Umaru Yar`dua: Great Expectation,Disapointing Outcome by Nasir El- rufai Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s current President, and unless his health fails will remain the Chief Executive of Africa’s most populous country at least until 2011

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Umaru Yar`dua: Great Expectation,Disapointing Outcome - by Nasir El- Rufai

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s current President, and unless his health fails will remain the Chief Executive of Africa’s most populous country at least until 2011, and perhaps till 2015 if re-elected. Having been in office for less than two years, it may be premature to pass judgment on his leadership and governance styles. But there is a saying prevalent amongst Hausa speakers of Northern Nigeria, which roughly translated means:

You know that an enjoyable weekend is round the corner when things begin to look good by Wednesday, (otherwise, forget the weekend, or just pray).”

It is on the basis of this that I will attempt to present an assessment of Umaru Yar’ Adua’s time in office, and venture to predict what his first full term in office is likely to be. I do not share the views of the Economist that Umaru Yar’ Adua’s health is such an issue that he would not be available to attempt re-election.

And because Umaru Yar’Adua has been in office for so short a time, not much has been written about him. This essay will therefore be a summary of what the utterly free but unreliable Nigerian media and bloggers have published, tempered by my personal knowledge of Yar’Adua since I first met him in 1972, and what others that have grown up, lived and worked with him have related to me.

I will also present not only a contextual summary of the Obasanjo Administration’s twilight days, and Obasanjo’s decisions and actions and the impacts these would have on Yar’Adua’s governance, but a biographical sketch that throws some light on the personality of the new president. My hope is that these will help explain some of Yar’Adua’s decisions and actions, as well as successes and failures as President of Nigeria.

I will compare Yar’ Adua’s promises and commitments upon his swearing-in, with actual outcomes achieved. I will review his political, economic and foreign policy vision, policies and actions to establish how transformational he has been.

2. Nigeria in May 2007

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 146 million inhabitants living within an area slightly more than twice the land area of California. With a GDP of over $296 billion and huge reserves of crude oil, Nigeria is the second largest economy in the Continent, the leading oil exporter and 37th largest economy in the World .

Nigeria is located in the Gulf of Guinea in the Western part of Africa. Nigeria was created by the amalgamation of what were known as the Protectorates of Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos into one nation in 1914. The nation was granted independence in 1960 in what was considered by Time magazine as a model of negotiated self-rule.

Nigeria in May 2007 was in high spirits – we were about to successfully transfer power democratically from one elected government to another, handing over a sound economy that is almost debt-free with healthy reserves of over $45 billion. For the first time since Nigeria’s first republic was terminated, there was a window of opportunity to break from the past. The world was watching with interest, with good reason. According to Rotberg in a report prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations:

For policy makers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country’s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa.”

For some of us in President Obasanjo’s government, the elections were disappointing but the best candidate won. We have elected our first University graduate as President, a person we were convinced was a decent man, and raised the possibility that we will break the vicious cycle of bad leadership that has defined our nation. We were optimistic about the future.

3. Abuja on May 29, 2007

It was on the eve of the Hand-Over date and we had gone to Defense House to take a final look at the Inaugural Speech that President-Elect Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would read to the world tomorrow when he is sworn in at 10.00 am Nigerian time. Abuja – the City I had administered in the last four years and have lived since 1998 was not as festive as it should be. Instead, what was in the air was a huge sigh of relief. I had been in my office for the last time, knowing that I will never ever visit the FCT Administration again. My family had moved out of the official residence a couple of days before, and moved into the house I had just bought from the Federal Government.

We had brought the only African to ever win a Pulitzer Prize - Dele Olojede (now the publisher of Next Newspaper) from South Africa, to write the speech. We (Dele Olojede, Nasir El-Rufai, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Jimi Lwal and Aliyu Modibbo) reviewed the third draft of the speech with Umaru Yar’Adua and made a few corrections. We argued whether it was appropriate to mention that 54% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line in view of the unreliability of our national statistics. It was a great speech Dele had prepared from several intearctive sessions with the President-Elect.

At about 11pm, Tanimu Yakubu came in to the room we were all meeting, and asked me out. He requested that I get one of the judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory to come and sign the Asset Declaration Forms of the President-Elect, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria had vowed that he will not appear at the Inauguration unless they were submitted to him in the morning. I called my Chief of Staff to wake up any of the judges for this purpose. I rejoined the group and finally left the President-Elect at 2.00 am in the morning of May 29, 2007. Tanimu, my Chief of Staff and the Honorable Judge were still waiting for the paperwork to be put together.

