Where are late President Yar’adua’s ‘boys’?, by Isyaku Dikko


Few days ago, as part of activities to commemorate the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on May 5, 2023, a journalist asked his wife, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua, in a video shared by YouTube, if she had anything to say about many Nigerians who write favourable things about her husband to which she replied that they are grateful to them but it will be good if they can go beyond praising him by practicing his principles and implementing his policies.

Of all the comments about Yar’adua, I enjoy the annual tribute of President Goodluck Jonathan most because he was his Vice President. The job of a deputy is always delicate because as somebody observed, if you are hardworking, people will say you are too ambitious and if you “take it easy” it will be interpreted as nonchalant attitude and a sabotage of your boss.

It should have been more difficult with Jonathan because of ethnic and religious differences with his boss, in a country where the two factors influence pattern of political participation and are always manipulated by politicians. But Jonathan has been consistent in his appreciation of his boss even in death.

For example, in his 2022 tribute he wrote:
“Twelve years ago our nation lost a patriot, a selfless leader and a peacemaker who governed with sincerity and passion for the people. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is no longer with us today, but his strides in public life continue to testify for him and keep his memory alive. Like a good athlete, he ran with passion, kept the faith and finished the race. Today we can look back and say, as President he won laurels for us in terms of peace and other worthy causes he successfully pursued. He was a soldier of truth, committed to justice, equity and other democratic virtues. He was a servant leader and a good man, THE TYPE THAT IS HARD TO FIND (emphasis mine)”

The above statement summarised the essential President Yar’Adua. What needs to be emphasized is that there are two qualities of Yar’Adua that many Nigerians will find difficult to emulate because they require extra ordinary self discipline; humility and austere life style.

President Yar’Adua’s background as a teacher by choice and activist of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) inculcated in him extra ordinary discipline. As we all know, life as a teacher and PRP activist was a life of limited or non-existent resources. Teaching and PRP activism were never about a BIG MAN or Acting BIG MAN. It was a life of struggle (GWAGWARMAYA), not comfort and luxury, which President Yar’Adua would have found in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the ruling party and where his father was a major stakeholder.

Yar’Adua chose to be a teacher although his father was a Minister in the First Republic and his elder brother, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, was Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, to General Olusegun Obasanjo as Head of state in the 70s. The position conferred on General Yar’Adua the responsibilities of a Vice President. They could have used their influence to “get a good job” for Umaru Yar’Adua in places like Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) where he was eminently qualified to work with his second degree in Analytical Chemistry and as a lecturer at College of Arts and Science Zaria.

Also, President Yar’Adua’s austere lifestyle was by choice because he was born with silver spoon. Austere lifestyle is not a weakness. It is simply a struggle and discipline to control human nature of material acquisition and ostentatious life that leads to corruption, spiritual decay and destruction of human spirit which are largely responsible for the collapse of empires, nations, ruling classes and civilizations.

Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa was using an old car for many years not because he had nobody to buy a flashy car for him, even if he had no money to buy one himself. Also, Malam Abubakar Gummi was using an old car but giving people brand new vehicles bought for him by other people. It is about self-discipline because enjoyment is the easiest thing to do in life.

An incident known to many people around Malam Abubakar Gummi was when somebody brought a brand new station wagon car to him as a gift. He thanked the man for the gift and later asked his disciples, who has no car? One of them known for his humour quickly replied: “Allah shi gafarta Malam idan ba ka so, ina da bukata” (Malam if you are not interested, I need it). And Malam handed over the key to him. The Ummaru Yar’Adua I know would have done the same. A leader should not be an international goalkeeper like Casillas or Emanuel Okala who hardly allowed the ball to pass them.
When you see Dr Ahmed Gummi, the son of Mallam Abubakar, always wearing JALLABIYA, it is not that he is broke or has nobody to buy him SHADDA (guinea brocade) No. His father trained him to appreciate the virtues of humility of austere life style.

In most cases, flamboyance is an expression of inadequacy or complex. For example, there was a time I accompanied somebody for a meeting with General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. He was wearing the cheapest clothes but immediately you entered the room you would know who was the boss. With all their expensive Babbar Riga and Alkyabba the people around were deferring to him. We were
discussing our observation after leaving the house and the person I accompanied said: “Shehu Yar’Adua had passed the stage where he was to be defined by dresses, cars or mansions”. As somebody observed, a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.

