Hajiya Turai Yar’adua; the Rise and Downfall of her imperial Majesty

Her imperial majesty, Turai Yar’adua

Her imperial majesty, Turai Yar'aduaHow does it feel to be President Umaru Yar’Adua’s wife now? How does it feel to be at the centre of all manner of scurrilous insinuations and innuendoes? How does it feel to see presidential power sleep from your husband not on account of end of tenure but because of illness and nobody seems to be showing sympathy?

Read the intriguing detail of how the Yar’Adua administration has worked since inception, the controversy that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan meets Turai Yar’Adua, the first lady, to get directives before performing his duties as acting president.


If Turai Yar’Adua had watched the Eddy Murphy film ‘Trading Place’ some years ago, could she ever have imagined herself as one of the characters some day? SAMSON EZEA of the Guardian Newspapers wrote on the Turai Yar’Adua persona, the allure of power and the jostle for Jonathan’s successor, as it becomes more and more obvious as the days go by that her husband, President Yar’Adua is unlikely to resume his seat soon.

But first, read the latest on Turai Yar’adua from the Associated Press and then her history, background and biography and downfall below:

While Nigeria’s ailing president remains unseen after being brought back into the country under the cover of darkness, his assertive wife Turai Yar’Adua has stepped into the spotlight in the oil-rich nation.

Analysts warn a new political struggle could envelop Africa’s most populous country that for weeks had no clear leader but now has a stricken president, an acting president who was formally named in a move not contemplated in the constitution and an increasingly powerful first lady.

Turai — not her husband Umaru Yar’Adua — planned to meet privately with Acting President Goodluck Jonathan shortly after the president’s return to Nigeria. Details on the planned encounter were not released. She controlled access to her husband while he was hospitalized for three months in Saudi Arabia, allowing only very close family members and a few aides to see him. Many Nigerians believe she also organized a military convoy that escorted Yar’Adua from Abuja’s international airport when he returned home unannounced on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a headline in The Daily Sun newspaper proclaimed “Turai takes over.”

“She is indeed the person I think is calling the shots,” said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria who now is a fellow with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. “The basis of her ability to do it is because she controls access to the president.”

That control has allowed Turai to apparently bring Yar’Adua back into the country, putting new pressure on Jonathan. The vice president, who became acting president through an extraconstitutional vote of the National Assembly, has taken few public actions since taking power. Now with Yar’Adua back in the picture, it may mean Jonathan will do even less to avoid confrontation with the president and Turai.

Yar’Adua has not been seen in public since he suddenly left Nigeria on Nov. 23 for Saudi Arabia for treatment of what his chief physician described as acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. The president also has kidney ailments. There was no official information on his whereabouts Thursday.

Presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi did not return a call for comment Thursday about Mrs. Yar’Adua’s role. In a newspaper interview published Dec. 16, he described her as “a warm, caring, not-in-your-face woman who wants her husband to succeed and who is eager to ensure stability on the home front and leverage her moral power for the greater good of the society.”

But Nigerian media say she also has political savvy.

An editorial Thursday in the newspaper NEXT said Mrs. Yar’Adua must have lined up allies to “have pulled off this feat of sweeping into the country in the pre-dawn hours and rudely shoving aside the acting president, in addition to effectively overruling the National Assembly.

“All would have been impossible were Mrs. Yar’Adua not already receiving support from powerful people in the security services and the bureaucracy,” the newspaper said.

Yar’Adua left the country without formally putting Jonathan in power as acting president, forcing lawmakers to vote two weeks ago to put in him charge. However, the federal ministries remained stacked with Yar’Adua appointees and many in the military’s ranks come from the Muslim north, as Yar’Adua does. Though military officials promised to stay out of politics, they did respond to a request from Yar’Adua’s camp to send troops to attend his homecoming.

Nigerians have already known Mrs. Yar’Adua as assertive. After becoming first lady in 2007, she led an effort to bring a cancer treatment center to Abuja, the capital. Her image still graces billboards advertising the center, her bearing regal and serious. Nigerian television and newspapers also routinely covered her actions, carrying images of her in traditional dress, her head covered by finely woven cloth in line with her Muslim beliefs.

