Yar’Adua: Great Expectation, Disappointing Outcome, by Nasir El-Rufai

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s current President, and unless his health fails will remain the Chief Executive of Africa’s most populous country at least until 2011, and perhaps till 2015 if re-elected. Having been in office for less than two years, it may be premature to pass judgment on his leadership and governance styles. But there is a saying prevalent amongst Hausa speakers of Northern Nigeria, which roughly translated means: “You know that an enjoyable weekend is round the corner when things begin to look good by Wednesday, (otherwise, forget the weekend, or just pray).”

It is on the basis of this that I will attempt to present an assessment of Umaru Yar’ Adua’s time in office, and venture to predict what his first full term in office is likely to be. I do not share the views of the Economist that Umaru Yar’ Adua’s health is such an issue that he would not be available to attempt re-election.

And because Umaru Yar’Adua has been in office for so short a time, not much has been written about him. This essay will therefore be a summary of what the utterly free but unreliable Nigerian media and bloggers have published, tempered by my personal knowledge of Yar’Adua since I first met him in 1972, and what others that have grown up, lived and worked with him have related to me.

I will also present not only a contextual summary of the Obasanjo Administration’s twilight days, and Obasanjo’s decisions and actions and the impacts these would have on Yar’Adua’s governance, but a biographical sketch that throws some light on the personality of the new president. My hope is that these will help explain some of Yar’Adua’s decisions and actions, as well as successes and failures as President of Nigeria.

I will compare Yar’ Adua’s promises and commitments upon his swearing-in, with actual outcomes achieved. I will review his political, economic and foreign policy vision, policies and actions to establish how transformational he has been.

Nigeria in May 2007

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 146 million inhabitants living within an area slightly more than twice the land area of California. With a GDP of over $296 billion and huge reserves of crude oil, Nigeria is the second largest economy in the Continent, the leading oil exporter and 37th largest economy in the zorld.

Nigeria is located in the Gulf of Guinea in the Western part of Africa. Nigeria was created by the amalgamation of what were known as the Protectorates of Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos into one nation in 1914. The nation was granted independence in 1960 in what was considered by Time magazine as a model of negotiated self-rule.

Nigeria in May 2007 was in high spirits – we were about to successfully transfer power democratically from one elected government to another, handing over a sound economy that is almost debt-free with healthy reserves of over $45 billion. For the first time since Nigeria’s first republic was terminated, there was a window of opportunity to break from the past. The world was watching with interest, with good reason. According to Rotberg in a report prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations: “For policy makers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country’s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa.”

For some of us in President Obasanjo’s government, the elections were disappointing but the best candidate won. We have elected our first University graduate as President, a person we were convinced was a decent man, and raised the possibility that we will break the vicious cycle of bad leadership that has defined our nation. We were optimistic about the future.

Abuja on May 29, 2007

It was on the eve of the Hand-Over date and we had gone to Defense House to take a final look at the Inaugural Speech that President-Elect Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would read to the world tomorrow when he is sworn in at 10.00 am Nigerian time. Abuja – the City I had administered in the last four years and have lived since 1998 was not as festive as it should be. Instead, what was in the air was a huge sigh of relief. I had been in my office for the last time, knowing that I will never ever visit the FCT Administration again. My family had moved out of the official residence a couple of days before, and moved into the house I had just bought from the Federal Government.

We had brought the only African to ever win a Pulitzer Prize – Dele Olojede (now the publisher of Next Newspaper) from South Africa, to write the speech. We (Dele Olojede, Nasir El-Rufai, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Jimi Lwal and Aliyu Modibbo) reviewed the third draft of the speech with Umaru Yar’Adua and made a few corrections. We argued whether it was appropriate to mention that 54% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line in view of the unreliability of our national statistics. It was a great speech Dele had prepared from several intearctive sessions with the President-Elect.
At about 11pm, Tanimu Yakubu came in to the room we were all meeting, and asked me out. He requested that I get one of the judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory to come and sign the Asset Declaration Forms of the President-Elect, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria had vowed that he will not appear at the Inauguration unless they were submitted to him in the morning. I called my Chief of Staff to wake up any of the judges for this purpose. I rejoined the group and finally left the President-Elect at 2.00 am in the morning of May 29, 2007. Tanimu, my Chief of Staff and the Honorable Judge were still waiting for the paperwork to be put together.

As I was driving home, my cell-phone rang and it was Nuhu Ribadu – the respected and dreaded chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He told me that he was with President Obasanjo and would want me to join them. I diverted to the State House and met them sharing drinks and reminiscent about the last four years. We left President Obasanjo who said he expected us at 8.00 am for a final breakfast with him before going to Eagle Square – the venue of the Inauguration Ceremonies. I got home about 3.00 am for a wink and was up early for the Farewell Breakfast with Obasanjo.
It was a time of great relief for us too – we will soon be free to pursue our private lives. I was personally uneasy about the poor succession outcome, inadequate preparation of Umaru Yar’Adua for the office he was about to be sworn in, the flawed elections and the legitimacy burden arising therefrom, and the abysmally poor briefing of the incoming team of the opportunities and challenges before them. How did we get to this point?

(Note – Most of the biographical information is taken from the Umaru Yar’Adua/Jonathan Goodluck campaign website:

Early Life and Education

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s thirteenth Head of Government and the second President of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. He was born on 16th August, 1951 in Daudawa, a village within the then Katsina Province of the Northern Region of Nigeria. His father, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua was at the time the senior civil servant in charge of the farm settlement of Kamfanin Daudawa, now part of Faskari Local Government of Katsina State.

Umaru’s father – Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua hailed from the Sullubawa Ruling Family of Katsina and held several aristocratic positions including royal titles of Tafida, and later the Mutawalli of Katsina (custodian of the treasury of the Katsina Emirate) until his death in 1993. Musa Yar’Adua was an active member of the Northern Peoples’ Congress – the dominant political party in Northern Nigeria at the time. He was the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa between 1960 and 1966. Umaru was the third eldest male of several children of Musa Yar’Adua’s several wives.

