By Saifullahi Attahir
“It’s still morning in Nigeria, democracy is just eight years old, our Nation has changed for the better, but there is much left to do……for Nigeria of today, the Sun is still rising” – Yar’adua during campaign 2007.
I deliberately chose the above phrase as a subtitle of my essay due to the sorrow I felt whenever I remembered the chances our dear country missed by losing the above rare political figure through the cold hand of death. Although I’m a Muslim who believes in destiny, I still can’t help but recount the countless opportunities and milestones we were about to scale during a very golden hour in the political history of Nigeria.
Before 2007, little was known about this gentleman apart from his home state, Katsina. Although many Northern Governors were busy lobbying in Abuja for President Obasanjo to anoint them as PDP presidential flag bearers, Umaru Yar’adua was far in the remote state of Katsina. Unconcerned with the political atmosphere in Abuja, he was busy building a legacy of service known in his family’s blood.
In a dramatic twist of fate, President Obasanjo handed over the PDP ticket to Umaru Yar’adua after inviting him to Abuja. This singular act of courage and benevolence by Obasanjo, which deserved accolades, was done after scrutiny of all the Northern Governors at that time, with historians quoting Obasanjo as saying, ‘Yar’adua was one of the few spotless politicians with a good track record of efficient administration’. This can be a powerful message to powermongers, especially in today’s politics, that God can give it (power) to whom He likes without lobbying or cutting corners.
Umaru Yar’adua was born in 1951 to Late Musa Yar’adua, a former Lagos Minister during the Tafawa Balewa administration. His father was also a Chieftain (Matawalle) in Katsina Royal court. Their household was a signatory of service, honesty and discipline that produced many notable figures, including his senior brother, Late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua.
Yar’adua attended the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, where he obtained a degree and master’s in chemistry education between 1972 and 1978. He had a stint as a lecturer at CAST in Zaria and Katsina Polytechnic. Umaru Yar’adua was a teacher by heart who took teaching as his favourite hobby and job despite his affluent family background. This can testify to this man’s ultimate humility and love of service for his Nation.
It was not only teaching that Yar’adua knew, as part of their family tradition, but he was also later a Director of several companies that were founded by either his brother or Late father, including; Habib Bank Limited, Lodigiani Nig Limited, Hamada Limited, Sambo farms. This is to show that Yar’adua has a taste in the private sector as a prudent manager of resources with vast practical knowledge of the economy.
During his tenure as Governor of Katsina state, he was the first in Nigeria to declare his assets to the public. He also saw to the massive construction of public schools, equipping and rehabilitating hospitals, good road networks, and prudent management of Katsina treasury. These are not just created lies but historical facts. One example that can testify to this is how Yar’adua picked and groomed one of the finest intellectual and hardworking administrators Nigeria has ever had, Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi. This economic guru has worked closely with Yar’adua as an aide and later as commissioner of finance. The hard work of this fellow led to Obasanjo appointing him as Chairman of the Federal Mortgage Commission. Indeed, Tanimu Yakubu would be an article I would separately write one day by God’s grace.
The choice of Yar’adua as the presidential candidate was not without foes; even among the Cabinet Ministers of Obasanjo, some people looked at themselves as the most competent for that job, so this automatically created harsh criticism between them and Yar’adua even before the government took off. The example of what transpired between Mallam Nasir El-Rufa’i and Yar’adua was an unfortunate event. Although I see El-Rufa’i as an exemplary leader and my political mentor, his bitterness and open hatred toward Yar’adua were less expected of him. At least, it should have ended after his death, but to the surprise of many, his untimely death has become a source of pride and rejoicing for others.
Among the first surprises Yar’adua to the world after his election was his confession that the election that brought him to power was faulty, but he asserted his commitment to bring change in electoral reforms. He quickly again declared his assets. The choice of Cabinet members in the Yar’adua government was a testimony to his commitment to Nigeria. Most of his political appointees are people of unquestionable character, integrity and experienced technocrats.
