…Your Excellencies, we the Yar’Adua family bore our period of trial with dignity. And we mourned the death of Tafida not with tears of rage or hatred but with prayers and celebration of Allah’s praise. The tears we shed were of pity for those of us who, when bestowed with power by Allah, chose to misuse it in an unjust and misguided manner. We also shed tears of compassion for those of us opportune to speak out against injustice but chose to be silent or even made haste to seek favour with the unjust ruler.
We often wondered at the collective conscience of a nation that stood transfixed and bewildered as the forces of injustice and destruction raged like a wild fire throughout the length and breadth of its borders. So with the trial of the Yar’Adua and other families during that period, was the greater trial of the nation. For the first time in our history, those things we had always taken for granted were no longer guaranteed – the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, the right to liberty, the right to life – in short, the most basic of our fundamental human rights.
Indeed, the nation was so firmly caged that it required nothing short of a national struggle to regain its freedom. But in the end, a national struggle was never necessary as Allah in His infinite mercy intervened to save the situation. With this divine intervention, the first phase of our trial was over. However, every major trial has its own significance in the historical development of a people. An examination of this period and the lessons to be discerned from our collective experience must, of course, be left to the student of history. But certainly, the one lesson that stands out clearly is that we must never again take for granted our fundamental rights.
We must learn to cherish and defend them. For it is only what we cherish and hold dear to our hearts that we defend with all our might. And indeed, the might of the people is far greater than that of the ruler. To be truly free, we must as a people learn to cherish the ideals of freedom, justice and the rule of law and resolve to defend them at the slightest abuse…
As one of the journalists invited by Chief Onyema Ugochukwu to accompany the then President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo, I was in Arewa House, Kaduna on 6th March 1999 when the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, (then the Katsina State governor-elect) spoke those moving words at the launch of the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation in honour of his elder brother who died in Abakaliki Prison on 8th December 1997.
The man, who would eight years later become president, spoke to a period in the life of our country when we felt like a conquered people–a bizarre period when the late General Sani Abacha was adopted by all the existing five political parties as the only man capable of ruling Nigeria; and many of those who still parade themselves as our leaders today, were holding rallies and prayer sessions to beg the late Head of State to accept being their joint (and sole) candidate for the presidency of our country. But it was also a period when our journalists, human rights activists and a few politicians with character decided to challenge Abacha and his military junta at great personal cost. Among those politicians who confronted Abacha with fatal consequences was the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
However, while this piece may have been provoked by the late Tafida Katsina for whom friends, political associates (led by his former boss, Obasanjo) and family members will gather tomorrow at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja to mark the 20th anniversary of his death, the story of his life and career is for another day. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight who he was, especially for the benefit of the younger generation for whom Nigerian history does not go beyond what they read on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.
A retired Major General who served as the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters (number two man) when General Obasanjo was Head of State between February 1977 and 1st October 1979, Yar’Adua started his political career in 1987 with the transition to civil rule during the General Ibrahim Babangida military administration. In the process, he built a formidable machine that had as members respected politicians and intellectuals from across the country. From Bola Tinubu to the late Chuba Okadigbo to Patrick Dele Cole to Atiku Abubakar to Babagana Kingibe to Anthony Anenih to Ango Abdullahi to Iyorchia Ayu and several others, the late Yar’Adua was a rallying point for galvanising Nigerians of different religious and ethnic persuasions in the bid to take power from the military.
It is, therefore, fitting that the Yar’Adua Foundation which, according to its Director General, Ms Jacqueline Farris, seeks “to inspire future generations with Yar’Adua’s life of service; his commitment to national unity, good governance and to building a just and democratic society for all Nigerians” has chosen the 20th anniversary of his death “to remember one of Nigeria’s foremost contemporary leaders who died in Abakiliki Prison on December 8, 1997. Shehu Yar’Adua not only fought during the civil war to unite the country but paid the supreme price to ensure that democracy is enthroned in Nigeria.”
I am well aware that the story of Yar’Adua’s political trajectory is fairly long and sometimes complicated. But one thing is never in doubt: The late Tafida was the most powerful politician in the Nigeria of his era. He was also one of the few politicians who refused to collaborate with the late Abacha to subvert all that we held dear as a nation and for that, he was arrested on trumped-up charges of planning a coup and sentenced to death. Although the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, Abacha made sure Yar’Adua did not get out alive.
Since all the speeches tomorrow will, quite naturally, be in his memory, it is also important, especially on a day such as this, to reflect on our nation 20 years after his death so we can see whether we let down our guard so easily the moment we exchanged the politicians in uniform for those in civilian dresses even when the character of the Nigerian state has remained largely the same. The pertinent question here is, if a functioning society is one where all authority is subject to, and constrained by, law how does one explain a situation in which a man would spend seven years in prison without any criminal record or case file for an alleged armed robbery yet never appeared before any court?
