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Yar'adua is mentally unbalanced, deceptive and unforgiving- Confessions of a Yar’Adua Boy

June 13, 2009

 Image removed.Ten years ago, Sadiq Yar’Adua, 49, sought to be the Speaker of the Fourth Republic’s first House of Representatives but lost out - in what ultimately became a two-man race - to Ibrahim Salisu Buhari. After his tenure, he would later serve as Chief of Staff to former Speaker Aminu Bello Masari. Today he is one of the leading lights of The Restoration Group – a pressure group within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pushing for electoral reforms. The former executive director at the Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA) and chairman of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) says he used to be an Umaru Yar’Adua boy. Now he is one of the President’s most vocal critics. In this interview with Managing Editor, FESTUS ERIYE, he paints an intimate and revealing profile of the man he has known and associated with for over 30 years.

You share a common surname with the President but obviously you’re not related…
No, we are not. We are from the same locality. We are all from Yar’Adua quarters in Katsina.

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How long have you been associated with Umaru Yar’Adua?
I have been close to him for more than 33 years; I have been one of his ‘boys’ even before he went into politics. We saw him as a kind of inspiration. He was a leader of the Katsina Province students association at that time. Every holiday we used to meet; they would call us and the way he spoke was quite inspiring. There was this revolutionary fervour in his speeches. So that is what made us to come close to him. We said ‘this man has some good ideas let’s follow him’. He contributed in a lot of ways in making us enlightened about society, about human relationships and even the meaning of existence. Ever since I have been quite close to him, like I said, as one of his ‘boys.’ During the SDP (Social Democratic Party) time I was with him – even though I was in government. In fact at that time I was the highest political office holder in Katsina State that was supportive of the SDP - because I was Chief Press Secretary to Col. John Madaki. At that time the entire government machinery was for the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC). So you can understand how committed I was or how close I was to him. But I made it very clear to my governor, that I had very long relations with this man. Apart from that, ideologically we saw eye to eye. There was no way I could go to NRC because I was not an NRC man. So I would hate to disappoint him. I would not come out and campaign for him, or be seen at rallies and so on, but I would give him all the necessary support – which I did. I coordinated the press for him and there are witnesses. Abdullahi Tasiu who reports for the BBC currently is aware of that. He was part of us. We were a two-man team, but I was the one who coordinated because I had links with the press. I also handled all the background things you needed to do because at that time it was real politics, not all these arrangee things. I was also a kind of back office support for him. During the UNCP and DPN time (under Abacha) some of us were a bit interested; he said no we shouldn’t play politics, that the transition was a sham. We followed his advice and didn’t participate mainly because he said we shouldn’t. In 1998 I was in Lagos when he sent somebody who is late now to me; somebody who was quite close to me and very close to him came to me up to five times and said that Umaru needed to see me. So I went to Kaduna and saw him and he told me ‘look you know what is happening.’ I said I don’t know. I pretended as if I didn’t know. He said you know. I said I understand that you are going to contest for the governorship of Katsina State. He said for now he had not made any decisions but was trying to create a political group, and we would need to participate. We chatted for a long time and he said he needed me to do one or two things to support him – which I started doing. Then I told him ‘sir there is need for me to resign my appointment with the National Maritime Authority and come and do active politics’. He said no – why should you do that? I told him ‘sir there were many problems which I observed during the SDP days.’ You lack people who could assist you and would not wait for you to bring anything to campaign for you; people who are educated. I told him I possess some of those qualities, and this time around we really need to come and give you all the support because we had the wherewithal to come and assist. Money-wise we do not need to wait for you; in terms of political thinking we do not need to wait for you. We equally have some ideas which you imparted into us. We argued and he said he would think about it and that I should come back after two weeks. After two weeks we met, he said what have you decided and I said I still want to come. He asked me a few questions which I answered and he said it was all right. So that’s how we started the campaign. As we were doing the campaigns my mind was telling there could be problems, so try and be independent. That was when I decided to contest for membership of the House of Representatives. Something told me you need to be on your own. Don’t try to wait until government is formed and then somebody will provide you some work to do. That is basically what happened.

