Swans Commentary » swans.com May 31, 2010  



Goodbye, President Umoru Yar'Adua


by Femi Akomolafe





"What passes for the Nigerian nation is nothing more than a tragic arena, and Yar'Adua is only the latest tragic figure. The vampires, including those within his own family, turned him into a mere inert resource for their diabolical schemes. They have a reckoning with their conscience, assuming they know what the word means. One can only hope that, while mouthing sanctimonious platitudes such as 'Power belongs to God,' they have now learnt that the politics of Do-or-Die cannot guarantee who lives and who dies. They must stop playing God. I pray for the repose of the soul of their latest, much abused innocent victim."

—Professor Wole Soyinka on President Umoru Yar'Adua.


(Swans - May 31, 2010)   The Yoruba aphorism, "Ile aye, ile asan," is among those Africans wise sayings that do not lend themselves to easy rendition in non-African languages.

The biblical sayings, "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, only to lose his soul" or "Vanity upon vanity is vanity" do not even begin to explain that pregnant Yoruba saying.

Let us settle for, "In the final analysis, life is meaningless."

On May 5, 2010, despite all the machinations of his handlers, Nigeria's President Umoru Yar'Adua joined the ancestors.

The late president was taken ill in November last year in what his doctors said was pericarditis, a heart condition. However, many believed that he suffered from a more grievous illness than what his doctors told Nigerians and the world. His gaunt look and pallid, rash-covered skin lent great credence to the belief that the late president suffered from a more devastating sickness.

In December 2006, Yar'Adua, a very dark horse indeed, emerged as the People's Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate when then President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed him on his party. He won the dubious April 21, 2007, elections to become president.

In accordance with Muslim burial rites, the late president was buried in his hometown Katsina on May 6, 2010. Towards the very end, when it was clear that Nigeria's Chief Executive has been reduced to a sorry vegetative state, Yar'Adua refused to gracefully bow out.

And that was the greatest tragedy of the Yar'Adua's travesty of a presidency!

Before he became president, the late leader always had been a sick man. Sickness barred him from doing much during his election campaigns. It was left for his mentor, the combative former president General Olusegun Obasanjo (better known as Uncle Sege) to campaign on his behalf.

In one of his campaign stops, Uncle Sege, a man noted for his gallows humour, theatrically whipped out his mobile phone and called Yar'Adua on his sick bed in Germany. "Umoru, are you dead?" Obasanjo demanded of his protégé. Of course, Yar'Adua answered that reports of his (then) death were exaggerated. Though party faithful wildly cheered, it was clearly not an edifying spectacle.

And, finally, the man died!

Yar'Adua became the fifth Nigerian leader, and its first democratically-elected, to die in office.

Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first prime minister was killed in Nigeria's first coup on January 15, 1966. The coup, organized mainly by officers of Igbo extraction, failed but many post-independence leaders lost their lives. The coup was to have devastating effects on the nation as it led to:

1. The countercoup of July 29, 1966, which saw the killing of Major General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi who had succeeded Balewa, and

2. Pogroms against the Igbos living in Northern Nigeria, which in turn led to the civil war that claimed the lives of an estimated 1 million Igbos.

General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, who became leader after another (this time bloodless) coup that overthrew the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, was killed on February 13, 1976, in a failed military coup led by Lt. Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka.

General Sani Abacha, the dark-goggled muscular dictator, died on June 8, 1998. Ironically, the man that introduced unbridled state violence against all perceived enemies did not, unlike his military predecessors, succumb to the assassin's bullet. Abacha died from liver-related disease complications, although it was widely rumoured that the man, who terrorized Nigerians and sent many of his compatriots into exile, died atop Indian ashewos (prostitutes).

The passing away of the leader of a people or nation should be time for deep reflection and in the case of a clearly failed state like Nigeria, this should be a period of the deepest soul searching and the soberest of reflections. It is doubtful though that the cabal of self-serving elite that continues to hold the nation of 150 million people hostage has the capacity for self examination, much less self redemption.

Contrary to popular perception, Nigerians, like most well brought up Africans, are very sympathetic people to whom empathy seems to come naturally.

