By Abdullahi D Mohammed
The popular saying, you don’t know what you got, until it’s gone, aptly captured and explained exactly our scenario, on the quest for good leadership and governance in Nigeria.
In 2007, we had the opportunity to have a quiet, self-effacing and tranquil leader, Umaru Musa Yar’adua, as president and Commander-in-Chief.
In the 3 years of his stewardship to the country, the formative stages of his presidency, especially was a mixture of both hope, despair and exasperation.
To some, he was going a bit slow. It earned him the cognomen, baba go-slow.
But, he was meticulously fine-tuning his 7-Point Agenda. Which includes, Security, Power and Energy, Land Reform, Education, Food Security Transportation and Wealth Creation.
Alas, death dealt him, or rather death dealt us deadly blow, which knocks off everything good about his his famous 7-point Agenda.
And that is what is fundamentally wrong with us a nation. Discontinuity. Governance is a continuum. It is like a relay, in athletics, once you’re off on the run, you pass the baton, to your team member, he picked from where you stopped and move on.
Late President Yar’adua’s auspicious plan for a better Nigeria is unmatched and unrivaled in recent political history of the country.
He was a honest, modest and sincere leader. He astounded Nigerians when he publicly acknowledge the election which brought him to power was flawed, and promised to bequeath to the country, a better, more credible elections in the future.
Yar’Adua burnished his reputation for probity by becoming the first Nigerian leader to publicly and transparently declare his assets, and after he was elected, he appeared to continue following the ascetic lifestyle for which he was known.
He had compassion and empathy for the common man. He was a president with a heart of Gold. A man of many first. He became the first President in Nigeria to reduced pump price of fuel without initially increasing it. He met the price of petrol at N70 per litre. In June, 2007, just 3 weeks after assuming office, Yar’adua announced the reduction of pump price from N70 to N65 per litre.
As at the time he was sworn-in, in May, 2007, youth restiveness and agitation had peaked in the Oil-rich Niger Delta region. The region, is the storehouse of country’s crude oil, which accounts for approximately 90% of it’s revenue, providing more than 90% of total export. It was a major catalyst for Nigeria’s foreign reserve and exchange.
Unfortunately, the region had to grapple with broken social amenities.
Also, erosion, ecological and environmental degradation had continue to affect livelihoods in the region, prompting youths group to resort to self-help, by taking up arms to demand for better life.
The militants were agitating for lack of concern from government, over oil spillage, hardship and other crisis the region had been engulfed with.
Late President Yar’adua, was swift in taking a proactive response, to bring to the final end, youth restiveness. He introduced a window for peace and reconciliation through the famous Amnesty program for the Niger Delta Militants. The program was aimed at disarming the youths, and addressing holistically, concerns in the region in order to alleviate sufferings.
Fortunately, the programme was successful, as thousands of militants dropped their arms and embrace peace. Furthermore, Yar’adua’s government introduced scholarship, and enterprenuership programmes to the youths of the region, as a complement to the amnesty programme.The programme was commended all over the world.
Many past and present leaders the country produced professed to be democrats, but in reality, it’s the other way round. The country’s constitution provides for the autonomy of States, and clearly defined it’s functions and limitations of the executive arm, or presidency. President Yar’adua, proved to be a different breed. He courageously released the N10 billion Lagos state local government council funds withheld by the Obasanjo administration because of political differences with then then governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Aside his marked asceticism, Yar’adua detest wastefulness, malfeasance and other corrupt practices, this was evident while he was both governor of Katsina and Nigeria’s president.
He pioneered and championed the policy of returning unspent funds to the national treasury at the end of the fiscal year. This was in spite of the prevalence of massive corruption perpetrated by cabals of hawks, at the federal civil service.
The decaying infrastructure in the country was a thing of concern for Yar’adua. He laid out an ambitious plan in the infrastructural development. First, he underscores the need for an alternative source of income for the country. He looked to the direction of decongesting Lagos Ports. Second, he realizes the need to have a seaport in northern Nigeria, which is landlocked.
He expedite actions on the abandoned Baro Inland Port. Aside being an alternative to the congested Lagos seaports, it would rapidly create revenue cache for government, wealth, employment and source of livelihoods for thousands.
With that in mind, Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, awarded the contract for dredging Baro port and expansion of river bank worth billions. Unfortunately, despite its massive socioeconomic advantage, the project, seemingly died alongside the conscientious and irreproachable Yar’adua.
Where most of his predecessors see, or constitute themselves as infallible authority, the affable Yar’adua, stood out as a promoter and respecter of the principle of rule of law, by ensuring fairness to all regardless of creed, faith or region. For instance, when Obasanjo clamped down on Ibeto during his tenure, Yar’adua freed it from the shackles. He also compensated him with import waivers, much to the chagrin of Dangote cement, and other competitors.
Unfortunately, death has a way of abruptly putting an end, or cutting to size dreams, hopes and aspirations. In Yar’adua’s Nigeria, it was a nation that glitzes in hope, never seen in it’s recent history. A paradigm shift from high-handedness and Executive recklessness.
It is 13 years since President Yar’adua left the scene. Governments had come, and gone. What we clamoured for, seems evasive. For how long, can we continue to wish and hope for a reenactment of the amazing and fascinating Yar’adua administration?
Truly, oftentimes, you hardly appreciate what you got, until you lose it.
May Allah continue to repose the soul of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
Abdullahi D Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria.
He writes from Kano