Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday said he will forever be grateful to God for making him (Obasanjo) transform as many lives as he can while in prison.
The ex-President noted that God used him to do three spectacular things while he was in Yola and Kirikiri prisons serving a jail term for a phantom coup charges by the late military dictator, Sani Abacha.
According to Obasanjo, the major challenge in life was not how to stay alive but “what to live for and what to live with.”
Obasanjo spoke at Shepherd Hill Baptist Church, Obanikoro, Lagos during the Thanksgiving for his 80th birthday, organised by the church.
Obasanjo recalled his experience as an inmate in Yola Prison where he said he met a hardened armed robber and serial murderer, Baba Ali, who he (Obasanjo) preached to and later sent to the Bible school and who has today become a pastor over a Baptist Church.
The programme was tagged “Special Commemorative, Commendation and Congratulatory Birthday Service.”
In his words: “There ’s a difference between joy and happiness. In prison, I had joy but it will be madness for me to say that when I was in prison I was happy.
“How can you be in prison and say you are happy ? But I was having the joy of God with me, not for one day was I sad.
“And I am grateful to God for the experience that I had in the prison.
“I will mention three things that God made me to do when I was in Yola Prison.
“One, God made me to build a church. It’s very unusual, I asked the:authorities for land, they were reluctant, eventually they gave me land and immediately, we started getting donations.
“It was started before I left Yola. Wherever you are, you can still be useful to the work of God.
“Secondly , there was a parcel of land, which was not being used for anything so, I told the prison authorities that I wanted to farm.
“They were reluctant but eventually they granted me the permission to farm and I grew enough beans to feed all the inmates and the warders.
“Don’t remain idle, get something doing.”
Obasanjo said the third thing he did was at Kirikiri Prison in Lagos where he became the prison pastor.
He said he took over as prison pastor because the prison authorities stopped preachers from visiting after white garments preachers who came to preach had helped some inmates to escape by dressing them in white garments.
He said, “They made sure we did not receive anybody from outside to come and preach to us or fellowship with us.
“So, I took over as the prison pastor. And there was a boy whom they had introduced to me his nickname was Baba Ali.
“Baba Ali was the head of the armed robbers in the North. And if you were an armed robber and you came to the prison, you must first of all go and pay homage to Baba Ali.
“If you were going out, you must go to Baba Ali and ask him for instruction on what you had to do next.
“So, I called Baba Ali one day and said, ‘You are not coming to fellowship; I want you to be coming to the fellowship.’ He said, ‘ Baba , don ’t worry me; don’ t worry me at all because God can never forgive me . I have killed so many people in my life ; I have drunk the blood of so many people; I have eaten the flesh of so many people and God will never forgive me, so, don’ t waste your time about me. ’
“I left Baba Ali on that occasion, and I waited for some time before I went back and said, ‘ Baba Ali, you know all you said that you are a murderer, whether you killed only one person or a:thousand people, you are a murderer; but have you forgotten that Moses was a murderer but God used him to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt?
“David was a murderer but God called him a man after my heart.
“By the time I was leaving the prison, I told Baba Ali that if he was able to make it and he would like to go to bible school, I would send him to bible school.
“Baba Ali came out of prison two years after me. By the time he came out I had become the President of Nigeria.
“It took him two years to get through to me, when he got to me, I reminded him of our agreement and 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 Baba Ali is the pastor of a Baptist Church. What is more?
“Baba Ali’s junior brother took after him and has also become a pastor.”