An ill-fated presidency from start to finish

There was nothing on earth they did not do to prop him up in defiance of the relentless degeneration of his vital, internal organs. In the end, President Umaru Yar’Adua died, rendering all medical efforts, political machinations, power dynamics and propaganda dished out periodically on his recovery and imminent return to office completely useless and ridiculous.

If his aim and that of his aides and family was for him to die in office as president, this was achieved, if not admirably, at least efficiently. The effort was herculean and extravagant, but demeaning. Now, at least, he will be buried as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But if their aim was to have him die with dignity, with the aplomb that the office of president deserves and demands and should command, all their efforts fought viciously against the aim. 

Nothing influenced the ill-fated course the Yar’Adua presidency would take as much as the manner of his emergence, shrouded as it were in the rustic anonymity of his political flowering as governor of Katsina State, the unconscionable force brought upon the political process in his favour by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006-2007, his on-and-off illness during and after the presidential campaigns and the overwhelming lack of his presence. Either by force of his physical weakness or by the sheer weight of the intrigues that surrounded him he became a puppet right from the beginning. And puppet he stayed throughout. 

The predecessor who installed him apparently wanted him that way, perhaps with some calculations that along the way he would expire naturally. That he cushioned the manifestly sick president with Dr Goodluck Jonathan and has since sought to influence the acting president is thought to lend some credence to the conspiracy theory. 

Yar’Adua was also puppet to his family, particularly his wife, Turai; the cabal that surrounded him, whom he hand-picked; and a network of officials both in civil and military life. Everyone saw an opportunity to control, influence or benefit from the ailing and obviously distracted president. 

The control freaks took on such grandiose life that they packaged the president back and forth various hospitals in the most undignified manner. The humiliating movements were not dictated by medical exigencies alone; they reflected more the private power yearnings of his aides and family. This accounted for the near complete isolation in which the president was held, the orchestrated release of news to frustrate a succession plan, and the excessive attention paid not to the affairs of state but the private preoccupation of the cabal. 

Now, all the rigmarole has been brought to a crushing end, and the nation has a responsibility to learn from the disaster that managing a president’s illness in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society became. Part of the questions that must be asked henceforth will be: when does a president cease to be the property of his family and become that of the state? But if the death of Yar’Adua is expected to bring to an end the fractious beginning of his presidency, the optimism may be immediately realised. 

The Jonathan presidency, which will be inaugurated today, will have the arduous task of dismantling the edifices and poisoned relationships erected by Yar’Adua’s family and cabal. Success in this will be determined by how much Jonathan has learnt from the demise of Yar’Adua’s ill-fated presidency and his own character and judgement.

By Kunle Fagbemi