Yar’Adua’s ‘Untimely’ Death

Vanguard 12 May 2010

THERE is an aspect of the life and times of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua worth examining. This aspect holds the key to understanding the way that the late president sought to exercise power and to reshape the post-Obasanjo presidency he inherited.

When, on 29 May 2007, the late president declared the process that brought him to power as irregular, he may not have been referring only to the presidential elections. He could as well have been referring to other political maneuvers that the strongman of Nigerian politics engineered to bring him to power. Yar’Adua looked clean on the campaign rostrum, but behind the scene, he was being smeared with political dung.

He did not seek the office, a necessary qualification for the Nigerian top job. He was terminally ill, and therefore could not rule for long, or effectively, and he must have known that his tenure could become a liability to the political North, whose turn it was to produce a PDP president for eight years. To have known all this and accepted the job implies that he was hoping to last for four years, and be in a position to organize another election that would produce a Northern successor. What was important was to wrest power from the strongman.

Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC splashed the first dung. Yar’Adua was initially proclaimed a thief, but the EFCC pulled his file when Baba expressed interest in him as a successor. He must have known that the file could miraculously appear and be celebrated both by the media and the National Assembly any time he carried out executive action that angers the kingmakers.
The possibility of this embarrassment becoming real was very high – as long as Ribadu remained chairman of a post-Obasanjo EFCC.

The final straw came when he was allegedly wedded to a governor who was alleged to be the biggest thief of all. This governor allegedly bankrolled his campaign, to dump the biggest political muck on the incoming presidency.

It did not matter if 1000 Bode Georges were jailed during his presidency, or whether one million ministers, federal directors and daughters of ex-presidents were caught in the act of corruption and arraigned, nothing impressed Nigerian media unless this governor was prosecuted and jailed.

Not doing so would do irreparable damage to his reputation as a man of integrity, and ginger up the governor’s numerous media foes to attack his commitment to the anti-corruption war. Attorney General Aandoaka’s bid to handle the matter as a legal brief was his undoing, and it was an albatross that hung on the president’s neck in death.

Yar’Adua apparently did not want this baggage and was determined to break free. He served notice of his intention shortly before his inauguration as President, when a Time magazine reporter suggested that he would surely become a puppet.

The president-elect laughed out loud: “Puppet? You obviously don’t know me,” he said.

Groomed by an aristocratic family that has been at ease with power through the generations, Yar’Adua knew how to break away from the iron-grip of any godfather and create a powerful counterforce, from where he would seek to recreate Nigeria in his own image. It was a long shot but, in my view, he did give it a good try.
He began his attack by acknowledging the shortcomings of the political process that brought him to power and promised to tinker with the Obasanjo electoral law that the whole world held to blame. The subsequent Uwais Report on electoral reforms has been hailed as a charter to get Nigeria out of its many election false-starts.

He then went on to depersonalize the many federal institutions where the Obasanjo tigers roamed freely in the wild, and completed the rout through the policy that pegged the tenure of directors in the federal civil service, which weeded out most of the permanent secretaries that supported the tigers. These policies received general acclamation because they assured the survival of these institutions.

He thereafter turned to security, another area where inherent lapses harmed the electoral process and depressed Nigeria’s earnings from its mono-crop economy. He initiated the reform of the Nigeria Police and was pursuing this with vigour.

The MD Yussuf report on reform of the Nigeria Police was also hailed as the document that could get Nigeria out of the security mess that she finds herself in. The deft appointment of Ogbonna Onovo, a seasoned but frequently by-passed officer, ensured unexpected outcomes in subsequent elections.

In addition, Yar’Adua began the process of bringing peace to the Niger Delta, initiating an amnesty programme that brought a ceasefire to the creeks, spared foreigners from incessant kidnappings and its damaging impact on the country’s image, and most importantly, ensured that crude oil began to once again flow uninterrupted.

It was on the political front that Mr. Yar’Adua was warming up for the final onslaught, when illness interrupted him in November 2009, and death finally halted him on May 5, 2010. He was attacking from many fronts:

One of his first actions, even before he was sworn in, was to quickly make friends with the Lagos governor and Bola Tinubu, perhaps to get the critical media leverage, even as he aligned with known Obasanjo political foes. He was committed to the restoration of Lagos, the entity that his father once presided over as a federal minister.

He then went about quietly and methodically sidelining the strongman, thereby stoking a revolution that swept like wildfire through most states of the South (he did not have to worry about the Northern states).

The reliable godfather strongholds of Enugu, Ebonyi, Uyo, and Abeokuta collapsed, as their governors emphatically rejected local godfathers aligned to Ota and quickly settled down to work for their people, in order to consolidate their political bases for future elections. Yar’Adua looked the other way as the remaining strongholds were dismantled by the judiciary at Awka, Port Harcourt, Benin, and Akure.

Through these maneuvers, Yar’Adua was able to build a strong political base with the “independent” Nigerian governors, which was fully expressed by the creation of the powerful Governors Forum. It is clear to perceptive observers that the Forum silently functions as a counterforce to the strongman’s political machine.

The “untimely” death of Mr. Yar’Adua has put a spanner in the works. The sloppy attempts to “manage” his health status were merely efforts to buy time, consolidate Yar’Adua ascendency and deal a final blow to the looming image of a strongman whose evil grin echoed distinctly in the background. It may in fact, have had nothing to do with Turai, a woman who, in my view, saw widowhood staring her in the face and sought to make the most of it to ensure that she and her children never lacked, again.

Yar’Adua’s “untimely death” gives the strongman another opportunity to quickly rally and reclaim his waned power and influence. There are two forces standing between the strongman and this ambition for power: the governors and Goodluck Jonathan, the new President.

The governors wield enormous powers to alter the results of any upcoming PDP presidential primary, and thereby complete the Yar’Adua initiative to lay the ghost of godfatherism to rest in Nigerian politics.

At the same time, Dr. Jonathan is now the top dog. He has the power (even beyond EFCC) to call out the troops, whip the governors back in line, and return the country to what she has been programmed to be for the next 50 years.

What will Mr. President do? This would depend on the briefing he received and what he agreed to do at the time he was handpicked for the VP job, and how he wants history to remember him. Will he continue the Battle of Liberation from where his departed “brother and friend” left off, by siding with the governors? Will he reach out for the big stick and create an elbow room for the strongman take charge, again? Or will he strike out on his own, in order to carry out a political surgery that could put our ailing country on the path of recovery, and give us respect in the world? Or will he play everything to his chest, waiting for the opportunity to do what he must do for history?

His decision will be known by whoever he chooses as his vice president.

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