradua.  

“From the Airport, we were led to the DSS Headquarters. There, we met former president Olusegun Obasanjo. They handcuffed me but they did not handcuff Obasanjo and Yaradua. Obasanjo looked at me and said “Who are you?.

“I said I am an activist. I was then the deputy chairman of Campaign for Democracy. We were taken straight to Kirikiri Maximum Prison, we stayed there without anybody saying anything to us.

Sani said he spent his time in detention with Obasanjo and late politician and retired general, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.

He said, “We were given blankets to fend off mosquitoes and a plate for food,” he recalled. Amidst the confines of the prison walls, their presence drew mixed reactions from fellow inmates.

“When armed robbers recognized Obasanjo, they shouted insults. As human rights activists, we were known among inmates.

“When the armed robbers saw Obasanjo, they started shouting, insulting and naturally for those of us who are human rights activists, we were popular with inmates.

“Then, I said okay, you were commander outside, this is where I am also a commander, I have to talk to the inmates to calm down., no matter the grievances you had with Obasanjo, he’s now an inmate.”

From prison cells to military tribunals, Senator Sani described the relentless cycle of interrogation and judicial farce they faced.

“I was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason,” he recounted, his voice unwavering despite the memories.

The arbitrary nature of the proceedings was evident as sentences were handed down swiftly, with little regard for due process.

“Were interrogated and many of those who were brought in there were physically stripped naked and tortured in our presence with cables.

“After that, we were returned to our prison cells. One week after, we were taken back again to the tribunal and they said you Sanni, this is your lawyer and this is your prosecutor, all of them military.

“My prosecutors spoke for five minutes and my lawyer asked for a lesser sentence without asking me what I have done. The trial of each one of us lasted fifteen minutes.

“I was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason, at that time, Dr, Beko Ransome-Kuti was arrested and brought into the prison, he was also sentenced to life in prison.

“Later Yaradua got death sentenced, Obasanjo got life in prison and I also got life in prison, and journalists who were together with us were also sentenced to life in prison, after that, we were returned to our prison.”

Reflecting on their eventual release following the death of General Sani Abacha, Senator Sani emphasised the pivotal moment of the transition to civilian rule under Abdusalam Abubakar.

“We, the freedom fighters, were called upon to usher in democracy,” he remarked, highlighting the critical decisions made by activists at that juncture.

However, he acknowledged the challenges that followed their entry into politics.

“When we came out of prison…Abdusalam Abubakar invited all of us who fought for democracy. He said I am going to hand over power to a democratically elected government and I want all of you the freedom fighters to come together and take over power.

“At that very time, Gani opposed it, three times he invited us, and we even refused to answer his calls. He invited the politicians, he didn’t even invite them, they were knocking at his door.

“That was what the ANC in South Africa did, after the struggle, they took over political power. But after our struggle in 1998-1999, we made a fundamental mistake and said we were not going to cooperate with the military.

“Mike Ozekhome is sitting here, he was one of those who said we should not join, Gani opposed, Falana opposed, Olisa Agbakoba all opposed, it was Tinubu who said if we don’t get in, who is going to be there? 

“Then, by the time we all agreed to join the politics, politicians had taken over all positions.”

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