Umaru Yar’Adua was therefore born in privilege, and grew up learning from two respected tacticians in Nigeria’s political history – his father, Musa Yar’Adua and his elder brother – Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was General Olusegun Obasanjo’s number two in the military junta that ruled Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. Umaru has always been an introvert and grew up in the shadows of his flamboyant, more extroverted and military-officer elder brother Shehu.

Umaru attended primary schools in and around Katsina, and went to Government College Keffi for his high school education (1965 to 1969). He did his two year senior high (A Levels) (1970 to 1971) at the famous Barewa College, Zaria – the premier high school that produced the bulk of Nigeria’s leaders from the North. (Note: Barewa College, Zaria was established in 1922 by the Colonial Government to produce teachers of Northern Nigerian origin. The College has so far produced four (Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua) out of Nigeria’s twelve Heads of Government, and Sir Ahmadu Bello – the Sardauna of Sokoto who was the de facto Head of the First Republic Government but chose to be the Premier of the Northern Region. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barewa_College for more details.)
At Keffi, Umaru was a brilliant Science student who loved James Bond novels, and was nicknamed 007. Oddly enough, according to people that knew him then – his favorite character in the novels was not Bond himself but Ernst Stavro Blofeld – the leader of the criminal extortion organization intent on achieving world domination – S.P.E.C.T.R.E.! – (Note – SPECTRE stands for the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion – Admiring the villain in a spy novel was very strange indeed, and indicative of Umaru’s rebellious ways, or perhaps a future sinister streak!)

At Barewa College, Umaru was not a particularly conscientious student, missing classes often, was a chain smoker, and drank a lot of alcohol, contrary to College Regulations. He got a new nickname “Bad Man” for his anti-establishment and rebellious ways. In spite of this, he was not only appointed House Captain of Mallam Smith House but was surprisingly able to pass his A Levels reasonably well enough to get admitted into a degree program. (Note – I got admitted to Barewa College in January 1972 – a few months after Umaru Yar’Adua graduated. I was a freshman in Mallam Smith House where he was House Captain, and placed under the care of Sani Maikudi, Umaru Yar’Adua’s first cousin. Umaru was a legend, admired by all for his populist, non-chalant administration of the House, and fondly remembered by his Barewa nickname – “Bad Man”).

Umaru was admitted to the Ahmadu Bello University and graduated with BSc in Chemistry/Education in 1975. He spent one year in Lagos during the mandatory National Youth Service at Holy Child College as a high school Chemistry teacher. He returned to Ahmadu Bello University in 1978 for two years for an M.Sc in Analytical Chemistry. It is noteworthy that Umaru’s upbringing and education has always been limited to the states that make up the old Northern Region. He knew little else outside of his immediate geographic, ethnic and religious environment. This is to have some implications for his future governance roles.

Employment and Professional Career

On completion of the compulsory National Youth Service Scheme, Umaru joined the services of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), Zaria as a Chemistry lecturer. He earned his M.Sc in Chemistry while still teaching at CAST. He remained in the employment of CAST, which later became the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (KCAST) and then Katsina Polytechnic until 1983 when he resigned to work for his brother, Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, then retired.

(Note – CAST Zaria/KCAST Zaria – This was a senior high school which replaced the British-style “A Levels” in the Northern States, and served to accelerate the preparation of high school graduates to move on to University. Coincidentally, my cousin and adopted father – Yahaya Hamza was the Principal of the College who interviewed and employed Umaru.

During his years at CAST, KCAST and the Polytechnic, Umaru became fascinated with socialism, and had great admiration for the Soviet economic and political system. He was the Patron of the students’ socialist movement, the Movement for Progressive Nigeria during the period. He admired the works of Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and read most of them. It was at this point that Yar’Adua also discovered Lobsang Rampa – the Tibetan mystic and author of the bestseller “The Third Eye”, introducing him to oriental thinking, superstition and myticism.

Upon retirement in 1979, Umaru’s elder brother and General Obasanjo’s deputy – Major General Shehu Yar’Adua had gone into the private sector in a big way – causing many people to wonder where all the money came from . The elder Yar’Adua’s farming venture – Sambo Farms Ltd., located near Daudawa (Umaru’s birthplace) was one of the ventures. Umaru became its pioneer General Manager in 1983 and remained there until the Company reportedly filed for bankruptcy in 1989. During the period, Umaru served on the Boards of several State-owned enterprises and agencies and on several private boards as a nominee of the Yar’Adua family:
• Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (1979-83)
• Kaduna State Farmers Supply Company (1984-85)
• Katsina Investment and Property Development Company (1994-96)
• Habib Nigeria Bank Ltd. (1995-99)
• Lodigiani Construction Nigeria Ltd. (1987-1999)
• Hamada Holdings (1983-1999)
• Madara Ltd, Jos (1987-99)
• Nationhouse Press Ltd. (1995-99)

Umaru Yar’Adua never had any formal training in business or economics but through these boards got exposed to corporate practices prevalent in Nigeria at a time of rapid economic change – the years of Structural Adjustment Program and the endless political transitions of the successive military juntas of the mid-1980s to the late 1990s in Nigeria.

Political Career

During their employment as lecturers at the CAST Zaria, Umaru Yar’Adua along with Lawal Batagarawa joined the leftist Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP). Umaru Yar’Adua’s father was at that time, the State Chairman of the rival, right-wing National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

(Note – Lawal Batagarawa was a schoolmate and friend of Umaru Yar’Adua. He also hails from Katsina and attended Government College Keffi. He studied Electrical Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University. He taught Mathematics at the CAST Zaria at the same time as Umaru Yar’Adua. Later in life, Lawal went on to be Minister of State – Education and Defense in the Obasanjo Administration. He was Special Adviser to Obasanjo between 2003 and 2007).

