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Umaru Musa Yar’Adua: The Legacy of a President

21 February 2014, 10:35 Perry Brimah

At a slippery point in time in Nigeria's history and indeed the history of Africa, where decent leadership is elusive and desperation triumphs; where the people have given up on integrity and the possibility of upright anti corrupt leadership.

A time where many ask, what can be better, and is it possible to deliver more for the people and less for the cabal; it becomes valuable to revisit the leaderships of our past and study if possibly there were better legacies, better examples to compare, and greater natures of human beings to emulate and seek in the present-future.

Looking not too far into the past, in fact in this very 4th republic, and from this very currently ruling PDP party, the much overlooked, abbreviated regime of late President Umaru Yar'adua comes to the fore, and has recently re-featured in the national immodest crises of the 'missing' $20bn, for which external auditors have embarrassingly been requested to help Nigeria address. A characteristic of a good legacy is when your valued words and actions of the past are raised as measures and standards in determination of the problems of the future. Late Umaru Yar'Adua in this regard, as invoked in the national discussion, left a good and important legacy.

Late President Yar'adua was elected to power in 2007, sponsored by another and two time Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Umaru Yar'Adua was in office from 29 May 2007 – 5 May 2010 when he passed after a chronic illness. Considering Yar'Adua's reign requires a brief review of the era before him, that he came to replace.

The democratic regime of Olusegun Obasanjo was very flamboyant and prestigious. It was Nigeria's first return to democracy after 16 years of imposed military dictatorship.

Two of the common credits of the OBJ regime were the reduction in foreign debt and the establishment of GSM mobile phone networks in the country. Other things OBJ is remembered for is his campaign of privatizations and establishment of an anti-corruption agency, the EFCC. As OBJ's regime is reviewed in cognizance of its real features and its future results, as well as the economic and political dynamics of the time, a few things are notable.

OBJ rode the oil price waves. OBJ's regime was not particularly economically unique, it more accurately was in favorable times and the economic growth was concordant with catapulting global oil prices. Oil prices were $16 in 1999 at the start of his tenure and rose rapidly to double that, $35 in September 2000. By August 2005, oil sold at $65 and by October 2007, oil prices were $90/barrel. Obasanjo rode these prices in an ‘oil cruise.’

Contrary to popular narrative, it was late Abacha who introduced GSM to Nigeria. Abacha awarded the first GSM license to Motophone before he passed. When Motophone refused to bend to Obasanjo’s requests for 50% shares in the company as reliable sources detail, Obasanjo cancelled their award and then awarded 27 licenses of his own to companies he brought.

One more issue to discuss that was a hallmark of the predecessor administration was the privatization agenda. Obasanjo built his friends and sponsors of his party, the PDP; the likes of Dangote and Otedola were handed chunks of Nigeria in a privatization frenzy. Transcorp was formed to further facilitate the complete handing over of Nigeria’s assets to private cronies of the PDP. As Obasanjo failed to secure his third term bid, he quickly auctioned off Nigeria’s oil refineries to the same cabal.

Other not so favorable aspects of the OBJ years, including the ‘skewed’ use of the EFCC, the billions allocated for repairing power plants, the ‘missing’ recovered Abacha loot and the like have been thrashed suitably in the media.

The rich got stupendously richer during Obasanjo and the poor got poorer. The gap between the rich and poor have since in the 4th republic widened to levels never before seen. From 2004, midway into the Obasnajo tenure, to date after 4+ full years of Goodluck Jonathan, according to Nigeria’s statistics Bureau, NBS, Nigeria’s destitute, living under a dollar-a-day have doubled to 100 million, the highest number of any African nation and one-tenth of the world’s total destitute.

Enter Yar’Adua, 2007:

Yar’Adua had an uphill task. He was referred to as ‘go-slow,’ possibly because at the time, people did not realize what cards he had been handed. He was coming in when oil prices were dropping during the global recession and Nigeria’s economy faced testing. The Yar’Adua government had to stabilize the economy against dropping oil prices and decreased production as a result of Niger-Delta terror.

