Monday, 22 June 2009

Interview: Rabo, Hausa Movie Chief Censor

The following interesting write-up/interview was posted by Salisu Ahmed Koki on the listserves "" and "" today.

Much can be gleaned from the interview about the director-general of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. The title given to the piece by Koki is "Hausa Home Video Industry AND the Rabo Abdulkareem Phenomenon (The Exclusive Interview with Rabo Abdulkareem)". The piece contains some grammatical and typographical errors, which I have not corrected. Enjoy

Hausa Home Video Industry AND the Rabo Abdulkareem Phenomenon (The Exclusive Interview with Rabo Abdulkareem)

By Salisu Ahmed Koki, Kano
sakoki@gmail. com

It is an industry that churns out roughly over 2000 sellable movies to the world annually; employing over 20, 000 hitherto unemployed youths and sometimes exports to the world the once ruined face of Nigeria. But turn the clock back to the years between 1975 and 1995 and the picture would have been different, very different, for that was the long, trying period when Hausa movie industry was struggling to establish itself as a viable showbiz hub equal in prestige and whim only to Bollywood that overshadowed the northern axis, then.

And just like the tiny and equally soullessly-wrapped up pupae growing into a beautifully designed and flip-flying butterfly that can fly to various destinations at will, the Hausa popular drama has transmogrified into Home Videos that evenly instigates cultural fusion and diffusion whose implications and impact on the Hausa culture critics posits is an area yet to be fully appreciated by researchers.

Indeed, the Hausa Home Video industry is now an unstoppable phenomenon that serves as a medium exploited by NGOs and various governments to relay informatic messages to children and adults. To say the least about the interest shown by most NGOs and even Diplomatic missions within and around Nigeria on Hausa Movies, it pays to say here and now that it was alleged that the arrest and detention of one of the popular Hausa movie Producer going by the name Hamisu Lamido Iyantama couldn't be unconnected to his allegedly unauthorized release of a NGO-sponsored Hausa film.

The fact that almost 40 million people around the world use the Hausa language medium to communicate and transact gave these movie makers an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to the world.

But of recent there has been a widespread complains about the modus operandi of the Hausa Movie makers most of which are accused of indulging in entertaining misplaced priorities, movie-making wise. They are said to be employing unorthodox, unprofessional and fluke-characterized techniques and methodologies in writing, acting and shooting their now widely condemned movies. The pomp and pageantry of films produced in the Lagos axis are more pronounced on Pay TV Channels like Africa Magic than that of their counterparts in northern Nigeria obviously because of the absence of quality and catchy storylines in them, although some of the Hausa movies are beginning to find their ways into the sister Magic Channel, the Africa Magic Plus.

Most of the Hausa film makers are accused of distorting the closely guarded Hausa culture which by all indications served as the sole excuse ceased by the present administration in Kano State to take stringent majors in curbing the excesses of this so-called rogue Hausa film makers. There has been an almost general consensus that Hausa movies shot some 20 years ago and far aback are far better in substance and content than the present day Hausa movies which explain why many are of the opinion that there has to be some check and balances as far as Hausa movie making is concerned.

In ripping apart the genesis of the Hausa Home Video Industry popularly tagged ‘Kanywood’ one can hardly do away with two factors; one is the Colonial Film Unit factor that gave birth to some of the first produced feature films on celluloid made in Hausa and the other factor been that of the Hausa society which is theatre personified like any other society. As put forward by Haruna Aminu of the Institute of Education, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the Hausa society is so theatre personified so much that “in every aspect of the Hausa living tradition, one finds various manifestation of the dramatic indices, and this come in different forms due to the nature of the occasion that produces it. When one takes into consideration the idea of celebrating birth and death one can appreciate the impact of entertainment and imitation of life”.

