PRESIDENT YAR’ADUA LIVES
I have been reluctant to write a tribute on President Umaru Yar’Adua since he died because while he was campaigning as a presidential candidate I wrote a piece in the Daily Trust of Monday, January 15, 2007 entitled, “The Yar’Adua I know”. He so much liked the piece that he expressed his appreciation to me. I consider the piece my tribute to him. A number of times I went through it but was convinced that I cannot say anything better about him. Let it be a tribute to him which he read and relished. When he was sworn-in as president I also wrote another piece entitled, JOURNALISTS GIVE YAR’ADUA A CHANCE, published in Daily Trust of Friday, June 1, 2007.
However, recent developments have compelled me to write and tell Nigerians what they probably do not know about President Yar’Adua and the lessons to learn. As somebody who served as Director for three years in the office of Yar’Adua as governor, what people say about him gladden our hearts because it means the truth has come out and we have been vindicated that Yar’Adua was a good man. The truth is that the man earned my respect. He had his shortcomings like all mortals but compared to many others, he is a super hero. He was, in the words of President Goodluck Jonathan in his 2022 tribute to President Yar’Adua who was his boss, “the type that is hard to find”.
Let me share with you an incident that strengthened my respect for President Yar’Adua. Some years after his death I was driving from Kaduna to Abuja and by the time I reached Bwari it was already dark. Unfortunately, the driver of an expensive car in front of me slowed down and the only way I could avoid hitting his car was to fall in a ditch, therefore, I did the obvious. The owner of the car who was sitting at the “owners corner” came out with two people from the car in front of him which from all indications was a pilot car.
Of course, I was at fault and there was no way I could deny it so I said to the oga: “I am sorry for damaging your car. But I didn’t do it deliberately. I was not over spreading or driving recklessly. I didn’t know that there is a “bump” here, therefore, did not slow down when your driver slowed down. You may accept it as an honest mistake and allow me to go or demand that I repair your vehicle.” The following conversation ensued between the owner of the vehicle who introduced himself as Bagudu Hirse and myself:
Hirse: You mean you didn’t know there is a bump here?
Me: Yes, I didn’t know. I couldn’t have endangered my life and yours for nothing.
Hirse: Are you not based in Abuja? Where are you from?
Hirse: Are you related to President Yar’Adua?
Me: Yes. His mother is my cousin.
Hirse: My name is Bagudu Hirse. President Yar’Adua made me a minister. I enjoyed working with him. He was a good man. May his soul rest in peace. You can go.
I quickly drove away because all the two traffic signs(signals) of the car were damaged. To replace them in addition to penal beating and painting was going to cost not less than five hundred thousand Naira. The two people with him were visibly angry. One of them kept ranting, “how can somebody say that there is no bump here?”, until Hirse told him to keep quiet. Bagudu Hirse is alive and a candidate for the forthcoming 2023 gubernatorial election in Plateau State. I never met him since then but I wish him success because Nigeria needs good people with large heart like him especially in a state like Plateau where the dominant toxic thinking and primitive violence should be consigned to the dustbin of history for peace to reign. It is time for “one love keep us together”. Indeed, Hirse is “Dattijon arziki”.
President Yar’Adua was a product of a notable family with tradition of public service which requires selflessness, respect for human dignity, courage and empathy. This is why his elder brother, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, admonished his son Buhari, in a letter he wrote to him from prison which he did not survive, stating that “I would not have achieved anything if after I am gone all I leave behind for you are empty houses and some bank accounts – for these are nothing – they can be acquired by any idiot! I want to leave for you something you can be proud of – A legacy of public service and sacrifice which will influence our country for good which you will be proud to inherit and which I will be proud to pass over”.
The position of General Yar’Adua above is not personal to him. It runs in the family. Their father was a teacher, an administrator and minister. When a journalist asked President Yar’Adua to describe himself in an interview published in Daily Trust of March 3 – 9, 2007 he had no problem recalling the tradition of his family: “But when I define myself as a servant of God, there is no mistake, one sentence answer, absolutely perfectly correct. The very essence of my existence is to serve God and humanity. I think people should know that you derive the greatest satisfaction from serving others rather than serving yourself”. Allahu Akbar.
