Umaru Yar`dua: Great Expectation,Disapointing Outcome Part 2 - - by Nasir El- Rufai


Continued from: Umaru Yar`dua: Great Expectation, Disapointing Outcome Part 1- by Nasir El-Rufai

I met with Yar Adua the next day to intimate him of my plans - go on Umrah (Lesser Hajj), a two-week North Atlantic cruise, a short course at Harvard, complete my Law Degree and then back to Harvard for a longer fellowship. I also intimated Yar Adua of my plans to set up a policy advocacy think-tank, and invest in various ideas close to my heart. We agreed that I should meet with him when I am back from Umrah or the cruise.

The transition is complete. Now we can all get on with our lives, assured that we have elected a good man, who will build on the foundations we laid under Obasanjo, correct any human errors and move Nigeria on the path of its manifest destiny. I was relieved.

How wrong we all turned out to be!
12. Optimism, Expectations, and Early Steps
The Inaugural Speech that President Umaru Yar'Adua gave was inspiring and raised the nation's hope and expectations. He admitted the flaws in the Elections that brought him to power and promised to set up a panel to study what happened so Nigerian can reform its electoral system. He promised a generational shift that will herald new governance from those born after Independence. He outlined what he referred to as four areas of “national consensus” – deepening democracy and the rule of law, a private sector driven economy, zero tolerance for corruption, and restructuring government for efficiency.

Yar'Adua undertook to rebuild infrastructure and human capital, accelerate economic reforms and address the Niger Delta issue. He pledged to create more jobs, lower interest rates, reduce inflation and maintain the stability of the exchange rate. He promised to make rail development a reality and achieve dramatic improvements in electricity supply. He said he was committed to being a 'servant-leaders' who will be a listener and a doer – who will tackle poverty and protect lives and property of all citizens. This speech will be the benchmark for evaluating Yar'Adua's performance in office now, and forever, and we will rely on it in this essay.

The nation waited to see the first set of appointments that Yar'Adua will make – who would be his Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the National Security Advisor. He appointed Babagana Kingibe, then 62 years of age, an old-breed politician who was the vice-presidential running mate to late Chief M. K. O. Abiola in the 1993 Elections that were annulled by the Babangida military junta. He retained Obasanjo's appointees for the other two key positions . All the three appointees were older than Yar'Adua and the promise of generational shift began to lose credence.

President Yar'Adua immediately published the details of his assets – an unprecedented move in Nigerian history that got many citizens excited and hopeful that a new dawn of openness had arrived. The assets declared however included 29 cars which were donations to his campaign organization and Umaru Yar'Adua claimed them personally. These cars were not strictly speaking personal assets, and furthermore the assets of his children of age remained undeclared, but grateful Nigerians overlooked these minor violations since they now know that their president and his spouse were worth only about $8 million! A few weeks later, Yar'Adua's Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was compelled by media pressure to do declare his own assets. He was of more modest means than Yar'Adua.

President Yar'Adua invited all the political parties to nominate their representatives to join what he called an inclusive government of national unity. The ANPP overrode the objections of its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, and nominated persons that were subsequently appointed into cabinet, advisory and sub-cabinet positions. The PPA also agreed to join, but the AC and APGA declined. An undisclosed part of the deal required the parties to withdraw any petitions they have filed challenging Yar'Adua's election – something that neither Buhari (ANPP) nor Atiku Abubakar (AC) were willing to accept.

In July 2007, President Yar'Adua swore in a cabinet of 39 ministers that many commentators labeled “lackluster”. Each state of the Federation, except Lagos was represented, and most of them were selected from the lists forwarded by state governors and party leaders. Some states like Kano had two ministers – one representing the state PDP and another nominated by a key financier of the party. This was the second sign that the Yar'Adua administration was not going to depart from the distributive culture of appointments of previous administrations.

13. Promises vs. Accomplishments – Inaugural Speech v. Actual Deliverables

In what appears to be the most serious signal of retrogress, Yar'Adua's Attorney-General and Minister of Justice announced on August 6, 2007 that the ICPC and EFCC will now prosecute corruption and money laundering cases only with his express permission. The public reaction to this announcement was overwhelmingly against the administration. The next day, the administration backtracked and reversed itself. This became the beginning of a series of actions taken to weaken the war against corruption. A few months later, the BBC published a short story that described the state of the anti-corruption war, and things were to get much worse.

Some early policy reversals then followed:
(i) Increases in the prices of petroleum products were cancelled

(ii) The increase in the levels of value-added tax from 5% to 10% was cancelled, and

(iii) The hurried privatization of Kaduna and Port Harcourt Refineries were suspended.

This pattern of undoing virtually all the major decisions of the Obasanjo administration would continue with the suspension of funding of the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) , the contract for the construction of the Lagos-Kano double track standard gauge rail system , and the proposed redenomination of Naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of these reversals were quite costly as the Chinese are claiming $2.5bn cancellation costs and damages for the railways contract .

One of Yar'Adua's positive first steps was the inauguration on August 28, 2007 of the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) under the chairmanship of respected jurist and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed L. Uwais. At that and other occasions, Yar'Adua emphasized the need for financial autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), emphasized that only credible elections will guarantee peace, and promised that by December 2009, a reformed electoral system will be in place in the country. The BBC expressed pessimism at the pace of electoral reforms in April 2008, in a story that turned out to be prescient by March 2009.

The initial dawn of optimism waxed and intensified as it became clear that the Yar'Adua was not only NOT Obasanjo's puppet , but intent on demystifying his predecessor's eight years in office. Within a year, this view and expectation had waned as it became clear that nothing was getting done. Some critics of Yar'Adua gave him the nickname “Baba-go-slow” labeling the administration “All talk, no action”. This was reinforced by Yar'Adua's interview with the Financial Times of London to commemorate his first year in office. By then, little had been achieved by way of outcomes but Yar'Adua said his administration was still “planning”:

“The quality of your planning, the quality of your programmes, determines the nature of their achievements.”

