President Umaru Yar’adua and his friends

Nigeria; The Yar’adua interview Part 2  

Nigerians were treated to a highly illuminating interview last week. President Yar’adua gave us an insight into the mindset of this quiet man that has taken it upon himself – either by accident or by design to be our leader.

For someone who has remained largely hidden from view the past two years, Yar’Adua first major interview should provide a window through which Nigerians would peep into the mind and heart of their taciturn president. In the Guardians highly publicised interview, Yar’adua revealed a troubling arrogant, contemptuous dismissal of the feelings and view of those whose lot it is to bear his rulership.   

You could hardly find two individuals very dissimilar to each other as ex President Olusegun Obasanjo, and President Umaru Musa Yar’adua: One a garrulous go getter, the other reticent, reserved and withdrawn. Yet in this interview, Yar’adua revealed that he has lots in common with Obasanjo.

Obasanjo’s declaration that he was not elected in 1999 to construct roads or electric projects is very telling, not because Olusegun Obasanjo really believed that developing Nigerians dilapidated infrastructure is not part of his remit as president, but he in so many words captured the arrogance and the disheartening failure to understand the main objective and process of governance thereby telling us so clearly why he failed as a leader.


Now, let us look at two questions from the Guardian and Umaru Yar’adua’s answer to them:


Guardian: Nigerians really want to hear from you and we hope that you will use this medium to speak frankly and candidly. In a few weeks, you will be two years in office and we must be frank with ourselves that the impression out there is still one of things yet to pick up and a pace still far behind what is expected… what exactly is going on? Where is Nigeria going? What are you out to achieve and what exactly should Nigerians expect?


Yar’adua: Well, you see, there is no correlation between the pace and perception; the perception of the pace of our progress is sometimes different from the reality.


Umaru Yar’Adua’s lack of appreciation of the relationship between perception and reality in governance led directly to his disastrous answer to the next question:


Guardian: does it bother you that Nigerians, home and abroad, have this impression that your government is soft on corruption, particularly because of what the two gentlemen who played prominent roles in the anti-corruption campaign under the previous administration, Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El-Rufai, are going through. Added to that is the belief that, people who are perceived to be corrupt, like some former governors and others, are known to be close to your government. What is going on?

Yar’adua: It is not about them being close to my government. Not my government. It is between me and them, the ex-governors. You see, these former governors are my colleagues. We had worked together for eight years. Because I am the President, I cannot just jettison people I know…, what people usually perceive of the leadership does not determine the way I do things, both officially and personally.


Later in the interview Yar’Adua declared:  “if that is what people want to use to judge whether this government is fighting corruption or not (i.e. his relationship with corrupt former governors and his treatment of Ribadu and El Rufai), then that it is unfortunate” (i.e. he doesn’t care!).


Obviously Yar’adua is happily ignorant of the fact that in politics, his associates might disqualify him from holding any high office; critics like to call it, ‘guilty by association’.


While in law, your presence at a party with a friend who drew out a dagger and stabbed another reveller to death does not make you a murderer, in politics, such association might be devastating- ask Barrack Obama.


Obama’s association with Tony Rezko – who donated money to his senatorial campaign and was later convicted for corruption, and Pastor Jeremiah Wright – whom he actually disagree with and who he actually denounced, nearly destroyed his 2008 presidential campaign.

 Imagine the outcome if Obama would invite Tony Rezko to the white house today.

Would Obama claim as did Yar’adua: “Because I am the President, I cannot just jettison people I know”?


In the United States, there was the so-called Keating Five scandal that nearly destroyed the Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain political career. McCain says his involvement in the scandal “will probably be on my tombstone.” But what exactly did McCain do?


According to the Slate magazine, in early 1987, at the beginning of his first Senate term, McCain attended two meetings with federal banking regulators to discuss an investigation into Lincoln Savings and Loan, an Irvine, California thrift owned by Arizona developer Charles Keating.


Federal auditors were investigating Keating’s banking practices, and Keating, fearful that the government would seize his S&L, sought intervention from a number of U.S. senators including McCain and four other senators.


Regulators seized Lincoln Savings and Loan two years later. The Lincoln bailout cost taxpayers $2.6 billion, making it the biggest of the S&L scandals. In addition, 17,000 Lincoln investors lost $190 million.

