Powerful Nigerians who turned religious after prison experience

Many of those who saw the video and photos of Godwin Emefiele, the suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), when he was being led into the Federal High Court premises in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Tuesday, clutching a copy of the Bible, have continued to ask, “is Emefiele also among the prophets?”

Before his travail, the banking Czar was not known for brandishing a copy of the Bible wherever he went, the reason his appearance last Tuesday, adorning a caftan with a red copy of the holy book, left many Nigerians tongue-tied.

The Emefiele that people saw was a frail-looking man being led by an unidentified lady. He was devoid of the panache that was his hallmark.

Emefiele is not alone in this open exhibition of religiosity in times of adversity. Since 1998, Nigeria has seen political figures who momentarily became ultra-religious following prison experience.

Some of them, in their sober moments after they embraced the rope of freedom sang praises to the Almighty God, recommitted their lives to him, and vowed to be of good behaviour going forward.

The question to ask is if indeed, they are truly living out the new experience.

Powerful Nigerians who turned religious

In the country’s recent history, people like Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president; Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and serving senator, and Olisa Metuh, a former National Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had all tasted the life in prison and came out with a contrite spirit.

Obasanjo’s journey to prison began in 1995 when Sani Abacha, the late head of state, sentenced him to 30 years in prison for coup charges, but the former president was released in 1998. He subsequently contested the 1999 presidential election and won on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

When he was released from prison, Obasanjo said he had become “born again” and shared his experience how through him, a criminal he met in the prison got converted.

In an account he shared at a church programme at the Shepherdhill Baptist Church, Obanikoro, Lagos, Obasanjo said he converted one Baba Ali, his fellow inmate at Yola Prison, to a pastor.

Obasanjo narrated his prison experience in Yola and Kirikiri prisons.

“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,” Obasanjo said.

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“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.”

Since he left the Abacha gulag, it is not on record that the former head of state goes about preaching the gospel with the hope of converting souls as he passionately did while in the prison.

Olisa Metuh, a former national publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was sent to prison by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Upon his release, he described his stay in the Kuje Correctional Centre, as horrific, promising to serve God for the uncommon favour God showed him.

Metuh was sentenced to seven years in a correctional facility over alleged financial crimes by a Federal High Court, in Abuja, but was freed on the orders of a Court of Appeal.

Addressing party supporters at the PDP Secretariat in Awka, during a reception organised in his honour shortly after he was released, Metuh said: “I have been to the lowest, deepest end of the valley. I have wrestled with the demons. I wrestled with the devils.

“The Almighty God has saved me. For that, I commit the rest of my life to the service of God and the people.”

Again, it is not public knowledge if Metuh is really walking his talk in the area of serving God as he promised in the hour of distress.

Orji Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, was the Chief Whip of the Senate when he was sent to Kuje Correctional Centre.

Kalu was sentenced for 12 years on December 5, 2019, for allegedly misappropriating about N7.1 billion, while serving as Abia governor between 1999 and 2007.

The Supreme Court on May 8, 2020, upturned his trial and conviction by Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos.

In a statement Kalu said: “My conspirators thought I would be president in 2023, so they decided to cut my journey short at all cost.

“But you see, these people are not God. They think I am ashamed to have gone to prison. I am not and I don’t blame them because they don’t know my relationship with God.

“Joseph went to prison; even former President Olusegun Obasanjo went to prison. My going to prison is part of my life script and I am thankful God allowed it.”

In the statement he issued after he got out of the prison, he said: “The past five months have been quite a profound period for me. As challenging as that period has been, it has provided me an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about our country, our peoples, our justice system and the true meaning of love. I mean love for family, love for our country and love for humanity.

“Before I end, I would like to let it be known that the events of the past five months gave me an added perspective on matters of justice and injustice in Nigeria. I have come to know that the course of justice will not be complete if it stopped at my case. It must continue until it touches the lives of millions of Nigerians who face injustice anywhere in this world.

“I shall be dedicating my time henceforth, to ensuring there will be justice for all Nigerians whether they are in Sokoto or Akwa Ibom or in Lagos or Maiduguri or in Jos or Enugu, or wherever they may be. Justice for one man or for a few people will no longer be enough in this country.”

According to Kalu, “A system whereby over 70 percent of all prison inmates’ population is made up of people awaiting trial cannot be allowed to continue. Situations where innocent people are falsely charged with murder just to get them out of the way does not dignify our country and cannot continue. Justice must now mean justice for all. That is my pledge to Nigerians.”

What is not yet clear is to what extent the former Senate Chief Whip has ensured justice for the down-trodden members of society. Since he embraced the rope of freedom three years ago, injustice has continued in the system and Nigerians are still crying for a system where every citizen is freely accorded his or her rights.