Even though his election was marred by massive rigging, initially Nigerians supported their president, and his handlers, led by his wife Turai, should take the blame for frittering away the huge public sympathy Yar'Adua enjoyed, especially when he fell sick.

Although rigging elections is a pastime of the Nigerian political class, the elections that brought Yar'Adua to power were believed to be the most rigged elections in a country where election shenanigans have been turned into art form. Yet, Nigerians were prepared to accommodate him.

Nigeria's reputation as a nation of violent and very aggressive people seems underserved in view of the stoical forbearance with which the people have to bear all the indignities visited upon them by their rulers.

In the 1970s, Nigeria was a nation with continental, even global, pretensions. Crude oil money was pouring into state coffers and General Yakubu Gowon famously assured his compatriots that it was not money that was their problem, but how to spend it.

And spend it they did. Lagos was transformed overnight into a modern city with skyscrapers, 10-lane expressways, and all the works. Work abounded aplenty and the national currency, the Naira, was stronger than the American dollar. Nigeria was a respected nation with a robust foreign policy and Nigerians did not need visas to travel to many countries.

A succession of crude, insanely corrupt leaders with tunnel vision drove the once promising country aground, so much so that today many Nigerians scavenge in the dustbins for sustenance.

Many Nigerians took offense when the BBC, the mouthpiece of British imperialism, recently made a documentary about the level of poverty in Nigeria's former capital and grandiosely misnamed it "Welcome to Lagos," but they will agree that things have never been this bad for their country.

Nigerians are sad and very angry that their nation that is said to have earned over $400 billion from crude oil sales alone in the last 50 years still cannot provide adequate electricity for its people. They also find it difficult to accept that a nation that exports 2-3 million barrels of crude daily lacks the capacity to refine enough for its domestic consumption. Nigeria still imports refined oil!

Nigerians do not ask for the moon, not even for space suits; all that they clamoured for was that their rulers use just a tiny part of their immense natural resources to make life a little better for them. Most Nigerians believe that they can get on with their lives if their rulers will provide them with only two things: electricity and security.

Alas, these simple requests remain too much for the otiose rulers of this unfortunate country to accommodate. The greedy bastards (apologies to former Ghanaian President JJ Rawlings) continue to spend almost 80% of the nation's earnings to run the machinery of a clearly dysfunctional state.

It is difficult to understand those who today wax lyrical about President Yar'Adua's moral integrity, incorruptibility, patriotism, and uprightness.

We can pardon them, though. We shouldn't speak ill of the dead, right? But do we need to play the hypocrite in writing our elegies and dirges to the leader of the ruthless cabal of thieves (what else to call them?) misruling the most populous black nation on earth?

What is patriotic about a leader who was obviously sick but refused to vacate office? Where is the integrity of the leader whose ministers wantonly loot the national treasury?

And let it not be forgotten that the late Yar'Adua was a member of the ruling PDP -- a very ruthless, avaricious entity peopled by unprincipled and totally unscrupulous political jobbers.

There is a saying that goes: Show me your friends and I will know the type of fellow you are. Any man or woman with any sense of integrity or decency will not belong to an organization peopled by human hyenas like the PDP whose chairman was recently dragged before a tribunal on corruption charges. Given the ruthlessness with which it rigged elections, the PDP obviously did not believe in democracy, and no one can accuse the party of being people-oriented.

It might be true that the late president was fired by a patriotic zeal that made him pray constantly for his country. It could also be true that he was a workaholic who toiled long hours on behalf of his nation. However, the truth remains that Yar'Adua left Nigeria in worse shape than he met it.

He came to power on a mantra of a seven-point agenda that became the buzzword of his administration. They were: 1. Energy, 2. Security, 3. Wealth Creation, 4. Education, 5. Land Reform, 6. Mass Transit, 7. Niger Delta.

Were we to even score him one hundred percent on point 7, not even his most ardent supporters will rate the late president above zero on the other six points. It was under Yar'Adua's watch that a staggering 98% of Nigerian students failed a common examination!

Life today in Nigeria is short and brutish; a general sense of insecurity pervades the land. The fear of armed robbers and kidnappers dissuaded many Diasporan Nigerians from visiting their fatherland last December.