Through the introduction of cinema or ‘Majigi’ as it is called in Hausa into the north via the Colonial Film Unit, the Nigerian colonial masters were given a sure medium for using the concept of ‘Massive Media Campaign’ to further their varying propaganda interests. Though a downside in some respect, it served as an upside for the Hausa movie industry as it served as a transiting medium from where traditional Hausa drama or ‘Wasan Kwaikwayo’ (‘wasa’ for ‘play’ and ‘kwaikwayo’ for ‘imitation’) have developed today into a full blown Hausa Movies/Films.

The first indigenous play ‘Wasan Marafa’ (the Marafa’s Play) by A.T Marafa made its appearance in 1949. Soon others followed, with the likes of ‘Malam Inkuntum’ (1954) and ‘Bora da Mowa’ (1972) as been the first to be staged before been reduced into writing. The first commercially successful Hausa movie was ‘Turmin Danya’ produced in 1990 in Kano selling about 100, 000 copies then and it was not until between 1997 and 2003 only that there was a massive surge in the production of these home videos. According to Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, a very popular and widely respected Change Analysts, so far about 800 Hausa Language Video- about 80% produced in Kano have been registered with the National Film and Video Censors Board in 2003 only. “Such high volume in a relatively short period of time indicates an underlying cultural change and transformation that requires a systematized study” Professor Abdalla hypothesized.

Interestingly enough for the reader to know is the fact that Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the slayed pioneer Prime Minister of Nigeria was among the opportune-few to first wrote a book in 1933 which was later translated into film. Again, one of Nigeria’s most renowned sociologist and the person adjudged by many to be Africa’s best in that field, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir (Talban Bauchi) of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was the principal character in one of the pioneer Hausa films ‘Dan Arewa a London’ which if translated into English means ‘A Northerner in London’, a film that propagated the use of agriculture to propel growth. And with Adamu Halilu at the helm of affairs at the Colonial Film Unit in the early years of Nigeria’s life, some more Hausa feature films were produced among which are Baban Larai (1968), Shehu Umar (1976), and Kanta of Kebbi (1978) to mention but a few.

With most of the nations’ film regulatory agencies and some of the best public-owned film training institutions concentrated in the north, Hausa films and their makers were presented with a golden opportunity to propel themselves and attain success. Imagine, the National Film Corporation (NFC), National Film Institute (NFI), National Video Archives, National Film and Videos Censors Board (NFVCB), NTA TV College amongst others all are situated in and around Jos, the Plateau State capital. Also, with about 40 million Hausa speaking audiences spread across the entire African continent and beyond, filmmakers in the north have a great market potential; little wonder the rise among the Hausa filmmaking folks of some of Nigeria’s best in showbiz, the likes of Sadik Tafawa Balewa who Directed the winning feature ‘Kasar Mu Ce’, Sani Mu’azu who feature in many award winning films and TV series including Mr. Johnson (that featured the popular Hollywood actor, Pierce Brosnan) and NASCO-sponsored Riddles and Hope, Malam Abdulkareem Mohammed who Directed the film ‘Dan Adam Butulu I’, Dr. Sule Umar who directed the duos of ‘Maitatsine’ and yet-to-be released ‘General Murtala’, Ibrahim Buba who is the CEO of Newage Networks Kaduna and film stars Ali Nuhu the principal character in Amstel’s revered ‘Sitanda’ who won the coveted ‘Best Up Coming Actor Award’ at the AMAA Awards 2007, Sani Musa Danja, Ruqayya Dawayya, Safiya Musa, Ummi Zizi to mention but a few.

Considering the rising popularity and growth of Hausa films and its industry despite its prevailing complexities, controversies and allegedly unprofessional conjunction, a team of concerned practitioners and renowned academicians got together in the month of August 2003 to discuss the state of research on Hausa popular culture and media technologies, with particular reference to the Hausa home videos. It was an event chaired by the renowned Change Analyst, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu of Bayero University Kano and was tagged ‘International Conference on Hausa Films’. The event was meant to be a brainstorming session with various inputs from members overshadowed then by the then current crisis in the non-marketability, and non-exportability of Hausa Home Videos beyond Hausa communities either in Nigeria or abroad. The event attracted scholars from close and afar including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany whom many considered an indication of the success recorded by the event.

