Yar’dua’s Only Crime

Since President Umar Musa Yar’dua’s success at the polls, I have not had the opportunity to congratulate him. In any case, Sabella Abidde has had the foresight to congratulate him way before the elections! So if a pre-election congratulatory message is in order, I would want to believe that a very late congratulatory message such as mine would also be in order. So congratulations Umar Musa Yar’dua for emerging victorious in the April 2007 Presidential elections. It is not part of my preoccupation here to argue that the election was not free and fair and that electoral malpractices characterized Yar’dua’s emergence to power. Yar’dua, in his simplicity has long agreed to the fact that the election that brought him to power was not free and fair. That is the disposition of a leader who confronts truth the way it is. Let us forget now that big-mouth Professor Iwu has refused to accept that he failed the nation during the elections.

Maybe my late congratulatory message was informed by the possibility that it has never really occurred to me that Obasanjo has handed over power to Yar’dua. It is very possible that for a long time, I had thought that it was still the same Obasanjo administration. After all, from the outset, most Nigerians believed that Yar’dua was Obasanjo’s favoured candidate which immediately places him in the position of a puppet in the hands of the former president.

However, it has gradually become clear to me that the man at the helm of affairs seems to be Yar’dua .There is still that possibility that Yar’dua is just the representative of a hidden clique of REAL rulers of the country. One thing that is sure is that he is not at least representing Obasanjo—not in its entirety. This realization emerged from the fact that it would have been impossible for a certain level of judicial independence to be attained during the reign of Obasanjo. This seems to be the situation today as more and more governorship aspirants emerge victorious over reigning governors through the courts. That seems to me, to be a very eloquent manifestation of the preparation of the Yar’dua administration to let the Judiciary be free from executive interference. It is also perhaps only a Yar’dua administration that you would see a president who completely allows due process and democratic stipulations to prevail in the issue of the impeachment of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Mrs. Etteh. This is clearly something that would have been unattainable during Obasanjo’s tenure. So kudos to Yar’dua for making us begin to regain belief in the Judiciary.

Another thing that marks out the Yar’dua administration as unique is his humility in declaring his assets. At least, we all know his financial standing and if tomorrow he suddenly becomes stinkingly rich, we would immediately know at what point this began to happen. More importantly, conscientious Nigerians will be able to tell how big he has grown since his elevation to the presidency. I know how difficult that may be since he may decide to invest using other people’s names. Yet, by the time an investment is tracked down to him, it would be possible to weigh his financial status before he became president, and what it would have become after he leaves office.
Yet despite Yar’dua’s seemingly innate desire to do his best for the country, it will be difficult for any of us to convincingly point out what this administration has achieved over the past one year and half apart from the freedom of the judiciary. There have been no concrete actions towards fixing the economy, taking care of the infrastructural deficiencies of many parts of the country, stabilizing the power situation, and many more. If there are plans towards addressing many of these nagging issues, those plans seem to still be in the drawing room. The question then is, when will the country begin to see actions?

So many critics have pointed to the health condition of Umar Musa Yar’dua as part of the reasons for his lack of action. I sincerely think that that cannot be the case. More importantly, I believe that the health condition of the president is a personal matter that should be allowed the privacy that it deserves. He is not the only middle aged man who has a serious illness. It is almost impossible to have a middle aged man who does not suffer from some illness no matter how small that illness might be. It is thus not necessary for people to keep referring to his supposed illness.

That Yar’dua procrastinates in decision making is his style. That style, we accept is clearly not acceptable. To me, it is that lack of action when action is needed that mars an otherwise excellent government which has for the first time in our lives made us begin to regain belief in our country. Yet that aspect of being extremely inactive when action is needed constitutes the major crime of the president. That to me is Yar’dua’s only crime as a president. Unfortunately, it is from this that the foundation of his desire for good governance will collapse.

Yar’dua is not a sadistic and murdering man. Neither is he a brutal dictator or an overtly corrupt man. It seems from all indications that he is the complete opposite of his predecessors. Thus while his predecessors also do have the ability to be men of action who immediately set to work—whether positively or negatively—Yar’dua has not completed the text book with which he would then rule Nigeria. Anytime I remember him, I remember Sam in Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah whom we are told came into power without any knowledge of how to rule. But unlike Sam, Yar’dua had had the leadership experience having been a state governor once. Yet despite the leadership experiences he must have gathered as a governor, he appears to tether on the brink of governance uncertainty.

Our people have a saying that when a wise man is made king, he calls together other wise men in the kingdom, and seek their opinions on how best to handle the affairs of that kingdom. Like a wise man, Yar’dua has clearly been seeking the opinion of a lot of people on how best to handle the myriad problems of the country. So for about two years now, it seems that a whole lot of plans are being made to ensure the best way to take care of the many problems of this country. For two years, out of a potential four year tenure, Yar’dua’s administration has been making ONLY plans. At surface level, it seems that there is nothing wrong with this as often long term planning ensures that durable policies and actions are put in place for the betterment of the society. After all, we have always been a nation of people who always engage in fire brigade approaches to conflict resolution. So for a change, careful planning is being put in place. Yet I dare say that the careful planning has been almost all that this administration has given to us.

In an essay published two weeks ago, Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye has drawn attention to the imminent danger posed by the Niger bridge. An essay which is timely, and which at least does the one thing that is needed—warns the people to know that the Niger bridge is now a death trap. Apart from delivering that warning to us users of the bridge, it is possible that little or nothing would be done by the government to forestall the tragedy that will befall this country should the Niger bridge collapse. The reason is of course very obvious to anybody who has made out time to study the Yar’dua administration—the plans for the rectification of the problem may be underway when the bridge eventually collapses. It is not a question of the government not being sensitive to the plights of its citizenry. On the contrary, Yar’dua feels the pains of all Nigerians, and wishes from the bottom of his heart that he would solve ALL our problems, and perhaps go down in history as the best president the country has ever had. Those are the wishes of a good man, who desires the best for people. Those are the wishes of a man who seems to crave to do something, but does not know how to do it. So he cocoons himself in the fantasy of having already done the things he desires to do.

But wishes and desires are not the prime virtues on which a good government is built. No government takes care of its citizenry’s problems by being inactive in the face of the much travail that besieges the citizenry. A good leader takes note of the many problems of the people he is governing, and immediately begins to address the problems to the best of his knowledge in order to bring reprieve to the people. So this appears to be the time for President Umar Musa Yar’dua to wake up, and begin to confront the problems of the country headlong. We have had close on two years of wasted inaction and strategizing. What this country needs now are some actions to complete the president’s intentions for the country—that is if his intentions are not just fantasies.

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