From Prisoner to President

  Olusegun Obasanjo was languishing in a prison cell undergoing punishment for a crime he did not commit. But last month Obasanjo was elected president of Nigeria and he attributes the turnaround in his life to his faith in God. The story begins 20 years ago when Obasanjo became the first African military leader to turn over political power voluntarily to a democratically elected government. He himself bought a farm and started raising pigs. But it wasn't long before the Nigerian military once again seized political power. Obasanjo became an outspoken critic of the military regime, accusing the leader, Sani Abacha, of turning Nigeria into a giant prison. Abacha retaliated by having Obasanjo arrested and charged with treason. His life was spared only because of international diplomatic pressures. Yet it was in prison that Obasanjo experienced a life- transforming spiritual renewal. Though he had been a nominal Christian all his life, it was only when he was behind bars that Obasanjo came to a personal faith in Christ. As he told "Christianity Today," the forced period of inactivity was "God's way of slowing me down to hear His message and His words." Nigeria's military rule came to an end with Abacha's sudden death in 1998. Obasanjo was released from prison and ran for president. His election is almost as improbable as his conversion. Half of Nigeria's population is Muslim and Muslims dominate public life. Yet Obasanjo was able to persuade Nigerians to make him the nation's first democratically elected president in 20 years. After his election, Obasanjo called for a moral rearming of Nigeria. He's made human rights a top priority in that country, especially religious freedom. African experts are singing Obasanjo's praises. As former President Jimmy Carter told reporters, "I don't think there is an African leader, with the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, who is better known or respected as Obasanjo." Yet President Obasanjo is quick to give Christ the credit for his remarkable story. He freely quotes Scripture in his speeches and in interviews. Not long ago he even shared his testimony before a screening of the "Jesus" film, saying, "Without Jesus, as president I can do nothing. With Him, all things." Obasanjo is a reminder that God seems to love using prisons as a way of preparing people for His service. It was the case with the Apostle Paul, of course, and, in 17th century England, it was in prison that John Bunyan produced one of the great classics of the Christian faith, "A Pilgrim's Progress." And so it has been throughout Christian history. Now, God may be using Obasanjo's transformation in a prison cell to reverse the fortunes of Nigeria, the largest country in Africa. And perhaps, in turn, the transformation will spread across the entire African continent. Most of us would not choose a prison cell as the training ground to produce a national leader. But God's wisdom continues to confound the wisdom of man. Obasanjo's godly leadership has the potential to work great changes in a country where one in six Africans live. Keep President Obasanjo in your prayers. And remember, while you may not be facing circumstances as dire as incarceration, your own trials may be, as President Obasanjo puts it, God's way of slowing you down to hear His word.


Chuck Colson



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