Of Aspiration And
culled from THISDAY, November 29,
Despite his frail, even saintly
appearance and the butter-cannot-melt-in-my-mouth mien, Alhaji Umaru
Yar'Adua has shown with the experience of House of Representatives Speaker,
Aminu Bello Masari, that he is a man adversaries would underestimate at
their peril. Because, behind the facade is a deadly politician who knows
what he wants and how to achieve it. At the recent Peoples Democratic Party
(PDP) congress in Katsina, Yar'Adua, with ruthless efficiency, dealt
Masari's gubernatorial dream a mortal blow. But last Tuesday, I had to tease
him: "I understand you are being pushed by the Transcorp people (a loose
terminology for President Olusegun Obasanjo's business associates and
friends) to join the presidential race..."
Smiling, Yar'Adua said nobody was pushing him and that he deliberately
joined the presidential race late because, to use his exact words,: "I have
had to manage my aspiration for presidency with my responsibility as an
elected governor of Katsina who has a mandate of eight years. Besides, there
are rules in this game and I follow the rules. In a contest like this, there
is usually a time when you are supposed to be on your marks, then you are
set before the bullet is fired for the race..."
The politics of succession in Nigeria has always been fascinating in that
when the chips are down, power most often goes where it is least expected.
In 1979, the gladiators in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) were Alhaji
Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Maitama Sule and Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki. The man
most favoured to win was Ciroma and he had the support of the Northern
establishment. Or at least so it seemed until a certain Alhaji Shehu Usman
Shagari, a senatorial aspirant from Sokoto State, emerged from the blues to
clinch the party's presidential ticket. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1999, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, as leader of G-34 that later metamorphosed into
the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was well positioned to become President
following the death of Abacha which made General Abdulsalami Abubakar to
embark on a short transition to civil rule programme. Ekwueme was indeed the
man of the moment. But in the cold calculations of the period, it was felt
that the presidency should go to a Yoruba man to compensate for the efforts
and eventual death of the late MKO Abiola. Ordinarily, for people on the
streets, such contest would narrow down to one between Chief Olu Falae and
the late Bola Ige. At the end, a certain General Olusegun Obasanjo was
brought from prison and despite his feeble (some would argue hypocritical)
protestations, the rest again is history.
Until a few weeks ago, the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua
was not known to harbour any presidential aspiration. And his name did not
feature in the equation when discussing PDP contenders. But with many
governors, business men and party leaders now lining up behind him, he is
emerging as a possible dark horse in the contest. Yet practically little is
known about the man, the kind to whom the late Chuba Okadigbo would say you
cannot attribute "any quotable quote."
But as I resume my series on the presidential aspirants, I cannot but pay
particular attention to this new entrant who is enjoying support and
attention from unusual quarters. I have not been to Katsina State so I do
not know what Yar'Adua has done as Governor to make him a material for
Nigeria's number one job and I would not place premium on what people say
about his stewardship in making my judgment. When I therefore heard that he
was arriving Lagos on Tuesday for a three-day campaign of South-west, I
sought from one of his campaign organisers whether I could have a private
audience with the man and I was obliged. The session took place on his
arrival in Lagos Tuesday afternoon.
My intention was not to interview him, at least not in the formal sense. I
just wanted to chat him up while observing him close and in a way it was
revealing. In 1999 when he was being sworn-in as Katsina Governor, he
declared his assets publicly, the only public official who did that then. I
sought to know whether he would do same if elected President. I also asked
him how many billions he has accumulated in the last seven and a half years
of what must have been a 'flourishing' tenure. His response: "As to what I
now have compared with what I had prior to 1999, just wait till the end of
my tenure as Governor because I will again declare my assets publicly so
people can see the difference between what I had in 1999 and what I now
have...these are things that are easily verifiable. If I am elected
president, I will do the same so we can begin to build trust in leadership.
It is very essential."
Trust. That word again. But nobody would doubt the fact that he has hit the
nail on the head. That is one thing that is lacking, and has always been
lacking, in Nigeria. The pertinent question: How can we trust those who say
one thing and do another? In Yar'Adua's case, the challenge is even bigger:
how do we trust a man we hardly know?
The Katsina man is a recluse and I reminded him that the first and only time
I ever met him, and that was even from a distance, was in March 1999 at the
Arewa House in Kaduna, at an event for his late brother, Shehu Yar'Adua.
That was two months before he was sworn-in as Governor. I told him that
people say he has not travelled up to three states in Nigeria in the last
seven years. In fact I gathered that aside Kaduna and Abuja, he hardly
ventures anywhere. While disputing that, he confirmed that indeed he hardly
travels out of his state. His explanation: "My responsibility has been to
the people of Katsina..if there are events that warrant my leaving the
state, I do so but I concentrate on what I consider my primary
responsibility...Having been elected by the people of Katsina, I should stay
there to do the job...I am first and foremost responsible to the people of
the state but now that I seek a bigger audience, if I am elected President
then Nigeria would be my constituency. That time you can blame me if I don't
venture outside Abuja."
