Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Nigerian President dies at 58.

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the first university-educated president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and one of the continent’s two biggest oil producers, has died. He was 58.

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan became acting president in February, three months after Yar’Adua left for Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment. Jonathan will be sworn in as president later today, 234next, a Lagos-based newspaper, said on its website.

The BBC reported in November 2009 that Yar’Adua had acute pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart. He died yesterday at the Aso Rock presidential villa in the capital, Abuja, Rufai Alkali, spokesman for the ruling People’s Democratic Party, said in a phone interview today.

Jonathan, 52, an ethnic Ijaw from the Niger River delta state of Bayelsa, holds a doctorate degree in zoology from Nigeria’s University of Port Harcourt. He took part in the 2007 presidential elections as Yar’Adua’s running mate.

Yar’Adua took office on May 29 of that year, amid charges of electoral fraud and facing an insurgency in the Niger River delta that had cut Nigeria’s oil production by as much as 28 percent between 2006 and 2009. While he succeeded in getting thousands of fighters to disarm and accept an amnesty in 2009, by the time of his death, the peace process had started to unravel.

Civilian Transfer
Yar’Adua’s inauguration marked the first transfer of power from one elected civilian leader to another in the West African nation of 140 million people and 300 ethnic groups that experienced six military coups and a civil war since it gained independence from the U.K. in 1960. “President Yar’Adua worked to promote peace and stability in Africa through his support of Nigerian peacekeeping efforts as well as his strong criticism of undemocratic actions in the region,” President Barack Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “He was committed to creating lasting peace and prosperity within Nigeria’s own borders.”

A devout Muslim, Yar’Adua had a modest style that contrasted sharply with the ostentatious rule of most of his predecessors. He won plaudits by being Nigeria’s first leader to publicly declare his assets and vowed to be “a servant-leader” who would root out endemic corruption.

Though Yar’Adua was personally chosen by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, he went on to reverse some of Obasanjo’s key policies, including the planned sale of state-owned oil refineries and steel plants critics alleged were bought by the former president’s associates. Nigeria vies with Angola to be Africa’s biggest oil producer.

Indecisive, Slow
To his critics, Yar’Adua was indecisive and slow in implementing his programs. Many of the problems he inherited and promised to tackle have survived him.

Known to have health issues even before he took office, Yar’Adua’s sickness increasingly hobbled him. In November 2009, he was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment for a heart condition. Because he didn’t formally transfer power to Jonathan, his absence created a power vacuum that paralyzed most government business.

The legislature appointed Jonathan as acting president on Feb. 9. Allies of Yar’Adua, including his wife Turai, fearing he was about to lose power, flew him back to Nigeria on Feb. 24. Yar’Adua never appeared in public again before his death and his return didn’t stop Jonathan from sacking the Cabinet and replacing it with his own nominees.

Fighting Corruption
Yar’Adua’s removal in December 2007 of Nuhu Ribadu as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission also raised questions about his commitment to fight corruption, seen by many as the biggest impediment to Nigeria’s development. Ribadu had waged a war against corrupt public officials and charged several state governors in court.

Yar’Adua was born in the northern city of Katsina in 1951. He was the son of a Cabinet minister in Nigeria’s first post- independence government and brother of former general Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, a prominent politician and businessman who died in jail under military rule in 1997.

He majored in chemistry at the Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria, also in northern Nigeria, obtaining a master’s degree in analytical chemistry in 1980. He later worked as a teacher before joining his brother’s banking business.

Yar’Adua began his political career as a member of the left-wing People’s Redemption Party, defying the conservative politics of his family. In the early 1990s he joined the Social Democratic Party along with his elder brother.

In 1999, Yar’Adua was elected governor of the state of Katsina on the platform of the ruling People’s Democratic Party. He was re-elected four years later and during his eight years as governor achieved a reputation of prudent management.

Yar’Adua had six children with his wife, Turai.