Yet, Yar’Adua had been handed two catastrophic problems by the predecessor Obasanjo government. Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND was wrecking havoc in the Southern creeks and Boko Haram had similarly evolved in the north east. Under the Obasanjo regime, Nigeria’s national security boss, NSA Aliyu Gusau, a Babangida dictator regime henchman and the man behind most of Nigeria’s sad history of military coups—who together with Babangida organized the 1983 coup and displacement of the Shagari civilian regime, in which they put army senior Buhari in charge and also behind the 1985 coup in which he removed Buhari and the 1993 coup in which he removed Shonekan and replaced him with Abacha—had failed to abate the problems in the north and south. According to reports, Gusau had actually told president Obasanjo when he asked about Boko Haram, then called, ‘Nigerian Taliban,’ that ‘no such group existed,’ despite attacks by the group.

Faced with these unique, entrenched challenges, Yar’Adua selected a National Security Adviser, Major Gen. Sarki Mukhtar, who is remembered for opposing Abacha on coup plotter treatment in the 90s, and had the commitment and wherewithal to intelligently and appropriately combat the two terror problems.

The Yar’Adua administration with NSA Mukhtar immediately approached the MEND crises with an understanding of the pressing situation. An Amnesty was worked out for the agitating youth who had reduced Nigeria’s oil output by almost half, and Nigeria invested billions in training and rehabilitating these youth. Peace that eluded Obasanjo was restored to the creeks.

Faced with a different terror uprising in the north, Yar’Adua with his apt NSA Mukhtar swung into action, again properly considering the dynamics of the northern question. Poverty is predominant in Nigeria’s north, however poverty and/or misguided fanaticism is no excuse for terrorism and murder of innocent civilians and security officers. The nation’s security men were sent to sack the Boko Haram camps in a swift and efficient operation. In one of the few times in recent global history, the terror mastermind, Mohammed Yusuf himself was caught and killed as ‘he attempted to escape.’ Over 700 Boko Haram terrorists were massacred in the operation of July 2009.

Having established calm and restored security to Nigeria, late Yar’Adua continued with managing other pressing crises he had inherited from the previous administration.

Another battle Yar’Adua had to face was the recovery of Nigeria from the cabal. Obasanjo had literally sold Nigeria to private friends of his and his party. Tycoon Dangote had been selected and favored by president Obasanjo not only during his second appearance in civilian regalia but from his first show as military dictator when he gave Dangote exclusive importation rights. With the sale of Nigeria’s refineries to Dangote and Otedola, Dangote owned as much as half of Nigeria’s assets, which included Nigeria’s cement plants, a telecoms licence and mining concessions. Bashani Aminu had revealed as relayed in Wikileaks, that Dangote once gave Obasanjo a 35 million dollar private jet as thanks for his fruitful partnership.

In July, 2007, barely two months into office, Yar’Adua summoned the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), to query the sale of Nigeria’s refineries to Dangote and co. And to the praise of Nigeria’s Labour Congress (NLC) Yar’Adua overturned these privatizations for being corrupt. Yar’Adua was next going after the Transcorp purchase of Abuja Nicon Hilton. Though Obasanjo had put Yar’Adua into office against Yar’Adua’s wishes, he having objected to contesting on health grounds, Yar’Adua was determined to rescue Nigeria from the paws of the cabal, even his sponsors, Dangote, who financially sponsored his campaigns and Obasanjo who orchestrated his selection.

But this was not even the half of Yar’Adua’s war against corruption. There was the kerosene subsidy scam, through which the fourth republic stole and still steals 10 million dollars every day from the Nigerian masses. Yar’Adua who was battling with a chronic allergic disorder and had intermittent kidney failure, took this matter as no joke and not a matter to delay on. Within his short tenure, he went hard and firm against the subsidy fraud, sending 4 directive communications to immediately seize the fake subsidy that ‘was not reaching the beneficiaries, the Nigerian masses.’  Yar’Adua’s Principal Secretary, Mr. David Edevbie conveyed the directives.

