As millions of people globally joined South Africans to mourn the demise of Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has disclosed that he would have turned down offers to content the 1999 presidential election but his meeting with the deceased anti-apartheid advocate changed his decision for the poll.
Obasanjo said that he was not ready to contest the poll on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was about turning down the offers made to him by some members of the party but Tutu’s response when he consulted him opened his thought on the vision ahead.
He disclosed this during an interview with newsmen at his library in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital while eulogizing the Nobel laureate, who died at the age of 90, for his contribution to the development of Africa and the black race across the world.
While describing him as a great man, Obasanjo said: “When I was asked to contest for the 1999 presidential election, I was shocked because at that time I was just been set free after several months in detention.
“For days, I could not decide what to do on the issue, either to turn down the suggestion or accept it. While searching for answers to the issue before me, I traveled to South Africa. During my stay in the country, I consulted late Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“During my interaction with the clergyman, I told him my fear, which includes, will people accept me considering the fact that I was just coming out from the prison, but I was shocked by his response to the issues I presented before him.
“He told me that why am I afraid to contest for the seat. He asked that if I was the one that announced my intention to contest or the people said they needed me to pilot the affairs of the country and I told how I was being persuaded to contest for the position.
“And he told me that I should travel back home and accept the offer as well as serve my people that wanted me to lead the country into democratic dispensation. And that answer further emboldened my confidence”, the former president added.
Earlier in a condolence letter to the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, Obasanjo recalled the role played by the late Tutu in getting Nigeria’s debt canceled.
The letter, which was released to journalists in Abeokuta by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, said, “Tutu had been part of building and strengthening the Anglican Church, and its eminent place in the Church system in South Africa today is not unrelated to his selfless service and leadership.”
On the country’s debt cancellation role, Obasanjo acknowledged the late Tutu’s “uncommon solidarity and the deep passion with which he had argued Nigeria’s case for full debt cancellation by the contents of his letter to Mr. Gordon Brown, the then United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, during my administration as the President of Nigeria”.
He said, “Over the years, Tutu had shown focused, credible, bold, sensitive, and purposeful leadership not just to members of the Anglican Church but also to all Christians.
“This heroic advocacy effort of his with respect to Nigeria’s indebtedness to the Paris Club on behalf of Nigeria was very much in his character.
“Reverend Tutu was an unparalleled visionary leader within the Church with profound knowledge of the Bible and the Word with an admirable, grasp and appreciation of history. He was also a tele-evangelist and strong believer in the unity of believers worldwide as a transformational tool for development.
“He had very impressive pro-democracy credentials and was always ready to partner forces of justice, equity, and fairness universally.
“I had a personal experience of the way God used him through my relationship and association with him as a man of God. He worked very closely with us in the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.
“His insights, understanding, and pieces of advice and suggestions on the way forward ending apartheid in South Africa were extremely valuable.
“He, by himself, was a consummate leader, fearless and quite daring. When most of the political leaders in South Africa were in jail, he was almost a one-man riot using both religion and Holy Bible against apartheid. He was simply like a thorn in the flesh of white-ruled South Africa’s Nationalist Party.
“At the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa, he was made the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which laid the groundwork for an enduring and sustainable peace and development in the country, founded on the concepts and principles of human rights, equality, justice, and reconciliation.
“Though we are saddened by the inevitable finality of his passage, as we will miss his fiery sermons, writings, and fatherly counsel, we should be comforted by the fact that he left a good legacy behind and his memory will linger on for very long time in the minds of his admirers, friends, protégés, immediate community, congregants and, indeed, Christendom.
“He will also be remembered for his forthrightness, doggedness, dynamism, welfarism, anti-corruption, estachological discourses, courage, commitment to ethical values, uprightness, unwavering Christian testimony, and purposeful leadership. He died with his head lifted high; his ministry untainted, and his integrity uncompromised.”