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Yar’Adua’s game of deception

By Rotimi Fasan
WHEREEVER came the notion, that fiction, that President Umar Yar’Adua is indifferent to power? When somebody emerges from relative obscurity into prominence, there clings around him, not quite infrequently, some myths whose origins are most times part of the processes of reconstructing him in the public imagination. One such myth about Umar Yar’Adua is that he neither enjoys power nor the ceremonies of power.

People of limited abilities often disguise incompetence as a show of modesty. This seems the only explanation for how, despite his antecedents, President Yar’Adua was able to sell the baloney that he didn’t like power. As things have since turned and are turning out, Nigerians now know better.

When he became the unlikely forerunner in the presidential race of 2007, especially after he emerged winner of a poisoned electoral process, President Yar’Adua understandably played the power game diffidently.

Even while building all around himself a strong power base, a kitchen cabinet, made up of politicians and technocrats from Kano and Katsina that more or less operate like a mafia that is today playing Russian roulette with the fate of a nation with its management of information about the President’s health, Yar’Adua nevertheless fooled many into thinking that he is a mouse who didn’t know what it means to wield power even if without responsibility to say nothing of authority.

Knowing very well that he is the beneficiary of a skewed election, Yar Adua not only flew the kite about ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’, more or less restating an obvious fact of democratic governance, he also came out announcing that the election that brought him to power was far from clean.

He gave the impression if not actually announcing it that he had his resignation letter nearby, his kaya packed ready to return to Katsina should  a competent court of law declare his election void and without legitimacy. When soon after a few of his former colleagues when he was governor both lost their mandates and became guests in various prisons and detention places for reasons ranging from corruption (mainly) and electoral fraud- when these former colleagues became guests of the EFCC and ICPC and Yar’Adua averted his gaze without interfering, many thought it was a manifestation of that fabled indifference to power.

But beneath all this was a wily man, a calculating politician who knew his own people, those who deserve a good turn (such as James Ibori who reportedly bankrolled his flawed presidential campaign) and should be protected. Yar’Adua went about this quietly even when he knew that Ibori and Obasanjo, the man who practically thrust the presidency on him, were not the best of friends. It is a measure of Yar’Adua’s wiliness (a fact which should have warned us if nothing else that he is nobody’s fool and knew how well to manipulate power) that he was able to make Ibori and Obasanjo drink from the same well of discord without both men locking horns.

But Yar’Adua had everybody sold on the myth that he was a gentleman who didn’t like power in the manner, totally feline, he went about his activities without ruffling feathers. He was no doubt helped by his taciturnity, an uncommonly stiff upper lip (equally a manifestation of a lack of any profundity as it is his putative, innate quietness) that has kept him out of trouble and ensured he kept his head while others lost theirs.

This taciturnity that Yar’Adua and his minders have virtually turned into a devastating weapon of offence appears to run in his family. His late elder brother, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adu, ran a rollercoaster campaign that all but won him the presidential ticket in 1992 on the platform of the Peoples Solidarity Party without granting a single memorable press interview articulating his mandate.

This would occasion a blistering broadside from General TY Danjuma who appeared to harbour little respect for the elder Yar’Adua’s intellect. But for (see how this all was a game of the generals!) General Ibrahim Babangida’s selfish truncation of that process, Shehu Yar’Adua was on free ride to Aso Rock. And until his tragic death in General Abacha’s gulag, the former Chief of Staff of the Supreme Headquarters, a veteran of several coups who retired a Major General at the youthful age of 36- until his death, Shehu Yar’Adua was a one-man political army that knew what screw to turn to move Nigeria in whatever direction without saying a word.

It was from this pedigree of silent operators that would rather die than give up its omerta that Umar Yar’Adua emerged. It was then no surprise that after he became president not many remembered that Umar Yar’Adua it was, as governor of Katsina, signed a Sharia law that both gave the Obasanjo administration sleepless nights and was to have led to the first death by stoning of a Nigerian, in this case a woman, Aminatu Lawal.

It was also this same Yar’Adua who went on a medical pilgrimage, one of several we are informed, and came back to have his deputy impeached for what was seen as disloyalty to the absentee governor. And when before now he had Babagana Kingibe, the former spy, ambassador and pragmatic opportunist that would rather be a dog than a dead lion and so gave up a presidential ambition to serve as minister in the government of the cabal that destroyed his mandate- when Kingibe was sent packing for suggesting ways to fill the vacuum created by Yar’Adua’s previous absence on medical ground, what many saw was Kingibe’s ambition, not Yar’Adua’s addiction to power.

It should therefore be no surprise that despite ill health and obvious incapacity to continue in office, at least for now, Yar’Adua has maintained a vice-like, until-death-do-us-part grip on power that has kept Nigeria grounded and on tenterhooks for many agonising weeks. After this, do we still talk of a President Yar’Adua that is indifferent to or does not like power? What else could a power-obsessed politician have done?


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