How Yar’Adua Tackled Recession, Terrorism And The Legacy He Left Nigeria By Peregrino Brimah
I seek indulgement to type this piece in defense of late President Umaru Yar’Adua who has been inadvertently included in a list of PDP Presidents who “left Nigeria no legacy,” according to a public statement attributed to the current President Muhammadu Buhari.
While President Yar’Adua is obviously not here to defend himself, providence demands some of us stand in his stead. I do not believe that President Muhammadu Buhari intended to include Yar’Adua in the list of PDP Presidents who failed Nigeria over the 16 years, however being that Yar’Adua’s name was included in headlines across the dailies, it is important to attempt to properly present his legacy.
Yar’Adua ranks among Nigeria’s top two Presidents of all time. By most metrics, two Presidents who had truncated terms were the best by far: late Yar’Adua and late Murtala Muhammad are these two. While President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term also ranked high, perhaps the third best, his current term is filled with mixed results and cannot yet be judged to be in the top category according to my humble opinion. The bottom of the list is occupied by the likes of Obasanjo, Jonathan, Abacha and Babangida, noted for looting the nation’s treasury silly and enjoying immunity and even being defended of “having never stolen” by eminent persons.
I will attempt to do summarily justice to this topic in several sections. I will utilize swaths from my February 2014 article on the great legacy of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as I compare to what we have currently:
Yar’Adua: the Only President To Openly Fully Declare His Assets
Late Yar’Adua was the first democratic President to fully and publicly declare his assets and remains the only Nigerian President to do so till date. While President Muhammadu Buhari published a summary three sentence brief of his assets, a full public declaration of these is yet to be made. The effect of Yar’Adua’s public asset declaration on trust, transparency and good governance to Nigeria is a legacy he left of untold value that is yet to be rivaled.
Late Yar’Adua’s Legacy on Terror: Boko Haram And MEND
President Yar’Adua had been handed two catastrophic problems by the predecessor Obasanjo government. Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND was wrecking havoc in the Southern creeks and Boko Haram had similarly evolved in the north east. Under the Obasanjo regime, Nigeria’s national security boss, NSA Aliyu Gusau, a Babangida autocratic-regime henchman and the man behind most of Nigeria’s sad history of military coups and continuous insecurity as recurrent security chief, had failed to abate the problems in the north and south. According to reports, Gusau had actually told president Obasanjo when he asked about Boko Haram, then called, ‘Nigerian Taliban,’ that ‘no such group existed,’ despite attacks by the group.
Faced with these unique, entrenched challenges, Yar’Adua selected a National Security Adviser, Major Gen. Sarki Mukhtar – remembered for opposing Abacha on coup plotter treatment in the 90s– who had the commitment and wherewithal to intelligently and appropriately combat the two terror problems.
The Yar’Adua administration with NSA Mukhtar immediately approached the MEND crises with an understanding of the pressing situation.
Through a combination of force and payoffs, President Yar’Adua persuaded all major militant leaders in October of 2010 to renounce violence and surrender their arms in exchange for amnesty, government subsidies, training opportunities, and promises of more money and development of the region. [Ref: Cables]
The Amnesty placated the agitating youth who had reduced Nigeria’s oil output by almost half, more than the current loses by the Niger Delta Avengers and related groups today, and Nigeria invested billions in training and rehabilitating these youth. Peace that eluded Obasanjo was fully restored to the creeks.
Faced with a different terror uprising in the north, Yar’Adua with his apt NSA Mukhtar swung into action, again properly considering the dynamics of the northern question. Poverty is predominant in Nigeria’s north, however poverty and/or misguided fanaticism is no excuse for terrorism and murder of innocent civilians and security officers. The nation’s security men were sent to sack the Boko Haram camps in a swift and efficient operation. In one of the few times in recent global history, the terror mastermind, Mohammed Yusuf himself was caught and killed as ‘he attempted to escape.’ Over 700 mostly Boko Haram terrorists were massacred in the operation of July 2009. But Yar’Adua did not stop there. He drew-up a comprehensive deradicalization plan that promised to monitor and prevent radical groups from resurging across Nigeria’s north and also to address the complex societal dynamics that breed terror.
