COLUMNIST: Nigeria: A personal encounter

COLUMNIST: Nigeria: A personal encounter

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By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

So, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, former Governor of Katsina State (1999 to 2007), was sworn in as President on 29th May 2007 on the platform of PDP, the party that once boasted it would rule Nigeria forever! How things change! From all indications Yar’Adua meant well for the country.

Simple. Very natural. Urbane and forward-looking. But somehow, good leaders never last in power in Nigeria. He was the first president to publicly declare his assets and liabilities in fulfilment of his campaign promise.

You know what that meant? He would not steal money. At the end of his tenure he would have declared his assets again and be sure that things did not rise like a balloon.

He agreed to negotiate with the Niger Delta boys who had been threatening the oil pipelines of the oil industry because they wanted the federal government to do something about poverty in the Niger Delta.

That was big deal. Different groups had been threatening the peace. One Gbomo Jomo was always signing the messages sent out by Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND). Nigeria for you! Yar’Adua’s days had been dogged by rumours of ill health right from during and after the campaigns.

The man looked frail. I really don’t know why he accepted the job.

Perhaps he still would have been alive. He had a kidney condition that made him ill. Indeed, before he was sworn in as president, he was flown abroad for treatment. Rumours came flying all over the country that he had died.

It led to a melodrama between then President Obasanjo and Nigerians when he called Yar’Adua on the phone and asked the question: Umaru, they say you are dead.

Are you dead? I am alive, replied Yar’Adua. Yar’Adua was not dead. That was Nigeria for you! If you read the insults people poured on Obasanjo when Yar’Adua started falling in out of illness. Some said Obasanjo didn’t really want the north to enjoy their term that’s why he chose a sickly successor.

At a point, Yar’Adua even challenged anyone to a game of squash. But the truth was that he was ill even though government propaganda tried to cover up the truth. But you see, truth is like a calabash forced into the bottom of a river. It will always bubble to the surface.

Then the drama started. In 2009 Yar’Adua was flown to Saudi Arabia and had an extensive stay. Power was not handed over to the vice president.

His vice president could not act on his behalf. Some people said he had died. There was uncertainty in the land.

Instruments of power were soon handed over to Goodluck Jonathan on February 10 after the Doctrine of Necessity was invoked in the National Assembly and Jonathan could now act.

That was Nigeria! On 24 February 2010, Yar’Adua was flown back into the country under the cover of darkness when the situation became tense. There were loud whispers everywhere about the missing president.

Then Yar’Adua returned like a thief in the night. It was a military operation. The airport was ‘seized’ and not even the military High Command or airport officials knew what was afoot.

First Lady Turai Yar’Adua supported by the inimitable Sheikh (Chief James Ibori) was reported to so love power that she didn’t want her husband to resign even though he was ill. Another round of drama started.

Yar’Adua could not address the nation. He did not appear for us to see him. Important religious and political leaders were invited to Aso Rock to see and testify that he was alive. When they came out, it was like Ali and the Angel story that we read in primary school.

They mumbled replies to questions. Apparently, the man was on life support.

He was ‘packaged’ for the people to see. That was Nigeria! Then the tragic happened! On 6th of May Yar’Adua died inside Aso Rock. This was the second time the nation would lose a sitting president right inside Aso Rock.

The first being the man who was said to have eaten Indian apples that took him into the other world! He was buried on the 6th of May and Goodluck Jonathan became substantive president on the same day! President Goodluck Jonathan!

The first Nigerian president from the Niger Delta, the man who campaigned that he had no shoes as a boy. Hmmmm! When the cabal that held Yar’Adua captive snubbed Goodluck Jonathan, he won the heart of the nation.

He was a PhD holder. But as I alluded somewhere in my narrative, he had a way of succeeding his principal who had a way of leaving office midway.

He was deputy governor to DSP Alamieyesegha, then governor of Bayelsa State. DSP got into big trouble with corruption matters and he became governor.

Now, as VP, he succeeded Yar’Adua because the latter could not complete his term. The Alamieyiegha story! It is a long one. I will tell the full story another day. But he was arrested in London and detained.

But before we knew it, he disappeared from London and landed in Nigeria. He caught the British police flatfooted! That was Nigeria for you! Jonathan soon settled down to the business of governance.

For the first time, we had a PhD holder in Aso Rock as head of government and we hoped governance would wear a new look. But my brothers and sisters! Although the government had shining stars and claimed to work hard, the people were still hungry and angry.

President Jonathan’s wife was part of the landscape! Drama after drama every day. We all woke up one day to hear that girls in a secondary school in Chibok were kidnapped from school in the dead of the night!

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The attack on the government was savage. The president was described as clueless. Looking back now, we know that the attack was orchestrated by some powerful forces. Corruption was a national singsong. Some ministers were casualties of the corruption fight.

When the government raised the unit price of fuel, the civil rights groups took up verbal arms and attacked the government.

The coalition of forces against Jonathan was deadly. He allowed protest marches in Lagos and made the now famous statement that he was not going to allow a drop of blood to be shed for him to remain in power!

That was Nigeria for you. The nation was in a foul mood when the general elections came up in 2015.

How the elections were won and lost, how Muhammadu Buhari became president, is it not the subject of the next essay?

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