Now, she may prove to be the power behind presidency.

“She’s always been protective of the president,” said Nnamdi Obasi, a Nigerian analyst with the International Crisis Group. “I think people are surprised she’s gone this far.” 

 The Downfall of Her imperial majesty, Turai Yar’adua

TO say that these are not the best of times for Nigeria’s First lady Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, is to belabour the obvious. Before now, she practically had the world at her feet as she commanded respect not only as an influential First Lady, but also as a powerbroker. 

Hitherto, Mrs. Yar’Adua as wife former Governor Yar’Adua was a First Lady that was seen but hardly heard. But, of course, she became more visible to Nigerians when her husband, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua emerged President of the country in 2007. 

As the President’s wife while he was Katsina State Governor for eight years, Turai was not well known among the governors’ wives. Not because she couldn’t hold her own among them but largely because, according to insiders, Mrs. Yar’Adua “is somewhat shy,” an aspects of her, they say, she works hard to cover up in public. 

But, at home and in her husband’s government, the First Lady, close associates say, is quite influential. Indeed, as her husband’s soul-mate, Turai Yar’Adua is said to make a lot of input into a number of important state matters, especially in the wake of her husband’s ill health which made the president not strong enough to exert himself as he necessarily should. Consequently, a lot fell on Mrs. Yar’Adua to do if not for anything else at least to secure her husband’s job. Thus, she was the head of Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet in Katsina, a powerful position from which she dispensed favours and had a strong say in who was what in her husband’s state administration. 

Sources who spoke to The Guardian say it was on the basis of this antecedent that some of the commissioners who served in her husband’s government in Katsina were appointed into the Federal Executive Council (FEC) or, as it is now called, Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF), on Turai’s request, as ministers and special assistants to form another kitchen cabinet in Abuja, to help in the running of government against the backdrop of President Yar’Adua’s fragile health situation. 

Prominent among such influential people are the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Abba Ruma, Economic Adviser to the President, Chief Yakubu Tanimu and a member of the House of Representatives and the president’s childhood friend, Shehu Baba Inuwa. Others who are not in government but were part of them are Alhaji Dahiru Mangal, retired Inspector general of Police, Alhaji MD Yusuf and others. Together, these people allegedly formed a strong clique, which pundits have tagged ‘the Katsina mafia’ to run the government of the country with Turai as the leader. 

To give the clique a national outlook, some people from the South and other part of the North were co-opted into it especially those who assisted in financing her husband’s presidential campaign. 

In the villa, perhaps until only a week or two ago, she was seen as the greatest powerbroker that was allegedly interested in virtually every issue regarding governance. 

When asked to evaluate the First Lady, Mrs. Yar’Adua, one former top PDP official paused to weigh his words, then said: “She is far more than what Andy Uba was to Obasanjo. She is Uba, Maryam Babangida and Miriam Abacha thrown together.” That is to say, she is enormously powerful and influential, indeed, one who, according to insiders, could cause the ouster of an official the First Lady does not like. 

It was disclosed that she influenced the appointment of the former Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Alhaji Abubakar Lawal Yar’Adua and her blood brother, Bashir Abdullahi as the Managing Director of Port Harcourt Refinery Company (PHRC). It is believed that it was after Abubakar fell out of favour that the current managing director Alhaji Mohammed Barkindo was thrown up. 

That was also what happened in the case of the new comptroller general of Customs whom she influenced his appointment through rapid promotion to pacify a member of the cabal, Ibrahim Mangal. She is also believed to have tried to influence the appointment of the Magajin Gari by the newly installed Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, ostensibly because she was allegedly interested in imposing her son-in-law, 39-year old Badamasi Kabir Usman, on the traditional post. 

She is also believed to have single-handedly picked Ibrahim Shema as her husband’s successor as governor of Katsina in 2007 but fell out with him following the political crisis between the governor and the ‘Katsina mafia’ in the villa. 

A diplomatic source, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed to The Guardian that the First Lady also influences diplomatic business. “Not only is she courted by businessmen, many diplomats also prefer to talk to her rather than to meet her husband,” the source said. “Turai is known as the go-to-person for all Aso Rock-based requests that may be delayed by her husband’s sluggish bureaucracy. 