(Note - See BBC News, May 28, 2008 “Nigeria's 'Baba-go-slow' one year on” at accessed on 03/25/09 and ALSO See Financial Times, June 23, 2008 – “Umaru Yar'Adua: In pursuit of respect for the rule of law” online at accessed on 03/29/09)

In the same interview, Yar'Adua promised the following:

(1) The Niger Delta Summit will be held within eight weeks (i.e. end of July 2008),

(2) Restructuring of the NNPC will be completed in 12 months (by May 2009),

(3) National emergency on power will be declared soon (his spokesman in a later interview announced that this will be in July 2008),

(4) Regulations for the concessioning of airports, seaports and trunk roads will be published, and

(5) The next 12 months (to May 2009) will be “very, very interesting” year for Nigerians.

In his most recent interview with The Guardian (published on April 29-30, 2009), none of the above promises had been fulfilled or projects been completed, and indeed, it is now clear that nothing has changed by May 2009.

(Note - In this most recent press interview, it is clear that the administration is still planning what to do, and he admitted that his most important legacy will be “rule of law” without indicating how Nigerians can measure when that has been achieved. See the Guardian April 29 and 30, 2009 – “The President's Interview” online at accessed April 30, 2009.)

It was in the reversal of the war against corruption that the Yar'Adua administration did the most damage to its credibility with Nigerians and the international community. The systematic destruction of the EFCC by the Yar'Adua administration began as soon as James Ibori – former governor of Delta State (and an recruiter, ally and financier of Yar'Adua), was charged for money laundering and corruption at the Federal High Court in December 2007 . Ibori and his two wives faced similar charges in UK courts. A quick succession of events led to the extra-legal removal, demotion, and dismissal of the EFCC's respected chairman – Nuhu Ribadu, and the deployment of all the investigating EFCC staff trained by the FBI and London Metropolitan Police. Two attempts were made on Ribadu's life and he is currently in exile as a visiting fellow at Oxford University, UK and Center for Global Development, USA. In a detailed interview with PBS , Ribadu recounted his experience, concluding that “when you fight corruption, it fights back”.

Since the firing of Ribadu, all the case files on the so-called 31 corrupt governors have disappeared. The cases already in court have been withdrawn, delayed or settled in what many consider dodgy plea-bargains. Other well-known cases of corruption that the administration has blatantly refused to prosecute include bribery payments by Willbros – an oil services company, corruption involving Siemens – a German engineering company (in which senior PDP leaders collected $10 million in bribes) and the well-known Halliburton/KBR case in which $180 million were pocketed by various officials.

Yar'Adua's wife is widely believed to be engaged in influence-peddling and all manner of interventions in public procurement and executive appointments – something documented so clearly and accurately by Nigerian bloggers based mostly in the USA. The successive weddings of Yar'Adua's daughters to state governors is being perceived as an attempt to recreate a new feudal dynasty in Nigeria.

Two of Yar'Adua's daughters have married first-term state governors. The third is expected to marry either a serving Minister or a wealthy, Lagos-based gasoline importer whose company is known as 'Rahmaniyya'.)

In the area of foreign relations, Yar'Adua's administration has been virtually off the African radar. He visited the USA early in his tenure – in December 2007 where he expressed the desire to partner with the US on Africom. Upon return to Nigeria, he denied making such a commitment. He has shown a preference for economic relations with Russians (Gazprom), Iranians (Nuclear Energy Power MoU) and Germans (Energy Partnership for non-prosecution of Siemens bribes) than most other advanced nations of the world. He addressed the South African Parliament in June, 2008 and avoided most international forums since then. There are unconfirmed speculations that the state of his health does not allow for long trans-continental flights, but the health of our President is the nation's most closely guarded secret.

Electoral reforms have not fared much better either. The Uwais ERC submitted its report and recommendations but the government's White Paper rejected many of the far reaching recommendations. The recommendations if accepted and implemented would have granted INEC latitude to be free of executive control and end electoral manipulation . The reluctance of Yar'Adua to remove the discredited head of INEC – Maurice Iwu has fuelled speculations that Yar'Adua no longer wants any such reforms. Respected commentators like Femi Falana, President of the African Bar Association gave a scathing assessment of the White Paper .

The sum total of all these is a climate of cynicism – a feeling that the administration is weak in policymaking and implementation , focused on destroying functioning institutions and using “rule of law” as a slogan to do nothing, and that the so-called rule of law is observed only in breach. The uncertainties and policy reversals scared portfolio investors who began to divest from the once-most-profitable stock market in Africa – the Nigerian capital market.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (See EIU Viewswire, March 18, 2009 – Nigeria: Finance Outlook online at Accessed on 03/31/2009) , the market fell from a high of 65,000 points in March 2008 to about 21,000 in March 2009 – a loss of two-thirds of market and the worst stock market collapse in the world. And this began well before the global financial crisis hit late in 2008. The macroeconomic stability that Nigeria had enjoyed for almost five years has been dissipated as the Naira lost nearly 30% of its value in 2009 alone . Reserves have declined as the authorities tried to defend the Naira in the currency markets.

It appears that there is still no clear economic strategy. This led one commentator to ask whether the administration cared about the economy. The Planning Minister Dr. Shamsudeen Usman announced in March 2009 that the documents articulating Seven Point Agenda, National Development Plan and Vision 20-2020 which the administration had been talking about since May 2007 will be released in October 2009. One wonders what has guided state policy since May 2007, and what would guide policy from now till October.

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