By Wale Adedayo
His inauguration as President on May 29, 2007 was heralded with hope. Even the usually skeptical Nigerian pro-democracy community identified with him, despite a disdain for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that gave the man the ticket to run for office. His background as an activist during his academic years was celebrated in major Nigerian newspapers.
It was also the first time Nigeria would have a university graduate as president. The support was across the board to an extent that none of those praising his choice as president remembered to ask about his blueprint for ruling the country given the parlous socio-economic and political state of Nigeria at the time. It was as if the man had come with a magic wand to effect definite changes in the polity.
Not content with just praising Yar’Adua, the pro-graduate and activist president’s army descended on his predecessor, President Olusegun Obasanjo. There was no negative epithet enough to disparage Obasanjo with. As the charges against Obasanjo increased from the incensed pens and microphones of opinion moulders almost across the nation, it was praises galore for Yar’Adua, who six months into his tenure of office was just repeating a mantra to uphold the rule of law, thus encouraging due process in governance.
Issues about how the country would be managed were not addressed by this army of unpaid praise singers, some of who later descended on the same man in his dying days. An effective rupture was affected between him and Obasanjo, who was responsible for foisting him on Nigeria.
In a way, Yar’Adua, dancing to the popular rhythm of the encomiums being showered on him without any performance whatsoever, began to distance himself from Obasanjo and most of the reforms initiated by the former president. For Yar’Adua, who apparently did not have a programme of his own to implement before assuming office, it was a disaster.
A so-called called seven point agenda was hastily put together by his kitchen cabinet almost one year after he was sworn into office with a lot of noise in the media about how this was going to transform Nigeria into an Eldorado. But the seven point agenda avidly promoted by Yar’Adua’s government was obviously a very poor response to accusations of lack of vision by his erstwhile admirers who had by then realised the folly of singing the praises of a leader whose agenda in office nobody knew about previously.
But despite the sycophancy occasioned by political myopia which led Yar’Adua straight into the arms of praise singers who later smothered him in their embrace, nothing appears to have prepared his genuine admirers for his last days. Were it not for the grace of the death that took him away on Thursday, it was almost certain the man would have been removed from office through an impeachment as it was clear that the cabal around him was only using the vegetative Yar’Adua as a bargaining chip for their survival.
Thus, despite the man’s vegetative state since last year, I felt very much for him in death. He was a pawn in a contrived political game, which he had no control whatsoever over. And it could have been any of us. Despite his privileged background, Yar’Adua was an activist right from his university days through his period as a lecturer. He was also one of the very few who stood against the Northern feudal lords and sought to fight for the downtrodden in that part of Nigeria.
But on getting into a political office, which he could have used to put what he has been preaching as a young man till his current age into practice, he developed cold feet. I cannot fault him. I do not know the weights of the militating conditions around him. Political office changes different people in different ways. One has been there before and certainly understands that hostage-takers are more in the corridors of power than in the whole of the South-East and the entire Niger Delta.
Yar’Adua was almost our ideal president in many ways than one. In terms of past associations and groups he belonged to, you can conveniently put him in the same club with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Senator Abraham Adesanya and Chief Bola Ige, etc. He was a man who believed and fervently spoke in favour of the dispossessed and the downtrodden.
But he was a monumental failure in office because he did not practice those things which he so passionately supported and advocated in his younger days. Nigeria became a laughing stock among the comity of nations under his watch.
Words fail me as I feel so much compassion for this man who was used and abused by those I prefer to describe as Nigeria’s Board of Trustees members. They are the hostage-takers holding our collective destiny in their blood-stained hands.
May Allah (SWT) forgive Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua his sins and grant him Al Jannah Firdaus. Amin.
* This piece was first published in 2010.