Not long ago after sponsoring the International Conference cited earlier, the British Council Nigeria through its ‘Connecting Futures’ project gave 5 budding filmmakers first class training in filmmaking for two years, which culminated in the youth producing five winning short films. Also, the French Embassy in Nigeria in collaboration with Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) it is that wholly sponsored a 4 day workshop on filmmaking in 2005, adding to the support the industry is now gaining from the international community.

The recent crackdown of filmmakers in the north particularly in Kano State by the authorities signaled a very interesting epoch in the history and relevance of this important industry in the north, and by extension in Nigeria.

Part of the symptoms of the alleged excesses of the present crop of Hausa filmmakers is said to be the almost uncontrollable pollution of the closely guarded and respected Hausa culture that leads to some female admirers of Hausa Filmmakers to publicly showcase their sexual orientation, meaning that some women did publicly declare that they are going to emulate Californians by getting married to each other publicly and fearlessly, an action viewed by many as a taboo. It is a story of awe and confusion and it is what can rightly be described as the most demeaning abuse of fame ever to bear its ugly head out of the now allegedly promiscuous Hausa film industry; a rare show of feminine crudity and a terrifying tale of rumpus manifestation of prevalent lesbianism that is eating deep into the fabrics of Kanywood. On 22nd April 2007 the most talk about religiously- tense Kano state witnessed yet another attempt by some group of people at tying the hands of people of the same sex into the bonds of marriage, only that in this case it wasn’t masculine gays but a fair-looking and pleasurably hot lady going by the name ‘Aunty Maiduguri’ getting married to four sanguine girls- a sure feminine polygamy you can call it!

The contentious act swiftly invited the wrath of Kano state government whom since expressed bitterly its skepticism over the activities of those operating in the film industry. For a start, the venue slated to host the four modish brides alongside their groom for a party which also happened to be an open theatre where plays were staged was demolished beyond recognition alongside two adjacent theatres on the instructions of the state governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau with their Certificate of Occupancies and Operating Licenses all revoked. Soon followed an announcement that the government has sternly banned all forms of Gala and stage plays to be performed by men and women of the Hausa film industry, indefinitely! Then came the last, but expected one- order from the state government to the security agencies in the state to fish out and arrest ‘Aunty Maiduguri’ and her accomplices whom are already on the run.

Also, not long after the infamous Aunti Maiduguri Affair a video sex scandal involving one of the most popular Hausa actresses compelled the authorities to have a second thought on Hausa filmmaking and Hausa filmmakers not to mention a promiscuous music video released by one Adam Zango a background singer which leads to his detention for a prescribed period of time. What follows was a complete shutdown of filmmaking activities in Kano State for about a year now and the detention of the Hamisu Lamido Iyantama (a producer), Adam Zango (background singer), Rabilu Musa IBRO (a popular comedian) among others by Kano State Films and Videos Censors Board.

The leak of a sex video involving popular celebrities may prove a good omen to celebrities in the Western world, but from the harsh treatment received by the leak of the Hausa celebrity's sex video; it is obvious that the reverse is very true for celebrities in northern Nigeria.

Most of the stakeholders, especially the filmmakers, actors and actresses condemned the actions of the Kano State government alleging that it was the wrong decision for the government to take considering that most of the people, young and old that are having a means of livelihood via Hausa filmmaking process are rendered jobless and penniless by the government's action, worst they claimed, the government has failed to provide jobs for these people and has shown little interest in the Hausa filmmaking business which leads to its lackluster attitude towards Hausa filmmaking and Hausa Filmmakers.

In the midst of all these controversies this writer deemed it fit to get to the source of the matter and to achieve that he went all the way to interview the Director General of the Kano State Films and Videos Censors Board. The following is the outcome of our interview with Malam Rabo Abdulkareem which was initially meant for a national daily that requested for it but after reviewing the content and weighting the importance of the information embedded in it, I deemed it wise to distribute it via a medium that can allow for wider readership which is why the online platform is chosen.