 McCain defended his attendance at the meetings by saying Keating was a constituent and that Keating’s development company, American Continental Corporation, was a major Arizona employer.


But according to Slate; Keating was more than a constituent to McCain-he was a long-time friend and associate. Keating raised money for McCain’s two congressional campaigns in 1982 and 1984, and for McCain’s 1986 Senate bid. 

 In November 1990, the Senate Ethics Committee launched an investigation into the meetings between the senators now known as Keating 5 and the regulators. Keating himself was convicted in January 1993 of 73 counts of wire and bankruptcy fraud.


In February 1991, the Senate Ethics Committee cleared McCain of impropriety but criticized him for poor judgment. The Ethics Committee ruled that the involvement of McCain and Glen in the scheme was minimal, and he was cleared of all charges against him.


McCain was guilty of nothing more than “poor judgment,” the committee said, and declared his actions were neither “improper nor attended with gross negligence.” McCain considered the committee’s judgment to be “full exoneration,” and he contributed $112,000 (the amount raised for him by Keating) to the U.S. Treasury.


Yet most importantly, what did McCain say of his Keating Five experience: “The appearance of it was wrong. It’s a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do.”


Note that at the second meeting, McCain told the regulators, “I wouldn’t want any special favors for them,” and “I don’t want any part of our conversation to be improper.” Yet regardless of the level of his involvement, those senators were greatly affected by it.


McCain would write in 2002 that attending the two April 1987 meetings was “the worst mistake of my life”. Senator Glenn also described the Senate Ethics Committee investigation as the low point of his life.

Just like I wrote on another forum; someone should tell Yar’adua that he is no longer just the husband of Turai, nor merely the governor of Katsina State, but by accident or design, he is the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; the embodiment of our collective ideals and aspirations and the projection of our national life.

Therefore, where he goes, whom he talks to, whom he chooses as his friends matters to you, it matters to me, it matters to the generality of Nigerians.

Now who are these Yar’Adua’s friends, these ex-governors that must be invited to Aso Rock- the president’s residence, transported with presidential Planes, and consulted on matters of state policy? 

Orji Uzor Kalu- he is hounded by allegations of corruption and the plundering of public money. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) indicted him for diverting Abia State fund totalling N5 billion, in 36 instalments into the account of his Slok Nigeria Limited during his tenure as the governor of Abia State.


He is still undergoing trials for his crimes. And yet, when he was granted judicial bail, the first thing he did was to drive to Aso Villa to confer with President Yar’Adua. Kalu’s party the PPA, is currently participating in Yar’Adua’s government.


James Ibori- he is being tried for alleged money laundering. Ibori and four others were arraigned on a 103-count charge of money laundering and abuse of office.

The EFCC, in one of the charges, alleged that Ibori on 26 April, 2007 attempted to bribe the EFCC investigators with a cash payment of N1.8 billion ($15m) in order to influence their investigation. The offence is contrary to and punishable under section 15(2) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.  

The EFCC also alleged that Ibori on 31 December, 2004, collaborated with Lipopo Nigeria Limited to conceal the genuine origin of the sum of N280 million to buy Afribank shares in the names of fictitious persons. 

Ibori is also currently on the run from the London Metropolitan Police. He is charged in a London court for Money laundering.


And yet the rumour is that he contributed N10 billion towards Yar’Adua’s campaign; is the de facto prime minister in Yar’Adua’s government and that he in fact nominated Yar’Adua’s attorney general and the current chairman of the EFCC.


Yar’Adua’s association with James Ibori and other corrupt governors has effectively tarred his presidency with the brush of corruption. His appointment of sleazy Michael Aondoakaa as his attorney General would never convince Nigerians and the international community that he is serious about fighting corruption.

Just like McCain later realised, someone should tell Yar’adua that the appearance of his association with the corrupt former governors was wrong. It’s a wrong appearance when a group of former governors, who have been indicted for corruption but was known to have contributed funds towards Yar’Adua’s electioneering campaign to appear in a meeting with the current president, because it, conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do. 

It is this arrogant, contemptuous dismissal of the feelings and view of the masses that is at the root of the Ekiti debacle today. The feeling that what your subjects thinks does not matter, ‘After all, you would always have your way, you would always win another election, whether they like it or not; whether they like you or not and whether they voted for you or not’.