Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (1951-2010)
His death brings to an end many months of needless deception embarked upon by his close family members and associates to prevent the public from knowing his true state of health. Unfortunately, the macabre scheme only served to diminish his stature and integrity.
Although Yar’Adua occasionally acknowledged his vulnerability as a human being, Nigerians will most probably remember him as a leader with lofty ideas for the country, encapsulated in a seven-point agenda, rendered unachieved mainly because of his poor health. Yar’Adua never confirmed his health status in concrete terms while alive, but he was believed to have been afflicted with kidney disorder, long before he became president.
He assumed the mantle of Nigeria’s political leadership in 2007 on a highly promising note, bringing into government much dignity, candour and humility. He predicated his tenure on the rule of law and observance of due process. And to signpost his transparency, he publicly declared his assets becoming the first President to do so, thus inspiring other public officials to follow suit.
Under his due process regime, at least one minister, Prof. Abimbola Grange was removed from office for allegedly failing to return unspent funds at the Ministry of Health into government coffers as at when due. And in furtherance of his advocacy of zero tolerance for graft, he did nothing to prevent the imprisonment of Chief Bode George, a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for corruption.
Through his oft-quoted seven-point agenda, President Yar’Adua planned to improve critical infrastructure, ensure peace in the Niger Delta, food security, enhance human capital, rejuvenate land tenure and home ownership scheme. His programme also covered national security and intelligence as well as wealth creation.
He certainly started well, but was sabotaged, it would appear, by the complications arising from his illness which invariably slowed down activities in government. Yar’Adua’s health became a public issue right from the time of his nomination by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and during the electioneering campaign, in the middle of which he was flown abroad. It took the incumbent president at the time, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to assure the country that all was well with the PDP flagbearer.
As soon as he became President however, following his victory in the flawed election of 2007, it became clear that his health would prove to be a major problem. True to his humble nature, Yar’Adua publicly admitted that the process through which he became president was flawed, promising to redress the situation in future elections.
On at least two occasions, Nigerians blamed him and his official aides for mismanaging his health issues, as he received treatment in a Saudi Arabia hospital for weeks, without official acknowledgement. Indeed he went to Saudi Arabia once, supposedly to perform the lesser hajj, but remained there for 17 days, long after the hajj ended.
His last medical trip to the King Faisal Hospital, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia (on November 23, last year) was poorly managed. After the official statement issued three days into his trip, to the effect that he was suffering from “acute pericarditis,” his subsequent health condition was completely left to speculation. At a time, unconfirmed sources said the president suffered kidney failure, stroke and massive brain damage. A publication on the Internet actually reported that he died on December 10, 2009.
Yar’Adua spent 90 days in the hospital and was discreetly flown into the country on February 24, 2010 supposedly to continue with his recuperation regimen. Before then, the National Assembly had invoked the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to empower Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the then Vice President, to assume powers as acting president, in lieu of any letter from Yar’Adua either to handover or to admit incapacitation.
Yar’Adua was born on August 16, 1951 into an aristocratic Fulani family in Katsina. He had his early education at Rafukka Primary School in 1958 moving to Dutsinma Boarding Primary School in 1962. He attended Government College, Keffi (1965-1969). He obtained a Higher School certificate (HSC) from Barewa College in 1971 and a B.Sc Degree in Education and Chemistry from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria (1972-1975).
He returned to the institution in 1978 to pursue an M.Sc degree in Analytical Chemistry and subsequently took up appointment as a teacher. He was a teacher of Chemistry at Holy Child College, Lagos (1975-1976), lecturer at the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaira (1976-1979) and also lecturer, College of Arts and Science, (1979-1983); thereafter he moved into the private sector.
He worked as pioneer General Manager, Sambo farms in Funtua, Katsina State (1983-1989); Board member, Katsina State Farmers Supply Company (1984-1985); Member, Governing Council of College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaira and Katsina Polytechnic (1978-1983). He was also Board Chairman, Katsina State Investment and Property Development Company (1994-1996) as well as director of many companies including Habib Nigeria Bank, and Nation House Press Limited, Katsina (1995-1999)
As a politician, Yar’Adua was a member of the late Malam Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) from 1979-1983. Under the transition programme of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Yar’Adua was a founding member of the Peoples Front, a political association headed by his late elder brother, Major-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. The association later fused with others to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Yar’Adua was also a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly.
He contested and lost the 1991 Governorship election in Katsina State, winning the same election in 1999. He was re-elected in 2003 and again, was the first governor to publicly declare his assets. In 2001, his administration in Katsina adopted Sharia or Islamic law. In December 2006, Yar’Adua was chosen as the PDP’s presidential candidate, winning the April 21, 2007 controversial polls to become president. He proposed a government of national unity, which did not quite work, although it helped to douse political tension for a while.
It is a pity that in his last days, Yar’Adua was a helpless victim of a cabal, comprising close family members and friends that said or did things that he probably would not have approved of. The cabal kept sending diversionary messages about his health to the discomfiture of many Nigerians.
We join millions of Nigerians in prayers for the repose of the late President’s soul. May he rest in peace.