However, when the PRP’s candidate was surprisingly elected the Governor of Kaduna State, Umaru Yar’Adua declined to accept a position in the government ‘for family reasons’ . Lawal Batagrawa left CAST taking up appointment as a Permanent Secretary in the Kaduna State executive branch. The Second Republic was terminated by a military coup in 1983, and by then Umaru had left public service to work for his brother, Shehu Yar Adua – who was mixing business with sporadic forays into politics by then.

When the Babangida Administration announced its Transition to Civil Rule program in 1988, Umaru joined his brother’s right-of-center political association, the Peoples’ Front (PF) in an act of final separation from leftist politics. He was elected, in 1988, on non-party basis, a member of the Constituent Assembly whose deliberations led to the enactment of 1989 Constitution by the Babangida junta. When the military junta decreed a two-party system for the country in 1991, the Peoples’ Front opted to merge into the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SDP) rather than the right-of-center National Republican Convention (NRC).

Umaru Yar’Adua was an active member of the SDP at national and state levels. He was Katsina State Secretary of SDP and member of the party’s National Caucus. He contested the Governorship of Katsina State in 1991 but lost to Saidu Barda of the NRC, in what many saw as rejection of what looked as monarchical rule in Nigeria – Shehu Yar’Adua was contesting the Nigerian Presidency while his kid brother wished to run his home state of Katsina!

From then on, things took turns for the worse for the Yar’Adua family. Shehu was arrested and detained by the Babangida junta, released and then disqualified from running for office. He was re-arrested and tried for treason, along with his former boss – Olusegun Obasanjo – by the Abacha junta in 1996. Umaru was compelled by circumstances to assume the supervision of Shehu’s vast political and business empire. Shehu died in prison under very questionable circumstances.

(Note – While in prison, Shehu Yar’Adua sent a note to his supporters that he had been invited to the office of the prison warden where he met Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, then Chief Security Officer to General Abacha, and two others he did not know. He was forcefully injected with a colorless liquid by the three persons. Shehu’s note added that he was not ill and has not had even a headache since the incident happened – a few days before he sent the note. Shehu died in Abakaliki Prison in 1997 – less than two years after the incidence. Many of his supporters believe he was injected with HIV or Hepatitis virus or both.)

When General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed the leadership of the military junta after the sudden death of General Abacha in 1998, Umaru Yar’Adua teamed up with Shehu’s allies and formed the Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM). This movement merged with other disparate political groups to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 199.
Even though Umaru was not the most popular aspirant for the governorship, there was near -unanimous consensus, with General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as main advocate that the Yar’Adua family ought to be compensated for Shehu’s efforts and ultimate sacrifice for Nigeria’s democracy. This he argued will only be achieved by getting Umaru elected Governor of Katsina State. This led to several angry defections from the party by aspirants Kanti Bello, Nura Khalil and others to the rival All People’s Party (APP now ANPP). In a pattern that will repeat itself again and again in his political life, Umaru got the PDP ticket virtually without any effort due to the advocacy and sacrifice of others. He was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 as Governor of Katsina State.

(Note – Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau has been a regular figure in all of Nigeria’s military juntas. He was at various times the Director of Military Intelligence to the Buhari regime, National Security Adviser to Babangida, and Obasanjo, and Chief of Army Staff to the Shonekan and Abacha Administrations. He contested against Umaru Yar’Adua in the 2007 presidential primaries and lost. He remains an influential power broker in Nigeria and respected by the intelligence community worldwide).

Governance of Katsina State

The PDP has from its inception, perfected the bad habit of expecting its candidates for political office to bear the disproportionate burden of campaign expenses. So Umaru got the ticket but had to raise monies for his governorship bid. As the head of the Yar’Adua family, he was assumed to be wealthy. This was far from the truth. By the time Shehu died in prison, most of the businesses were shut down or near bankruptcy except Habib Nigeria Bank. Nicotes Services had been expropriated by the Abacha junta, the name changed to Intels Logistics Services and the chairmanship transferred to the Emir of Kano. Under Umaru’s non-business supervision, the family fortune was virtually disappearing. Umaru had no money to spend on the Governorship.
A group of young professionals of Katsina State origin, who had made money from the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF) program under the supervision of General Muhammadu Buhari, came to the rescue. Their leader was Tanimu Yakubu, an Economics graduate of Wagner College, New York, and included Dr. Aminu Safana and Ibrahim Shema. Nura Khalil was part of the group but decamped to the APP. Other ‘businessmen’ like Dahiru Mangal and Ahmadi Kurfi (both alleged to be professional smugglers) contributed financially to the Yar’Adua for Governor Campaign in 1998-99. Other notable figures include that played key mobilizing, but not direct financial roles included Lawal Batagrawa, Aminu Bello Masari and Samaila Mamman.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy was nominated by the young professionals, though not one of them – Tukur Bakori. His governance style in Katsina from 1999-2007 was influenced by this history and relationships. Tanimu Yakubu became Commissioner of Finance, Dr. Safana was appointed the Secretary to the State Government while Ibrahim Shema became the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice. These three persons would continue to play key roles in Umaru’s political life from 1999 to the present time. Umaru Yar’Adua formed what he called Katsina Group of 11 (K-11) which then became group of 34 (K-34) which included his inner circle, Party leaders, State Assembly leadership and his campaign financiers as the main vehicle for the political control and governance of Katsina State. His wife Turai, and favorite daughter Zainab, were not members of K-34, but everyone in the state came to realize how influential they can be in getting the Governor to approve policies and contracts in record time.