The answer is simple: While we may be rid of military rule, hopefully for good, the arbitrariness witnessed under that epoch is still with us. The consequences of this state of affairs are everywhere: In the thousands of desperate Nigerians being enslaved in Libya and the millions that are hopelessly roaming the streets back home; in the prevalence of corruption at all levels and sectors (including elevating some fugitive civil servants and private business concerns with powerful promoters above the law); in the absence of good governance (with governors citing payment of workers’ salaries and erection of statues as achievements); in the lack of transparency and accountability by religious clerics (some of who cannot distinguish between their private wealth and that of the institutions they lead); in the trigger-happy disposition of policemen (including those whose famous refrain is ‘I will kill you and nothing will happen’); in the endless spiral of blood-letting and revenge killings in Numan and Demsa Local Government Areas of Adamawa State between farmers and herders while those who ordinarily should restore peace (on both sides of the unfortunate divide) are either stoking the fire or looking the other way; in the manner in which a controversial Senator from the South-west has so captured the judiciary that the permutations of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are anchored on the fear of the judicial abracadabra he could conjure to instigate another crisis should he feel displeased with the outcome of Saturday’s national convention etc.
Meanwhile, against the background that Nigeria, according to a recent report by the Global Slavery Index, hosts the largest number of enslaved people in sub-Sahara Africa, I fail to understand the hypocrisy over the plights of our compatriots in Libya, as tragic and sad as it may be. A survey conducted by an anti-slavery organisation, ‘Walk Free Foundation’, reveals how almost a million Nigerians are practically living in bondage in their own country. It is, therefore, no surprise that many would choose to risk death either in the Sahara Dessert or on the Mediterranean Sea to staying home in deprivation and want.
As an aside, while President Barack Obama and his administration may have destroyed Libya with the killing of Muammar Ghaddafi, the former ‘Brother Leader’ was not a friend of black Africans as some writers would want us to believe. Since my book on irregular migration should be ready, hopefully by the middle of next year, the less written on the subject for now the better. But it is important to point out that the same Ghaddafi being venerated expelled all sub-Saharan Africans from his country in October 2000 only to begin to allow the same immigrants in some years later under a dubious ploy to use them as bargaining chips with Europe. “We don’t know what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans”, he told a gathering of Italian officials in Rome in September 2009 at a period he was demanding an annual $4 billion for keeping the sub-Saharan African immigrants in Libya, most of them in jail, otherwise he would inflict on Europe “an invasion of Barbarians”.
Now, before I get ahead of myself, let me return to the main theme of this intervention: the importance to nation-building of the rule of law and basic freedoms. Whatever may be our frustrations, Nigeria of today is different from that of December 1997 when Shehu Musa Yar’Adua died in Abacha’s gulag and several others were either in jail or on exile. But while the climate of fear may have disappeared, we cannot say that Nigerians are entirely free. That much is evident in the revelations from the #ENDSARS campaign on Twitter and the seeming hopelessness of majority of our young population. To address that challenge, we must return to a system that places a premium on defending the rights of citizens while promoting the good governance that guarantees them the opportunities for self-actualisation and decent living. In properly situating that, I recommend Chris Ngwodo’s latest piece on ‘The Great Unravelling’ of the Nigerian State, http://www.republic.com.ng/octobernovember-2017/nigeria-disintegrating-state/.
On a final note, while I commend Hajia Binta, my friend, Murtala as well as my sister, Jackie and others for sustaining the legacy of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, we must never forget the enduring words of his younger brother (and my former boss) now also of blessed memory that “To be truly free, we must as a people learn to cherish the ideals of freedom, justice and the rule of law and resolve to defend them at the slightest abuse.”
Shehu Malami @ 80
Ever since I drove with him from Sokoto (where I had gone for an editorial assignment) to Abuja in 2004, the Sarkin Sudan of Wurno, Ambassador Shehu Malami has not only kept in touch with me, he would call from time to time to ask after my family. It is a gesture I really appreciate. And when, in December 2011, I requested him to chair the public presentation of my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’, he did not even hesitate before accepting.
Incidentally, I became aware of his 80th birthday and the presentation of his book, ‘Shehu Malami: A Prince of the Caliphate’ only from newspaper reports yesterday but the mercurial Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha spoke for many of us at the occasion when he said: “Malami’s lifestyle has shown how easy it is to downplay our differences and live as one people”.
It is not every day that one agrees with Okorocha but on Tuesday in Abuja, he was spot on regarding the new Octogenarian. As Ambassador Malami therefore clocks 80, I wish him many more years of good health in the service of our country.
The Road to Happiness!
Is your husband finding it difficult to provide you the satisfaction you need in The Other Room? Is your wife a log of wood when it is time for Conjugal Action? Are you no longer finding fulfilment with your spouse just because the government is not fulfilling its obligations? Married or single, do you allow ‘small matters’ like non-payment of salaries rob you of happiness? Are you worried that Christmas is coming and because you have no money, the season could be bleak for you and your family?
Worry no more!
The days of ‘my husband cannot do’ have finally come to an end. Gone also are the days when your wife will develop headache (genuine or contrived) at her place of Primary Assignment. And the days of sadness over unimportant matters like lack of jobs, failing health in the absence of financial wherewithal for treatment, poverty etc. are over.
All you have to do is move to Owerri and the adjoining towns where His Excellency, Governor Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, HRM The Eze Statue 1 of Nigeria, has come up with an ingenious plan to make sure that all residents of Imo State are very happy in this season and forever more. That is why he has appointed his own beloved sister, The Right Honourable Ogechi Ololo (Nee Okorocha) as the Honourable Commissioner for Happiness and Couples Fulfilment.
Rush now to Imo State and collect your own happiness. And if you happen to be married, she will add everlasting fulfilment to your basket of goodies!
- You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on wolusegunadeniyi.com