Having established calm and restored security to Nigeria, late Yar’Adua continued with managing other pressing crises he had inherited from the previous administration.
What Obasanjo Left
Yar’Adua’s predecessor, President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ rode the oil price waves. OBJ’s regime was not particularly economically unique. It more accurately put, was lucky to be in favorable times and the economic growth was concordant with catapulting global oil prices. Oil prices were $16 in 1999 at the start of his tenure and rose rapidly to double that, $35 in September 2000. By August 2005, oil sold at $65 and by October 2007, oil prices were $90/barrel. Obasanjo rode these prices in an ‘oil cruise.
An important hallmark of the predecessor administration was tits corrupt privatization agenda. Obasanjo built Nigeria’s corruption infrastructure. Obasanjo raised his friends and sponsors of his party (PDP) to gods, handing them chunks of the country across all economic sectors, including things as little as the “.ng” domain which at $100/year is the most costly in the world today. The likes of Dangote and Otedola were handed chunks of Nigeria in a privatization frenzy. Transcorp was formed to further facilitate the complete hand-over of Nigeria’s assets to private cronies of the PDP. As Obasanjo failed to secure his third term bid, he quickly auctioned off Nigeria’s oil refineries to the same cabal.
Other not so favorable aspects of the OBJ years, including the ‘skewed’ use of the EFCC, the billions allocated for repairing power plants, the ‘missing’ recovered Abacha loot and the like have been thrashed suitably in the media.
While terror got embedded in the country, the rich got stupendously richer during Obasanjo and the poor got poorer. The gap between the rich and poor have since in the fourth republic widened to levels never before seen. This is the Nigeria Yar’Adua would inherit.
Tackling the Recession
President Musa Yar’Adua had an uphill task. He was coming in when oil prices were dropping during the global recession and Nigeria’s economy faced testing. The Yar’Adua government had to stabilize the economy against dropping oil prices and decreased production as a result of Niger-Delta terror which had reduced oil exports by more than half. This was the heyday of MEND.
Oil prices dropped to a low value of $35 a barrel during his tenure. This was definitely a tough time as repeats today. But a steady hand and refusal to adopt wrong policies protected the economy.
Late Yar’Adua inherited an external reserve of $45 billion, which grew to $63 billion in September, 2008. Due to the twin blows of reduced income from MEND terror and tanked global oil costs, Yar”Adua left $47. 7 billion in the reserves as at Dec 31st 2009 when Jonathan took over. He left Nigeria’s external debts relatively unchanged.
Faced with an impending recession rocking the world, the Yar’Adua government dug into the nation’s Excess Crude Account to fund the National Integrated Power Project and distribute additional funds national, state, and local governments.
To tackle and prevent Nigeria joining the global recession and shore the economy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under President Yar’Adua and led by Sanusi lamido Sanusi (now Emir) ordered the immediate audit of all 24 of Nigeria’s banks. The audits were followed by the replacement of eight troubled bank leaders and a $3.9 billion bailout of the banks which stabilized the economy.
The Yar’Adua government published a “name and shame” list of hundreds of bad debtors which included many closely tied to the PDP and Yar’Adua personally recovered billions in bad debts. In contrast today, the Buhari government refuses to publish the names of looters even after they have returned moneys.
Legacy On Corruption And How Late Yar’Adua Fought Obasanjo, Dangote And Other Cabal
Apart from the “name and shame list, in October of 2010, the former chairman of the Nigerian Port Authority and Vice-Chairman of President Yar’Adua’s 2007 presidential campaign, Bode George of the PDP party was convicted on various corruption charges and sentenced to jail. This was a man who was first indicted in 2005 by the EFCC but was allegedly shielded by Obasanjo.
A major battle Yar’Adua had to face was the recovery of Nigeria from the cabal. Obasanjo had literally sold Nigeria to private friends of his and his party. Tycoon Dangote had been selected and favored by president Obasanjo not only during his second appearance in civilian regalia but from his first show as military dictator when he gave Dangote exclusive importation rights. With the sale of Nigeria’s refineries to Dangote and Otedola, Dangote owned as much as half of Nigeria’s assets, which included Nigeria’s cement plants, a telecoms licence and mining concessions. Bashani Aminu, a Yar’Adua confidant revealed as relayed in Wikileaks,“Disentangling Obasanjo” cables that Dangote once gave Obasanjo a 35 million dollar private jet as thanks for his fruitful partnership.
