Revealed: Yar'Adua's Aide used clothes, make ups to hide his sickness

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Late Yar'Adua
Nigeria – Late Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua had a kidney transplant in 2002 while still a state governor in Africa's most populous nation, but avoided having another one while he was president over fears it would cause unrest, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The cables suggest Nigeria's top power brokers in its ruling People's Democratic Party knew about Yar'Adua's condition, but still propped him up to become the winning presidential candidate in 2007. Aides to the president stuffed his clothes to hide his weight loss and used makeup to hide his pallor, the cables claim, but his illness ultimately led to a long absence from the oil-rich nation that fueled public discontent.

Yar'Adua died in May 2010, propelling Vice President Goodluck Jonathan into the presidency. Jonathan recently became the ruling party's presidential candidate for the coming April election, upsetting a balance of power between the nation's Christian south and Muslim north.

"What is clear is that the president's health is a matter of growing concern, particularly on the minds of the northern Nigerian elite," a diplomatic cable from February 2009 reads. "We have noted a considerable uptick in what appears to be behind-the-scenes machinations and back-room dealing."

WikiLeaks publicly released the cables late Saturday night. A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, has said officials would have no comment on anything released by the website.

A diplomatic cable from June 2008 claims Yar'Adua first began experiencing renal failure in 1999, just as he became governor of the northern state of Katsina. The cable says German company Julius Berger, one of the dominant road construction firms in Nigeria, set up a dialysis clinic in Yar'Adua's home. The firm later would fly German experts in and out of Nigeria to privately treat Yar'Adua, the cables claim.

The cables claim Yar'Adua received the transplant in 2002 from donor Sayyadi Abba Ruma, who would serve as minister of agriculture and water resources when Yar'Adua came into power. Ruma could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.

The discolorations long noticed on Yar'Adua's face, fueling rumors about his ill health, came from the steroids doctors gave him to help his body accept the transplant, according to the cables.

Yar'Adua became president in 2007 through an election international observers described as rigged. His health continued to fail.

At a December 2008 event, Yar'Adua "appeared to weigh no more than 140 pounds, his skin was very taunt, his handshake was weak, voice was fainter than on previous meetings, his eyes were deep set with dark circles underneath, and his teeth were also very badly tarred," the February 2009 cable reads.

Doctors apparently told Yar'Adua he needed a second transplant and Ruma's brother was sent to Germany to be checked as a possible donor, according to the cable. However, a planned trip got put on hold over political calculations.

"Yar'Adua did not take this planned trip given public reaction to rumors about travel and concerns about his ability to govern," the February cable reads. "We have no information on whether this trip may be rescheduled."

The president's health continued to worsen. Yar'Adua left Nigeria on Nov. 23, 2009, to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. His physician later told journalists Yar'Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. However, Yar'Adua's stay in Saudi Arabia drifted from days to weeks to months, stalling government activity in a nation vital to U.S. oil supplies.

Yar'Adua returned to Nigeria in late February 2010, but never appeared publicly. He died May 5.

Yar'Adua's death still reverberates through the country's political system. An unwritten power-sharing agreement in the ruling party calls for the nation's presidency to shift between the north and the south. Yar'Adua died before finishing the first of what politicians had assumed would be two, four-year terms.

Jonathan now faces minor party candidates from across the north in the April 9 presidential election. However, only the ruling People's Democratic Party has the muscle and money necessary to manipulate Nigeria's unruly electoral system.

DE RUEHUJA #1016/01 1541511
P 021511Z JUN 08
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001016
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2033

SUBJECT: (S/NF) NIGERIA: xxxxxxxxxxxx
Ref: a. ABUJA 320
b. ABUJA 799
c. ABUJA 972
Classified By: A/Pol/C Heather Merritt, reasons 1.4 (b, c & d).

