Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn into office as the substantive president of Nigeria upon the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which occurred exactly five years ago. Having assumed office in 2007, Yar’Adua spent three years in power but his health battles meant he could not concentrate on the onerous task of governance. Short as his tenure was, he succeeded in endearing himself to many Nigerians. Here are five things to recall about the man who, like President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, hailed from Katsina state.
On April 23, 2007, Maurice Iwu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared Yar’ Adua winner of the presidential election of that year. The official result showed that Yar’Adua, who ran under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), polled a total of 24.6 million votes ahead of Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), who had 6.6 million votes and Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC) with 2.6 million votes. Both Atiku and Buhari rejected the result, alleging that the election was rigged in favour of yar’Adua. Surprisingly, not up to one month after he was sworn into office, he admitted that the election was rigged, promising to sanitise the system. The news took many by the storm given the level of impunity displayed by the political class in the country.
Yar’Adua goes into history as the first Nigerian president to publicly declare his assets. On June 28, 2007, Yar’Adua publicly revealed that he had N856,452,000 in assets, N19 million ($0.1 million) of which belonged to his wife. He claimed to have also had N88,793,269.77 in liabilities. This disclosure, which fulfilled a pre-election promise he made, was intended to set an example for other Nigerian politicians and discourage corruption. Following the footsteps of his superior, Goodluck Jonathan, who was the vice-president, also declared his assets. Jonathan said his total assets and cash in banks as at then stood at N295,304,420, about N561, 148,472 less than that of Yar’Adua. He also said he had four buildings located in Yenegoa, Abuja and his home town in Ogbia, Bayelsa state.
OBEDIENCE TO RULE OF LAW
Unlike Olusegun Obasanjo, Yar’Adua’s benefactor and predecessor, the late president promised to respect the rule of law and he did exactly that. In one instance, the decision of the Lagos state government to create 37 additional local government areas did not go down well with the federal government under Obasanjo, who in turn withheld the allocations meant for the 20 local governments not recognized by the constitution. Bola Tinubu, the then governor, instituted a legal action against Obasanjo. The supreme court subsequently ruled in Tinubu’s favour, declaring that the president had no constitutional powers to withhold the funds meant for any tier of government but the then president disregarded the order and failed to release the money till he left office. However, on July 27 2007, Yar’Adua directed that the sum of N10.8 billion, an accumulation of four years allocation, be released to the Lagos state government. Similarly, when the supreme court ruled that Andy Uba, a prominent member of the PDP should be removed from office and Peter Obi, who was impeached under controversial circumstances, should be reinstated, the late president immediately directed compliance with the ruling.
POWERFUL ‘KITCHEN CABINET’
Due to the nature of his health, Yar’Adua was not active and at a point, governance fell to the control of his ‘kitchen cabinet’, as the name went in media circles. His wife, Turai, called the shots alongside Adamu Aliero, former governor of Kebbi state who is now a senator-elect. He was then the minister of the federal capital territory. Michael Aondoakaa, the attorney-general of the federation, was likewise powerful under Yar’Adua. Not even VP Jonathan wielded the influence of these people. James Ibori, former governor of Delta state, was also a power broker and they all played different roles in the constitutional crisis that ensued after Yar’Adua became bed-ridden in a hospital in faraway Saudi Arabia, While Jonathan confessed that he did not know his boss’ whereabouts, members of the kitchen cabinet had full briefs about development.
DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY
Yar’Adua left Nigeria on November 23, 2009, and was reported to be receiving treatment for pericarditis at a clinic in Saudi Arabia. He was not seen in public again, and his absence created a dangerous power vacuum. There was confusion in the country, as Nigeria almost turned to a rudderless ship. Led by Tunde Bakare, a fiery cleric, The Save Nigeria Group (SNG), a non-profit organisation, championed the course for Jonathan to be sworn in as acting president. On January 22, 2010, the supreme court ruled that the federal executive council (FEC) had 14 days to decide a resolution on whether Yar’Adua was “incapable of discharging the functions of his office”. The ruling also stated that FEC should hear testimonies of five doctors, one of whom should be Yar’Adua’s personal physician. On February 9, 2010, the senate controversially used the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer presidential powers to Jonathan, and declared him acting president. About two months after, Yar’Adua passed on and Jonathan was sworn into office.