Sequel to the publication of our Series I in The Daily Times Historical Discourse on Monday, November 27, 2017, we wish to serve our numerous readers this week, the circumstances that led to the emergence of the former Chief of Staff of Supreme Headquarters, the late Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
Former MiIitary President, General Ibrahim Babangida, (popularly known as IBB), started his protracted transition political programme on January 13, 1986 with the inauguration of members of Political Bureau while announcing the return of political power to civilians in 1990.
On July 1, 1987, IBB announced the timetable for civilian takeover and political transition programmes. On August 10, 1987, Babangida swore-in members of National Electoral Commission led by Prof. Eme Awa. On May 6, 1988, he swore-in the Chairman and Secretary of Constituent Assembly which was later inaugurated to deliberate on a proposed draft constitution.
Though Yar’Adua was not a member of the assembly because a law had proscribed certain old breed politicians from political activities, his associates, who represented his political leanings at the forum, were active in the formation of political associations during the transitional period, On February 28, 1989, Babangida appointed Prof. Humphrey Nwosu as the Chairman of National Electoral Commission (NEC). He replaced Eme Awa with Nwosu. On March 31, 1989, Babangida’s government imposed N.25 million fine or 5 years jail term as penalty for any banned politician who sponsored, campaigned or canversed for votes on behalf of himself or another.
On April 3, 1989, the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) approved NEC’s recommendations on guidelines for formation of political parties. And on May 3, 1989, Babangida addressed the nation and announced the creation of new 49 local government areas and the lifting of ban on party politics.
With lifting of ban on party politics, major political actors came together to form political parties. The transition political programmes went with successful selection of civilian governors, state legislators and local government political actors. At federal level, it successively elected members of the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate.
But this success was not without constant fine-tuning of the rule of the game which in most times attracted criticisms such were the Option A4 selection process and many others.
The critical point, however, came with the presidential primary elections. In this regards, the road was busy. Several primary elections results were cancelled.
Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (fondly called Tafida) by his admirers, was an accomplished force to be reckoned with in the politics of Nigeria and in death, his legacy remains a guide to those who hold and seek political power.
He was born on March 5, 1943 to an aristocratic Fulani family in Katsina; his father, the late Mallam Musa Yar’Adua, a former Minister for Lagos during the defunct First Republic, held the royal title of Mutawalli (Custodian of the treasury) of the Katsina Emirate.
The late Shehu Yar’Adua, the Nigerian soldier, businessman and politician was the older brother of the former late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Among his many accomplishments, perhaps most significant was being part of the then military government’s successful conduct of elections and historic hand over to a democratic government in 1979. As the first military government to voluntarily hand over power in Africa, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (as he then was) and Yar’Adua recognised that the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria was the only way to ensure stability and social harmony in the country.
Upon retirement, Yar’Adua joined the business world with emphasis on private sector driven economy and varying interests in publishing, agriculture, manufacturing, oil & gas and shipping.
He co-founded with the Late MKO Abiola, Habib Nigeria Bank (now KeyStone Bank). He established the Islam in Africa Organisation and served as Chairman of the National Mosque Committee where he oversaw the funding and building of the National Mosque, Abuja.
In April 1978, he was honoured by Katsina people and turbaned as Tafida, a traditional title he inherited from his father.
According to Shehu Yar’Adua, “Public service is service to God. You serve God by serving his creatures”.
But the return of a military regime without a firm commitment to handing over to a democratically elected government led Gen. Yar’Adua to join politics changed the turn of events. He was prepared to lead the political class through the familiar antics and obstacles set by his former colleagues in uniform.
Shehu Yar’Adua was a gifted politician. His grassroots politics were devoid of ethnic bias and religious or regional sentiment, His organisation, whether Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN) or Social Democratic Party (SDP) or Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), dominated the political landscape of the country, breaking what he dubbed the siege mentality which had dogged politics since 1914.
His aspiration to become the SDP Presidential flagbearer was inspired by a desire to give this nation the committed and responsible leadership the country so desperately deserved. He advocated a new National Purpose which was designed to enrich lives, inspire patriotic pride and serve the common good of all.
After the swearing-in of elected governors on January 1, 1992, Yar’Adua reached out to all aspirants who lost out in the governorship elections, paid all their political campaign expenses and mobilised them to his side. This single action endeared many to him as many who had became political bankrupts suddenly become solvent as a result of his benevolence. Hence, they were very loyal and whole-heartedly worked for him.
As a presidential candidate, Yar’Adua continued to break old barriers, beating formidable home-based political opponents and winning elections across the nation to become his party’s nominee. Just when he was poised to win his party’s presidential nomination, his election was annulled by Babangida while he was banned from further participation in politics.
Without bitterness or rancour, General Yar’Adua devoted himself to playing the role of advisor, mentor and counselor through new rounds of elections. He continued to steer the country toward democracy as the single most influential politician in the country.
It is instructive to note that Yar’Adua and his group formed the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) which later transformed to Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN). Members included Babagana Kingibe, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Magaji Abdullahi, Ango Abdullahi, Ahmadu Rufa’i, Yahaya Kwande, Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila, Wada Abubakar, Babalola Borishade, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, M.S.Buhari and Farouk Abdulazeez.
The organisation later merged with other groups to form the Social Democratic Party of Nigeria. Peoples Front of Nigeria and PDM became the two dominant factions within SDP. However, Yar’Adua’s group was very organised and able to win the majority of the elective posts within the SDP. During the Governorship and House of Assembly elections, SDP had a slight numerical edge over the National Republican Convention (NRC).
In January 1992, Yar’Adua spent a short stint in detention. He was jailed for contravening a law banning certain persons from active politics. However, the law was repealed and Yar’Adua subsequently announced his presidential ambition.
His campaign political structure covered the whole country; he had a national campaign directorate, and each state had its own campaign coordinator and ward mobilisers. Members of his campaign group included Chief Tony Anenih, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Dapo Sarumi, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu and Sunday Afolabi. Yar’Adua was leading the SDP presidential field before the results were annulled by Babangida’s government.
A new election was later conducted on June 12, 1993 which was won by the late M.K.O. Abiola. After the June 12 election were annulled, the Yar’Adua faction negotiated an arrangement for the inauguration of a National Interim Government. But in November 1993, the interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan was booted out and Gen Sani Abacha became the new military Head of State.
In 1994, Yar’Adua won a seat representing Katsina to a new National Constitutional Conference. He was an outspoken delegate and in early 1994, organised a political conference at the Nigerian Union of Journalists office in Lagos that earned the attention of the military leadership who detained him for four days.
Yar’Adua, Obasanjo, Lawan Gwadabe and others were arrested in March 1995 on allegations of plotting a coup to overthrow the Abacha regime. He was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1995, after calling on the Nigerian military government of Gen. Sani Abacha and his Provisional Ruling Council to return the country to civilian rule. Though the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, Yar’Adua died in mysterious circumstances while in captivity on December 8, 1997.