In 1999 you were elected into the House and decided to contest for the position of Speaker. How much support did you receive from your mentor?
He didn’t give me any support. I went to him and told him ‘sir from the look of things the PDP is going to zone the position of Speaker to the North West. I believe that out of the PDP members from that zone – if we are all going to be put on a scale – I don’t think anybody would have more weight than myself in terms of exposure, skills, education and so on.’ I did my own homework; I got a list from INEC of all the members-elect. I said I want you to look at this list, and I even want you to start from Katsina State – from the six that were members-elect from Katsina State I feel that probably I am the best. So I need your support. He said there was no problem. He said he was about to call me to tell me to go and contest, and that once the PDP had decided he would talk to Turaki (meaning Atiku), he would also go to Ota and see Baba. But he said I should go round Nigeria so that by the time they take a decision it would not appear to people as if I was being imposed on them. So I said I don’t know how to thank you sir, but may God bless you. I will go all out and start campaigning but I believe that nobody will beat me. He wished me well. I started going from state to state; and every time I came and briefed him – saying ‘this is what happened but we need this and that’. He never gave us anything. In fact there was a time when he wanted to go and collect his certificate of return as governor-elect of Katsina State, we arranged with media men to ask him questions about whether he was supporting me or not. The press men asked him specifically who he was supporting. He kept quiet and said the one that God chooses. He never came out categorically to say he was supporting my candidature. It was later when we left the place that he said ‘look we can’t come out to the market place and say this and that. This is why I answered the press like that.’ He wanted to assuage whatever matter, but I was not a small boy at that time. I knew that something was amiss.  Anyway I knew its God who gives and takes power. So in answering your question - no, he didn’t give me any support despite the fact that he made a commitment and a promise to me that he was going to support my candidature.

How did you come to be involved with The Restoration Group?
What happened was that some people who I consider elders called me and said they wanted to see me. I saw three of them together and they told me ‘look we have a very bad situation in the country. The president is from the North and there is need for all of us to try and see how we can give support to the President so that he will not fail. But that they had tried using various means to get to the President to let him understand what was happening in the country, that things were going bad in the country and they needed to alert him.’ When that failed they felt it was necessary for them to organise. One of the issues that they wanted him to address was the report of the electoral reform committee because they had a copy of the report even before it became a public document. They said one of the reasons they wanted to see him was for him to implement the recommendations of the report, but it appeared from the way he was going that he may not implement it because it would become an albatross to him; that there is no way he could win an election. They know him - he is going to try and deceive Nigerians; he would not implement it. That was the beginning of the thing. It was important for us as a nation, and even as Northerners to respect the wishes of Nigerians. What are the wishes of Nigerians? It is for us to have free, fair and credible elections – that is the starting point. All the other social ills that confront Nigeria begin and end with a non-transparent electoral system. So that’s what happened. It was one of the things that actually worried me because I was also – at least on one occasion - a victim of that flawed electoral system, and I believe that there is need for us as Nigerians to rise and insist that our votes must count.

