On this day, 10 years ago President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua passed away at the age of 58.
Elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, Yar’Adua a two-term Governor of Katsina was the son of Musa Yar’Adua, a Minister in Nigeria’s 1st Republic and the younger brother of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters under the military administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. The elder Yar’Adua brother was arrested by the Abacha dictatorship and would go on to pass away in detention.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s selection as the PDP flag bearer had been a surprise as observers had tipped more prominent Governors like Cross Rivers’ Donald Duke, Rivers’ Peter Odili and Vice President Atiku Abubakar as President Obasanjo’s replacement. Obasanjo had sought to amend the constitution to permit a 3rd term but the National Assembly rebuffed his advances. However, as the incumbent, he was able to bend the will of the party to suit his interests – opting for the docile and transparent Yar’Adua over some of his counterparts who were disqualified by the anti-corruption agencies. Yar’Adua selected the also obscure Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa as his running mate. During the campaign, rumors of Yar’Adua’s health challenges arose after an indefinite disappearance led Obasanjo to broadcast a phone call at a rally where he asked his successor to put paid to rumors of his death.
Upon his election with 70% of votes cast, Yar’Adua’s inauguration speech addressed the shortcomings of the process that brought him into office. He would also go on to propose a government of national unity in a move designed to help build alliances with the defeated parties and minimize the feeling of discontent after the election. His decision to declare his assets helped set him apart and earn a degree of goodwill from the electorate. However, Yar’Adua’s ill-health would negate the success of his administration as an opaque “cabal” was credited with running the country. During this period, the Dele Olojede led Next newspaper made its name as the most authoritative platform on the going ons within the administration.
The key legacies of the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration were his efforts towards reforming Nigeria’s flawed electoral system which had brought him into power. Unwittingly, his illness also helped enshrine a precedent governing the passing of power between executive officeholders and their deputies. In Yar’ Adua’s case, the lack of certainty surrounding his illness and the failure to hand over to Jonathan created a constitutional crisis leading the National Assembly to channel the doctrine of necessity to transfer powers from the President to the Vice. The smooth process that would follow between President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo can be viewed as a byproduct of the strengthened institutions and processes that were created in the wake of Yar’Adua’s illness.