Nigerian President Umaru Yar’ Adua – a death foretold

Posted on Thursday, 6 May 2010 12:47

The passing of Nigeria’s President

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – although long expected – has elicited

waves of sympathy across the country and apprehension about the coming

months as politicians prepare for national elections next year.

To counter uncertainties, acting


Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as substantive President this morning,

less than 12 hours after Yar’Adua’s demise.

Nigerians had followed the saga of

Yar’Adua’s medical trips to Germany and Saudi Arabia with concern and

frustration – and quickly sensed that senior figures in the clique

around the ailing President were trying to turn these tragic events

to their own advantage. Information leaked out about secret contract

awards to their business associates and insider deals being concocted

with local and foreign bankers.

Yar’Adua’s presidency disappointed

the many Nigerians who had been encouraged by his talk of

re-establishing the “rule of law” in Nigeria, tackling the worsening

civil conflict in the oil-rich Niger Delta and reforming the country’s

corrupt electoral system – of which he was just the latest beneficiary.

Instead, Yar’Adua’s rule was marred

by his inability to to free himself from the vultures and rogues of

his inner circle, beholden to powerful interests in the ruling People’s

Democratic Party. Mild mannered and diplomatic, Yar’Adua could not match

the rumbustious style of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo who bestrode

the ruling party like a colossus or a Roman emperor, issuing edicts

from the palace at Aso Rock and despatching emissaries to the far-flung

reaches of the empire.

When the Abuja spin doctors got to

Yar’Adua, they grandiosely announced his seven-point agenda which did

at least set out the horrors that afflict most Nigerians: the

lack of electric power, clean water, effective eduction and health


mayhem in the Niger Delta and over-arching corruption at every level

of corporate and political life.

Again the vested interests in the


circle held progress back and Yar’Adua proved too weak – politically

and latterly physically – to counter their malign influence. The fact

that once-prominent figures around Yar’Adua such as Delta State governor

James Ibori and Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa are now fugitives

from the law speaks volumes about the changing climate in Abuja.

Despite the malevolence of Ibori and

Aondoakaa, Yar’Adua did preside over a peace and amnesty deal in the

Niger Delta and has been described as a “committed peacemaker” by

the Movement for the Emancipation

of the Niger Delta (MEND) this

morning. Yar’Adua also quietly endorsed the sweeping purge of corrupt

banks and bankers by the new Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria,

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

In his fitter and younger days,


tenure as governor of Katsina State deserves commendation. The only

governor to enter into office with a budget deficit and leave with a


Yar’Adua also championed progressive finance initiatives for

the farmers in Katsina, a much-ignored sector in Nigeria.

The new President, Goodluck Jonathan,

has a formidable list of political and economic reforms to push through

in the 11 months before the next election, but has made a relatively

purposeful start. Jonathan’s sacking of the appalling head of electoral commission, Maurice Iwu,

has done far more for electoral reform than Yar’Adua ever managed.

But Jonathan now needs to follow up with the adoption of electoral


proposed by Justice Mohammed Uwais’s special commission which calls

for an independent electoral authority.

Politics are now delicately poised.

PDP barons in northern Nigeria insist they must provide the next


candidate, in line with party’s ideas of alternating power between north

and south. They had endured eight years of southern rule under Obasanjo.

But the Niger Delta, where Jonathan

comes from, have never had a representative in power. Will Jonathan

implement important political and economic reforms, take the applause,

and bow out now – and perhaps hope to return after the north’s candidate

has served a term? Or should Jonathan run, as insiders will no doubt

advise him, and capitalise on his good political fortune – even if

that puts unbearable strain on the ruling PDP?

For a detailed analysis of the


legacy and what it means for Nigeria’s future,

get the next issue of The Africa Report, out

in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu, Jos, Maidurguri and beyond,

on the 27th of May.

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