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There have been one or two comments regarding your group from PDP officials, but as an insider what has been the attitude of the party leadership to your initiative?
What happened was that as we were trying to organise, expanding and trying to contact people - important political players especially within the North, suddenly Dr. Bello Haliru, the deputy national chairman, came out and said some people were interested in destabilising the government, and that we were already meeting. He mentioned some of the venues where we had meetings. Obviously somebody – a kind of fifth columnist – was giving them this information. He came out with that and said what we were doing was tantamount to sedition. We felt that our objectives are quite clear. We were not trying to destabilise any government, we were not trying to do anything that is not democratic. All we are saying is let’s have a fair and credible electoral system. When he came out with that sort of thing, we felt that the best thing was to make it public. So we rushed to the press and said this is who we are: we are the Restoration Group and these are our objectives. We want to want to restore the faith and confidence of Nigerians in the political and electoral system. That is our sole objective. If today the government says we are going to respect the votes of people, we will say thank you very much and clap for them. We will support whatever initiative they would come out with because there’s no way Nigeria can continue like this; when elections are fought and won in Government Houses or at local government secretariats. Somebody will just sit down and write fake results and say this is the winner and this is the loser. We can’t continue like that as Nigerians; this country belongs to all of us. It doesn’t belong to a particular clique. So there must be respect for the wishes of Nigerians – not for a cabal of people to just take decisions. That is why we are where we are.
Let me understand, the Restoration Group is not just a Northern initiative…
No, it is not. What we were trying to do was to organise first along regional lines – to have Northern and Southern groups and then merge. But circumstances change things. When Dr. Bello Haliru came out with that kind of statement, we said the best thing is let us react and let us all come together. Already he had mentioned the venues where we held meetings in Kaduna and Abuja, so we decided there is no need for us to go the way we wanted to go – coming from the regional groups. It is better for us to start nationwide. We were still at the planning stage; it was not our intention to come out at the time we came out. But we were forced to do just that because of the allegations levelled by Dr. Bello Haliru.
Now someone like you is there. Aminu Masari is there, Lawal Batagarawa is there …
Go ahead.
Ken Nnamani is there. Surely there will be the temptation to say these are people who have an axe to grind with Umaru Yar’Adua. So it is just a platform of people who are disgruntled against him. How do you respond to that kind of charge?
If that is true is it wrong if I have an axe to grind against anybody? Is it wrong for me to come out against him? It is not. This is politics. In any case, that is not the issue. I want you to go and check my background right from my university days till today. Ask anybody: I am a very principled person, once I believe in something I am ready to go for it. So even if I have anything personal against the President that shouldn’t make me not to come out and fight for something. Just because someone would say I have an axe to grind against the President, it does not mean that I should abandon my people. We may have our own personal problems with the President, may be, but what is important is that the system is wrong and all Nigerians are witnesses to what is happening. You don’t need a soothsayer; you don’t need a prophetic vision to know whether the government is doing well or not. Assuming the government is doing well and we came out and said it was not doing well, you can say these people have something against the President. But the truth is that the President is not running this country the way it should be run. It’s a fact. So why shouldn’t I come out to fight that? He taught me to fight injustice, and right now what he is doing to Nigerians is injustice. I should fight him – even though he is my teacher.

For many Nigerians Umaru Yar’Adua is a mystery. You have associated with him for over 30 years. Can you tell us what you know about his personality and style of leadership?
He’s still a mystery to me because I can’t understand some of his actions. He’s someone who is unforgiving; he’s someone who is selfish, who deceives people. He’s someone who says what he is not; he’s someone who is unreliable. In fact I can go on and on. When you meet him you’ll get the impression that the man knows what he’s doing, but no matter how long it takes he will disappoint you. He talks less – as result you can’t understand where he’s coming from or where he’s going to. He’s a mystery. I have always told people that I think there is something that is mentally wrong with him. I was a founding member of K34…

