IT’s exactly three years ago this week since President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died after an unhappy presidency that was from the very beginning marred by ill-health.
Had he been left alone in the quietude of Katsina or allowed to go home in deserved retirement when his body could no longer bear the burden of the office in which he was imprisoned, Yar’Adu might still be with us today.
Nigeria has never been fortunate to have a leader whose ambition matched his preparedness for the foremost office in the land. T
he pre-eminent office in the largest Black country in the world has always been the preserve of the most brigand politicians in bellowing babanriga or starched khaki. But in Yar’Adua we were saddled with one of the squarest pegs in the roundest holes. He was from the very first an unprepared president.
Perhaps also a reluctant one- if he had been left to follow the promptings of his heart. Yet Yar’Adua’s failure was not for want of mental qualification. He might not have been the most nimble-minded of our leaders but he was not the most addlebrained either. He was the first university-trained Nigerian head of government.
And although lacking the decisiveness of one who always knew where he was headed he was in many respects nevertheless more driven, for example, than Goodluck Jonathan who seems to have inherited Yar’Adua’s predilection for executive fumbles without the Katsina man’s natural grace to self-correct.
Jonathan’s modesty appears a put-on, the false modesty of a man conscious of his own inadequacies but also of his ability to fob them over in equal measure. After all he, unlike Yar’Adua, possesses a PhD which in our parts can cover for a multitude of intellectual sins. His apparent surefootedness, all bravado no doubt, appears more misplaced by the day even as he seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of history.
But Yar’Adua, with no obvious cerebral pretensions, carried himself with the sure complacency of a prince whose confidence resided in the knowledge that his forebears ruled their kingdom not on account of the sharpness of their minds but in the legitimacy conferred by blood.
And like a monarch, the only thing that would separate him from his throne was the only thing that could have separated him from it aside abdication: death. He clung to power or, rather, he was made to do so to the bitter end even when his rule (reign?) was, by the time he passed, no more tenable than it was justifiable. Yar’Adua died, alas, as much a victim of power as he was a power predator.
Thus, when news of his death filtered in that night of May 5, 2010 his emotional balance with Nigerians was far overdrawn. Upon hearing the news of the president’s death that night, a neighbour had gleefully shouted: ‘Olorun mu Turai! (God punish Turai!)’ It was saddening to hear this said of someone who had just died. But it was also understandable in the context.
In the final six months of the president’s life, Turai, his wife, had acquired the image of a Lady Macbeth, a loathed and loathsome monger of power. No woman in the country was more hated and feared, ultimately despised for what seemed her raw ambition for power.
She held governance in a lockdown and practically brought the country to the very brink of disaster by her single-minded desire to keep her husband in office even when the man had apparently lost the capacity to make rational decisions.
If anyone doubted the power of a woman, a wife in the life of an ailing and, worse yet, powerful man, the last six months of the Yar’Adua presidency would definitely have made a believer of such person. Hers couldn’t have been a case of ignorance of what to do. She sought and welcomed no assistance. Her ignorance, if one could call it so, was wilful.
Turai’s management of Umaru’s health bordered on spousal abuse. I say this in spite of the agreeable picture Segun Adeniyi seeks to paint of her in his account of the Yar’Adua years, Power, Politics Death. Evidence from this book exposes the silences in Adeniyi’s account. As chief spokesperson of the Yar’Adua presidency Adeniyi provides an insider view of some of the intrigues that marked this sorry period of Nigeria’s history.
A period when a coterie of corrupt journey men in the corridors of power joined hands with a desperate housewife to hold the country in its jugular and sought to strangle it.
If Turai’s name features so prominently in a discourse that looks back to her husband’s presidency three years after his death, it’s for us all to remember where we came from for we are a forgetful people, too prone to consigning our recent past to the period before history.
We need to remember the role of certain individuals in the unfortunate history of our country, a recurrent cycle of pain, misfortune and avoidable disasters.
An account of the Yar’Adua presidency without Turai will not and cannot be complete. Turai from all indications wielded as much power as Yar’Adu even if Nigerians would only see her manipulative hand in the dying days of Umaru’s presidency. Nigerians ought to speak of the Umaru/Turai presidency the same way they speak of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Theirs was a joint presidency.
Thus early in the life of this administration Patience, whose husband the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, had been reduced to a mere ‘office boy’, felt sufficiently aggrieved to voice her displeasure to a group of women visiting her.
Asked, ‘How is Oga?’ Patience who is today both ‘First Lady’ and Permanent Secretary and is obsessed about building a secretariat for African First Ladies after a bruising battle with Turai Yar’Adua for the land on which the building would be constructed replied: ‘My husband is in the office reading newspapers.. Abi no be newspaper Turai say make im dey read?’
Turai was perhaps the most powerful if unauthorised figure of the Yar’Adua inner cabinet- more powerful than the president perhaps as she seemed to influence his actions and decisions far more than would be expected of an unelected ‘cabinet member’. Her power increased even as the president’s health deteriorated and he gradually lost control to her in the final days.
The triumvirate that ruled Nigeria in these last days were Turai; the presidents CSO, Yusuf Tilde and his ADC, Mustapha Dennis Onoyiveta- the first two more than the last. To these three Nigerians should direct questions of Yar’Adu’s last days.