President of Nigeria
B orn Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, July 9, 1951, in Kat-sina, Katsina State, Nigeria; son of Musa (a government minister); married Turai, 1975; married Hauwa Umar Radda, 1992 (divorced, 1997); children: seven (from first marriage), Ibrahim, Musa (from second marriage). Education: Attended Keffi Government College, 1965-69; Barewa College, certificate, 1971; Ahmadu Bello University, B.S., 1975, and M.Sc., 1978.
Addresses: Office—c/o Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, D.C. 20008.
L ecturer in chemistry at Holy Child College, 1975-76, Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology, 1976-79, and Katsina Polytechnic, 1979-83; general manager, Sambo Farms Ltd., 1983-89; company director or board member for several private-sector firms, 1983-99; elected governor of Katsina State, 1999, reelected, 2003; inherited the title of Mutawalli, or custodian of the treasury, for Katsina state, from his father, 2002; elected president of Nigeria, April 2007.
U maru Yar’Adua was elected president of Nigeria in a controversial 2007 election that was marred by accusations of widespread vote fraud. Nevertheless, he was sworn into office in May and immediately began implementing several new reforms and measures aimed at winning the public trust of Africa’s most populous nation. “This office is just a responsibility,” he told journalist Robyn Dixon in an interview for the Sunday Independent of South Africa. “It’s routine work. When people talk about power, I don’t see where the power lies. If you are honest with yourself, the power lies with the law.”
Born in 1951, Yar’Adua hails from a politically active, aristocratic family of Fulani heritage, one of Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups. He was born in the city of Katsina, the capital for the state of the same name in northwestern Nigeria. After Nigeria achieved its full independence from Britain in 1963, Yar’Adua’s father became the minister for Lagos, the capital city at the time. His father also served as the Mutawalli, or custodian of the treasury, for Kat-sina state, which was a title that Yar’Adua later inherited.
Yar’Adua entered the Dutsinma Boarding Primary School in 1962, and went on to the Government College in Keffi in the late 1960s. He earned a certificate from Barewa College in 1971, a bachelor of science degree in education and chemistry from Ahmadu Bello University in the city of Zaria in 1975, and three years later earned a graduate degree in ana- lytical chemistry from the same university. He spent the next five years as a chemistry instructor at various colleges in Nigeria, including Holy Child College in Lagos and the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology. In 1983, he took a job as general manager of Sambo Farms Ltd. and, after 1989, served as a company director or board member for several private-sector firms.
In the early 1980s, Yar’Adua was a member of the left-leaning People’s Redemption Party, and then co-founded another organization called the People’s Front with his brother, a major-general in the Nigerian army. This merged with another group to become the Social Democratic Party. Yar’Adua participated in the 1988 Constituent Assembly, though the country remained under rule of a military junta. He first ran for office in the Katsina gubernatorial race of 1991, but lost. Democracy was fully restored in Nigeria by 1999, and that year he ran again for the post and won.
Corruption had long been a serious problem in Nigeria, with a seeming majority of elected and appointed officials using their position to enrich their own coffers. Yar’Adua was one of the few politicians with an untarnished reputation: Though he had inherited a state government with crushing debt, during his two terms in office he managed the budget so effectively that a fiscal surplus grew. This came despite an intensive, much-needed infrastructure improvement campaign in Katsina State, including the construction of new roads and several new clinics and schools. Yar’Adua was also believed to suffer from a kidney ailment, and some speculated that this may have been the reason that his name was announced in December of 2006 as the candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the coming presidential elections. The PDP’s chair was the incumbent president, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose record had been blemished by charges of corruption. It was thought that because Yar’Adua was ill, he would prove a weak, easily manipulated leader—in other words, a puppet of Obasanjo. Others noted that years before, Yar’Adua’s brother— who had since died—and Obasanjo had been jailed together as political prisoners during the military junta era, and Yar’Adua’s nomination may have been a gesture of respect.
In March of 2007, Yar’Adua collapsed at a campaign rally, and subsequently flew to Germany for unspecified medical treatment. There were even rumors in Nigeria that he was close to death, but Yar’Adua returned and renewed his campaign commitments, and even challenged naysayers who claimed he was unfit to hold office to meet him for a squash tournament. Even without such worries, Yar’Adua was not expected to win. He was viewed as Obasanjo’s handpicked successor, and there was tremendous dissatisfaction with the outgoing president because of the notorious and highly publicized episodes of corruption. Nigerians went to the polls on April 21, and the election was marred by charges of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, missing ballot boxes, and general chaos that erupted into violence in some cities. Two days later, the official tally was announced and Yar’Adua was the winner with 70 percent of the vote.
Nigerians protested vehemently at what many believed to have been a blatantly rigged election, with international observers and Yar’Adua’s two leading opponents—Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC)—voicing concern about the legitimacy of the official results. Yar’Adua quickly moved to dispel doubts, saying, “the contest has come and gone,” according to a report by New York Times journalist Lydia Polgreen. “So must our differences dissipate in the cause of the greater good of moving our dear nation ahead.”
Yar’Adua was sworn into office on May 29, 2007, and quickly began to move to restore the public’s trust in the federal government. Declaring himself a servant of the people, he sought and won a government of national unity with the ANPP and the Progressive People’s Alliance, another leading party. Setting an example of transparency for his administration, he also divulged his personal wealth, a figure of about $5 million, much of it inherited. He became the first Nigerian leader ever to provide a financial disclosure statement.
Yar’Adua is also the first Nigerian leader in nearly three decades to hold a college degree. He has seven children with his wife Turai, whom he married in 1975, and two children with a second wife he took—an Islamic custom permitted in Nigeria—in the 1990s, but that marriage ended after five years. Despite his wealth, Yar’Adua is known for his spartan lifestyle. “I go to the mosque and I pray as an ordinary person would pray, because I don’t want to have problems when I leave office,” he told Dixon, the Sunday Independent reporter. “The less you allow power to get to you, the more you are able to adjust when leaving office.”
African Business, June 2007, p. 12.
Financial Times, July 12, 2007, p. 3.
New York Times, March 8, 2007; April 24, 2007; October 4, 2007.
Sunday Independent (South Africa), May 20, 2007, p. 16.
Time International, June 11, 2007, p. 29.