I always tell those who respect people who ride expensive cars to come to Abuja so that I will take them to Lanre Shittu Motors to kneel down and greet the over fifty million Naira cars in the showroom. Surely, they are respecting cars, not the people who ride them because without the cars the people would lose the respect.

While on their knees greeting the cars, they may even offer short prayer for them: “beautiful daughters of Lanre Shittu, may God save you from all accidents. May you also live long to see your children prosper on Abuja-Kaduna-Kano highway”
Attaching little value to material things makes a leader generous, and generosity is one of the attributes of good leadership because it is about empathy and human kindness.

Generosity also earns loyalty for a leader from his followers. And President Yar’Adua is known for the two; he was generous and his followers were loyal to him. When people say that some people are somebody’s boys they are not referring to their age but their loyalty to the leader. Therefore, we can comfortably say that President YarAdua had many boys. President Yar’Adua did not joke with loyalty.

For example, somebody told me that when Yar’Adua was governor, his opponents conspired with some security personnel to humiliate the man who was narrating the story to me. He went into hiding and sent a message to Governor Yar’Adua on how he was framed-up to be humiliated because of his closeness to him. Yar’Adua sent a car immediately to carry him to Government House and on reaching there he met the head of the security unit who was part of the plot. When Yar’Adua was told that his boy was around he came out and said to the head of the security unit, pointing at his boy: “Ga wanda ka ke nema nan. Ka kashe shi. Kada ka barshi da rai.” (here is the person you are looking for. Kill him. Don’t leave him alive) He went back to his bedroom and the boy had to go and beg Yar’Adua to forgive the head of the security unit, after he apologized to him.

Loyalty is a serious business. It’s a dual carriage way which goes both ways. For example, I read an interview where Col. Dangiwa Umar (Rtd) revealed that he was surprised how General Ibrahim Babangida got the landline number of the house he was detained by General Sani Abacha as Head of State. Babangida called Dangiwa to assure him that he was working for his freedom. If you know the risk involved in identifying with a detained serving military officer, you will appreciate the decision of Babangida to stick out his neck for his boy (sorry man). No wonder Babangida’s boys can die for him any day.

We are all entitled to our lifestyles. But our interest here is to explain the lifestyle of President Yar’Adua, and why it matters, for those who want to emulate him. Interestingly, Yar’Adua recognised the right of people to choose their styles, therefore, did not attempt to make his style an issue, much less preaching it to people.

One question people seem not to be asking is: Did President Yar’Adua groom his successors. At the federal level, he couldn’t have groomed anybody to be a leader in about three years but in Katsina State he did. By the time he finished his two terms of eight years as Governor of the state, he had groomed six outstanding intellectuals with vast experience and exposure not only to lead Katsina or Nigeria but even qualified to hold important positions in the United Nations.

There were expectations in Katsina that “Yar’Adua Boys” were going to dominate political space in the state for a long time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. But you can’t blame him because he was not in a position to create a political structure that must work even after his death.

However, it is not late to revive President Yar’Adua’s political structure. But it is not something that can be done in a hurry because his political associates are in different political parties. For me, the first stage is to start celebrating his achievements on every May 5, with well organised conferences, seminars and lectures especially at
national and international levels because he is now appreciated by many people.

Also a team of intellectuals should be commissioned to write a comprehensive book on his life, ideas, policies and achievements. This will serve as a reference material to people who want to emulate him. I am not aware if a similar work has been done because he didn’t like publicity. When people were putting pressure on him as Governor to be publicizing his achievements, he said that there was no need because the beneficiaries knew what he did and if they didn’t know it means the projects were not executed.

There is the need to start the process of reviving President Yar’Adua’s political structure as soon as possible especially in Katsina State. Undoubtedly, three people should drive the process for obvious reasons. They are are: Dr Ibrahim Shema, Dr Dikko Radda and Col Abdul’Azeez Musa Yar’Adua. The campaign slogan of Yar’Adua’s successor as Governor of Katsina State in 2011 was: “Daga Umaru Musa, sai Shema” (Shema is Umaru’s successor). The succession can be extended beyond governor to leader of Yar’Adua’s group and structure.