The government spent/spends millions of dollars everyday subsidizing kerosene that was/is sold to the masses at unsubsidized prices in an elaborate, cheap scam. In this scheme Yar’Adua met on the ground, and that is by all means one of the most gigantic fraud scams in recent world history, the government states that it imports 10 million liters of kerosene everyday at the cost of N156/liter.

It then claims to subsidize this to N40.9/liter to be sold at N50/liter to the masses. The NNPC now sells the kerosene to a handful of cabal portfolio marketers at the N40.9/liter and allows them sell it at N150+/liter to the masses, an unsubsidized price, raking in a whooping N100 on the liter for 10 million liters a day and billions of dollars a year [Reference CBN governor Sanusi’s ‘missing’ $20bn  alert].

President Yar’Adua on June 15, 2009 gave a clear directive that NNPC should cease subsidy claims on kerosene. Kerosene fraudulent subsidy claims run up to the tune of N300 trillions per year. This was going to hurt Obsanjo and his cabal cronies.

But Yar’dua was not stopping here, late Yar’Adua gave executive orders to the EFCC to go after anyone, bar none. Obasanjo was in his crosshairs. Obasanjo panicked!

Ambassador Maitama Sule revealed that Obasanjo was scared Yar’Adua would soon come after him and AC’s Garba Shehu said Atiku warned Yar’Adua that Obasanjo was plotting to remove him for his “treachery.”

There are many more instances of Yar’Adua’s stunning and committed actions in total war against corruption. But as he waged this war he suddenly took seriously ill. Yar’Adua suspected he was poisoned. As relayed in Wikileaks cables, Professor Ukandi G. Damachi, an insider and confidant to Babangida and other Nigerian top elite, claimed that late Yar’Adua suspected he had been poisoned by his kitchen staff who he inherited from the former president, Obasanjo. This belief was grave enough according to Professor Ukandi G. Damachi, that Yar’Adua fired all the kitchen staff and replaced them.

Suspicion of poisoning has been rather common in Nigeria’s story, and Shehu Musa, Yar’Adua’s elder brother, was believed to have been killed by poisoning in jail as also it is believed late president elect MKO Abiola was.

Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai is also reported to have believed her husband was poisoned, and this was done to speed up his death. [Fresh Facts, May 2010: “They Killed Yar’Adua”].

When the Goodluck Jonathan administration took over, during a valedictory session in Yar’Adua’s  honour, a motion to investigate the conditions of Yar’Adua’s death was raised by senators who alleged that the circumstances leading to the death of Yar'Adua were suspicious, but this motion to probe did not pass the floor and so this possibility was never investigated.

With the death of Yar’Adua, his deputy, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan took over the presidency and things pretty much went back to how they were in the Obasanjo years… or actually worse. Boko Haram recouped and resumed in full swing, MEND and MEND related terrorists including a revised form as oil bunkerers, high sea pirates and pro-presidency thugs, got reactivated to hold the nation to ransom, with terror reigning supreme from north to south; and fraudulent, non-people beneficial cabal-privatization (cabalization) and corruption were the order of the day. Unlike the Obasanjo administration, recognized for utilizing the EFCC at least for witch hunting the corrupt in bad taste with the president, the EFCC was practically retired to petty cases and authority grand robbery with impunity reigned.

I believe one can admit late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to the fold of late General Murtala Mohammed and Idiagbon/Buhari, whose regimes were marked by total intolerance to corruption and also marked by their assassinations during rule and after (as happened in the case of late general Tunde Idiagbon who was poisoned in Abuja in early 1999, paving the path for the return of Obasanjo by NSA Gusau and Babangida).

Nigeria’s political parties, APC, PDP and the rest can yet find another Murtala, Idiagbon/Buhari or Yar’Adua to restore sanity, decency and global respect to the nation.

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