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Umaru Musa Yar'Adua: A Mediocre Administrator, the Least Prepared Nigerian President Since Shehu Shagari

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The Exit of A President

Nigerian politics is for adventurous barbarians. In my April 2007 article titled "Obasanjo's Legacy: Civil War Hero, But A Poor President" I warned about the danger of imposing Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who had a chronic kidney disease, on the country as the next President.

The final curtain on Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's comedy of menace came to an end on May 5th when he gave up the ghost. Mr. Yar'Adua was the main protagonist in the absurd political theatre that characterized his entire presidency, from 2007 until his death. He was a decent and unassuming man who was conflicted about following his instincts. He once lied about his incurable disease because he wanted to fulfill his dramatic motif "God's destiny" by becoming Nigeria's president, despite his poor state of health. Mr. Yar'Adua and his predecessor, Mr. Obasanjo, duped the country through a very flawed presidential election. Mr. Obasanjo imposed the former on the country to cover up his own mismanagement.

In order to allay the fears of Nigerians who were worried about his health challenges in the run up to the 2007 presidential campaigns, he was flown abroad to Germany for treating what he described as a minor 'cold'. He calmed the questioning and dismissed the insinuation that he is a sickly person through a phone conversation with Mr. Obasanjo who asked rhetorically, "Umaru, are you dead?" and again in a BBC interview in which he challenged his critics to a game of squash, if they could play 12 straight sets.

Mr. Obasanjo recently absolved himself of deliberately hand picking a sickly Yar'Adua to succeed him. He said he was misinformed by the late Yar'Adua on the true state of his health and by his physician who gave him a clean bill of health. If that is the case, it is appropriate to say Mr. Yar'Adua was greedy for power and was a willing collaborator in his own destruction.

Sadly, my fellow Nigerians and I saw the 'squash' game unfolding before our eyes; Mr. Yar'Adua was a man in a mask of implacable resolution. He wants something substantial for his destiny despite his life-threatening ailment. He was a central character who played along to the paradigm of absurdism that mired his presidency from its inception.

He was a victim of an arrogant, greedy, and self-serving spouse called Turai and other cabals who were disillusioned that Nigeria was their personal estate. They put the country into serious constitutional crisis and uncertainty because the late President did not transmute power to his Vice-President in spite of his serious ailment. It took the intervention of civil society protests before the corruption-ridden National Assembly empowered Mr. Jonathan as Acting President.

The cabals miscalculated by assuming the entire nation of 150 million Nigerians are fools. Nigerians were kept in the dark about Mr. Yar'Adua's hospitalization in Saudi Arabia since November 2009 as a result of an acute inflammation of the heart called Pericarditis- Churg Strauss Syndrome. Even when he was sneaked into the country from Jeddah in February 2010 like a phantom, only some selected top Muslim clerics and Christian preachers were arranged to see him by his wife in order to promote her propaganda of a recovering President. Even Goodluck Jonathan, then Yar'Adua's deputy was not allowed to see him.

There was this pathetic statement, made by the President's Special Adviser on National Assembly, former Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, who forecast that Yar'Adua would be in office until 2015. Here I paraphrase him:

"What most people don't know is that Yar'Adua will come back. When he was governor in Katsina State he was away for six months...and he did not only return to continue as governor he went on to have a second term and to contest the presidency of this country and win. He will definitely return. He will come back a very healthy person and he will carry on with his work, complete his tenure and he will compete for a second term. He will come back in full force. He will bounce back."

Mr. Abba-Aji statements gave us some insight that Mr. Yar'Adua was not physically fit during his tenure as Katsina State governor. It was not surprising that he was undistinguished and a mediocre administrator during his stewardship as governor of an agrarian State called Katsina, but regrettable that same man was saddled with the huge responsibility of leading Nigeria by the man who imposed him on the country.

It seems to me that cabals in Nigeria had not learned the lesson, after the untimely death of a despotic maximum ruler General Sanni Abacha in 1998, that Nigeria is bigger than any individual ambition and sense of entitlement to power.

Presently, General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria's self-styled evil-genius and a former military President who plundered Nigeria's economy into total disaster during his rule from 1985 to 1993, wants to take advantage of the chaotic situation by running for office next year as the next civilian president. He annulled Nigeria's freest and fairest democratic election in 1993 and his regime also carried out State sponsored assassinations of some Nigerians. If the cabal anoints Babangida to be the next Nigerian leader in 2011, the country will witness unprecedented civil unrest that would be devastating to the entire region.