Image removed.What is K34?
It is the group he formed in Katsina to grab political power: K meaning Katsina and 34 meaning the 34 local governments in Katsina State. I was in the apex of decision-making of that group. He formed the group and tried to make us believe that he was not doing anything for his own personal advancement, but there was need for us as young, energetic, principled people to intervene and stop the conservative elements in Katsina from capturing power. That was in 1998; we believed that and gave him all the support as our leader. But among all those who supported him I can tell there are may be only two or three that are still with him till today. Only 10 years! It means something is wrong with that person. All those who were the drivers of that particular movement, in one way or the other Umaru has nothing to do with us today, after helping him to become governor of Katsina State. But like I said there’s nothing personal, if he had done well the way the media was claiming he had done, I wouldn’t come out and say I don’t want to identify myself with him. But some of us know he never did anything for Katsina. The thing is that he performed poorly in Katsina – poorly. Certainly he intervened in the educational sector, but what he did was to renovate schools and build their classrooms and so on. We didn’t have qualified teachers and never had teaching materials. So it’s like building castles in the air. Coming back to the issue - I cannot understand why you’ll start something with people as a movement with ideological vision and then, suddenly, you abandon that particular vision. Also, all those who came to support you to ensure that vision is realised you abandoned and put yourself as the main beneficiary of their struggle. I think something is amiss. So it is very difficult for me to tell you that this is the real Umaru. He is still a mystery to me. I cannot understand. This is somebody who will not visit you if you are sick or hospitalised, and you are his associate. He will not come and condole with you when you have lost someone. When your wife delivers a baby he won’t come and congratulate you. He’s somebody who does not want any other person to be anything – except him. He’s somebody also with an inferiority complex – and I cannot understand! This is somebody who comes from a family background that is very good, that is wealthy or well to do, and somebody who is also very intelligent and brilliant, and then suddenly he’s not comfortable amongst people. Once he sees that you have potentials to rise to be anything, he will do everything within his means to ensure that you don’t become anything. He will sabotage you; he will create hurdles for you. So I believe there’s some kind of mental imbalance otherwise I can’t explain… I should be happy when my other associates, those people who share my vision and worldview… I should assist them to rise to become something, but he’s not that kind of person. So it is very difficult for me to tell you that this is the Umaru that I know.

Two of the most successful young office holders under Obasanjo were former EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu and former FCT Minister, Nasir El-Rufai. They were thought to be largely supportive of the emergence of Yar’Adua but their stock has plummeted rapidly: one is on the EFCC wanted list and another is out of job. From what you know of the personalities involved what is responsible for the predicament of these fellows?
El-Rufai is my friend and has been my friend for a very long time. We do discuss and whenever we met we talked and exchanged ideas – especially when he was in BPE and even as Minister for FCT. I do remember when this idea of bringing Umaru to come and contest for the presidency was being mooted. We discussed for over three hours from London to Abuja; we sat together with Nasir. There was nothing I did not tell him about having Umaru as president of Nigeria. I told him not to support it. I told him ‘I know this man more than you do. I know him very well. Don’t support him because Nigeria would suffer for it.’ He dismissed all the reasons that I gave to him and said (at that time he was calling him Mallam) ‘We believe Mallam Umaru is able because he has achieved in Katsina.’ I said what has he achieved in Katsina? Tell me! He said that’s true, it’s in the records. I said which record? He doesn’t have any record. This is somebody who will sit in Katsina when the National Council of State is meeting in Abuja. This is somebody who does not have the telephone number of more than one governor out of the 36 governors of Nigeria. This is somebody who apart from the ministers that come from Katsina didn’t know any minister. This is somebody who apart from the names of the national chairman and may be secretary of the PDP didn’t know any other executive of the People’s Democratic Party. There is no way somebody who has kept himself as a provincial person, someone who only knows his environment… and then you go and bring him as president of Nigeria. I said if you are not careful what would happen to Nigeria would be like what was happening at that time to America with George Bush. George Bush never went any where and became president, and his presidency was a disaster for America. That’s what I told Nasir but he did not listen. So that’s what I know about that. But like I have told you Umaru is not comfortable at all with people who know what they are doing. Nasir was one of the principal pillars of the Obasanjo administration, and he made a lot of noise. Umaru doesn’t like people like that; he doesn’t like achievers. Similarly I told Nuhu… because there was a time when Nuhu had a case against Umaru and I was telling him don’t leave this thing not for the sake of any other thing, but for the sake of Nigeria. He never took me seriously. I later understood that it was General Aliyu who intervened and said he shouldn’t pursue Governor Umaru. But I know he had a case; I don’t have any information as to the extent of the case, but he told me that Governor Umaru Yar’adua had a case to answer. So I encouraged him but for whatever reason they dropped those issues.