Dr Shamsudeen Usman, a Kano-born Economic guru, was the Minister of National Planning. Dr Mansur Mukthar, another Kano technocrat, was the Minister of Finance. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a radical Economist, was the head of CBN. Colonel Abdurrahman Dambazau, another Kano-strong man, was the chief of Army staff. Ojo Maduekwe, an intelligent diplomat, was the Foreign Minister. Dora Akunyili, an iron Lady, was the head of NAFDAC. Tanimu Yakubu, a rare gem, was the Chief Economic Adviser. Segun Adeniyi, a veteran writer and mentor, was the Presidential spokesperson. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, a confidant of Yar’adua, was the Minister of Agriculture. Dr. Aliyu Modibbo is in charge of FCT. Mrs. Fareeda Waziri as EFCC boss. Attahiru Jega, as the unforgettable INEC chairman. Even Mallam Nasir Elrufa’i was initially part of the government as head of Energy sector reform. These are some of the few members of Umaru’s administration to give an idea about what he intended for this country.
Immediately after its inauguration, Yar’adua set the agenda for this country as ‘VISION 2020’ to set Nigeria as one of the world’s top 20 countries with a strong economy by 2020.
These were not empty promises or the usual character of some politicians, but a tangible and committed road map he has charted for Nigeria with the strong political will to deliver. Yar’adua developed the famous ‘7 POINT AGENDA’, a simplistic approach to good governance and a roadmap for a brighter Nigeria. This is unlike the multiple, complex, ambiguous, and confused slogans we have witnessed since his demise by the subsequent regimes.
7 POINT AGENDA is a set of policies Yar’adua envisioned concentrating on during his tenure as President. They are as follows: 1)Power and Energy. 2)Food security. 3) Wealth creation 4) Transportation. 5) Land reforms. 6) Security. 7) Human capital development/Education.
Despite the short period of his government, which was also interspersed by crises and frequent health concerns, within three years between May 2007 and May 2010, Yar’adua was able to leave an indelible positive mark as one of the best leaders this country ever produced. Most Nigerians believe that had Umaru left in 2015, our story would have been a different one, full of hope.
1)Yar’adua was able to solve the crisis of the Niger Delta; this automatically brought security to the region and also boosted the crude oil production of Nigeria.
2)Yar’adua maintained the rule of law, especially in electoral matters, by bringing many reforms in INEC. Hence, many elections were won and given to the opposition parties, exemplified in Ekiti and others.
3) Inflation was dramatically brought down during his regime when many commodities became cheaper and subsidised, including petrol, fertiliser, food, etc.
4) Yar’adua gave Sanusi Lamido Sanusi the green light to carry out the radical reforms in the banking sector that led to rescuing our economy from recession and corrupt elites.
5) Yar’adua initiated and completed the draining of the river Niger to boost the hydroelectric power supply to Nigeria, especially in the blackout Northern part.
Despite the above achievements, the Yar’adua government faced many challenges during his time. The Boko Haram crisis escalated after the killing of Muhd Yusuf (its leader). Also, Nigeria entered a diplomatic crisis with the US after arresting Farouq Mutallab in an airport, allegedly trying to detonate a Bomb. His government also faces many corruption cases perpetrated by some Cabinet and political associates.
Yar’adua was a doer, a silent achiever, a respected diplomat, and a prudent manager. He was married to his brave and confidant wife, Turai Yar’adua, in 1975. Three of his nine children were married to 3 Governors then ( Isah Yuguda, Sa’idu Dakin-gari, and Ibrahim Shema). His wife said Yar’adua’s favourite foods were ‘Kosai da biredi’ ( bread and bean cake, a popular simple Hausa food). He sometimes wore a wristwatch until it started rusting due to his simplistic life.
His life was cut short on 5- 2010 due to Pericarditis, a complication from an underlying Chronic Kidney disease he has had for a long time.
Humility, honesty, discipline, listening ear, prudence, simplistic life, and hard work attracted Yar’adua to Obasanjo by anointing him as the Presidential aspirant. They are the same characteristics that help him to deliver some of the promises he has made; they are also the same qualities that endear him to millions of Nigerians 13 years after his death.
Saifullahi Attahir wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org.