Yar'Adua's Legacy

In retrospect, what was Mr. Yar'Adua's legacy? He started initially on a bright note by declaring in his inaugural address that he is "A servant Leader." Despite being elected in a fraudulent ballot stuffing election on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Nigerians wanted Mr. Yar'Adua to succeed and they gave him a chance to prove himself to them. But his sluggishness, distance and detachment from the public view as a President, coupled with the lack of a coherent message about his program earned him the nickname of "Baba Go Slow" after an old, used Lagos vehicle caught up in a traffic jam. He promised a transparent and open government that would be accountable to the public.

1. Asset Declaration: Mr. Yar'Adua became the first Nigerian Head of State to declare his assets. It was commendable and one or two State governors emulated his path by declaring their own assets as well. But Nigerians are skeptical of these politicians' bogus asset declarations because they have some unspecified foreign and local accounts opened in the names of their family members, associates and offshore corporations in which they wired looted, public money. In the case of Mr. Yar'Adua, contracts had gone to companies with links to his family's vast businesses during his three-year tenure as Nigerian president and seven years as Katsina State governor. In 2006, the Nigerian anti-graft agency The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission seized $13.5 million dollars on suspicion of money laundering by the wife of newly sworn President Goodluck Jonathan, then a Bayelsa State governor. There was no prosecution. While a United States Senate report has accused former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of laundering over $40 million dollars of suspicious funds into the United States between 2000 and 2008, the same Atiku Abubakar is one of those people jostling to be Nigeria's next president in 2011.

2. Seven Point Agenda: The cornerstone of Mr. Yar'Adua's initiative to reform Nigeria and improve the well being of the people is centered around this program he called the Seven Point Agenda. No one in late President Yar'Adua's cabinet was able to explain in coherent terms what Seven Point Agenda stands for.

3. Electricity: Mr. Yar'Adua's promise to improve the country's paralyzed energy sector did not materialize. The power supply became further deteriorated during his tenure.

4. Corruption: His other top priority, tackling corruption, became only a vague idea that was neither pursued nor practiced because Mr. Yar'Adua was surrounded by moneybags politicians like former Delta State governor James Ibori who was accused of looting his State treasury. In order to prevent the arrest of people like Ibori, Nuhu Ribadu the head of the country's anti-graft agency, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was removed by Yar'Adua and forced into exile with his life in danger and a puppet called Fazida Waziri was appointed to head the organization.

5. Electoral reforms: Mr. Yar'Adua promise to reform the country's electoral system to prevent future ballot stuffing and poll rigging became stalled as a result of his debilitating health issues. Also it was unclear whether he could have fulfilled this pledge since he was a beneficiary of a fraudulent election.

6. Infrastructure: Nigeria's infrastructure lacks maintenance and became further deteriorated during Yar'Adua's tenure. According to a US Department of State report about Nigeria, of the 80,500 kilometers (50,000mi.) of roads, more than 15,000 kilometers (10,000mi.) are officially paved, but many remain in poor shape. These bad roads are often prone to accidents, bandits became kings of the highways, and people were being robbed in broad daylight on Nigerian roads.

7. Education: Mr. Yar'Adua was Nigeria's first elected Head of State and Commander in Chief with a University degree, but sadly Nigeria's education system became worse under his presidency. The Secondary School attendance was only 32% of males, 27% of females, while the literacy level is 40%. Nigerian State owned Universities, often plagued by academic strikes, are ill-funded and ill-equipped to meet the challenges of the twenty first century. Nigerian students only theorize without the practical knowledge and tools to put what they learned in College to good use.

8. Healthcare: Mr. Yar'Adua failed miserably in the health sector. As a President, he traveled abroad for medical treatment like other top politicians do. Nigeria's teaching hospitals are like ghost houses and countless people have died as a result of the country's poor health care system. Life expectancy is 47 years. At the launch of the 2009 State of the World Children Report in Abuja, UNICEF representative, Dr. Soumi Sakai said that one Nigerian woman dies every 10 minutes due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth, while over 500 newborns die daily.

9. Sectarian violence & Religious Unrest: Another area of neglect for Mr. Yar'Adua was his inability to curb religious unrest in the country. We have seen further bloodshed and killing of innocent people, the rise of Boko Haram, and other forms of extremism that were influenced by the importation of Wahhabi-Salafi group from Saudi Arabia into the country in mid 1980s.

10. Niger Delta's Amnesty: One area in which Mr. Yar'Adua is getting much credit was his ability to reduce the tensions in the oil rich Niger Delta through his offer of amnesty to MEND militants.

11. Economy: Nigeria's 2009 budget was $21.3 billion of which recurrent expenditures constitute $11.1 billion, capital expenditures $7 billion, statutory transfers $1.1 billion, and debt service $2billion. Nigeria's inflation in 2009 was 11.5%. The country's GDP growth rate was 4.4%, oil growth was 18%, and non-oil growth 3%. Currency: Naira ( 150 Naira= U.S. $1 as of March 23, 2010)

Mr. Yar'adua's impacts would also be felt in Nigeria's banking sector for better or worse. The Central Bank of Nigeria conducted financial audits of the 24 national banks and discovered 10 of the banks to be undercapitalized. The government replaced many of the failing banks management teams and pumped $6 billion into the sector. Similarly, the Central Bank published the names of prominent loan defaulters in national dailies.

