On 5th May 2020, Nigeria marked the 10th anniversary of the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Among the many tributes on his demise, Mr Olesegun Adeniyi, on ‘ThisDay’ newspaper of 7/5/2020 reflected on what might have been. Mr Adeniyi was the late president’s spokesman, therefore an insider of the administration. In the article: ‘The Essential Umaru Musa Yar’adua’, he talked about the attributes which President Yar’adua exhibited uncommon with people who held leadership positions. The attributes were humility, integrity and humanity. He further described him as a good man who had lofty dreams for his country. “A man of ideas, who gave the thankless job of building a good society, his very best”. Mr Adeniyi concluded that “beyond the crocodile tears and political tributes, there must have been a genuine affection for President Yar’adua by most Nigerians and deep sympathy for his personal travails”.
For most of us who were privileged to work closely or directly under him, we certainly concurred with Mr Adeniyi’s tribute and adjectives describing the late President Yar’adua and more. He was a patient man who listens to other people’s ideas and accepts superior arguments. He was stricter for rules and regulations. He believed in meritocracy and has very little patience for nepotism. A family member must equally earn and pay his dues to society. He was methodical and firm in his opinion. He motivated genuine loyalty and brought new ideas, opinions, innovations, and passion into government business. He was a man of industry, competence and honesty. He was a man of ideas and opinions.
The late President Umaru Yar’adua left behind a legacy of commitment and blueprints of a number of concepts for the development of our country. Besides humility, integrity and humanity, he made an indelible mark in the development of our country. It will not be an exaggeration to postulate that Katsina State and the country were given hope for a better future during his administration. Most of the country’s fault-lines were addressed and the economy was turned around to a better shape. With a more sense of direction, people were generally happy during his time. The reason for such a state of hope cannot be easily explained. The versions are as many as there are public commentators. However, we wish to present some ideas and positive contributions made by his administration in our national development:
- A) Planning for Katsina State development. As a Governor in the state, he had a blueprint of development policies and programs. This was an outcome of deliberations on a ‘Retreat’ with senior civil servants and also on an ‘Economic Forum’ with all stakeholders in the state. The recommendations made available in a bounded hardcopy, were religiously adhered. Agriculture, Education, Health and provision of Infrastructure were the priority. Strict Budget discipline and prudence were the hallmarks of his administration. At some point, even ‘Profit margins’ in Procurement of Contracts were regularized to (15%) for Supplies and (25%) for minor construction works. Payment for certified works was made within 28 days. In his time, Katsina State Works Order became a darling to Contractors. At the end of his ‘eight years’, a State University was established, an Airport with a 3km Run-way was constructed, all the 34 LG’s headquarters were linked with Trunk ‘A’ road and further connected with electricity from the National grid. Yet the succeeding administration inherited about N20bn to carry over.
- B) Planning for National development. Late President Yar’adua’s administration presented to the country an idea called the Seven-Point Agenda. Mr Adeniyi described it in the following words: “it is not an economic blueprint, but a conceptual framework of the critical areas of our national life that the administration considered a priority”. Nevertheless, people of the country were formally presented with a general direction and a criteria to judge for themselves, success or failure of the administration.
- C) Transparency in personal conduct. Late President Yar’adua exhibited and raised the bar of transparency by publicly declaring his assets. The law, as it were, does not require him to do so, nevertheless, he did so. As Lincoln put it “He is a public property” and the public has a right to know. In the late President’s humble view, he has a moral duty to disclose beyond the legal expectations.
- D) Respect for institutions and constituted authority. Mr Adeniyi again rightly postulated that”for President Yar’adua, the good society is one where impunity is taboo and where the rights of the rich and the poor are equally protected”. The late President was an advocate of the ‘Rule of law’ and his administration was noted, among others, for not dabbling into the affairs of the National Assembly. His administration obeyed and ratified court orders. It allowed opposition parties to take over Edo, Ondo and Osun on court rulings. Lagos State funds withheld by previous administration were also released. Among others, his administration stayed away from internal affairs of the party (P.D.P) then in power.
- E) Considering the voice of the people. The administration instituted the “Niger-Delta Amnesty Program” as part of the effort to resolve the agitations by the aborigines over the neglect and degradation of their environment. The idea was to bring equity and involvement of host communities in ownership of petroleum assets. The effort brought peace and prosperity not only in the Niger-Delta but to the country’s economy.
