Born on the 16th of August, 1951 and died on the 5th of May, 2010, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was the 13th President and 3rd democratic elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is also the youngest and first democratic elected president to die while in office at the age of 58.
Being a native of Katsina state, Yar’Adua was born to an elite and prominent Fulani family and was well groomed in Islamic learning. His father served as a Federal Minister from 1960-1966 while his elder brother served in the Obasanjo-led military administration from 1976-1979.
He attended two schools; Government College, Keffi and Barewa College for his secondary education from 1965-1971. He then proceeded to study Education and Chemistry at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1972-1975 and returned in 1978 to pursue a M.Sc degree in Analytical Chemistry.
His first employment was at Holy Child College, Lagos where he taught. He then served as a lecturer at the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria from 1976-1983 as well as some other institutions after which he ventured into the corporate sector. He worked for Sambo Farms, Funtua, Katsina as the Pioneer General Manager from 1983-1989. He also served as Director of various companies till 1999.
Despite having entered into politics in his early life, he ventured fully into state politics in 1990. During the tenure of Shehu Shagari from 1979-1983, he was a member of People’s Redemption Party. During the Babangida Transition era, he joined the likes of his elder brother, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Bola Tinubu, Baba Gana Kingibe, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso amidst others to form the People’s Front of Nigeria which was later changed to Social Democratic Party. He was a member of the 1988 Constituent Assembly. He was the state secretary of the SDP in Katsina and also a member of the SDP National caucus. In 1991, he contested the Gubernatorial election but lost to an ally of Ibrahim Babangida and also the National Republican Convention candidate, Saidu Barda.
In 1998, he participated in the founding of the K34 political association which later merged with the People’s Democratic Party and ran for governor winning the election in 1999 as a representative of PDP. He became the first governor to publicly declare his assets. He also prioritized education in Katsina, focused on the socioeconomic development of Katsina and health sector. He was reelected in 2003 and still ran an efficient public administration. He was known for his financial prudence and not only did he offset the huge debt he inherited, he also accumulated a $50million surplus in the treasury before leaving office in 2007. According to a hearing that was carried out after his death, it was revealed that there has never been a governor like him in the history of Katsina State.
On the 16th of December, 2006, to the surprise of many, Yar’Adua was selected by the incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo to be the PDP frontrunner in the presidential election scheduled for 2007 after which he defeated Rochas Okorocha in the primaries with a wide margin of 3,024 votes to 372 votes. He then went ahead to pick the serving governor of Bayelsa State, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as his running mate. It was later revealed that Obasanjo chose him due to; him being one of the serving governors with a spotless record devoid of corruption and suspicion; and him belonging to the People’s Democratic Movement founded by his elder brother Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was also Obasanjo’s Vice president during the military rule.
On 21st April, 2007, the presidential election was held and Yar’Adua ran against several well known and popular politicians, majorly a former Head of State Muhammadu Buhari ( the incumbent president ) of the All Nigerian People’s Party ANPP and the immediate past Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress AC and emerged victorious to win a landslide victory with 70% of the total votes (24.6 million votes). His victory was clouded as the election was marred by widespread violence, reports of rigging and voters intimidation and was strongly criticized by election observers. Despite the results being rejected with allegations claiming the election was rigged in favor of Yar’Adua, on the 29th of May, 2007, in the capital city Abuja, he was inaugurated as the 13th president of the federal republic of Nigeria. The ceremony had a historical significance as it was the first time that an elected civilian president had handed over power to another. After the election, Yar’Adua proposed a government of national unity after which the All Nigerian People’s Party ANPP and Progressive People Alliance PPA agreed to his government. He also went ahead to declare his personal assets publicly setting up a benchmark for comparison later to see if he misappropriated funds.
After assuming office, he faced the enormous task of maintaining some development programs initiated by Obasanjo in establishing peace and reconciliation in the Niger Delta and continuing the war against widespread systemic corruption. He swore in his cabinet on the 26th of July, 2007 and in August, he unveiled a 7-point agenda to be the focus of his administration’s solutions in combating challenges and stated the goal of elevating Nigeria to be among the 20 largest world economies by 2020. His 7-point agenda were : Food security; Human capital development; Security; Focus on development issues in the Niger Delta; Critical infrastructural development in power, energy and transportation; Wealth creation through diversification of economy and source of government revenue; and Review of Land tenure regulations. He went ahead to create the first Ministry of Niger Delta affairs. He established a presidential electoral reform committee to make adjustments and recommendations towards improving the credibility and quality of elections in the country which led to making INEC truly independent, creation of parties registration agency and ensuring the speedy resolution of legal challenges of elections presumably before the swearing-in of the assumed winner, amongst many other reforms. Despite all he did, his administration was unable to realize all his agenda due to his illness and later, death.
He was subject to rumors regarding his health, as he had traveled abroad for medical treatment several times in the years prior to his presidency and continued to do so after his election. Sequel to the election, he was reported to have had an heart attack but after he returned to Nigeria, it was denied by his media team that it was just due to the stress of his campaign program. It was later rumored that he had a terminal disease he had been fighting against for a long time. On the 23rd of November, 2009, he left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia and was reported to be receiving treatment for pericarditis and some kidney problems. His long absence caused a lot of critics to complain about the power vacuum he left and there were calls for him to formally transfer power to the Vice president. On the 22nd of January, 2010, it was announced in a ruling by the Supreme Court that the Federal Executive Council had 2 weeks to decide on whether Yar’Adua was incapable of discharging his functions and also hear the testimony of 5 doctors related to his case. Although another court ruled that Yar’Adua was not obligated to hand over power to the Vice president while he was out of the country for treatment, the National Assembly on February 9, 2010 voted to have Jonathan assume power and act as acting president until Yar’Adua returned to assume his duties. Even though it was unclear whether it was constitutional, some critics considered it illegal and called it ‘ a coup without the word’ while others felt it was necessary because the power vacuum would lead to instability and a possible military takeover.
Meanwhile, on the 24th of February, 2010, Yar’Adua returned to the country but his state of health was still unclear and there were speculations that he was still on a life support machine so it was announced that Jonathan would remain as Acting President pending the time he will recuperate. Yar’Adua never recuperated and was reported dead at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa on this day, 5th of May, 2010 by the Federal Government. On this day in 2010, Nigeria lost an Icon.
He was flown to his hometown in Katsina and was buried on May 6 in accordance to Islamic rites and the whole nation mourned him for 7 days.
Goodluck Jonathan was quoted ” Nigeria has lost the jewel on its crown and even the heavens mourn with our nation tonight. As individuals and as a nation, we prayed for the recovery of Mr President but we take solace in the fact that the Almighty is the giver and taker of all life.”
US President Barrack Obama, offering his condolences, was quoted ” He was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria’s own borders and continuing that work will be an important part of honoring his Legacy.”
Today marks a decade after the passing of a democratic hero and will be fondly remembered forever in the hearts of Nigerians as the most loved and one of the best leaders Nigeria had for the legacies (such as First President to admit that the polls that ensured his victory was flawed and subjected himself to the decision of the tribunal; Increment of minimum wage and some other agencies paychecks; Respecter of the rule of law; Payment of amnesty to Niger Delta Militants; Absolute Press freedom; Curbing Insurgency leading to the death of the Boko Haram Sect leader; Reduction of Fuel price amongst others) he left behind despite his short tenure that was cut-short by terminal illnesses that finally led to his demise.
Rest On HERO.