As I was driving home, my cell-phone rang and it was Nuhu Ribadu – the respected and dreaded chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He told me that he was with President Obasanjo and would want me to join them. I diverted to the State House and met them sharing drinks and reminiscent about the last four years. We left President Obasanjo who said he expected us at 8.00 am for a final breakfast with him before going to Eagle Square – the venue of the Inauguration Ceremonies. I got home about 3.00 am for a wink and was up early for the Farewell Breakfast with Obasanjo.

It was a time of great relief for us too – we will soon be free to pursue our private lives. I was personally uneasy about the poor succession outcome, inadequate preparation of Umaru Yar’Adua for the office he was about to be sworn in, the flawed elections and the legitimacy burden arising therefrom, and the abysmally poor briefing of the incoming team of the opportunities and challenges before them. How did we get to this point?

(Note - Most of the biographical information is taken from the Umaru Yar’Adua/Jonathan Goodluck campaign website - accessed on 04/23/2009.)

4. Early Life and Education

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s thirteenth Head of Government and the second President of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. He was born on 16th August, 1951 in Daudawa, a village within the then Katsina Province of the Northern Region of Nigeria. His father, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua was at the time the senior civil servant in charge of the farm settlement of Kamfanin Daudawa, now part of Faskari Local Government of Katsina State.

Umaru’s father – Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua hailed from the Sullubawa Ruling Family of Katsina and held several aristocratic positions including royal titles of Tafida, and later the Mutawalli of Katsina (custodian of the treasury of the Katsina Emirate) until his death in 1993. Musa Yar’Adua was an active member of the Northern Peoples’ Congress – the dominant political party in Northern Nigeria at the time. He was the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa between 1960 and 1966. Umaru was the third eldest male of several children of Musa Yar’Adua’s several wives.

Umaru Yar’Adua was therefore born in privilege, and grew up learning from two respected tacticians in Nigeria’s political history – his father, Musa Yar’Adua and his elder brother – Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was General Olusegun Obasanjo’s number two in the military junta that ruled Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. Umaru has always been an introvert and grew up in the shadows of his flamboyant, more extroverted and military-officer elder brother Shehu.

Umaru attended primary schools in and around Katsina, and went to Government College Keffi for his high school education (1965 to 1969). He did his two year senior high (A Levels) (1970 to 1971) at the famous Barewa College, Zaria – the premier high school that produced the bulk of Nigeria’s leaders from the North. (Note: Barewa College, Zaria was established in 1922 by the Colonial Government to produce teachers of Northern Nigerian origin. The College has so far produced four (Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua) out of Nigeria’s twelve Heads of Government, and Sir Ahmadu Bello – the Sardauna of Sokoto who was the de facto Head of the First Republic Government but chose to be the Premier of the Northern Region. See for more details.)

At Keffi, Umaru was a brilliant Science student who loved James Bond novels, and was nicknamed 007. Oddly enough, according to people that knew him then - his favorite character in the novels was not Bond himself but Ernst Stavro Blofeld – the leader of the criminal extortion organization intent on achieving world domination – S.P.E.C.T.R.E.! – (Note - SPECTRE stands for the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion - Admiring the villain in a spy novel was very strange indeed, and indicative of Umaru’s rebellious ways, or perhaps a future sinister streak!)

At Barewa College, Umaru was not a particularly conscientious student, missing classes often, was a chain smoker, and drank a lot of alcohol, contrary to College Regulations. He got a new nickname “Bad Man” for his anti-establishment and rebellious ways. In spite of this, he was not only appointed House Captain of Mallam Smith House but was surprisingly able to pass his A Levels reasonably well enough to get admitted into a degree program. (Note - I got admitted to Barewa College in January 1972 - a few months after Umaru Yar’Adua graduated. I was a freshman in Mallam Smith House where he was House Captain, and placed under the care of Sani Maikudi, Umaru Yar’Adua’s first cousin. Umaru was a legend, admired by all for his populist, non-chalant administration of the House, and fondly remembered by his Barewa nickname – “Bad Man”).

Umaru was admitted to the Ahmadu Bello University and graduated with BSc in Chemistry/Education in 1975. He spent one year in Lagos during the mandatory National Youth Service at Holy Child College as a high school Chemistry teacher. He returned to Ahmadu Bello University in 1978 for two years for an M.Sc in Analytical Chemistry. It is noteworthy that Umaru’s upbringing and education has always been limited to the states that make up the old Northern Region. He knew little else outside of his immediate geographic, ethnic and religious environment. This is to have some implications for his future governance roles.

5. Employment and Professional Career

On completion of the compulsory National Youth Service Scheme, Umaru joined the services of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), Zaria as a Chemistry lecturer. He earned his M.Sc in Chemistry while still teaching at CAST. He remained in the employment of CAST, which later became the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (KCAST) and then Katsina Polytechnic until 1983 when he resigned to work for his brother, Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, then retired.