¶ 1. (S//NF) SUMMARY: xxxxxxxxxxxx contended that Yar'Adua began experiencing symptoms of acute renal failure in late 1999, and traveled at that time to Mainz, Germany, to consult with kidney specialists. xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed, that in 1999, German doctors told Yar'Adua to undergo dialysis treatment, and that a dialysis unit was subsequently installed in his private Katsina residence in 2000. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx when Yar'Adua's condition worsened in 2002, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to receive a kidney transplant. To ensure his body would accept the transplant, Yar'Adua took steroids and other medications which in due course reportedly caused the discoloration that we see today on the President's face. Moreover, xxxxxxxxxxxx averred that Yar'Adua's poor health reduced his capacity to govern and, correspondingly, his political influence in the North. xxxxxxxxxxxx also alleged that during Yar'Adua's tenure as Katsina governor his wife, Hajiya Turai Yar'Adua, persuaded Yar'Adua to divert millions of dollars of public funds from the Katsina state treasury into private accounts. (Note: We have heard of similar illicit enrichment attempts by Mrs. Yar'Adua now that she is in the Villa as well as scarce allegations that President Yar'Adua had engaged in corruption while Katsina governor. End Note.) On the political front, amidst current rumors of President Yar'Adua's failing health, the northern political elite appears increasingly concerned that in the event of Yar'Adua's untimely demise, the presidency may return to the South. END SUMMARY.

¶ 2. (S//NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx spoke with PolOff May 26. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that Yar'Adua began experiencing symptoms of acute renal failure in late 1999, after traveling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the lesser pilgrimage in Mecca. Upon returning from Saudi Arabia, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed, Yar'Adua traveled to Mainz, Germany to consult with kidney experts. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx the German specialists instructed Yar'Adua to promptly go on dialysis treatment. xxxxxxxxxxxx stated that the German-based Julius Berger construction company, which had significant financial ties to the Yar'Adua family (through the President's elder brother Shehu Yar'Adua), was contracted to set up a dialysis unit in Yar'Adua's home in Katsina. Doctors from Germany were brought to Katsina to train local physicians in dialysis operations, though, xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted, Yar'Adua also retained the services of German kidney specialists in Wiesbaden, making frequent trips there between 2000 and 2002.

¶ 3. (S//NF) Following a 2001 visit to Saudi Arabia, xxxxxxxxxxxx said, Yar'Adua's condition worsened, and he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. Upon returning from Saudi Arabia, Yar'Adua's dialysis treatments become more rigorous, xxxxxxxxxxxx confided, and his dialysis machine was moved into his private bedroom. xxxxxxxxxxxx maintained that Yar'Adua likely received a kidney transplant in Saudi Arabia in either late 2001 or early 2002. xxxxxxxxxxxx also claimed that Yar'Adua's dialysis machine was removed from his Katsina residence in 2002 and that discoloration was evident on his face at that time, which he assessed was the result of Yar'Adua taking steroids and other medications to enable his body to accept a transplant. xxxxxxxxxxxx rejected notions Yar'Adua suffered from Churgg-Strauss syndrome. Additionally, xxxxxxxxxxxx explained that the raised patch of skin often noted by observers on President Yar'Adua's right hand is not connected to his kidney ailments, but instead the result of a serious car accident Yar'Adua sustained in 1999. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx after Yar'Adua's car accident, his physicians removed some tissue from his buttock area to graft to his injured, and badly disfigured hand.

Abuja 00001016 002 of 003
¶ 4. (S//NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx contended that Yar'Adua "always" craved power, dating back to the days when Yar'Adua first contested and lost the governorship of Katsina state in 1991. Indeed, xxxxxxxxxxxx remarked, Yar'Adua's politically prominent family "bred" him to assume office in the future. However, xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted that throughout Yar'Adua's administration in Katsina, his performance suffered due to his poor health, which contributed to his constant fatigue, and to "an inability to govern." Whereas Katsina state commissioners and permanent secretaries routinely worked twelve-hour days, xxxxxxxxxxxx said that governor Yar'Adua himself entered the office at 10:00am and returned home around 3:00pm each day. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx Yar'Adua seemed disinterested in engaging in the requisite politicking that is the hallmark of political relations between elected leaders and power brokers in the North, and Nigeria generally. Yar'Adua's disinclination to travel while governor, even to neighboring states to meet with the northern political elite, also perpetuated his political isolation.