“Aminu expects more of the same soon — particularly an overturn of the Transcorp purchase of the Abuja Nicon Hilton. Aminu also noted Yar’adua’s commitment to fighting corruption and told Post he gave the greenlight to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate anyone.
He predicted Yar’adua will overturn the Transcorp purchase of the Abuja Nicon Hilton soon. These deals will be aimed at removing the ill-earned gains of Obasanjo and his close allies such as Aliko Dangote. (NOTE: Dangote and Obasanjo’s Transcorp were both part of the consortium that purchased the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries.) Aminu claimed Dangote gave Obasanjo a 35 million USD jet plane as a recent “gift.””
In July of 2007, barely two months into office, Yar’Adua summoned the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), to query the sale of Nigeria’s refineries to Dangote and co. And to the praise of Nigeria’s Labour Congress (NLC) Yar’Adua overturned these privatizations for being corrupt. Yar’Adua was next going after the Transcorp purchase of Abuja NICON Hilton. Though Obasanjo had put Yar’Adua into office against Yar’Adua’s wishes, he having objected to contesting on health grounds, Yar’Adua was determined to rescue Nigeria from the paws of the cabal, even his sponsors, Dangote, who financially sponsored his campaigns and Obasanjo who orchestrated his selection.
But this was not even the half of Yar’Adua’s war against corruption. There was the kerosene subsidy scam, through which the fourth republic stole and still steals 10 million dollars every day from the Nigerian masses. Yar’Adua who was battling with a chronic allergic disorder and had intermittent kidney failure, took this matter as no joke and not a matter to delay on. Within his short tenure, he went hard and firm against the subsidy fraud, sending four directive communications to immediately seize the fake subsidy that ‘was not reaching the beneficiaries – the Nigerian masses. Yar’Adua’s Principal Secretary, Mr. David Edevbie conveyed the directives.
The government spent/spends millions of dollars everyday subsidizing kerosene that was/is sold to the masses at unsubsidized prices in an elaborate, cheap scam. President Yar’Adua on June 15, 2009 gave a clear directive that NNPC should cease subsidy claims on kerosene. Kerosene fraudulent subsidy claims run up to the tune of N300 trillions per year. This was going to hurt Obsanjo and his cabal cronies.
Ambassador Maitama Sule revealed that Obasanjo was scared Yar’Adua would soon come after him and AC’s Garba Shehu said Atiku warned Yar’Adua that Obasanjo was plotting to remove him for his “treachery.”
Today the Buhari government is in bed with Obasanjo and Dangote who are dictating government policies and receiving billions in government subsidies and gifts. A recent Reuters report that covered just 3 months of released Central Bank Forex authorisations found that Dangote alone got $100 million in subsidized forex “gift” in that period. For a year of the dual CBN and blackmarket forex rates, Dangote is estimated to have benefitted a whopping half a billion dollars in forex gift from the Buhari administration. This free money from Nigeria’s coffers strengthened the Dangote brand over Nigeria while small businesses were given no concessions and folded up leading to at least 4.6 million Nigerians losing their jobs according to numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS.
Further, unlike the Obasanjo policy to ban import of goods which Dangote and other cabal have monopolies in, to promote the stocks of these cabal party sponsors, Yar’Adua is applauded to have allowed free importation, limiting local costs and increasing foreign investments in Nigeria. The current regime policies pushed by Obasanjo and Dangote have led to increased hardship while patronizing ad promoting Dangote who is alleged to invest money of many of Nigeria’s looters and other cabal.