Umaru then began a process of neutralizing all sources of checks and balance in the governance of the State. He ensured that only K-34 members became leaders in the state Legislature. He then faced the opposition parties in the State and through patronage; conversion and intimidation virtually decimated the APP by 2007. Kanti Bello and Nura Khalil all briefly returned to the PDP at some point during this period. By 2003, he had won over ANPP’s main hatchet man, Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma to the PDP. He appointed him Secretary to the State Government and persuaded Dr. Safana to run for the House of Representatives and move to Abuja. He also got Tanimu Yakubu – his then popular and effective Commissioner of Finance to move to Abuja as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.

What commentators said about these ‘deployments’ was that Umaru could not neither tolerate any opposition nor share the limelight with his initial financiers and supporters any longer! Others said he was rewarding loyalty, but the consensus was that Umaru was turning out to be an autocratic and insecure governor, but in a very nice, quiet and detached way.

Umaru’s introverted personality helped a great deal in his relations with the Federal Government. He hated travelling so hardly came to Abuja. He avoided most Governor’s meetings, and usually got his Deputy Governor to represent him. He interacted minimally with President Obasanjo and had a testy relationship with Atiku Abubakar right from their PF and SDP days.

His favorite official in Abuja was General Aliyu Mohammed, Obasanjo’s National Security Adviser, who continued to see him as Shehu’s kid brother. This meant that unlike most state governors who frequented Abuja Federal offices and the Lagos media houses to advance their political agendas, Umaru and Katsina State were virtually off the radar. He was also seen by Federal officials as an undemanding, simple and humble governor. All these were to play key roles in Umaru’s ascent to the Presidency.

In Katsina, Umaru spent the first 8 months of his governorship doing little but what he called ‘planning’. Actually, he inherited an empty treasury, a bloated civil service, huge pension arrears, and many construction projects started but abandoned half-way. The schools and hospitals were run down, and there were no resources to tackle them all at the same time. Tanimu Yakubu who was Finance Commissioner suggested that the state should just pay salaries until they have a firm handle on their books. Within 2 years, the books had been balanced, and helped by higher oil revenues and transfers from the Federal Government; the Katsina State Government cleared the pension arrears, reconciled domestic debts, and began the completion of abandoned projects.

In 2000, Katsina State became the fifth Northern State to adopt the Sharia Law. According to Wikipedia, in 2002, Amina Lawal, an unmarried woman from Bakori was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia court for adultery. The story attracted international attention but Umaru Yar’Adua refused to exercise his prerogative of mercy to pardon her. The sentence was initially upheld on appeal to a higher Sharia court in Funtua, but like all such cases in Nigeria at the time, was quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s achievements as Governor are mixed depending on who you talk to. What is not in dispute was that the quality of schools and hospital buildings, urban and rural roads and fertilizer distribution system improved dramatically under his watch. But Katsina State’s performance in the two national high school graduation examinations – the NECO and SSCE has not improved. Indeed according to a very critical journalist , in both 2007 and 2008, the state was ranked the worst in both national examinations. In May 2007, another former adviser to Yar’Adua when he was governor in Katsina had made similar allegations regarding the actual quality of educational and health services in the State, as different from the quality of buildings!

(Note – See Sam Nda-Isaiah – “Between Yar’Adua and El-Rufai”, Leadership Newspaper, 20th April, 2009. www.leadershipnigeria.com/index.php?view=article&catid=2 accessed on 04/20/2009.)

Some of the critics of Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration suggest that the good buildings and roads resulted from the desire of the Governor to award construction contracts without any competitive bidding almost entirely to three companies that are closely related to him – Lodigiani Nigeria Ltd. (the Yar’Adua family business), B. Stabilini & Co. (Nigeria) Ltd., with Aliyu Bala Kuki (a close family friend), and Mangal Enterprises (Yar’Adua’s alleged campaign financier). What no one can take away from Governor Yar’Adua was that the jobs were executed and to acceptable quality unlike in most states in the Federation. This was attested to by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, then Minister of Education when she visited Katsina early in 2007. Oby is now Vice President (Africa Region) at the World Bank.

(Note – Indeed, according to the BBC on 29th May 2007 ”Although he is reputed to be prudent in managing funds in Katsina State where he had been governor for the past seven years, critics say contracts have gone to companies with links to his family’s vast businesses.” See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6187249.stm accessed 04/27/2009.)

Yar’Adua’s humble and austere personal lifestyle endeared him to many. He was not considered personally corrupt compared with other Governors. When Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s respected anti-corruption czar and then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced the names of ‘corrupt governors’, Umaru Yar’Adua was not on the list.

(Note – Nuhu Ribadu said Umaru’s name was initially on the list but he was persuaded to remove it by Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (not Obasanjo) because “Umaru’s corruption was not personal, and was productive” relative to other venal Governors!).In the end, this piece of omission got Umaru the support of many of us for the presidency.)

8. Illness, Cure and Dreams of Being President

In 2001, the second year of his first term as Governor, Umaru’s health began to deteriorate. His mentor, General Aliyu Mohammed arranged for him to go to Germany for a comprehensive medical check-up. In Germany, he was diagnosed with renal failure and he was prescribed medication to supplement regular dialysis. In all he spent nearly six months in Germany, and as required by the Constitution, handed over the governance of the State to his Deputy, Tukur Bakori. Before departing for Germany, a spiritualist from neighboring Niger Republic had met Yar’Adua and informed him that his illness will miraculously disappear within a year, if certain prayers and sacrifices of animals were made. His influential wife, Turai ensured that these were done.

When he returned, he found that as Acting Governor, Bakori had allegedly squandered the state’s resources and embarked on several projects that the Governor was unhappy about. Umaru got his deputy impeached by the State Legislature within months of his return. Bakori decamped to the rival ANPP in protest. Umaru continued to undergo dialysis until his kidney functions miraculously improved. When he returned to Germany for another check-up in 2002, his kidney functions were found to have fully recovered, and a proposed transplant was unnecessary. Yar’Adua’s belief in his spiritualist from Niger Republic strengthened with this outcome.