And as Nigeria, a country of 150 million people generates a paltry 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of electricity, Nigerians still dance for joy when they receive their pitiful 2-hour daily allotment of electricity. In contrast, South Korea generates 3.68 million megawatts of electricity for its 49 million people, with over 100,000 MW unallotted or surplus!

The only real tragedy in the whole sad theatrics of Yar'Adua is the loss and the humiliation suffered by the late president's mother, Hajia Habiba Musa Yar'Adua. Imagine being denied access to your own begotten son!

It is difficult not to grieve with this poor woman whose life was callously shattered by the madness that goes for politics in Nigeria. Her eldest son, the late General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, died while incarcerated by dictator Abacha on trumped-up coup charges.

Ma Yar'Adua was said to be opposed to the PDP drafting her younger son, Umoru, into the presidency. Sadly, the inordinate ambitions of the late president's wife, Turai, coincided neatly with those of the party's chieftains. In the end, they dragooned a hapless and sickly man whose dicey health made him a virtual hostage to the Machiavellian characters at the helm of Nigeria's governance.

It is not only sad that the president of a whole country like Nigeria has to frequent foreign hospitals; it ought to be a source of great embarrassment.

Shameless African rulers steal the money meant for the education and the health of their people, lodge said money in foreign bank accounts, and watch unconcerned as their nation's social services collapse. When their health fails, they are rushed, at great state expense to overseas hospitals.

Since Nigerian health professionals are scattered all over the world, enlightened self-interests should have informed the political leadership to build modern heath facilities so that these professionals could be employed at home, take care of the health of their own people, and earn good money for the country.

Politics, like nature, abhors vacuums. President Jonathan Goodluck was promptly sworn in. He declared a public holiday and a ritualistic seven-day mourning period in honour of his late boss, whom he eulogized to high heavens.

But the new president who has lived up to his name GOODLUCK must gird his loins firmly and hit the ground running, if his streak of good luck is not to suffer a nasty break.

Jonathan Goodluck was indeed a very lucky man. He was a university lecturer when he joined politics and became the deputy to the governor of oil-rich Bayelsa State. His boss was ousted in a corruption scandal thus paving the way for Jonathan to become governor. It was from that post that Uncle Sege plucked him to become the running mate to the late Yar'Adua. And now fate as intervened to bring him to the pinnacle of all careers -- the presidency, and on a platter of gold!

Those who know him vouched that he is a hardworking, upright technocrat. The same, however, was said of the late Umoru Yar'Adua.

But the question remains if the human hyenas and the vultures that are perpetual players in Nigerian politics will allow him to be his own man.

Will those who live parasitic lives off the nation's vast resources allow Mr. Goodluck the chance to deliver some Democracy Dividend to the long-suffering people of Nigeria? And does the new president have the guts to stand up to this cabal and try to deliver on the moribund 7-point agenda of his late predecessor?

Very few men in history have had the same luck as the new leader of Nigeria. It is up to him to write his name in pure gold or rubbish it in the dustbin of history, as did his predecessors. If as one politician opined that a week is a long time in politics, the near one-year period left in the Jonathan's tenure is an eternity.

If he chooses, Jonathan could utilize the next months to make such dramatic changes in the life of his compatriots that he will be swept to office by the cheers of grateful compatriots.

Actually, since the nation is at such a low point, he doesn't need to do much. Declaring a real emergency in the power sector like Yar'Adua promised but failed and ensuring that Nigerians enjoy good energy supply would have such positive spillover effects on the nation that the adulation that will greet such boldness would dissuade a serious challenger.

Again, the huge sums the country has allocated to the police and the other "security" agencies over the years have simply disappeared into money heaven, to employ Mr. Madoff's fanciful phrase.

President Jonathan should give the police boss a marching order to ensure that his men and women stop extorting money and harassing innocent Nigerians and provide the much-needed security they are paid to deliver.

Yar'Adua is gone -- may the ancestors welcome him and may the gods forgive him his sins.

It is to be hoped that his death will make the current otiose rulers of Nigeria wake up and smell the ogogoro (Nigeria's liquor).

Adieu, President Umoru Musa Yar'Adua. Allah Jikanshi (May Allah grant him rest).


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.   (back)


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Published May 31, 2010