For several weeks now the Internet has been agog with a piece by El-Rufai tracing the process that led to Yar’Adua’s emergence. How much of what he said regarding the Katsina period of the president’s political rise is correct?
I was going to talk to Nasir about it unfortunately I can’t get across to him because I don’t have his numbers in Europe. There are factual distortions as they relate to our group K34 – even though most of them are minor. He mentioned some people who he said were part of K34 who were not. For example Aminu Masari was never a member of K34; he joined us later. So also Lawal Batagarawa was never a member of K34. But Nasir claimed that they were members and that they were dismissed from that membership. He also said that the name of the Deputy Governor to Umaru was Tukur Bakori, but actually the name is Tukur Jikamshi, and he was one of us in K34 – even though he joined later. There are also other misrepresentations like, for example, saying that Umaru comes from the royal family of Katsina. As far as I know his grandmother – his father’s mother - is from the Dikko dynasty. But Katsina is not a matrilineal society; we are a patrilineal society. You don’t claim royalty just because your mother is from the royal family – because as much as you aspire to be emir, you cannot be. Also about the formation of K34 he mentioned that some people who made money from PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund created by the Abacha regime) were part of us, but he never said why they were with us and what role they played in Umaru’s government because it is very important for us to know all that. He needs to talk to people who were part of that movement for him to understand the intricacies and even the man Umaru – because there are things that happened within K34 which we know, and which we have refused to talk about. I believe his article will one day become a historical document and it is important for us to get the facts rather than muddle up things. I have no quarrel with the way Umaru emerged and what they gave to him and so on, but like I said we told them long before and they didn’t understand. I also think that is the kind of situation Nigeria would be in. Today some of us are saying this man is not right for this country but Nigerians may not understand what we are saying. They may think it is something personal, but the truth is this man is not fit for this country; he is not the right person. He doesn’t have the right understanding. This is somebody who does not have three friends in Anambra, Ogun, Delta or Ekiti State. As small as I am I can tell you go to Awka – I know so and so, or go to Ogwashi-Ukwu. This man has never been exposed; he’s always kept himself to his local environment. Above all he’s somebody who is not even worried by public opinion. So if the entire 150 million Nigerians do not think he’s doing well, he believes that he’s doing the right thing and nobody can tell him anything. He is somebody who doesn’t like challenges, who doesn’t like to be criticised. He can take serious actions against those he perceives as his enemies even if what they are saying is the truth. He looks at the messenger, not the message.

One major criticism of the President is that most of his key appointments have favoured people from one or two localities – either Katsina or Katsina. The Central Bank Governor, Minister of Finance…
Exactly! Exactly!
This a major issue and people have…
It is a major issue and these are the kinds of issues that Nigerians should understand. We are all Nigerians and we have a stake in Nigeria. There were certain actions during Obasanjo’s administration that I was against, not because they affected my own side of the country.