A Brief on the Director General, Kano State Film and Video Censors Board.

Rabo Abdulkareem: Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem are my names, I am the Director General Kano State Censorship Board, I am 35 years old and hail from Chiromawa of Garun Malam Local Government of Kano State. Earlier before my appointment here, I was the Deputy Commander of the Kano State Hisbah Board, much earlier I was a school teacher but of course I have my first and second degree in humanities.

What Specialization or area of study to be a little specific?

R. A: My first degree has been in Mass Communications- Special Honors (Broadcast) and my second degree is in Developmental Studies all from Bayero University, here in Kano.

What little can you say authoritatively about the history of and rationale behind the setting up of Kano State Censorship Board?

R. A: Historically and globally censorship is not a new thing, and of course it is because of the need in every responsible society or community to have moral values been upheld and things done the right way to the taste of the uniqueness of the individual community or society that censorship is accorded a unique priority in the history of mankind, this is why you see Censorship Board in the history of the Greeks, you see it in the history of the Persian Empire, in that of Europe, and in that of the United States America in particular which emanates from the need to build a 'hays code'. Coming back to Africa, I believe as Africans revered as the custodians of some of the worlds' most treasured and respected cultures we cannot be an exception, most particularly in Nigeria going by our populous nature and standing in the world. Here in Kano, particularly in the year 2001, there was this law established by the State Assembly and accented to and endorsed by the then executive arm of the government of Kano State and of course what informed the decision of the then government to come up with the law was a confusion, or rather mix-up of cultural values which was largely attributed to foreign influence and the weird culture of blind copy-cating of foreign cultures by most of the Hausa filmmakers which results to public outcry in the 1999-2000 of then Kano, and of course that was how the then administration sanctioned activities of filmmakers in the state. In fact, most of the filmmakers were suspended and entire cinematographic activities were suspended, of course after that very suspension there was the idea of coming up with a regulatory body and that was how the Kano State government then came up with the present Kano State Censorship Board Law 2001. And the interesting thing was the power giving to the state governments in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria whereby state governments are regarded or rather are given the leverage to go ahead and establish their respective state Censorship Bodies on film making and other thearitical activities and section 16 of the 1999 constitution of the concurrent legislative list is the main bedrock which result to this very kind of state Censorship Board Law, meaning that what we are doing is in consonant with the constitution of the federal republic and of course in it we can see some virtues, we can also see some positive results out of what we have so far established, because at least, the social responsibility expected of a government in ensuring and above all the outcome and output of the film project is becoming this time around very professional in nature, ethical and of course there is quality, quality in the content and quality in the critique of what is churn out for the viewership of the general public. Being a federating unit here, we are empowered and we have every right to have a very unique mechanism of governance, to have our uniqueness and peculiarity very well accommodated and reflected in the way we do our things in the state. We are trying to conform with the arrangement of the federation, been a federating unit, we want to have our own unique good governance, our unique security and of course, not undermining the constitution, not undermining national interest, but above all, we want to contribute to the growth of our GDP, this time around economically to tally with the vision 2020 of the present administration.

Can you please shed more light on your board's modus operandi?

R. A: The modus operandi or rather the goal is to ensure that things are done the right way. Considering film making as a profession just like journalism and accountancy, we don’t want to believe that illiteracy can bring the needed security into the filmmaking fold, rather the skill, and the knowledge. We are emphasizing on skill acquisition, this is our primary responsibility, and this is why all professional crew are mandated to have the basic training, to have the basic knowledge of filmmaking before they are certified to either direct, to produce, or act a professional role in a film. Of course there are artists that have abundant talent, and some can be special artistes, but notwithstanding how talented somebody is or gifted by the Almighty if he is taken to a film school where he will be groomed, if he is well shaped by the professionales that knows the film business bette, he will fare better in the film making business compared to when he or she is on her own. Be it may, what we are now saying is professionalism is emphasized in our modus operandi. The context, essence and the fundamental aspects of censorship, are to ensure that the younger ones, the future generation are not misguided or rather are not feed-up with destructive items (values).

