Umaru Musa Yar’adua: What We Owe The Dead Is The Truth

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During times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”- George Orwell

 I met President Yar’adua only once. A few months after his inauguration, a Media Trust team was invited for breakfast with Yar’adua at the Aso villa. We arrived ahead of schedule but the president came late, showing up almost three hours after the scheduled time. He apologized and eventually spoke in a very measured tone about many issues that his regime was hoping to deal with in the months and years ahead. He appeared calm and withdrawn and seemed to take his time to talk, choosing his words very carefully. I never got another chance to meet the man.

 

I had been suspicious of the process which led to his emergence in 2006, because it seemed a piece in a jigsaw of manipulation which Obasanjo was cynically weaving into Nigerian politics after the rejection of his tenure elongation project.  Yar’adua supported the Third Term Agenda, hosting one of the public hearings taken around the country. It was indicative that it was only under Yar’adua in Katsina, that people protesting against third term were shot on the streets. So stripped of all myth, it appeared Obasanjo chose his man, because Yar’adua showed  much enthusiasm in defence of a discredited agenda, but one he still hoped could be actualized from the backdoor, through Umaru Yar’adua.

 

I was further worried about the acquiescence of our political elite in the emergence of a candidate who was known to have a very serious ailment as presidential candidate and subsequently, president of a country as complex and needing in development as Nigeria. Literally everybody in Northern Nigeria knew that our man was not up to the rigours of the job, but everybody chose to play ostrich, retreating into the metaphysics of hope: hope that somehow Umaru’s health will be alright; hope that he will end his tenure and possibly get a second for the North just like the South did under Obasanjo; hope that he will perform; hope and more hope in what seemed an increasingly hopeless situation. Nigeria’s fate was reduced to a metaphysical and tyrannical prayerfulness where everyone tried to outdo each in false piety; rationality was put to flight until we arrived at the ship wreck of hopelessness.

 

We had a president that was obliged by his situation, to spend a lot of time taking care of his health and was therefore unable to provide the leadership which Nigeria yearned for. Our president threatened to declare an emergency in the power supply situation which never got declared till his demise; while his much-touted Seven Point Agenda became an elaborate script in wishful thinking because in real terms, there was not much in terms of an organizational imperative or leadership quotient to move on the track of success. Policy flip flops became a trade mark of the Yar’adua administration and Nigeria lurched on, like an over-sedated patient. It was a state of near-complete inertia. Our political elite irresponsibly acquiesced in his emergence, while writers of “white sepulcher” tributes did not find the spine to interrogate Umaru Yar’adua’s acceptance to become president even with serious health challenges which continuously deteriorated in power and ensured that he was really unable to lead in the manner which a crucial historical conjuncture in Nigeria demanded. Even people in government would whisper frustrations about the lack of leadership. But with his death, the tune has changed. Here we do not speak evil of the dead, but white wash the lifetime!

 

President Yar’adua’s death has occasioned hypocritical posturing by members of the Nigerian elite, and they have reached points when we could hardly even recognize the man in their tributes. Of course, as the poet John Donne once said, every man’s death diminishes us, because we are all involved in mankind. But in being confronted with the death of a public individual, whose activities touched the lives of millions of citizens positively or negatively, we are obliged to tell only the truth. And the truth was that in three years, the leadership of Yar’adua achieved far less than Nigeria deserved. Not only was the regime poor in rating, it had a very provincial core which made it difficult to build the empathy essential for our president at a critical point in his life. The so-called cabal bungled information management about the president’s health and arrogantly kept everyone on edge as they constructed a wall of lies and deceit around an essentially human condition, which required wisdom, as we were also dealing with the fate of Nigeria. At the same time, those attempting to inherit power went about things without the requisite sensitivity and decency.

 

It is instructive that we have not seen any effort at a political post-mortem which helps the country to learn lessons for the future. Nobody within the ruling circles has thought it fit to ask questions of what must be done to ensure that we are not drawn into such a circumstance in the future. Life goes on; just as the positional fight for appointments within the Goodluck Jonathan presidency has become the only game in town. Yet there were tantalizing glimpses of what might have been if President Yar’adua had lived with robust health. He wanted to re-introduce development planning so that the state can chart progress for the country and its people; it was a significant remove from the ideology of market forces as the only mantra of development. Then the work he did with Niger Delta amnesty held so much hope for peace and subsequent development of that blighted part of our country. And I think he was very courageous to have appointed Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as CBN Governor as well as backing him to go after the individuals who corrupted the banking system and have sent the entire industry into a crisis. Unfortunately, we were not destined to see how far Nigeria would have progressed under him; it was especially painful given his original leftwing ideological background which must have equipped him to understand the real meaning of underdevelopment and why it must be conquered.  Allah ya jikan shi.

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