¶ 5. (S//NF) During his tenure as governor of Katsina, xxxxxxxxxxxx maintained, Yar'Adua appeared deliberative and ruthless in managing the affairs of his state. While intelligent, Yar'Adua, according to xxxxxxxxxxxx neither tolerated disagreement nor insubordination. xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that Yar'Adua ultimately relied on a handful of confidants, whom xxxxxxxxxxxx considered sycophants more than dispassionate consultants. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that Yar'Adua, paradoxically, routinely ignored the counsel of even his purportedly trusted advisers, preferring instead, to make his own decisions. In so doing, xxxxxxxxxxxx said, Yar'Adua had been assessed by some other northern elders as both an unimpressive leader, and an irresponsible one.

¶ 6. (S//NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx suggested that while Yar'Adua served as governor of Katsina, Yar'Adua's wife Hajiya Turai Yar'Adua, manipulated him into diverting millions of dollars of funds from the state treasury into private Yar'Adua family accounts. xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged that Yar'Adua used these stolen funds to construct a lavish private residence in Katsina and to finance family vacations to the Middle East and the UK (Ref A). Though xxxxxxxxxxxx acknowledged that Yar'Adua as former governor had built primary and secondary schools in Katsina, xxxxxxxxxxxx criticized Yar'Adua for failing to properly fund the training of teachers for those schools. As a result, xxxxxxxxxxxxx said, unlike in the past, under Yar'Adua's two terms as governor, Katsina students consistently failed to meet national standards in math and reading assessments. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that for Yar'Adua, "it was all about the spectacle of governing." Even the roadways in Katsina, xxxxxxxxxxxx said, may have been impressive, particularly when compared to the deplorable road network in other parts of the North, however, xxxxxxxxxxxx alleged that while the roads had been built, the contract costs were egregiously inflated and the excess funds were siphoned. xxxxxxxxxxxx said some Katsina road contracts had been given to non-existent, "ghost" companies, which were secretly "owned" by Turai Yar'Adua.

¶ 7. (S//NF) COMMENT:xxxxxxxxxxxx allegations of Turai Yar'Adua's contract-related corruption in Katsina also seem credible in light of similar claims previously reported by the Mission since she became the First Lady (see Ref A, for example).xxxxxxxxxxxx perspective may help shed light on President Yar'Adua. As reported (Ref C), we believe the President has two sides: one, for international consumption; and the other, which turns a blind eye to certain rule of law issues, particularly as it pertains to his wife. Then-governor Yar'Adua's unwillingness to engage in the necessary politicking to build a broad base of support in Katsina may have been relatively insignificant against the backdrop of insular Katsina state, or even northern regional, politics. However, as president of a diverse nation, with competing regional interests and powerful patronage networks, Yar'Adua's continued political isolation (even within the Abuja 00001016 003 of 003 North) may illustrate, to an extent, why even today Yar'Adua has not fully succeeded in truly stamping his authority on the PDP or the Presidency.

¶ 8. (S//NF) COMMENT CONT'D: Certainly, Yar'Adua's health remains a cause of concern for northern power brokers, especially in light of the possibility that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan would constitutionally be next in line for the presidency in the event of Yar'Adua's demise, although we doubt the northern elite would allow this to transpire. Opposition presidential aspirant Muhammadu Buhari (All Nigeria People's Party) told PolOff May 13 at his Kaduna home that given the North's trepidation of power returning to the South (if, for instance, Yar'Adua cannot complete his term), Buhari feels vindicated in his insistence on challenging the President's election. Buhari intimated that members of the northern political elite have begun visiting him to affirm their allegiance to him, and to support him as he continues to contest Yar'Adua's election at the Supreme Court (see Ref B). Buhari noted that, in light of news of Yar'Adua's troubling health, some northern power brokers now believe fresh polls (wherein Buhari emerges the victor) might be the best way of ensuring that the North retains the presidency.

End comment.
¶ 9. (S//NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx END NOTE.