My Yar’Adua – A Rare Breed of Politician

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The day President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died, I wept thrice. I couldn’t veil my grief. Though the nation saw his death coming and his political opponents – figuratively speaking – had been dancing on his grave as his health deteriorated, I had hoped that somehow he would defy death, at least at that time.

A Rich Monogamous Muslim
My first impression of Yar’Adua was made during his presidential campaign. Someone had mentioned that he didn’t understand why Yar’Adua’s camp said so much about his being monogamous and faithful to his wife. The person opined that if he had only one wife even though his religion permitted him to have several, and if he hadn’t had any scandal involving marital infidelity, then it was Turai’s, his wife, gain and had nothing to do with whether or not he was competent to run the country. I was of a different opinion.

A Reticent and Frugal Politician
After Yar'Adua became the president of Nigeria, I read somewhere (my memory of this is hazy) that Obasanjo chose him as his successor because he had noticed how different he was from the other thirty-five state governors. While others ingratiated themselves with him, seeking the former president’s support to help them take his seat, Yar'Adua showed little interest. Obasanjo also found that Yar’Adua was a prudent manager. While Yar’Adua was Governor of Katsina State, PDP chieftans had visited his state but unlike other governors, Yar'Adua was miserly in the donation he made to the party. I understand that of all the governors visited, he made the least donation. Obviously, he wasn't one to go out of his way to impress anybody.

Obasanjo no doubt has an eye for the best and knows how to put them to use. His presidency had the most productive cabinet members Nigeria has had in recent history including the now deceased Dora Akunyili. His decision to choose Yar'Adua is a lesson in the benefit of being true to oneself even when that means going against popular opinion. It’s been my experience that when there is something at stake, even the most corrupt prefer to entrust the task to people who have proven themselves to be honest. Haven’t you noticed how everybody in a committee is eager to nominate the ‘Deeper Life’ or ‘Born Again’ brother as treasurer or how a corrupt government official, in choosing a manager for his private company, diligently seeks out people who he once derided for being sanctimonious?

Yar'Adua's frugality didn't sit well with many people including people in his state where he served as governor for eight years. When I was in Katsina during my NYSC, I occasionally heard people mention how stingy he was. By that I understand that he didn't throw lavish parties where he doled out money to praise-singers. It was reported that his state wasn't a favorite of contractors. Because he was taciturn, reserved and lacked the boisterous flair of most politicians, some labelled him a recluse. Some civil servants complained that he micro-managed every department. I have lived in Nigeria enough to know that by that, they meant that he provided them no opportunity to embezzle public fund and extort people who come into state offices for services.

How I Benefited From His legacy.
For the three-week camp during my National Youth Service, the period before we were deployed to our primary assignments, I stayed in a camp with decent accommodation and amenities that were reputed to be the best in the country at the time. It was built by Yar’Adua during his tenure as governor in Katsina state. I worked with the State Ministry of Justice and our office was located in the State secretariat – a state of the art complex built by Yar’Aua that housed all the ministries in the state. As pupil state attorneys, we enjoyed air conditioners in our office and were driven to court in modest cars owned by the Ministry of Justice. We practiced in a State High court that was majestic and well furnished, that as new wigs, we were convinced that becoming attorneys was one of the best decisions we ever made. Being surrounded with comfort and affluence has a way of boosting one’s confidence and assurance of success. The library located on the first floor of the court house was well equipped with books and I remember reading one of Lord Denning’s books there. It was in that library that we, as members of the NYSC Legal Aid Clinic (secondary assignment), did most of our work preparing bail applications for indigent citizens of the state who could not afford the services of a lawyer. Those of us from the Ministry of justice occasionally had to deal with conflict of interest issues and made sure the Ministry of Justice didn’t assign us to oppose bail motions we had prepared. I remember that it was at that court library that I first heard of Facebook. The president of our clinic had asked if we had heard of the social networking site and how one could connect with old school mates through it. At the time, we had no idea Facebook would become the huge phenomenon it is today. That court house that hold good memories for me was built under Yar’Adua’s administration as governor of Katsina State. Same was the road that led to the NYSC camp.