It was around this period that Umaru claimed to have had a very vivid dream that he will be elected President to succeed President Obasanjo sometime in the near future. Umaru Yar’Adua believed that he had been shown the future. He therefore decided, and communicated this to his K-34 members that Obasanjo’s government and its policies must be supported fully and totally by every official of Katsina State – whether State or Federal, at a time when he had become increasingly unpopular in the North. This was quite courageous.

Some years later in 2006, Umaru Yar’Adua was one of the few Northern Governors that strongly supported Obasanjo’s bid for a Third Term in office. Indeed, he offered to host the zonal debates for the particularly sensitive North-West zone in Katsina. This led to protests in the city and at least two persons were shot and killed by law enforcement agents that confronted them. Umaru also directed all Katsina State representatives in the National Assembly to support the proposed Constitutional Amendment and expelled Aminu Bello Masari from K-34 for non-compliance with his wishes. One of the arrowheads of the Third Term in the National Assembly was Dr. Aminu Safana – Umaru’s former Secretary to the State Government. All Katsina PDP legislators except Dr. Usman Bugaje lined up to support the Third Term project till its defeat in the Senate in May 2006.

9. Preparing to be President

As soon as ‘the Third Term Agenda’ collapsed in the Nigerian Senate, Obasanjo concluded that unless he found a way to acquire and sustain the loyalty of Nigeria’s powerful (and mostly corrupt) State Governors on the one hand, as well as his team of technocratic reformers on the other, his succession will be out of his hands. He took two steps – first he asked me and four other Abuja-based senior Federal and party officials to come up with a succession strategy. This kept the reformers which I was a key member engaged and loyal to him. He then announced that he expected to be succeeded by one of the State Governors and encouraged virtually all the PDP Governors to join the race to be President. These two moves ensured that his estranged Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other aspirants like General Ibrahim Babangida had few governors available to recruit to their camp.

We held several meetings and wrote most of the Succession Strategy Paper with the help of Tanimu Yakubu – now Yar’Adua’s Chief Economic Adviser who wrote the first draft in London in June 2006. We submitted the Strategy Paper and the budget of about N7 billion (US $56 million then) to President Obasanjo in August 2006. The paper is attached to this essay as Annex I. President Obasanjo thanked us and promptly filed it away and never adopted any of our recommendations. By then, virtually every PDP State Governor in Nigeria had declared the aspiration to be next president – except Umaru Yar’Adua! Obasanjo continued to be cagey, encouraging every one above the age of 30 to run for the exalted office.

Umaru Yar’Adua was finally invited by President Obasanjo to join the race through Governor Ayo Fayose initially, and this was actualized sometime in November 2006. According to then Governor Yar’Adua, when he visited me – the President sent Governor James Ibori of Delta State to see him in Katsina and invite him to pick the Presidential Nomination Form of the PDP. Umaru flew to Abuja in a private jet arranged by Obasanjo and Ibori the following day. By the time he got to Abuja, Ibori had already paid the N5 million (US $40,000) application fee and collected the form in Umaru’s name. He added that they met with Obasanjo and agreed that he should bid for the highest office with Obasanjo’s full support.

Over the next three months, I held several such meetings with Umaru, arranged other meetings between him and other stakeholders, raised money to support the candidacy and hired pollsters and publicists to handle some aspects of the effort. Umaru had several such meetings with State Governors and other power brokers within the PDP and outside before the Primaries scheduled for January 2007. The most notable of such included General Ibrahim Babangida, Aliko Dangote (the richest Black African in the World), Femi Otedola, Andy Uba and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.

10. The Primaries and the Campaign

Umaru Yar’Adua’s anointment by President was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it almost ensured that he will be PDP’s candidate in April 2007 Presidential Elections, but throws up questions about Obasanjo’s motives and Yar’Adua’s suitability for the highest office in Africa’s largest nation. Because Yar’Adua’s medical history is fairly well-known, many Northern power brokers concluded that Yar’Adua’s selection by Obasanjo had some ulterior motives.

This concern came to the fore when Yar’Adua had to be flown to Germany for medical attention because of “a bad flu; arising from exhaustion” just before the primaries in December 2006. This is to happen again in March 2007, just weeks to the Elections. The failure of both Obasanjo and Yar’Adua to offer full disclosure about Umaru’s health has led to all kinds of conspiracy theories that continue to haunt the Yar’Adua presidency till today.

The primaries and the campaign were largely uneventful as everyone expected PDP to win whether the elections were free and fair or not. Only two events of significance took place during the period – the investigation of the finances of Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State by the EFCC and his subsequent exclusion from the primaries, and the insistence of Obasanjo and the PDP apparatchiks that Yar’Adua announced him as his running mate in an acceptance speech already prepared for that purpose.
At the night of the primaries, Umaru Yar’Adua sent for me and came out of the State Box at Eagle Square and intimated me of this. An acceptance speech had been prepared for him, containing the announcement of Peter Odili as running mate. This was not acceptable to him, but he was also unwilling to disagree with Obasanjo so early in the game. I suggested that he rallies the governors to oppose the decision to announce Odili as running mate, and decline the nomination if all else failed.

When this failed to change the combined minds of Obasanjo, Tony Anenih, Ahmadu Ali and Ojo Maduekwe, I came up with another “last resort”. I sent people to wake up Nuhu Ribadu, then Chairman of EFCC to help persuade Obasanjo since all else appeared to have failed. It was not until about 5am that Ribadu succeeded in getting Odili off the ticket. The next morning, Governor Goodluck Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua instead of Peter Odili.