On the other hand, the reforms became short-sighted because credit became largely inaccessible to small-scale businesses, rural communities, real estate sectors, and 65% of the economically active population. Amid accusations of a regionally-driven agenda leveled against Yar'Adua's government and the Central Bank Governor, they weakened the Southern dominance of Nigeria's economy.

Unemployment snowballed under Yar'Adua's presidency and the country's minimum wage was a pittance. This compounded the poverty level in the country and gave rise to prostitution rings and child labor, among other bad vices.

In a country where some families are barely surviving on less than two dollars in a day and others are even homeless, the Nigerian political class and retired military generals who looted the country's treasury are very insensitive to their plight. One of them was the head of President Goodluck Jonathan's Presidential Advisory Committee, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, former Chief of Army Staff. He boasted about how he got a free oil block as a gift from tyrant leader Gen. Sanni Abacha, whom he supported twelve years ago. He recently sold the oil block for a total of $1 billion and made $500 milion as a personal profit from the sale.

Nigeria should be pitied, because a man who is highly insensitive to public anger and with no valuable or fresh ideas about modernity, governance and economics is the head of the Presidential Advisory Committee of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Lt. Gen. Danjuma got his present position so that he could provide the imprint of legitimacy by the military establishment, who did not initially approve of the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria's leader.

Nigeria's ruling party's (PDP) unwritten constitution talks about power rotation between the North and the South, but this debate about which region should produce the next president overshadows the critical fundamental questions Nigerians wanted to know such as: "Who is capable of leading the country? Who can deliver for the people?"

We don't want to be in the quagmire of a hostage Presidency like Umaru Musa Yar'Adua again.

But it would be a wise idea for Mr. Goodluck Jonathan not to stand for election as Nigeria's President next year. It would be a distraction from what he wanted to accomplish and could derail his entire presidency during this limited time. He should focus on reforms, such as improving the well being of Nigerians and conducting a free and fair election.

12. Two Steps Backward for Nigerian Women: Mr. Yar'Adua did not use his Presidency to force Sharia States in Northern Nigeria to sign on to the Child Rights Act passed by the country's National Assembly in 2003. One should not forget that Mr. Yar'Adua himself introduced Sharia criminal code as Governor of Katsina State and a woman called Amina Lawal became the focus of international news when she was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery by Sharia court, in a decision that was later reversed. No wonder that Senate Minority Whip, Senator Ahmed Sanni Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State who started the Sharia criminal code, boastfully stated that he is not bound by the

Child Rights Act's provisions because his home State of Zamfara did not domesticate the law and as such, he cannot be accused of violating its provisions. Senator Yerima divorced his 15 year old, fourth wife and married a 13 year old Egyptian girl at a ceremony in Abuja. He was reported to have paid the price of $100,000 for the bride.

13. Foreign Policy. Nigeria's celebrated peace-keeping roles, leadership of ECOWAS, and the country Giant of Africa status all took a back seat under Yar'Adua's presidency.

In a final appraisal of the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's legacy, his regime cast doubt on the ability of Nigerian women to be professionals and compete with men as equals. The President reinforced the stereotype of women as trophy wives when he gave two of his daughters, Zainab and Nafisat, away through arranged marriages as third or fourth wives to the wealthy governors of Kebbi and Bauchi States.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Yar'Adua's scheme to retain power by falsifying information about her dying husband gives Nigerian's a negative view of the office of First Lady, as only for greedy, obnoxious, self serving, and arrogant spouses.

The late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua will be remembered as a good-hearted man, a reluctant candidate who was promised Nigeria's presidency on a platter of gold just like the Second Republic President of Nigeria Alhaji Shehu Shagari who ruled from 1979 to 1983. Both Yar'Adua and Shagari were mediocre, obscure, and insecure politicians of their days with no aspirations for higher office of the land. But one man who is regarded as a key player in Nigerian affairs is Olusegun Obasanjo, who ruled the country as both military and civilian Head of State. He set them up to run for office so that he could become a proxy ruler behind the scene. The consequences of both actions are the dirge songs of a Nigerian nation that could be in peril.

In the Quran: Sura XCIX, 7-8) Allah said that he will be the one to reward the good doers and to punish the evil doers.

"He who does an atom's weight of good will see it, and he who does an atom's weight of evil will see it. May God repose the soul of Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar'Adua.