TURAI: ONCE UPON AN IMPERIAL FIRST LADY
Hajiya Turai Yar'Adua
Turai, wife of Nigeria's late President Umaru Yar'Adua, could perhaps qualify for the world's most reported president's wife. Ever since November 23, 2009 when her husband was hurriedly flown out of Nigeria to treat what his personal physician described as acute pericarditis in Saudi Arabia, Turai has been in the news.
But apart from her late husband's spokesperson, Segun Adeniyi, who described her as 'a warm, caring, not-in-your-face woman who wants her husband to succeed and who is eager to ensure stability on the home front and leverage her moral power for the greater good of the society,' and a few other cronies, Turai has attracted more of negative news than positive in the last few months.
Many people believe that Turai, in her selfish quest to cling to power, effectively dished pure wickedness to the whole nation and the entire Yar'Adua family. Turai, who had five daughters for the late Yar'Adua, whom she married in 1975, was once described by a former PDP official as having more influence on Yar'Adua than the combined influence that Maryam Babangida and Miriam Abacha could have had on their husbands. According to him, 'She is far more than what Andy Uba was to Obasanjo. She is Uba, Maryam Babangida and Miriam Abacha thrown together.' That is to say, Turai was enormously powerful, influential and, indeed, someone who, according to insiders, could cause the ouster of any official she did not like.
Before her husband's death, angry Nigerians said she was a shame to womanhood and called for her arrest for allegedly blocking access to the late president. One of her critics, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, described Yar' Adua as a victim of spousal abuse, noting that Turai was part of the cabal that held the late president to ransom. Many observers believe Turai was responsible for the politics and confusion that trailed Yar'Adua's medical trip and the main force against the appointment of the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President.
Turai was severally accused of being bent on destabilising the nation because of her selfishness and desperation to hold on to power. These accusations are not unfounded. Turai played a larger than life role while her husband's tenure as Nigeria's president lasted.
At the height of calls on the late president to write a letter to the Senate to declare his incapacitation to continue in office due to medical reason, Turai gave the impression that all was well with her husband. She tried her best to control power as she shuttled between Saudi Arabia and Aso Rock.
She controlled access to her husband while he was hospitalised for three months in King Faisal Hospital, allowing only very close family members and a few aides to see him. For those months, Turai was so much in control to the extent that she prevented a delegation by the National Assembly and representatives of the Federal Executive Council from gaining access to Yar'Adua.
Media reports once quoted a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, who is now a fellow with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, John Campbell, as saying this of Turai: 'She is indeed the person I think is calling the shots. The basis of her ability to do it is because she controls access to the president.'
To state that Turai acted as the defacto president is stating the obvious. She had control over the nation's security forces even after Jonathan's appointment as the Acting President. One of the most astonishing facts alluding to her perceived stature as de facto President happened during Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria in the very early hours of Wednesday, February 24 this year. She organised a military convoy that escorted Yar'Adua from Abuja's international airport to Aso Rock.
According to reports, when Yar'Adua arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, he was met with a full military contingent as well as the police. This, analysts said, was a proof that the military and the police knew in advance that Yar'Adua would be returning to Nigeria at that time, though Yar'Adua's arrival came as a surprise to Jonathan, the National Assembly and every other Nigerian outside Turai's clique. This further brought an avalanche of condemnation her way. She was accused of disrespecting Nigerians, their elected representatives and the office of the Acting President.
Turai did not stop there. She once deployed two members of the brigade of guards to barricade the 'presidential seat,' allegedly to prevent Jonathan from sitting on it to preside over the meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation. She was also accused of ordering the early afternoon ransacking of Jonathan's office by personnel of the State Security Service. And the statement issued by the late President's spokesperson, which referred to Jonathan as Vice-President in spite of the proclamation of the National Assembly that made Jonathan acting president, further drew the ire of many Nigerians. In the statement, Turai tried to give Nigerians the impression that the health of her husband had greatly improved and that Jonathan should continue to oversee the affairs of the state while Yar'Adua recuperated. For this, she was accused of turning her husband to a personal property.
Turai, in spite of agitations of Nigerians to see their ailing president, blocked access to him, even after he returned to Nigeria. She rebuffed Jonathan's attempts at seeing her husband.
Apart from Jonathan, the Chairman of the Governors' Forum, Bukola Saraki, and the Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Vincent Ogbulafor, were all prevented from seeing Yar'Adua. On one occasion, a senior government official said, 'They are preventing everyone from seeing him. None of us, except his wife and his security aides have seen him since his arrival. Right from the airport, they hid him from everybody. The Acting President even tried to go see him, but was disallowed by Turai.'
If media reports were anything to go by, Yar'Adua's mother only saw him a few days before his death. This happened after reports of discord between Turai and Yar'Adua's family members over whether he should remain in the presidential villa in Abuja or relocate to his home town in Katsina. Turai was said to have favoured his stay in the villa, while others felt he ought to be moved. Yar'Adua eventually died at Aso Rock in the late hours of Wednesday.
Turai, born in the Katsina Metropolis in July 1957, spent her formative years at the Government Girls Secondary School, Kankiya. She later enrolled at the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, where she reportedly emerged as the best student in 1980.
She obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Education) in Language from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1983. She had previously worked as a teacher before she became Katsina State First Lady when Yar'Adua was elected governor in 1999. Indeed, this is really a sad moment for a woman who was once the power centre in government.