President Obasanjo then announced the Presidential Campaign Council with him as chairman. The only Yar’Adua nominee to the Council was Tanimu Yakubu who was to be Director of Finance. The premises used by the Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign in 2003 were rented as the Yar’Adua-for-President Campaign Office. During the commissioning ceremony which I attended along with other PDP governors, ministers and leaders, Yar Adua announced his Seven Point Agenda which he said will form the basis of his contract with the people of Nigeria when elected:
1. Infrastructure particularly electricity and transportation
2. Niger Delta regional development
3. Food Security
4. Human Capital – investments in health, education and training
5. Land Reforms and home ownership
6. National Security, and
7. Wealth Creation

The President’s Economic Team which I became one of the de facto leaders when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala resigned in 2006 began to brainstorm on how best to sustain the foundations laid by the reforms of 2003-2007 that we had spearheaded. We were quite concerned that the elections of April 2007 be free and fair. We were convinced that Yar’Adua and PDP would win and there was really no need to cheat or rig in any anyway. We needed to prove that to the politicians.

We therefore took the decision to hire campaign advisers for Yar’Adua, show that the Elections can b won – free and fair – and prepare briefing notes to bring him up to speed on the reform programs of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The campaign consultant was a consortium of Nigerian ad agency, (remember the PDP de ko ko ad?), (media/messaging), British (campaign management/international outreach), and American (polling and focus groups). The whole assignment cost about US $2 million over a three month period. We also prepared series of briefs titled – “Preparing to be President” as basis for discussions with the Presidential Candidate. The first of such briefs is attached to this essay as Annex 2.

11. The 2007 Presidential Elections, Transition and Handover

There were many concerns within Nigeria and abroad that the 2007 Elections may not hold. There were grounds for these concerns – Obasanjo had lost the trust of Nigerians after the inchoate attempt to amend the Constitution. The voters’ register was still not ready and published 90 days to the Elections as required by law. Biometric voters’ identification cards promised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had not been issued, and there were cases of massive disqualifications of candidates, replacement of candidates by parties and several lawsuits arising therefrom that the levels of uncertainty in January to March 2007 were quite high.

The Elections took place amidst poor preparation and horrendous logistic failures. All the politicians and political parties were determined to rig the results without regard to the will of the voters. As Minister of Abuja, I was determined that the elections in the Federal Capital Territory were free and fair. I met with all political parties, INEC, regulatory and security agency heads and threatened that anyone involved in any electoral irregularity will be arrested by EFCC and prosecuted without delay. I was particularly harsh with the leadership of the ruling party which I was a member, as I knew they had the first-mover advantage in that area.

The FCT elections were violence-free and had very few reports of rigging. Nationwide, the elections were fraught with many documented irregularities. But most Nigerian citizens were generally relieved that the elections had actually taken place – warts and all, and that Obasanjo had not been given any excuse to declare any emergency to stay in power longer. Only a few of us in government knew different and no one would believe us anyway.

Immediately the results were announced, I became concerned about violence breaking out in the North particularly where the ANPP candidate Buhari enjoyed mainstream support. I suggested to Yar’Adua, and arranged a meeting between the leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to meet with the President-Elect in the Abuja residence of its chairman, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, may his soul rest in peace. A subsequent meeting was held between Chief Awoniyi, Former Inspector-General Ibrahim Coomassie and Umaru Yar’Adua to cement ACF’s support to preach against any forms of extra-legal activities. This was helpful in encouraging all the candidates to pursue judicial remedies rather than the threatened “mass action”.

President Obasanjo had instructed all ministers and heads of extra-ministerial agencies to prepare hand-over notes and submit to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation by the end of March 2007. However, face-to-face briefings of Yar’Adua and his team did not start until the third week of May 2007! Each Minister had 20-30 minutes to bring the President-Elect and his team up-to-date on the activities of the Ministry and its parastatals with branches all over the 36 states of the Federation! Only the Ministers of Finance and the Federal Capital Territory (because I supervised many other assignments in addition to Abuja; like the Civil Service Reform, Sale of Government Real Estate in Abuja, National ID Card System, the National Census, etc.) were given one and a half hours. The briefing in my view, served to confuse rather than assist Yar’Adua and his team! Yar’Adua’s team then consisted of the VP-Elect, Babagana Kingibe, Governors Peter Odili, James Ibori, and Ahmed Makarfi. The composition of the “team” should have indicated to us that change was not on the way in our country, but we were to naive to notice.

Early in the month of May, I received a letter from President-Elect Yar’Adua to send him the names and resumes of three persons for appointment into ‘senior government positions’ when he fully takes over. I requested a meeting with him to ascertain what positions he had in mind. He informed me that he wrote a similar to every State Governor or PDP Chairman as appropriate as he intended to nominate Ministers, Ambassadors and Chairmen of Statutory Corporations from the list. This distributive state-of-mind was the first sign for me that Yar’Adua was not on the right track. I suggested that if he chose his cabinet that way, he would end up with “not the best people”. He listened and thanked me for my views, but explained that his election was made possible by State Governors and PDP leaders and his first priority was keep them on his side, for the time being.

About the same time, Yar’Adua had asked me to work with a small group (Udoma Udo Udoma, Salihu Ibrahim, Isabella Okagbue, Tanimu Yakubu, Aliyu Modibbo, Dele Olojede and three others I cannot recall now) to work out the key priorities for his administration and provide inputs for his inaugural speech. We had a brief discussion with Yar’Adua, Tanimu Yakubu and Dr. Aliyu Modibbo on the areas closest to the President-Elect’s heart and began meeting in Hakeem Belo-Osagie’s office in Life Camp. Dele flew in from South Africa, met at atleast twice with Yar’Adua and worked with us until the hand-over. We learnt that another group of Governors were doing the same thing, and Baba Kingibe and Charles Soludo drafting another speech, but we moved on. These activities continued until the morning of May 29, 2007 when the Handing-Over Ceremony took place at Eagle Square, and Yar Adua got sworn in. We escorted President Obasanjo to his farm in Otta and returned to Abuja the same evening.