I have read a bit about Katsina and what Yar'Adua, a Masters Degree holder
and former lecturer, has done in the area of policy articulation. For
instance, he got a legislation for contributory pension scheme which is
still running in his state. He also got a legislation from the House of
Assembly that limited recurrent expenditure to no more than 30 percent of
the entire state revenue so he could devote 70 percent to the provision of
infrastructure. But of greater interest to me is that he is perhaps the only
governor in Nigeria today who does not expend public funds to send anybody
on pilgrimage to either Mecca or Jerusalem. His position is that going on
pilgrimage to Mecca may be one of the five pillars of Islam but it is not
compulsory. "The Quran enjoins you to perform Hajj only if you are able.
There is therefore absolutely no justification for any official giving
public money for anybody to go on Hajj...in fact, the Quran frowns on such
habit because you are abusing public trust by doing so."
What all these policies add up to is that prudence would be his watchword as
president, a virtue we need at this period when Nigeria has accumulated huge
foreign reserves that could be easily frittered by a wasteful government.
But is he the best man for the job? In observing Yar'Adua, I could not help
but conclude that he is a clever man who knows what he is doing. While
appearing disinterested, he has perhaps always craved the presidency and
definitely has his own agenda. But he must have adopted Robert Greene's
position in 'The 33 Strategies of War' that "it is never wise to seem too
eager for power, wealth, or fame...Better to disguise your manoeuvre for
power: you do not want it but have found it forced upon you."
Notwithstanding, I have my fears about Yar'Adua's aspiration. One, it would
be another shot in the dark. Because it is hard to know the position of a
man who hardly talks. Where do you stand with such a man? Two, leading a
small, mono-ethnic and mono-religious state like Katsina is not the same as
ruling a vast and diverse nation like Nigeria. Three, does Yar'Adua have the
capacity for the job and can he tame the military? Four, what economic
agenda has he?
These are questions the governor of Katsina would have to contend with in
the days ahead but I would enjoin Nigerians to pay close attention to him.
Yar'Adua is also a man we should engage very seriously. It is in our
collective interest to do so. Before we are traded what we may later
discover to be a lemon instead of an orange.
President Olusegun Obasanjo
evidently does not want Vice President Atiku Abubakar to succeed him. He may
have good reasons for that. But it is not in his place to determine who
rules Nigeria at any point in time, including after him in May 2007. That is
why the Lagos High Court ruling of Wednesday which voided the Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) report and that of the Administrative
Panel which indicted Otunba Johnson Fasawe and Atiku is a landmark decision
worthy of commendation. While no one should condone corruption, I have
always argued that there is no greater corruption than an abuse of process
to achieve a predetermined end which was exactly what happened in the case
of Atiku. In what was a throwback to the military era, the whole
'indictment' was conceived and executed in a manner that revealed clearly
that it was not to serve the end of justice but to exert vengeance on a
Here, I am not saying that Atiku is innocent of the allegations against him
and he indeed has several questions to answer, questions that may make his
presidential aspiration no more than a joke if he cannot properly answer
them. But by behaving like a military tribunal where members usually dance
to the tune of the Commander-in-Chief, the Bayo Ojo- administrative panel
and the Federal Executive Council resolution lack credibility. What's more,
the whole saga assumes interesting dimension against the background that the
man central to the whole scam, United States Congressman William Jefferson,
an eight-term House Democrat, early this month led the polls in his
re-election bid and is facing a run-off next week. I followed his campaign
because I wanted to know how the American voters would react to a public
officer (who must have learnt some lessons from his Nigerian friends)
stashing his loot in a fridge!
A few days before the election, a Jefferson supporter, Herman Hill, 53, who
adorned a "Don't Mess With Jeff" campaign pin was asked why he would still
be rooting for a corrupt politician and he replied: "All politicians are
stealing. They say they want to help people, but they're helping
themselves...All of them are doing basically the same thing -- but he
(Jefferson) just got caught."
Jefferson is the central figure in the PTDF probe which led to the
'indictment' of Atiku. The FBI actually has a video footage of him accepting
$100,000 from an FBI informant. He was also taped putting a suitcase
containing the bribe money into the trunk of his car. A search of
Jefferson's Washington residence revealed that the money was hidden in his
freezer. But Jefferson, who, like Atiku, has not been charged to court
insists he committed no crime and hence in the eyes of the law (in America)
an innocent man. He is lucky that he is not a Nigerian. What makes Atiku's
case interesting is that the alibi has always been that FBI asked for the
report on him yet the same FBI could do nothing to their own countryman,
Jefferson who was practically caught in the act.
The court affidavit notes that there is probable cause to suspect that
Jefferson committed wire fraud and bribery of a Nigerian official which many
assume to mean Atiku. Since a former Jefferson aide and a Kentucky
businessman have already pleaded guilty in the case, we can even infer that
the man is not innocent. But the bottom-line is that even with all these
weighty allegations, since Jefferson has no legal conviction, he was allowed
to run and the people had a say in who should represent them. From the way
things are, he will most likely lose the run-off poll but the point is
What I am saying in effect is that since there is no legal conviction
hanging on Atiku's head over his role in the PTDF saga, he has a right to
aspire for the presidency of Nigeria or any other office for that matter. It
is then left for us to decide whether we would want to elect a man so
damaged as our next president. Personally, I will not vote for Atiku because
he does not have the qualities I want in my next president or rather that he
has 'qualities' I do not want in my next president. But there are many other
Nigerians who believe he symbolises what they want and they have a right to
their choice. We must all defend that right.