What can you say about the success your board recorded so far?

R. A: What we’ve achieved by our own majors so far is a very good way forward because we are now censoring films and we are now correcting things not ours. Notwithstanding, other cultures must be seen in own films, because we are not living in isolation, but they are to be portrayed the way they are, we wouldn’t allow other cultures to be belittled in any way in the process of censoring, we also wouldn’t allow other ethnics or religions to be belittled because it is duty bound on government, especially the Nigerian government which has a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society to rationally and wisely manage. This is why I say by God’s grace, sooner or later, we would have what is called maximum output.

The recent visit of the duos of the Managing Director, Nigeria Film Corporations Jos and the Director General National Film and Videos Censors Board marked the beginning of the spread of the prevailing rumor that your board is gradually attracting national attention. What can you say about these visits?

R. A: Much earlier before the visit of the DG NFVCB, there was that of the MD Nigeria Film Corporation, Mr. Afolabi Adesanya. When he was here, he pleaded with the board on a lot of things, and of course, out of our stakeholders meetings, we resolved to went back and start censoring films, while been very considerate of our contemporary regulations and guidance or rather guidelines, because we will not undermine what we believe is the best solution to that public outcry that I stated to you earlier. When the DG NFVCB was here, we came up with a very good and formidable position; in fact, he is a very good representation of the nation because he was emphasizing on locality and the positive side of local content generation and integration while also insisting on originality in film projects. Above all, he was saying that every public servant must be like what we are in the state, acting as a guardian, or rather custodians of national legislations and state legislations. So, he was trying to make a point to the filmmakers, that if they find ease in belittling the law, if they see no harm in belittling the state legislations, that means they are not helping matters, above all, they will continue to be at logger leads with authorities and of course by so doing, they are but becoming deviant elements of the Nigerian society. So, I respected his submission or rather proposition, not withstanding his appeal that we should be very considerate of the baby industry, a.k.a Kanywood in trying to relax some measures that might be employed in the next ten years not now, for instance, on the issue of digitization, he is not saying we should relax our stance on digitization, but that we should try to revisit our measures so that we will not make filmmakers close shops needlessly and prematurely. We are emphasizing on erecting and maintenance of excellent and equally professional facilities; what we are saying now is that all production companies must be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission like any other business entity or rather body, but to ask them to do this, they say is a stringent measure. But the reality is, you ought to be registered, because you are in a business, and film making is an investment with its attendant risks and prospects. Also, the issue of a production firm to have the basic office accommodation where at least a computer system is there with a Secretary ought to be considered and checkmated. Most of the companies before we are here are nominal, nominal in the sense that they are nowhere to be found. Most of the so-called production companies believe you me, are mobile and they are not there. Believe you me, we would by God’s grace try to standardize things, and we can only do that with the cooperation and understanding of the stakeholders, that we are out for their betterment, and if they cannot appreciate that, then that’s their problem. Most of them exist without the knowledge of their local authorities; their respective local government authorities don’t even know them, because they don’t have office accommodation. What we are now insisting on is that, you must go back to the local government where you are located, be registered, and be introduced to us by your local government authority before we register you, that’s the best way for us to help the government fetch the required tax from the companies and that’s why we are saying that a tax clearance certificate must accompany your application, and the most astonishing thing to us is that all these to them are stringents, they consider every measure to sanitize and breed order to the system, a stringent measure. That’s why they complain and I don’t think we will compromise on this.

Is it true that your board is given the opportunity to censor films that are not made in Kano?