I met with Yar Adua the next day to intimate him of my plans – go on Umrah (Lesser Hajj), a two-week North Atlantic cruise, a short course at Harvard, complete my Law Degree and then back to Harvard for a longer fellowship. I also intimated Yar Adua of my plans to set up a policy advocacy think-tank, and invest in various ideas close to my heart. We agreed that I should meet with him when I am back from Umrah or the cruise.

The transition is complete. Now we can all get on with our lives, assured that we have elected a good man, who will build on the foundations we laid under Obasanjo, correct any human errors and move Nigeria on the path of its manifest destiny. I was relieved.
How wrong we all turned out to be!


12. Optimism, Expectations, and Early Steps

The Inaugural Speech that President Umaru Yar’Adua gave was inspiring and raised the nation’s hope and expectations. He admitted the flaws in the Elections that brought him to power and promised to set up a panel to study what happened so Nigerian can reform its electoral system. He promised a generational shift that will herald new governance from those born after Independence. He outlined what he referred to as four areas of “national consensus” – deepening democracy and the rule of law, a private sector driven economy, zero tolerance for corruption, and restructuring government for efficiency.

Yar’Adua undertook to rebuild infrastructure and human capital, accelerate economic reforms and address the Niger Delta issue. He pledged to create more jobs, lower interest rates, reduce inflation and maintain the stability of the exchange rate. He promised to make rail development a reality and achieve dramatic improvements in electricity supply. He said he was committed to being a ‘servant-leaders’ who will be a listener and a doer – who will tackle poverty and protect lives and property of all citizens. This speech will be the benchmark for evaluating Yar’Adua’s performance in office now, and forever, and we will rely on it in this essay.

The nation waited to see the first set of appointments that Yar’Adua will make – who would be his Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the National Security Advisor. He appointed Babagana Kingibe, then 62 years of age, an old-breed politician who was the vice-presidential running mate to late Chief M. K. O. Abiola in the 1993 Elections that were annulled by the Babangida military junta. He retained Obasanjo’s appointees for the other two key positions . All the three appointees were older than Yar’Adua and the promise of generational shift began to lose credence.

President Yar’Adua immediately published the details of his assets – an unprecedented move in Nigerian history that got many citizens excited and hopeful that a new dawn of openness had arrived. The assets declared however included 29 cars which were donations to his campaign organization and Umaru Yar’Adua claimed them personally. These cars were not strictly speaking personal assets, and furthermore the assets of his children of age remained undeclared, but grateful Nigerians overlooked these minor violations since they now know that their president and his spouse were worth only about $8 million! A few weeks later, Yar’Adua’s Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was compelled by media pressure to do declare his own assets. He was of more modest means than Yar’Adua.

President Yar’Adua invited all the political parties to nominate their representatives to join what he called an inclusive government of national unity. The ANPP overrode the objections of its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, and nominated persons that were subsequently appointed into cabinet, advisory and sub-cabinet positions. The PPA also agreed to join, but the AC and APGA declined. An undisclosed part of the deal required the parties to withdraw any petitions they have filed challenging Yar’Adua’s election – something that neither Buhari (ANPP) nor Atiku Abubakar (AC) were willing to accept.

In July 2007, President Yar’Adua swore in a cabinet of 39 ministers that many commentators labeled “lackluster”. Each state of the Federation, except Lagos was represented, and most of them were selected from the lists forwarded by state governors and party leaders. Some states like Kano had two ministers – one representing the state PDP and another nominated by a key financier of the party. This was the second sign that the Yar’Adua administration was not going to depart from the distributive culture of appointments of previous administrations.

13. Promises vs. Accomplishments – Inaugural Speech v. Actual Deliverables

In what appears to be the most serious signal of retrogress, Yar’Adua’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice announced on August 6, 2007 that the ICPC and EFCC will now prosecute corruption and money laundering cases only with his express permission. The public reaction to this announcement was overwhelmingly against the administration. The next day, the administration backtracked and reversed itself. This became the beginning of a series of actions taken to weaken the war against corruption. A few months later, the BBC published a short story that described the state of the anti-corruption war, and things were to get much worse.
Some early policy reversals then followed:
(i) Increases in the prices of petroleum products were cancelled
(ii) The increase in the levels of value-added tax from 5% to 10% was cancelled, and
(iii) The hurried privatization of Kaduna and Port Harcourt Refineries were suspended.

This pattern of undoing virtually all the major decisions of the Obasanjo administration would continue with the suspension of funding of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) , the contract for the construction of the Lagos-Kano double track standard gauge rail system , and the proposed redenomination of Naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of these reversals were quite costly as the Chinese are claiming $2.5bn cancellation costs and damages for the railways contract.

One of Yar’Adua’s positive first steps was the inauguration on August 28, 2007 of the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) under the chairmanship of respected jurist and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed L. Uwais. At that and other occasions, Yar’Adua emphasized the need for financial autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), emphasized that only credible elections will guarantee peace, and promised that by December 2009, a reformed electoral system will be in place in the country. The BBC expressed pessimism at the pace of electoral reforms in April 2008, in a story that turned out to be prescient by March 2009.

The initial dawn of optimism waxed and intensified as it became clear that the Yar’Adua was not only NOT Obasanjo’s puppet , but intent on demystifying his predecessor’s eight years in office. Within a year, this view and expectation had waned as it became clear that nothing was getting done. Some critics of Yar’Adua gave him the nickname “Baba-go-slow” labeling the administration “All talk, no action”. This was reinforced by Yar’Adua’s interview with the Financial Times of London to commemorate his first year in office. By then, little had been achieved by way of outcomes but Yar’Adua said his administration was still “planning”:
“The quality of your planning, the quality of your programmes, determines the nature of their achievements.”