According to US cables: “…elimination of import bans and lower tariffs on key products, bringing down the cost of doing business and reducing incentives for smuggling. The Mission has helped the Government of Nigeria solve regulatory and policy problems to allow increased electricity supplies, boost agricultural production, and assist in establishing reliable regional and international markets, including use of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).“
WeeklyTrust in their one year tribute, remember Yar’Adua thus:
Yar’adua deconstructed power. He was not intoxicated by it, a fact that even his critics had attested to. He operated within the realm of the law. He didn’t pay lip service to the rule of law and due process he preached. The courts regained the freedom they lost during his predecessor’s tenure. They handed down verdicts that cancelled political victories even though his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the victim.
Despite his ill-health, he pioneered laudable projects across the country. He initiated the dredging of River Niger, a project that was abandoned for decades. He started the reinvigoration of the abandoned rail system. He brought Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to head the Central Bank, thereby saving the country from a looming financial crisis.
He was bold enough to reverse President Olusegun Obasanjo’s decisions considered to be against the national interest. He saved the country’s three refineries from being auctioned to businessmen, who could not establish theirs. The nation’s comatose telecom giant, NITEL was not auctioned at least during his time.
He fought corruption in his own ways. He pioneered the policy of returning unspent funds to the national treasury at the end of the fiscal year even though the policy regrettably died with him. He prosecuted and jailed those believed to be above the law. His party chieftain, Chief Olabode George was convicted during Yar’adua’s adminitration. He did not create political enemies who he needed the anti-graft agencies, notably the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to humiliate as Obasanjo did.
After his assumption, he saved the jobs of over 160, 000 federal workers pencilled for sack under various pretences. Not only that, he released the N10 billion Lagos State local government councils’ funds which Obasanjo sat fat on despite court orders. Yar’adua went ahead and reversed the increment of Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 percent to five as well as the hike in fuel price from N75 to N65.
A very important aspect of the legacy of late Yar’Adua was his respect of the law. When he summoned then EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu to complete all cases against corrupt persons and spare no one, he is noted to have directed that Ribadu must respect and abide by the law in all cases and at all times. Compared to today, the current Buhari administration has disobeyed the courts in several cases and continues to do so, holding people in detention without charge and in denial of bail.
The Yar’Adua administration is noted to have strengthened the judicial system beyond compare, an essentiality for national growth and progress.
His Death And The Conclusion
There are many more instances of Yar’Adua’s stunning and committed actions towards strengthening the judiciary, developing the economy, securing the nation and total war against corruption. But Yar’Adua suddenly took seriously ill and suspected he had been poisoned. As relayed in Wikileaks cables, Professor Ukandi G. Damachi, an insider and confidant to Babangida and other Nigerian top elite, claimed that late Yar’Adua suspected he had been poisoned by his kitchen staff who he inherited from the former president, Obasanjo. This belief was grave enough according to Professor Ukandi G. Damachi, that Yar’Adua fired all the kitchen staff and replaced them.
Suspicion of poisoning has been rather common in Nigeria’s story, and Shehu Musa, Yar’Adua’s elder brother, was believed to have been killed by poisoning in jail as also it is believed late president elect MKO Abiola was.
Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai is also reported to have believed her husband was poisoned, and this was done to speed up his death. [Fresh Facts, May 2010: “They Killed Yar’Adua”].
When the Goodluck Jonathan administration took over, during a valedictory session in Yar’Adua’s honour, a motion to investigate the conditions of Yar’Adua’s death was raised by senators who alleged that the circumstances leading to the death of Yar’Adua were suspicious, but this motion to probe did not pass the floor and so this possibility was never investigated.
While the predecessor governments, especially the immediate past Jonathan government, certainly messed up Nigeria, we believe it is time the current administration gets over regurgitating the past to explain the predicament of these times. A several month delay in choosing his cabinet (which ended up consisting of nothing special and EFCC and ICPC implicated members with records of corruption in their states) and the delays in signing the budget cost Nigeria a year. This was essential time that should have been used to block and possibly prevent the recession currently bedeviling the nation. Ongoing gifts of billions of dollars in forex subsidies to the corrupt cabal are not helping either. Late Yar’Adua believed in the power of the people over the cabal. This is a legacy that needs to be emulated.
We wish the government success in its efforts to rescue Nigeria.
Dr. Peregrino Brimah; @EveryNigerian