Nigeria Matters

Yar'Adua and the lesson of history

As flags flutter at half mast following the death of Nigeria’s former president, late Musa Yar’adua, the events leading to his demise speak volumes in terms of impact and lessons for the country.

The death of Yar’Adua reminds one of the tragic event of 1998 when the then maximum leader, Sani Abacha, died in office. Dying in office as Nigeria’s number one citizen is not new. Before Abacha, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aguiyi Ironsi and Muritala Mohammed also passed on from the exalted position. While the first three were assassinated, the last two died of natural causes. While Sani Abacha died in his bid for self-succession, the latest died clutching at political power at the expense of his health.

Before Yar’Adua’s death, Africa’s foremost dramatist, Wole Soyinka, made a serious and disconcerting allegation about Yar’Adua’s wife. The nobel laureate called for criminal proceedings against Turai Yar’Adua for kidnapping and abusing the ailing president. The dramatist as well as well-meaning Nigerians advised Yar’Adua to resign his office on health grounds. In spite of various local and international calls for his resignation, Yar’Adua and his litany of advisers remained defiant and were bent on his retaining the ‘presidential’ title without discharging the duties of office. Yar’Adua rather preferred to listen to sycophantic cabals trumpeting the need for him to clutch at power at the expense of his health.

This became glaring when the defunct Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, proclaimed to a surprised world that incapacitated Yar’Adua can rule from the sick bed! The willy-nilly attachment to Aso Rock has spelled terrible consequences for the victim. Common sense dictates that the late president should have taken a cue from the misadventures of a sit-tight ruler like late Sani Abacha. Analysts say if Yar’Adua had good advisers, he should have become another Abdulsalami Abubakar who left the stage when the ovation was loudest.

The sagging honour of Yar’Adua became apparent when he was ‘repatriated’ in a hurried fashion from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Nigeria in the dead of the night on February 24,2010 after some 94 days in hospital. Dejected, sick and unrelenting, YarAdua lived “underground” in an ambulance for some days before his life support apartment was ready inside the Villa. There was perceived hidden agenda in his hurried return.

The late president was accused of high-handedness for not officially transferring his presidential powers to the vice president before travelling overseas to seek medical attention. This undemocratic attitude not only drew ire and strong criticisms from Nigerians but swayed whatever pity they should have had for the sick man to Jonathan.

It was through divine intervention that the country was saved from another crisis as the nation drifted like a reed in the tide before Mr Goodluck Jonathan was transmuted from Vice President to Acting President. It was indeed the longest period when a president of Nigeria stayed outside the country for whatever reason. The effect of this long absence was devastating both internally and externally, as a barrage of sanction from the US was imposed on Nigeria at the period.

Yar’Adua, before his death last night had fallen out of the sympathy of many Nigerians who felt the sick man has treated them with levity for failing to address them on the state of his health as well as the state of the nation. He had earlier miscalculated and misjudged the feelings of the people as he spoke briefly on the BBC about his recovering and coming back to resume duties.

In apparent move to reach out to Nigerians, the bed-ridden president invited clergymen to his abode, first his Islamic sect, then from the Christian community. But, sadly, this religiosity did not bring the expected miracle. Dynasties or imperial lords in power would not be there till eternity. Yesterday, the long and hidden state of the president’s health played itself out to the graveyard.

In his tribute, Soyinka cried out, “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 does and who dies. They must stop playing God. I pray for the repose of the soul of their latest, much abused innocent victim.”

Nigeria’s founding fathers fought colonialism and founded the nation upon individual freedoms and values. Now, the nation faces a new colonialism — from within. It is unpatriotic politicians that are misleading the country.

Yar’Adua had the opportunity of learning from history. But like Abacha, he was not swayed by the voice of the people, even those of his physicians.

The spiral of events leading to deaths of serving presidents in Nigeria have shown that sit-tight and unpopular rulers only end up being disgraced out of office.

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