R. A: You see, we have a very good point here and I want them to stick to their promise. I told you much earlier that in Nigeria we are a federating unit; there are customary laws in the west and in the south; there is the Shari’a penal code in the north and above all there is the constitution. The issue is this, if national agencies or organizations will accord recognition, respect and certain privileges to specific agencies like ours on the area that we are more primaric, then this we can say is a very positive development. Let's assume, in the NFVCB's Preview/Screening Committee there is no, single typical Hausa-Fulani there representing the people? But if we do it here, I mean if we censor Hausa films here, and at the end our certificates are presented to NFVCB during a submission of a Hausa films projects for their own preview, it will be easy for them to censor and nationalize the film project.

What can you say about the controversies surrounding the recent court cases between your board and the film makers in Kano?

R. A: I hope our stakeholders are not mistaking by seeing the KFCB as a home of punitive measures, as if we are the only one. Punitive measures taken by a censorship board globally is the tradition, even NFCVB use to take defaulters before a court of law, High Court of justice for that matter; our is ordinary Magistrate Courts where the provision of the law is very light and mild. Now what I will like people to appreciate our own measures as excellent nd is better than that which is obtainable in the US for instance; the logic is this, employment preventive measures is far better than curative, because it is our tradition, it's our religion to guide stakeholders, preventing him/her from defaulting or erring. Now, what we are doing is before you are allowed to go ahead and kick start the shooting you are required to first of all submit to consultants the proposed script for the film for their vetting, so after been vetted by the consultant, tell me who will complain on it on merit? Unlike allowing somebody accomplished the project, and allowing him to release it into the market and then when some foul are found in it, you then effect an arrest or ban order, is this wise? And believe me that’s what is obtainable in the US, that’s their version of censoring. Our preventive measures can be regarded as Shari’ah and also the tradition of the Hausa Fulani. In our tradition, you don’t allow somebody to breach a law, rather guide him, educate him and saying this thing you are trying to do is consequential, illegally, anti-religious, economically and culturally implicative. By so doing, you are making it less damaging; you are making it less difficult for someone. If you are told on how 3-5 minutes clips are made in a film, you won't be happy asking someone to remove it after he or she is done with the project and we don’t want our stakeholders to be in this big loss, that’s why we are preaching the preventive approach to censorship. What I am now saying in that, these known of controversies has maliciously emanated from people that feel they are above the law, and we believe that nobody is above the law (a principle of democracy 'rule of law'). So our so-called punitive measures, is meant for NFVCB. So what we are saying in essence here is that we will make sure that anybody who feel like he or she is arrogant, or he or she is above the law, face the wrath of the law.

Irrespective of your caliber and status in Kanywood, I am sorry for you, if you breach the law. As per as my own style leadership is concerned, I believe nobody is above the law and above all the most respected element among the stakeholders in our eyes is he who obey the law religiously; somebody who will respect the law however minimal, however insignificant, and however basic he is in the industry, believe you me he is a very big person, but he who sees little harm in breaching the law, however well placed, however influential he is, be he a marketer, be he or she a producer, I am sorry for that person, because, he will find us very uncompromising.

We are on a professional and legal mission, not on political or related issues; I can assure you here and now that there is no any sentiment attached to our activities.

What can you say about support or otherwise that your board is receiving from international bodies?

R. A: Immaterially, we do have support from NGOs and foreign bodies because we use to have intellectual fora, sometimes organized here locally and sometimes we are invited outside the country and sometimes we invite resources persons who are not Nigerians to give transfer skills and modern discoveries to production, just like what happened in the SHOOT 2008 (Jos), which we are there in numbers that not a single state of the federation can match. What I am trying to say is this, as par basic working tools, we are very grateful to this administration of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau. We also have a very good pledge, in fact we make the government to believe that it is high time for the government to invest money in filmmaking and to impact knowledge through seminars, workshops, training, and to sponsor various stakeholders to courses in Nigeria and abroad; all this things we are doing is to complement government accomplish its social responsibilities to the industry.

What about problems?

