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Yar’Adua: A President whose silent virtues shine through

First runner-up
By Ochereome Nnanna
It came as a big surprise, even to the members of Vanguard’s Board of Editors who did the voting, that President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua should be so lavishly nominated for the Newspaper’s Man of the Year 2009. When the voting was concluded, he lost narrowly to the Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola out of ten short-listed nominees.

Before this year’s edition, Vanguard had defined the Man of the Year as that issue, object or personality that had shaped the course of events either positively or negatively; the biggest newsmaker for the passing year, for whatever reasons.

First runner-up
First runner-up

This year the definition was altered. The newspaper’s Man of the Year will henceforth be a person; and that person must have contributed positively in shaping the course of events in Nigeria during the year. We want to encourage role models, and from this year we have introduced the innovation of presenting award trophies to the ultimate winner.

Those who nominated President Yar’ Adua for this award were not unmindful of his noticeable “vices”. No person being a saint, everybody has his own vices which illustrate the fact that we are, after all, just human. One of those “vices” associated with Yar’ Adua’s Presidency is the nepotism in putting people from his part of the country, particularly Katsina State and both poles of the Yar’ Adua family, in high offices at the centre.

It seems that all that anybody in Katsina needing a job has to do is take his or her CV and head in the direction of Aso Villa.

Those who wave aside the danger of nepotism say that as long as the people getting the jobs are qualified and competent, what does it matter? Well, it matters, when you consider that there are other equally (and more) qualified and competent Nigerians who are entitled to being given a chance to serve. Those who come into public office through nepotism are liable to be shipped out when there is a change of guards. Yar’ Adua was not too well known before he was given the presidential ticket, and he did not know many people outside his state. That is probably why the situation is what it is.

Another issue that has put a question mark on the Yar’ Adua Presidency is the vexed issue of war on corruption. The bold presence and activities of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa, whose is perceived to have played roles in watering down the anti-corruption agencies and shielding influential politicians from justice has only fuelled this perception.

Aondoakaa is an unblinking hawk within the regime and is believed to be very close to the President, especially over political matters. With the overweening influence of the Attorney General, many are left asking the question as to whether the President is really serious about fighting corruption, and this doubt has contributed to the rise in our corruption perception rating by the Transparency International for 2009.

Finally, the third “vice” has little to do with the President’s own making. He is rather a victim of it. Nobody likes to be sick. But the President’s lingering ill-health has obviously interfered with his ability to lead and exercise effective control. The absence of effective leadership has encouraged ministers and top officials to engage in infighting and carry out their assignments just as they wish. The result is lack of focus and direction in governance, and the presence of a lot of ministerial deadwoods.

Coming to the qualities that made the President to emerge as the first runner-up to Vanguard’s Man of the Year. The first of these is the fact that Umaru Yar’ Adua is a sincere leader. He is not deceitful or pretentious like his predecessors (especially former President Olusegun Obasanjo).

In this wise, both personalities are sharply contrasted. A senior senator and former influential minister under the former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, recently told this writer that while Obasanjo was more easily approachable, Yar’ Adua is like the proverbial “closed book”. Few people are able to secure audience with him.

It may have partly to do with his state of health. But once he agrees or promises to do something, you depend on him to do it, unlike Obasanjo who profusely made promises and there it often ended.

It takes a sincere person to own up officially to the fact that the election that brought him to power was flawed. But for the activities of the administration’s hardliners, the President has largely followed up with his pledge to introduce a reform to correct the lapses in our electoral system.

Even though he has shown that he can fight when he has to, President Yar’ Adua is a man of peace. Since he ascended to the hot seat in Aso Villa, there has been a lowering to the barest minimum the amount of the political heat that tended to emit from there to scorch other arms and lower tiers of government in the past.

Yar’ Adua, an apostle of due process and rule of law who on assumption of power, offered himself as “Servant Leader” to Nigerians, does not believe in putting his nose where it is not wanted. He minds his business and leaves others to mind theirs.

The crisis that led to fall of the first Speaker of the House of Representatives under this regime had nothing to do with executive interference. He has washed his hands of the day-to-day running of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Yar’ Adua has also corrected some of the wrongs left behind by his predecessor. When President Obasanjo set up the “Coastal States” initiative, he refused to put Imo and Abia on the list simply because they did not have coastal boundaries when the initiative was basically about oil producing states. The five Governors of the South East complained to President Yar’ Adua when he took over and today, the two states are now among the “Coastal States”.

He approved a Stock Exchange for Onitsha and other cities that wanted it. He has related excellently well with state governors, not minding that many of them are non-PDP states. In fact, Anambra, Imo and Abia states benefited a lot when they were non-PDP states.

By the far the biggest achievements of President Yar’ Adua emanate from the fact that unlike some of his predecessor who pretended that they knew everything under sun more than others, he listens to wise counsel. The amnesty programme for repentant militants of the Niger Delta is obviously the most prominent contribution that President Yar’ Adua had made to the development of Nigeria.

Without firing a shot (“shots” were fired before the amnesty offer) Yar’ Adua brought the militancy to a peaceful close, a feat never achieved through years of rough-arm tactics employed by the federal authorities to cow the agitators into submission. Doubts exist as to how well the federal government is handling the post-amnesty issues, and the absence of the President has not made matters any easier.

But still, there is no doubt that the amnesty programme, apart from preventing an all-out shooting war with its pregnant human suffering of civilian populations, has also boosted the economic outlook of Nigeria. The earnings from oil and non-oil sectors recorded a stunning surplus of N190 billion in November over October 2009 when the amnesty programme entered into force.

Rather than take from the excess crude account, monies were posted to boost the account in the month immediately following the end of hostilities in the Niger Delta. Secondly, it gave the authorise concerned an opportunity to repair damaged gas infrastructure, thus raising the hope that the move towards improved power supply would be a reality.

It is evident that Yar’ Adua listened to sound advice when he opted to inform Nigerians about his heart condition as he headed for Saudi Arabia last month. This was a contrast from earlier times when he was playing hide-and- seek with the matter.

Finally, Yar’ Adua’s propensity to bow to good counsel showed itself in July 2009 when the Federal Government suddenly ordered the Lagos State Government to revert to the old 20 local councils and scrap the 37 development areas it had created in the days of Chief Ahmed Tinubu as Governor.

The Federal Government had issued a two-week ultimatum that literally set the nation on a knife edge. Following the Lagos authorities’ refusal to revert, the Presidency quietly chose to shelve its threat, which should never have been issued in the first place, as it was seen as a way in which the ruling party was to soften the ground to allow it to take over the state during the next elections.

If not for the unique leadership style of President Umaru Yar’ Adua, the nation would have been in a much less settled state of affairs. Added to the economic crunch Nigeria is passing through, it would have been a little too much for the nation to bear.

Yar’ Adua has made a strong impact on the political, economic and social spheres even though much more could have been done if not for the above-mentioned lapses. Even though they have a lot to complain about, Nigerians have not been blind to the fact that President Umaru Yar’ Adua does have a number of silent virtues that shine through.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.