For example, the movement of the Nigerian Railways headquarters, or the NPA or NMA… I felt it was done out of sheer ethnic jingoism. Right now I cannot understand why the nation should keep quiet when all the economic ministries and departments of government are being handled by people from one particular zone – that is the North West zone which is my own zone.
Zone, not region?
No! It’s the North West – not even the North. There are three zones in the North and we are talking about only the North West, and even in the North West we are only talking about Kano, Katsina and Kaduna. The Minister of Energy, Rilwan Lukman is from Kaduna, Minister of Finance is from Kano, Minister of National Planning is from Kano, Minister of Agriculture is from Katsina, the Chief Adviser to the President on Economic Matters is from Katsina, the CBN Governor is likely to go to Kano, the Managing Director of PHCN is from Katsina, the MD of PTDF is from Katsina, so many of them… Why should it be that way? These are positions that should be shared. Even the Minister of Power is a nominee of the Chief Economic Adviser to the President. So he who pays the piper dictates the tune. There is now way that the Minister of Power would do anything that is not sanctioned by the Chief Economic Adviser because he was his PA before he became minister. And Nigerians, especially the media, are keeping quiet over all these. Nigeria belongs to all of us; it doesn’t belong to only a section of the country.
Nigerians are now used to wives of public office holders being overtly political. The likes of Maryam Babangida, Maryam Abacha, late Stella Obasanjo and others come to mind. Initially people perceived Turai Yar’Adua as retiring but over the last two years that image has given way to that of someone who is given to wielding influence. Is this a correct impression given what you know?
This is part of the contradictions of Umaru. I do remember vividly during the Babangida and Abacha periods, whenever we were speaking about the role the First Ladies were playing, Umaru was always condemning them. And he was always saying that the husbands lacked morality that’s why they were allowing their wives to be in the public eye. But today look at what is happening. Turai is doing more than what Maryam Babangida or Maryam Abacha put together did. So it is part of the contradiction. The Turai I knew is not the same Turai of today. The only time she started campaigning for Umaru was in 2003. 1n 1998 she was never anywhere, she was always at home. In fact she was in Kaduna, we were in Katsina. I was the one that was always picking Umaru to travel to Kaduna. She was never a political person or figure. It was only in 2003 that she started attending some women’s rallies in the evenings and going from one local government to another – because at that time as First Lady she had something to do with the local government chairmen’s wives. I have always known her to be a retiring person – someone who was not exposed to politics or the public. So I am surprised really and cannot understand the sudden change and transformation.

Obasanjo was severely criticised for handpicking a successor whom many said would be his puppet. Even today many insist that the former president still manipulates things in the background. But from what you know about Yar’Adua after over 30 years of associating with him, is he the kind of man an Obasanjo can manipulate?
I think Obasanjo did not actually know Umaru very well. He was only seeing him from afar. Umaru is not the kind of person he can manipulate. If that was the intention he was dead wrong and I am sure he knows it now. The events of the last two years can really go a long way to back this point. He has this stubbornness of not listening to people; it is not only Obasanjo – even the whole Nigeria. I don’t think there’s anybody who can dictate to him except those around him who by whatever means manipulate him. But it is not that he realises that he’s been used or manipulated. Once he realises that you are trying to play games with him, that’s the end of the relationship.

It would appear that Nigeria is slowly veering towards a one-party system. The main opposition ANPP has lost the bulk of its governors to the ruling party and by 2011 may have dissolved into the ruling party. Some people say the mega party is the solution. But most of the promoters are not on the ground, and there’s the question of whether Buhari and Atiku’s presidential ambitions can be accommodated under one canopy. Is there really a credible alternative to the PDP or are we doomed to the one-party scenario?
First, let me say that I really believe in the mega party, I believe it would give a credible challenge to the PDP. So let’s wait and see. On Buhari and Atiku’s ambition I cannot comment, but given a choice I know who I would support between the two. But in terms of making Nigeria a one-party state, it cannot happen – not in my father’s Nigeria. Nigerians are a very resilient lot. If that is the dream of the PDP, let them know that it cannot happen. In fact we will start our struggle from Katsina; we want Nigerians to wait for 2011 and see what will happen in Katsina. The President is from there but we will not allow it to happen. I am sure they will use all sorts of intimidation; they will use the military, police, the security agencies and INEC, all the same we will go out and defend our votes. I am sure that Nigerians from all cities and towns will come out to defend their votes. Nobody can change this country to a one-party state; it cannot happen! Nigeria is not a banana republic.
But we saw under Abacha five Nigerian parties coming together to nominate one man for president?

But what happened? Did he become president?
But that was not because Nigerians were able to resist him. It was just God that took him out of the equation.
It was Nigerians who prayed to God and He answered their prayers! We are a nation of faith, of believers. I don’t think you can find any better Christians or Muslims in anywhere else in the world than in Nigeria. What are we talking about? It cannot happen. Let them know that it cannot happen. We will struggle; it’s in our blood to struggle and we will start it from Katsina.


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