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What Pains Most About Yar’Adua’s Death


Once asked to comment on his well-advertised health challenges, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua quipped that, as a human being, he was bound to be sick at one time or the other and that if he fell sick, as he had often fallen, he could die at a relatively young age as a result of that sickness or survive the sickness and live to be 90 plus. It was a very clear, unpretentious statement on human mortality, the fate of both Jews and Gentiles, of cripples and royalty. Man may have conquered the earth and established his dominion over all things bright and beautiful that God created, but there is as yet one thing that has defied man’s incredible ingenuity: he just can’t unravel the mystery behind his own mortality. That reality was never lost on President Yar’Adua. Yes, he was Nigeria’s First Citizen, but he was also human, an African for that matter, who could die of malaria fever or typhoid fever or heart problem, indeed of any of the prevalent, killer diseases in this benighted part of the world, irrespective of his enviable status in life.

From his disposition, it was obvious that life was a simple, uncomplicated undertaking in the world of Umaru Yar’Adua. He lived and breathed simplicity; he looked and cherished it. On his way to the Presidency, he blazed a trail in publicly declaring his assets and what we saw wasn’t exactly a pile of golden material possessions by a man who was governor of a state in Nigeria for all of eight years! He dressed simply: when he was presented to The Guardian board of editors as PDP presidential candidate for the 2007 election, he came dressed in simple babaringa and leather slip-on sandals. He didn’t change much from such simple, uncluttered dress code throughout his problematic, short-lived presidency.

I am prepared to wager, therefore, that the Yar’Adua who looked and lived simply, who appeared to have a very practical, realistic attitude to the challenge of living and dying would never have been party to the ruinous controversies that dogged his health problems and eventual death. Yar’Adua, I believe, would never have been so ungrateful to a nation that gave him so much, or even so unmindful of the harmful effect of such posturing on his family name, as to wish, even remotely, that while he ailed, every other thing should come to a standstill ostensibly because he was loathe to relinquish power to his second-in-command to act in his behalf while he recuperated from his illness.

For me, the pain of Yar’Adua’s death, therefore, lies in the fact that a good man, at a time when he needed genuine love, care and empathy, was practically imprisoned by his own family and close associates, those whose very love, care and empathy he craved and deserved but who instead used him as a pawn in the chessboard of mean politics of self-aggrandizement. How wicked could some people be! All the shameless lies, all the subterfuges employed to hoodwink the rest of us into believing that the late President would soon resume at his table as President were all wicked antics by men and women who cared more about the power and allure of the state house than the pain a sick, troubled dying man, their husband, father, brother and friend was going through and the deleterious effects of such antics on the famous, respected Yar’Adua family name. There couldn’t be a better example of a greedy, despicable lot.

But all that is over now. There will be no more planted stories in newspapers about how the late President had begun to eat pap; how he had entered his study and begun to chalk up new information on contemporary politics and leadership preparatory to coming back to power, to upstage his former deputy who had dared to accede to the resolution of the National Assembly to act as President. He would no longer stand up spritely from his bed, where he lay dying, to embrace his mother! There will be none of this obviously treasonable mischief any more. So long the cabal!

As the scriptures say, all is vanity. A few months, the cabal and their Amazon leader were everything: they signed the supplementary national budget on behalf the late President and told us he did; they frustrated every effort to give life to a vital provision of the Nigerian Constitution, that of getting the Vice President to act as President in the absence of the President on medical grounds; they would not let members of delegations upon delegations who had gone to Saudi Arabia to see the ailing President in his hospital bed; they smuggled the late leader back to the country in the wee hours of the night as they smuggled him out in the first place and would not let even his Deputy see him; indeed, it was as if they were bent on fomenting a constitutional crisis in the country and all that for what? Now the drama has reached denouement: we’ll never rejoice at any man’s death because every death, as they say diminishes us, but did these people ever think about that possibility and their fate thereafter?

As we mourn the sad loss of a dovish president who brought peace to the volatile Nigeria, the question that must continue to dominate discussions for a long time to come is: how could Turai Yar’Adua have allowed her husband to be treated so casually, even contemptuously, by a cabal apparently interested only in gaining power and influence through him? Again, were power, influence and money all that her husband meant to her?

In the late President’s death, there is, indeed a lesson for all of us-if we were to be interested in learning any lesson. And that is that so much in life is ephemeral and the best we can do is not to hanker after that which demeans our humanity but to do that which can endure till tomorrow, so that another generation which happens upon it can say ‘yes, noble men passed through here.’

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