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President Yar’adua and the fight against corruption in Nigeria

                                                         By Nasir El-Rufai  
Umaru Musa Yar´Adua is Nigeria´s current President, and unless his health fails will remain the Chief Executive of Africa´s most populous country at least until 2011, and perhaps till 2015 if re-elected. Having been in office for less than two years, it may be premature to pass judgment on his leadership and governance styles.

 

 

 But there is a saying prevalent amongst Hausa speakers of Northern Nigeria, which roughly translated means: “You know that an enjoyable weekend is round the corner when things begin to look good by Wednesday, (otherwise, forget the weekend, or just pray).” It is on the basis of this that I will attempt to present an assessment of Umaru Yar´ Adua´s time in office, and venture to predict what his first full term in office is likely to be. I do not share the views of the Economist that Umaru Yar´ Adua´s health is such an issue that he would not be available to attempt re-election. And because Umaru Yar´Adua has been in office for so short a time, not much has been written about him.

This essay will therefore be a summary of what the utterly free but unreliable Nigerian media and bloggers have published, tempered by my personal knowledge of Yar´Adua since I first met him in 1972, and what others that have grown up, lived and worked with him have related to me.

I will also present not only a contextual summary of the Obasanjo Administration´ s twilight days, and Obasanjo´s decisions and actions and the impacts these would have on Yar´Adua´s governance, but a biographical sketch that throws some light on the personality of the new president.

 

My hope is that these will help explain some of Yar´Adua´s decisions and actions, as well as successes and failures as President of Nigeria. I will compare Yar´ Adua´s promises and commitments upon his swearing-in, with actual outcomes achieved. I will review his political, economic and foreign policy vision, policies and actions to establish how transformational he has been.2. Nigeria in May 2007

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 146 million inhabitants living within an area slightly more than twice the land area of California. With a GDP of over $296 billion and huge reserves of crude oil, Nigeria is the second largest economy in the Continent, the leading oil exporter and 37th largest economy in the World.

Nigeria is located in the Gulf of Guinea in the Western part of Africa. Nigeria was created by the amalgamation of what were known as the Protectorates of Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos into one nation in 1914.

 

The nation was granted independence in 1960 in what was considered by Time magazine as a model of negotiated self-rule. Nigeria in May 2007 was in high spirits – we were about to successfully transfer power democratically from one elected government to another, handing over a sound economy that is almost debt-free with healthy reserves of over $45 billion.For the first time since Nigeria´s first republic was terminated, there was a window of opportunity to break from the past. The world was watching with interest, with good reason.

 

According to Rotberg in a report prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations: “For policy makers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country´s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa.”For some of us in President Obasanjo´s government, the elections were disappointing but the best candidate won. We have elected our first University graduate as President, a person we were convinced was a decent man, and raised the possibility that we will break the vicious cycle of bad leadership that has defined our nation. We were optimistic about the future.

3. Abuja on May 29, 2007

It was on the eve of the Hand-Over date and we had gone to Defense House to take a final look at the Inaugural Speech that President-Elect Umaru Musa Yar´Adua would read to the world tomorrow when he is sworn in at 10.00 am Nigerian time. Abuja – the City I had administered in the last four years and have lived since 1998 was not as festive as it should be.

Instead, what was in the air was a huge sigh of relief. I had been in my office for the last time, knowing that I will never ever visit the FCT Administration again. My family had moved out of the official residence a couple of days before, and moved into the house I had just bought from the Federal Government.

 

We had brought the only African to ever win a Pulitzer Prize – Dele Olojede (now the publisher of Next Newspaper) from South Africa, to write the speech. We (Dele Olojede, Nasir El-Rufai, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Jimi Lwal and Aliyu Modibbo) reviewed the third draft of the speech with Umaru Yar´Adua and made a few corrections.We argued whether it was appropriate to mention that 54% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line in view of the unreliability of our national statistics. It was a great speech Dele had prepared from several intearctive sessions with the President-Elect.

 

At about 11pm, Tanimu Yakubu came in to the room we were all meeting, and asked me out. He requested that I get one of the judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory to come and sign the Asset Declaration Forms of the President-Elect, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria had vowed that he will not appear at the Inauguration unless they were submitted to him in the morning.

 I called my Chief of Staff to wake up any of the judges for this purpose. I rejoined the group and finally left the President-Elect at 2.00 am in the morning of May 29, 2007.Tanimu, my Chief of Staff and the Honorable Judge were still waiting for the paperwork to be put together. As I was driving home, my cell-phone rang and it was Nuhu Ribadu – the respected and dreaded chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

 

He told me that he was with President Obasanjo and would want me to join them. I diverted to the State House and met them sharing drinks and reminiscent about the last four years. We left President Obasanjo who said he expected us at 8.00 am for a final breakfast with him before going to Eagle Square – the venue of the Inauguration Ceremonies.

I got home about 3.00 am for a wink and was up early for the Farewell Breakfast with Obasanjo.It was a time of great relief for us too – we will soon be free to pursue our private lives. I was personally uneasy about the poor succession outcome, inadequate preparation of Umaru Yar´Adua for the office he was about to be sworn in, the flawed elections and the legitimacy burden arising therefrom, and the abysmally poor briefing of the incoming team of the opportunities and challenges before them. How did we get to this point?

Read part 2  here; http://assemblyonline.info/?p=1341