But it was Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a disciple of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and former Director of Organisation of Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) who described President Yar’Adua in detail as published in Sunday Sun Newspaper, May 6, 2007. He argued “Study the mien of Umar Yar’Adua, you will see that he does not talk much. You will find that he is never emotional. He is a holder of master’s degree in analytical chemistry. So, you cannot say that such a man is not brilliant. And when I say he is a progressive, look at a man whose father was a patron of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic but who rather than follow his father into the NPN joined Mallam Aminu Kano’s People’s Redemption Party (PRP). All I am saying about him are from empirical standpoints”
Also, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, revealed as much as Babatope in News Star Newspaper of Saturday, May 5 – Friday 11, 2007. He said:
“His older brother, Shehu, was a friend of mine. His father was my political mentor but President Yar’Adua, I don’t have a close relationship with him. He is somebody who has been involved in politics and public affairs. My reading of him is that he has been a careful and well-behaved governor. He did not waste public money. I believe his action was cautious and morally good enough. I believe he is going to conduct his affairs in honesty, fairness and with justice… In all situations where leaders try to set up lackeys, they failed because somebody may look pliable when you are the leader, but he will become a man of his own once he is leading. I believe Yar’Adua has a character of someone who is not likely to be a lackey to anybody.”
Apart from family, one other influence on President Yar’Adua which made him, “the type that is hard to find”, to use the words of President Jonathan, was his pedigree as a Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) activist. He valued the PRP tradition and his PRP political mentors especially Dr Bala Usman. When as a staff I raised a memo to Governor Yar’Adua on the people to be invited for a conference organised by Katsina State Government, it was only the name of Dr Bala Usman he added in his handwriting. Also, when the latter died, Governor Yar’Adua renamed the Katsina State College of Legal Studies Daura after him and endowed a professorial chair in his honour at the department of History, Ahmadu Bello, University Zaria (ABU) at the cost of N73.04 million in 2008, when Naira was Naira. I co-ordinated the process of the endowment which entailed series of meetings with the Head of History Department and the Registrar.
Indeed, Dr Bala Usman had paid his dues not only as a teacher of teachers but also in the mobilisation of people about their rights. In one of such meetings in my home town, Dutsin-Ma, in the House of Ali Abu Yarima, Dr Bala stood up and said, “if you know you are here for political office or money you better leave because we are not here for that”. One of the politicians in attendance called Dankirki who is now the chairman of PDP in Dutsin-Ma Local Government stood up and left. I followed him pleading with him to come back but he refused. “Ina amfanin siyasa idan ba ruwanta da mukami da kudi?” meaning, of what use is politics if it has nothing to do with political office or money?, he asked me. I had no answer. We lost him.
I cannot finish a tribute on President Yar’Adua in few paragraphs. For example, it will be interesting to know how he responded when Usman Danfodio University Sokoto requested Katsina State Government to build hostel for indigenes of the state in the university. I co-ordinated the process when Professor Aminu Mikailu was the Vice Chancellor. I believe he will have no difficulty in recalling what happened because he received me warmly as a former colleague, the two times I visited his office on the issue. The university wanted the hostel to be occupied by Katsina State indigenes only as a way of encouraging other states to do the same for their students. Yar’Adua built the hostel but insisted that it should be for all students. “How can we do that in a university system. Universities should promote national integration not divisive tendencies”, he argued
President Yar’Adua liked challenges and solving problems. For example, when many Katsina State pilgrims missed their flights to Saudi Arabia for Hajj at Kano Airport, he addressed them and said that the following year Katsina State pilgrims will be flown from Katsina Airport. Many people did not believe him. But that was what happened. I want to believe that it is one of the first airports constructed by state governments in Nigeria. The Hausa people are right when they say, a fada a cika sai dan kunya, meaning, only people who have sense of shame fulfill promises. And as the prophet of Islam said, whoever has no sense of shame, has the license to do whatever he likes.
Also, when the present Alqalam University, Katsina had some problems as a private university and the proprietors approached the state government for assistance, the governor suggested a take over by the state government which they vehemently opposed. This provoked Yar’Adua and within a short time Katsina State University was established. Just as he named College of Legal Studies Daura after Dr Bala, the university was also named after him by his successor, Dr Ibrahim Shema. It is now called Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University Katsina. The name was changed from Katsina State University because Yar’Adua did not attempt to name it after himself. I know much about the history of the University because we did the groundwork for its take off.
When we say President Yar’Adua lives we mean that his memory is fresh in the minds of Nigerians for his good deeds. The good that people do, not only live after them, but also follow them to their graves. Allah ya jikan Umaru. Sai Matawalle!
Date: 10|5|2022. Twelve years after the death of President Yar’Adua on 5|5|2010