THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: UMARU MUSA YAR’ADUA
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (1951-2010) was a Nigerian politician who many believe left too soon. He was sworn in as the President of Nigeria on 29th May 2007 after winning the April 2007 Presidential elections. He was President of the country until he died in 2010.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was born on 16th August 1951 in Katsina state to an elite Fulani family. His father, Musa Yar’Adua was a Minister for Lagos State in the First Republic and held the chieftaincy title of Matawalle (or custodian of the royal treasury) of the Katsina Emirate, a title which Umaru Musa Yar’Adua inherited from him.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua began his primary school education at the Raffuka Primary School in 1958. He then moved to the Dutsinma Boarding Primary School in 1962 where he completed his primary school education. He attended Government College, Keffi from 1965 to 1969. He received a Higher School Certificate from Barewa College in 1971. He proceeded to attend Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1972 to 1975, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education and Chemistry. He later returned to the same school in 1978 to acquire a Master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry.
Upon completion of his first degree, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua served at the Holy Child College, Lagos, where he taught Chemistry. After he completed his NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) program, he became a lecturer at the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria in 1976 and worked there until 1979 when he began to lecture at the then newly established Katsina College of Art and Science. He left the position in 1983 to start working for his brother, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as the pioneer General Manager of Sambo Farms Ltd in Funtua, Katsina State. He worked in the corporate sector for a while, serving in various capacities. He served as a Board Member of Katsina State Farmers’ Supply Company between 1984 and 1985; he was a member of the Governing Council of Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, and the Katsina Polytechnic between 1978 and 1983; he was Board Chairman of Katsina State Investment and Property Development Company between 1994 and 1996. He also served as a director of many companies, including Habib Nigeria Bank Ltd, Lodigiani Nigeria, and a few others. He was the Chairman of Nation House Press Ltd, Kaduna, from 1995 to 1999.
The political journey of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua began in 1979, during the Second Republic, when he was a member of the leftist People’s Redemption Party, while his father was briefly the National Vice Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). During the transition to the Third Republic, he became one of the foundation members of Peoples Front of Nigeria, a political association under the leadership of his elder brother, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. The association later fused to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was a member of the party’s National Caucus and was also the party’s state secretary in Katsina. He contested in the 1991 Governorship election but he lost. He contested again and won the state governorship in 1999.
As the Governor of Katsina State, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua set an example of transparency by publicly declaring his assets. While in office, he brought several developments to the state. He ensured that education was prioritized and several schools were built in local areas. During his administration, Katsina became the fifth northern Nigerian state to adopt sharia or Islamic law. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was able to deliver on his electoral promise to run an efficient public administration. His tenure saw a marked decline in corruption. He was re-elected and was succeeded by Ibrahim Shema after his second term in office.
In December 2006, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was chosen to be the Presidential Candidate of the then ruling party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), with 3,024 votes from the party delegates while his closest rival, Rochas Okorocha had 327 votes. He chose Goodluck Jonathan, who was the Governor of Bayelsa State to be his Vice-Presidential candidate. The Presidential election was held on 21st April 2007 and the results were announced on 23rd April 2007. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua won the election, winning by a landslide as he garnered about 70% of the votes. He was sworn into office on 26th July 2007. His cabinet included 39 Ministers.
The Hallmark of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration was the “Seven-point Agenda”. In August 2007, the administration unveiled a seven-point agenda, which was to be the focal point of the administration’s solution to developmental challenges and the stated goal of elevating Nigeria to be among the twenty largest economies in the world by 2020. The agenda included the following:
- Infrastructure, power, and energy
- Food security
- Wealth creation
- Land reforms
Unfortunately, the agenda could not be realized due to the illness and death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Although he could not complete his tenure as President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua brought many positive changes to the country. On 28 June 2007, President Yar’Adua became the first Nigerian President to publicly reveal his declaration of assets. This disclosure, which fulfilled one of the electoral promises he made, was intended to set an example for other Nigerian politicians to follow, as well as to discourage corruption. He also set up a presidential electoral reform committee that was tasked with the job of looking into the legal factors, social and political institutions, and security issues that affect the quality and credibility of elections in the country and also, to make recommendations on improving the credibility of general elections. We can say that his watchword was transparency and Nigerians who had not experienced this before, greatly appreciated this quality.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had health challenges throughout his stay in office. He had to be flown out for treatment on several occasions. Regardless, he strived to fulfill his electoral promises as much as he could. Consequent to his failing health, on 10th February 2010, the Nigerian Senate controversially used the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer Presidential Powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and declared him Acting President, with all the accompanying powers, until President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua returned to full health. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua eventually passed away on 5th May 2010 at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. He was buried the next day according to the Islamic tradition at his hometown in Katsina State.
The Federal Government of Nigeria declared a seven-day mourning period after his death. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan said “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”. The then President of the United State of America, President Barrack Obama also offered his condolences stating that “He (President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) 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”. Several Nigerians paid tribute to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in diverse ways and the whole country expressed sorrow at his demise.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua might not have been a perfect man but he was loved and is missed by Nigerians for his transparency, commitment to fostering National peace, and love for the country. May his soul continue to rest in peace.