(Note – See BBC News, May 28, 2008 “Nigeria’s ‘Baba-go-slow’ one year on” at http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/africa/7420327 accessed on 03/25/09 and ALSO See Financial Times, June 23, 2008 – “Umaru Yar’Adua: In pursuit of respect for the rule of law” online at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e497845c-3f43-11dd-8fd9-0000779fd2ac.html?nclick_check=1 accessed on 03/29/09)

In the same interview, Yar’Adua promised the following:

(1) The Niger Delta Summit will be held within eight weeks (i.e. end of July 2008),
(2) Restructuring of the NNPC will be completed in 12 months (by May 2009),
(3) National emergency on power will be declared soon (his spokesman in a later interview announced that this will be in July 2008),
(4) Regulations for the concessioning of airports, seaports and trunk roads will be published, and
(5) The next 12 months (to May 2009) will be “very, very interesting” year for Nigerians.

In his most recent interview with The Guardian (published on April 29-30, 2009), none of the above promises had been fulfilled or projects been completed, and indeed, it is now clear that nothing has changed by May 2009.

(Note – In this most recent press interview, it is clear that the administration is still planning what to do, and he admitted that his most important legacy will be “rule of law” without indicating how Nigerians can measure when that has been achieved. See the Guardian April 29 and 30, 2009 – “The President’s Interview” online at http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/news/article00//indexn2_html?pdate=010509&ptitle=THE%20PRESIDENT%27S%20INTERVIEW accessed April 30, 2009.)

It was in the reversal of the war against corruption that the Yar’Adua administration did the most damage to its credibility with Nigerians and the international community. The systematic destruction of the EFCC by the Yar’Adua administration began as soon as James Ibori – former governor of Delta State (and an recruiter, ally and financier of Yar’Adua), was charged for money laundering and corruption at the Federal High Court in December 2007 . Ibori and his two wives faced similar charges in UK courts. A quick succession of events led to the extra-legal removal, demotion, and dismissal of the EFCC’s respected chairman – Nuhu Ribadu, and the deployment of all the investigating EFCC staff trained by the FBI and London Metropolitan Police. Two attempts were made on Ribadu’s life and he is currently in exile as a visiting fellow at Oxford University, UK and Center for Global Development, USA. In a detailed interview with PBS , Ribadu recounted his experience, concluding that “when you fight corruption, it fights back”.

Since the firing of Ribadu, all the case files on the so-called 31 corrupt governors have disappeared. The cases already in court have been withdrawn, delayed or settled in what many consider dodgy plea-bargains. Other well-known cases of corruption that the administration has blatantly refused to prosecute include bribery payments by Willbros – an oil services company, corruption involving Siemens – a German engineering company (in which senior PDP leaders collected $10 million in bribes) and the well-known Halliburton/KBR case in which $180 million were pocketed by various officials.

Yar’Adua’s wife is widely believed to be engaged in influence-peddling and all manner of interventions in public procurement and executive appointments – something documented so clearly and accurately by Nigerian bloggers based mostly in the USA. The successive weddings of Yar’Adua’s daughters to state governors is being perceived as an attempt to recreate a new feudal dynasty in Nigeria.

Two of Yar’Adua’s daughters have married first-term state governors. The third is expected to marry either a serving Minister or a wealthy, Lagos-based gasoline importer whose company is known as ‘Rahmaniyya’.)

In the area of foreign relations, Yar’Adua’s administration has been virtually off the African radar. He visited the USA early in his tenure – in December 2007 where he expressed the desire to partner with the US on Africom. Upon return to Nigeria, he denied making such a commitment. He has shown a preference for economic relations with Russians (Gazprom), Iranians (Nuclear Energy Power MoU) and Germans (Energy Partnership for non-prosecution of Siemens bribes) than most other advanced nations of the world. He addressed the South African Parliament in June, 2008 and avoided most international forums since then. There are unconfirmed speculations that the state of his health does not allow for long trans-continental flights, but the health of our President is the nation’s most closely guarded secret.

Electoral reforms have not fared much better either. The Uwais ERC submitted its report and recommendations but the government’s White Paper rejected many of the far reaching recommendations. The recommendations if accepted and implemented would have granted INEC latitude to be free of executive control and end electoral manipulation . The reluctance of Yar’Adua to remove the discredited head of INEC – Maurice Iwu has fuelled speculations that Yar’Adua no longer wants any such reforms. Respected commentators like Femi Falana, President of the African Bar Association gave a scathing assessment of the White Paper.

The sum total of all these is a climate of cynicism – a feeling that the administration is weak in policymaking and implementation , focused on destroying functioning institutions and using “rule of law” as a slogan to do nothing, and that the so-called rule of law is observed only in breach. The uncertainties and policy reversals scared portfolio investors who began to divest from the once-most-profitable stock market in Africa – the Nigerian capital market.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (See EIU Viewswire, March 18, 2009 – Nigeria: Finance Outlook online at http://portal.eiu.com/ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/index.asp?layout=dis…. Accessed on 03/31/2009) , the market fell from a high of 65,000 points in March 2008 to about 21,000 in March 2009 – a loss of two-thirds of market and the worst stock market collapse in the world. And this began well before the global financial crisis hit late in 2008. The macroeconomic stability that Nigeria had enjoyed for almost five years has been dissipated as the Naira lost nearly 30% of its value in 2009 alone . Reserves have declined as the authorities tried to defend the Naira in the currency markets.

It appears that there is still no clear economic strategy. This led one commentator to ask whether the administration cared about the economy. The Planning Minister Dr. Shamsudeen Usman announced in March 2009 that the documents articulating Seven Point Agenda, National Development Plan and Vision 20-2020 which the administration had been talking about since May 2007 will be released in October 2009. One wonders what has guided state policy since May 2007, and what would guide policy from now till October.

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory

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