(Note - CAST Zaria/KCAST Zaria - This was a senior high school which replaced the British-style “A Levels” in the Northern States, and served to accelerate the preparation of high school graduates to move on to University. Coincidentally, my cousin and adopted father – Yahaya Hamza was the Principal of the College who interviewed and employed Umaru.

During his years at CAST, KCAST and the Polytechnic, Umaru became fascinated with socialism, and had great admiration for the Soviet economic and political system. He was the Patron of the students’ socialist movement, the Movement for Progressive Nigeria during the period. He admired the works of Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and read most of them. It was at this point that Yar’Adua also discovered Lobsang Rampa – the Tibetan mystic and author of the bestseller “The Third Eye”, introducing him to oriental thinking, superstition and myticism.

Upon retirement in 1979, Umaru’s elder brother and General Obasanjo’s deputy – Major General Shehu Yar’Adua had gone into the private sector in a big way – causing many people to wonder where all the money came from . The elder Yar’Adua’s farming venture – Sambo Farms Ltd., located near Daudawa (Umaru’s birthplace) was one of the ventures. Umaru became its pioneer General Manager in 1983 and remained there until the Company reportedly filed for bankruptcy in 1989. During the period, Umaru served on the Boards of several State-owned enterprises and agencies and on several private boards as a nominee of the Yar’Adua family:

Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (1979-83)

• Kaduna State Farmers Supply Company (1984-85)
• Katsina Investment and Property Development Company (1994-96)
• Habib Nigeria Bank Ltd. (1995-99)
• Lodigiani Construction Nigeria Ltd. (1987-1999)
• Hamada Holdings (1983-1999)
• Madara Ltd, Jos (1987-99)
• Nationhouse Press Ltd. (1995-99)

Umaru Yar’Adua never had any formal training in business or economics but through these boards got exposed to corporate practices prevalent in Nigeria at a time of rapid economic change – the years of Structural Adjustment Program and the endless political transitions of the successive military juntas of the mid-1980s to the late 1990s in Nigeria.

6. Political Career

During their employment as lecturers at the CAST Zaria, Umaru Yar’Adua along with Lawal Batagarawa joined the leftist Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP). Umaru Yar’Adua’s father was at that time, the State Chairman of the rival, right-wing National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

(Note - Lawal Batagarawa was a schoolmate and friend of Umaru Yar’Adua. He also hails from Katsina and attended Government College Keffi. He studied Electrical Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University. He taught Mathematics at the CAST Zaria at the same time as Umaru Yar’Adua. Later in life, Lawal went on to be Minister of State – Education and Defense in the Obasanjo Administration. He was Special Adviser to Obasanjo between 2003 and 2007).

However, when the PRP’s candidate was surprisingly elected the Governor of Kaduna State, Umaru Yar’Adua declined to accept a position in the government 'for family reasons' . Lawal Batagrawa left CAST taking up appointment as a Permanent Secretary in the Kaduna State executive branch. The Second Republic was terminated by a military coup in 1983, and by then Umaru had left public service to work for his brother, Shehu Yar Adua – who was mixing business with sporadic forays into politics by then.

When the Babangida Administration announced its Transition to Civil Rule program in 1988, Umaru joined his brother’s right-of-center political association, the Peoples’ Front (PF) in an act of final separation from leftist politics. He was elected, in 1988, on non-party basis, a member of the Constituent Assembly whose deliberations led to the enactment of 1989 Constitution by the Babangida junta. When the military junta decreed a two-party system for the country in 1991, the Peoples’ Front opted to merge into the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SDP) rather than the right-of-center National Republican Convention (NRC).

Umaru Yar’Adua was an active member of the SDP at national and state levels. He was Katsina State Secretary of SDP and member of the party’s National Caucus. He contested the Governorship of Katsina State in 1991 but lost to Saidu Barda of the NRC, in what many saw as rejection of what looked as monarchical rule in Nigeria - Shehu Yar’Adua was contesting the Nigerian Presidency while his kid brother wished to run his home state of Katsina!

From then on, things took turns for the worse for the Yar’Adua family. Shehu was arrested and detained by the Babangida junta, released and then disqualified from running for office. He was re-arrested and tried for treason, along with his former boss – Olusegun Obasanjo - by the Abacha junta in 1996. Umaru was compelled by circumstances to assume the supervision of Shehu’s vast political and business empire. Shehu died in prison under very questionable circumstances.

(Note - While in prison, Shehu Yar’Adua sent a note to his supporters that he had been invited to the office of the prison warden where he met Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, then Chief Security Officer to General Abacha, and two others he did not know. He was forcefully injected with a colorless liquid by the three persons. Shehu’s note added that he was not ill and has not had even a headache since the incident happened – a few days before he sent the note. Shehu died in Abakaliki Prison in 1997 - less than two years after the incidence. Many of his supporters believe he was injected with HIV or Hepatitis virus or both.)