When I was in Katsina, I also visited the State University, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University, built by the late president. It had an electronic library. I was touched by how sophisticated the school was and I was moved to tears as I stood there wondering how much courage it must have taken of Yar’Adua to ensure that the money that was spent on the project didn’t go to waste; how persistent he must have been to ensure that the contractors finished the project. I remember thinking at that moment that to be a good leader, one must not only be a good man but must also have an uncompromising attitude and strong will. While writing this article, I visited the university’s website and saw that their students and graduates can apply for their transcripts online. I had blogged about transcript issuance problems in Nigeria here. So I was impressed that the school is continuing Yar’Adua’s legacy of doing things the right way.

I mentioned the above legacies out of numerous others because they were the ones that touched me directly. But I also visited a dialysis center he built and learnt he built classes for schools etc. Moreover, as president of Nigeria, Yar’Adua declared his asset becoming the first Nigerian leader to do so. His failing health didn’t let him do much as a president but that singular act remains on record.

Meanwhile in a State in Eastern Nigeria
After my NYSC in Katsina, I went back home to a state in Eastern Nigeria. Despite having busier dockets, the courts especially the magistrate and customary courts were located in dilapidated buildings that could easily appeal to homeless persons as an abandoned property they could squat in. The High courts weren’t any better. There were no libraries in the ones I visited. Apparently, there was no budget for maintaining the courts and as a result the court premises were always overran by weeds. Members of the local branch of the NBA occasionally made out time to mow the grasses themselves. Yes, the situation in the state was, and is still, hopeless that even the judiciary and attorneys couldn’t get the governor to do his damned job. A relative who visited one of the courts recently expressed his disappointment to me at the poor state of infrastructure in the court.

As I write this post, there are some tenants in a property in an urban city in that state who will have to haul several containers of thirty liters of water to their fourth-floor flats everyday despite the fact that their landlord drilled a borehole on the property and provided amenities to supply water inside the flats. But because there are no drainage systems on the street the property is located – just few blocks away from an international market in the city – the landlord is worried that the septic system he managed to dig on the property will not sustain waste water from all twelve units on the newly-built property. As a prudent business man, he is hoping that the difficulty in having to get water up in containers will be an incentive for the tenants to use less water and not have the septic tank fill up as quickly as when water is readily available in the units. It would cause tens of thousands of dollars to empty the tank each time it gets filled up. Because of infrequent power supply, the landlord also has to worry about buying gas to power generators that will pump water. Now, what if this city has had at some point a good leader who made an effort to provide the city with pipe-borne water? If that was an uphill task, what if they have had one who had the decency to provide drainage system to the residents? Generation of electricity lies with the Federal government, so what if we have had a leader who had the courage and political will to solve the issue of power generation and distribution in Nigeria? If there have been politicians that did these, how much body aches that would result from carrying water up several flights of stairs would they have saved these tenants? Wouldn’t these have had more time to spend with their families instead of having to fetch water from downstairs? This landlord laments that one administration did lay underground pipes to supply pipe-borne water in the area but the project has since been abandoned and neglected by subsequent administrations while the pipes are still lying underground and not being put to use. What if there is continuity in government projects and policies, irrespective of change in administration, in Nigeria? How many more projects will be completed in place of unfinished projects that take up public fund without any result?

Honoring the Worthy
I wrote this post in honor of a humble, honest and courageous man who behind his gentle frame had an indomitable and selfless spirit. I wrote this to make our politicians realize that their actions, or inaction, hugely affect the quality of lives of the people under their care. Our politicians are not monsters; they are mostly good people whose negligence is only as a result of their ignorance of what is lost while they give out contracts to their friends and families without following through to make sure they deliver. I have hope in Nigeria. I know there are many Yar’Aduas in Nigeria; many honest, responsible, men and women of goodwill who will deliver if given the opportunity. I know that one day, Nigerians will become wiser and demand more accountability from their politicians. But while we wait for that day, let us celebrate those who have shown themselves to be men of character; people who have have used the unique position they occupy to make others breathe easier.

Have you benefited from the good works of a Nigerian politician? Please let us know in the comments section how you were touched. Let’s celebrate those who are getting it right in the hope that others will be inspired to also leave their footprints on the sand of time.

PS: If you enjoy reading any of my posts, please share with your friends.

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