- F) Reform in monetary and fiscal policies. In the late President Yar’adua’s time, two instances on the financial system had impact on the economy.
- i) Most of Nigerian Banks were faced with imminent liquidation and collapse from bad debts, and abuses of depositors funds by unscrupulous management and board members. The Central Bank, through its Governor, Sanusi Lamido (an expert in financial risk), rescued the banking system from collapsing through ingenuity and resilience.
- ii) The Treasury Single Account, (T.S.A), was midwifed by the administration. At the end of each financial year, all unutilized funds by MDA’s were warehoused into a Central Bank account. The funds so collected were marked as opening balance in the subsequent budget. Thus, beginning the journey of the TSA.
- G) Strategic provision for critical Infrastructure. President Yar’adua administration’s Seven-point agenda was converted to programs with achievable goals. It identified three major constraints to provision of Infrastructure i.e Land tenure, Inadequate Electricity and Agitation in Niger-Delta. The administration on a number of initiatives made much headway on resolving those constraints to provision of Infrastructure. Some of the following strategic interventions by the administration in the Transportation sector are well noted:
- i) Solving the traffic gridlock of the capital city (Abuja) by fast-tracking the construction of a 10-lane expressway to the City central district. It eased traffic flow on exits and entrances from the Northern axis (Zuba junction) and Southern axis (Giri/Airport junction).
- ii) National development agenda for over 50 years. It was to deepen the River channel so as to enable bigger barges haul essential goods from the North to the South and vice versa. Haulage of goods through the country’s natural River channels can impact on the economy in reducing transportation overhead by about 40%.
iii) Rehabilitation of Rail Transportation System. The system is critical to not only to haulage of goods, but also a long-distance movement of the middle income and poor people due to low cost, convenience and safety. The whole Railway System linking the country have collapsed. Critical routes up the country were identified and work commenced to revive the mode of transportation.
- H) Anti-corruption mantra beyond rhetoric. President Yar’adua administration also raised the bar of the crusade with a guiding principle of no scared-cows. Some high profile prosecutions were witnessed, including ministers for violation of extant rules and regulations. In his time, ministers and CEO’s were relieved of their appointments for not conforming to the administration’s principles and policies, or particular violation of Procurement Act.
On a personal level and also true to many of us younger people around him, he was a role model and a mentor. He once shared with us a lesson in the relationship of power and the people. He told us three ways to acquire political power: through end of a gun or through the rigging of election and or by mandate of the people. The last can only be acquired by hard work and being truthful to the people. It’s only then the people can give you their mandate to lead them. True to his philosophy, in his second term as Governor, the people of Katsina State accepted his leadership such that over 500 houses were demolished to give room for an Inner City upgrading project. The people willingly accepted the project, without the usual acrimony around such issues in Nigeria. The people were adequately compensated and quality Infrastructure were brought in for their benefits – access road, water drainage system, adequate electricity and portable water system. This is one of the many encounters with the man of ideas and opinion.
The issues raised above are a few among so many ideas President Umaru Yar’adua brought to the table of governance. Many of the ideas not mentioned are equally effective. Among others are like the ‘Orasonye report on restructuring the civil service and the MDA’s’, the ‘Justice Uwais Committee on Reform of the Electoral process’, the ‘Prof Akin Mobogunje Committee on Land Reform’, the report by Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah on sharing of Petroleum assets e.t.c. It is only apt to mention that subsequent administrations are finding most of the ideas relevant to the quest of our national development.
Yet President Umaru Yar’adua was not a saint, but mere mortal who had his faults and weaknesses. However, he was far from being desperate for power as unfortunately portrayed by some desperadoes. Those of us privileged to work closely with him have learnt so much: commitment, passion, resilience, discipline, loyalty and most of all, telling the truth at any cost. We and a lot of Nigerians miss him, cherish his memory and pray for his soul, as always.
No leader writes his history. And as in Shakespeare’s Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them: the good is of interred with their bones’. History, will not forget the good in President Yar’adua. History will always be kind to late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua for his humility, integrity and humanity and above all for his unquestioned passion for Nigeria’s project.
May Allah (SWT) forgive his sins, Amin.