When General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed the leadership of the military junta after the sudden death of General Abacha in 1998, Umaru Yar’Adua teamed up with Shehu’s allies and formed the Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM). This movement merged with other disparate political groups to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998.

Even though Umaru was not the most popular aspirant for the governorship, there was near -unanimous consensus, with General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as main advocate that the Yar’Adua family ought to be compensated for Shehu’s efforts and ultimate sacrifice for Nigeria’s democracy. This he argued will only be achieved by getting Umaru elected Governor of Katsina State. This led to several angry defections from the party by aspirants Kanti Bello, Nura Khalil and others to the rival All People’s Party (APP now ANPP). In a pattern that will repeat itself again and again in his political life, Umaru got the PDP ticket virtually without any effort due to the advocacy and sacrifice of others. He was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 as Governor of Katsina State.

(Note - Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau has been a regular figure in all of Nigeria’s military juntas. He was at various times the Director of Military Intelligence to the Buhari regime, National Security Adviser to Babangida, and Obasanjo, and Chief of Army Staff to the Shonekan and Abacha Administrations. He contested against Umaru Yar’Adua in the 2007 presidential primaries and lost. He remains an influential power broker in Nigeria and respected by the intelligence community worldwide).

7. Governance of Katsina State

The PDP has from its inception, perfected the bad habit of expecting its candidates for political office to bear the disproportionate burden of campaign expenses. So Umaru got the ticket but had to raise monies for his governorship bid. As the head of the Yar’Adua family, he was assumed to be wealthy. This was far from the truth. By the time Shehu died in prison, most of the businesses were shut down or near bankruptcy except Habib Nigeria Bank. Nicotes Services had been expropriated by the Abacha junta, the name changed to Intels Logistics Services and the chairmanship transferred to the Emir of Kano. Under Umaru’s non-business supervision, the family fortune was virtually disappearing. Umaru had no money to spend on the Governorship.

A group of young professionals of Katsina State origin, who had made money from the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF) program under the supervision of General Muhammadu Buhari, came to the rescue. Their leader was Tanimu Yakubu, an Economics graduate of Wagner College, New York, and included Dr. Aminu Safana and Ibrahim Shema. Nura Khalil was part of the group but decamped to the APP. Other ‘businessmen’ like Dahiru Mangal and Ahmadi Kurfi (both alleged to be professional smugglers) contributed financially to the Yar’Adua for Governor Campaign in 1998-99. Other notable figures include that played key mobilizing, but not direct financial roles included Lawal Batagrawa, Aminu Bello Masari and Samaila Mamman.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy was nominated by the young professionals, though not one of them – Tukur Bakori. His governance style in Katsina from 1999-2007 was influenced by this history and relationships. Tanimu Yakubu became Commissioner of Finance, Dr. Safana was appointed the Secretary to the State Government while Ibrahim Shema became the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice. These three persons would continue to play key roles in Umaru’s political life from 1999 to the present time. Umaru Yar’Adua formed what he called Katsina Group of 11 (K-11) which then became group of 34 (K-34) which included his inner circle, Party leaders, State Assembly leadership and his campaign financiers as the main vehicle for the political control and governance of Katsina State. His wife Turai, and favorite daughter Zainab, were not members of K-34, but everyone in the state came to realize how influential they can be in getting the Governor to approve policies and contracts in record time.

Umaru then began a process of neutralizing all sources of checks and balance in the governance of the State. He ensured that only K-34 members became leaders in the state Legislature. He then faced the opposition parties in the State and through patronage; conversion and intimidation virtually decimated the APP by 2007. Kanti Bello and Nura Khalil all briefly returned to the PDP at some point during this period. By 2003, he had won over ANPP’s main hatchet man, Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma to the PDP. He appointed him Secretary to the State Government and persuaded Dr. Safana to run for the House of Representatives and move to Abuja. He also got Tanimu Yakubu – his then popular and effective Commissioner of Finance to move to Abuja as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.

What commentators said about these 'deployments' was that Umaru could not neither tolerate any opposition nor share the limelight with his initial financiers and supporters any longer! Others said he was rewarding loyalty, but the consensus was that Umaru was turning out to be an autocratic and insecure governor, but in a very nice, quiet and detached way.

Umaru’s introverted personality helped a great deal in his relations with the Federal Government. He hated travelling so hardly came to Abuja. He avoided most Governor’s meetings, and usually got his Deputy Governor to represent him. He interacted minimally with President Obasanjo and had a testy relationship with Atiku Abubakar right from their PF and SDP days.
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