Corporate executives, including bankers with one favor or another to ask, have found out that things become quicker once they have paid courtesy visits to Turai Yar’Adua”. 

She is said to be demanding absolute loyalty from government officials outside of and beyond their loyalty to her husband. It is alleged that the former Attorney General now minister of Special Duties Michael Aondoakaa and the former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro reported primarily to her before they left office. 

It is known in several quarters that because of President Yar’Adua’s failing health, his wife Turai holds sway on his behalf on many issues. For instance, during the last cabinet reshuffle, it was revealed that ministers who were desperate to retain their portfolios lobbied the First Lady. 

She is believed to have been very influential in the appointment of the former Director-General of the National Action Committee on AIDS, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, as the Minister of Health. Before the time, Osotimehin was said to be contending for the post of Director General of National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC).

Turai whose pet project is cancer eradication was said to have developed interest in Osotimehin’s appointment to the health ministry because of the way he handled NACA anti-HIV/AIDS campaigns held in the six geo-political zones of the country. 

It was also disclosed that she was responsible for the deployment of a long-serving minister, Dr. Hassan Lawal to the Ministry of Works and Housing from his previous Labour portfolio. Lawal, a Minister of Labour in the last administration, combined his portfolio with the supervision of the Ministry of Health, when Prof. Adenike Grange and her deputy, Mr. Gabriel Aduku were made to resign on allegation of financial misappropriation. 

The First Lady who married Umaru Yar’Adua in 1975, and they have five daughters and two sons is also perceived to have influenced the President in several decisions although the President denied same when asked during a media parley whether his wife influences him.


The President’s denial that his wife influences him has not however changed the common opinion about her. Before now in the Villa, the First Lady is perceived to be fully in charge of many of the decisions being taken. She is perceived to be the President’s closest adviser and in the present era of his absence, she is said to be fully in charge. 

Sources allege that many governors use their wives to court Turai’s friendship by advising them to initiate some projects that would demand inviting the First Lady to their states. 

Apart from President Yar’Adua denying the allegation of his wife’s influence, her spokesman, Mr. Lawan Bakori also dismissed them as mere rumours, which have never been substantiated.

Turai Yar’Adua was born in the Katsina Metropolis in July 1957, and she spent her formative years at the Government Girls Secondary School, Kankiya. 

Later on, she enrolled at the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, where she reportedly emerged as the best student in 1980. 

She obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Education) in Language from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1983. She had previously worked as a teacher before she became Katsina State First Lady when Yar’Adua was elected governor in 1999. 

She came into national reckoning in 2007 when her husband was elected president of the federal republic of Nigeria. Her antecedents affirm that she is committed to family life, love, charity and a strong faith in the Almighty God. She was later made the National Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in Nigeria.

Turbulent Times For The First Lady 

AS time often runs off, First Lady, Mrs Turai Yar’Adua is now left in the lurch as her husband, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua remains hospitalized in Saudi Arabia hospital without anybody including his doctors being specific on when he will be discharged to assume duty once again as Nigeria’s President. 

Before now, the deteriorating health condition of President Yar’Adua was an open secret to many Nigerians. It was disclosed that when he was governor of Katsina, he was once hospitalized for six months and his wife Turai and some members of his kitchen cabinet were running the government until he recovered and assumed office again. At the peak of his presidential campaign, Yar’Adua once fell ill and was rushed to Germany. Then he was rumoured to have died but he later recovered and joined his campaign train again. 

Even as the jostle for vice president slot became intense in the belief that Yar’Adua may not come before the party primaries for 2011 election, the North is already positioning candidates for the slot. Prominent among names being touted by different groups are Gen. Theophilus Danjuma; Mallam Nuhu Ribadu; Mallam Nasir El-Rufai; and Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. 

Turai’s group is allegedly pushing for one of her in-laws, Isa Yuguda and Adamu Aliero. But the odds against them might be their ties to Turai, which major stakeholders in the North may want to do away with. It is really a sad moment for a woman who was once the power centre in government.

With Materials from the Guardian Newspapers and AP