We don’t have any believe you me. I am not saying we don’t have any in the context that really there are not problems but what I am saying in essence is that the problems we are facing are tolerable. The problem of non-confidence by the general public in the products churned out by our crops of filmmakers is a central problem, and if confidence is lost, everything is lost, and that confidence is what we are assiduously working towards restoring. The crux of the matter is and will be the pursuit of excellence and professionalism in film making and that’s why we are all out to see to it that we will not leave stakeholders that are fond of dishing out all rubbish for the viewership of the teeming public unturned or alone, we will touch you, the way you molest the law; we will deal with you, the way you negatively dealt with the law; in a nutshell this is my prayer, this is my call and in as much you will do it, the way we are urging you to do it, you will have our support.

Indeed, Hausa Movie Industry has its own teething problems- but as Professor Abdalla put it; “that is natural, because it is (still) in its infancy. However, it has the potential of a giant buried in a tiny acorn.”

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Obama’s Al-Azhar Agenda

Some have called it the real Seven-point Agenda. It addressed issues that were/are both current and touchy: extremism and terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, democracy, the status of women, economic empowerment, etc. Out of them all, the issues of violent extremism and the Question of Palestine have been receiving the most attention, not least because of their global impact whose immediacy has been proved over and over gain. In fact, the whole world had looked forward to Obama’s Cairo speech with great anticipation. Not that the theme of the speech was not guessed beforehand, considering what he had said during his first trip to Europe last April and what he had told the Saudi King on the eve of his arrival in Egypt.

As it turned out, Obama did not disappoint his listeners across the world yesterday. He spoke with an erudition and surprising know-how about his subject matter not seen in many decades of American presidency. Those that were in doubt about his depth, finesse and sincerity of purpose – and there are millions of them especially in the Muslim world – must have had second thoughts. His commitment to world peace in the post-Bush era is well known.

What the Cairo declaration seeks to show is that both the United States and Islam – a religion founded on a universal message of peace – can agree on the way forward on the path of entrenching lasting peace on earth. The president has sought to debunk the age-old notion of the “clash of civilisations” in which eggheads like Francis Fukuyama dwelt on the inevitability of cultural collision due to a wide range of irreconcilable differences.

My worry about Obama’s stance as he made clear yesterday is that it is Muslims who need to understand that “America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam.” What the president did not say is the origin of the disagreement that has since become a hitherto intractible crisis between Islam and the West. The question is: did Muslims just wake up one day and decide to confront the West? The answer is no. Islam is in conflict with the West simply because of the injustices that the West imposed on weaker nations, especially on Muslims wherever they might be. In most instances they came as a result of a deep-rooted islamophobia. An average Westerner had, for many centuries, regarded a Muslim as “the other,” an alien, a strange being. Nowhere was this exemplified more than in the creation of the state of Israel. That creation, which Zionists began to crow about as the “independence” of Israel, the dislocation of the Palestinians from their land, and all the iniquities that followed the Israeli occupation of Palestine were a fallout of that deeply-ingrained feeling. While Great Britain was the prime mover of the original creation of Israel, a non-existent nation before 1947, it was Uncle Sam that gave it most of what it required to grow up from infancy to a ferocious adulthood. Successive American governments had considered Israel as an extension of the American nation. All the United Nations resolutions enacted to solve the problem or, at best, reduce the pains it brought, were shunned by Israel, and nobody could do anything about it. Hence the Intifada and all the horrors associated with it.

Such injustices were legion. They could be seen in many Muslim lands. In Algeria and recenly in Somalia, political parties that appeared to U.S. administrations as Islamic won elections in free and fair contests, but they were blocked and or demonised by U.S. propagandists as extremist governments. This stance became more pronounced after the World War when the West seemed to lack a concrete enemy to fight. Islam, because of its age-old civilisation, became a ready whipping boy, so to say, to many an American policymaker.

Meanwhile, the American people, on whose behalf U.S. agents fought anything “Islamic” abroad, were wretchedly ignorant of the real issues. The truth is that while the U.S. boasts of the largest and most sophisticated channels of mass communication, its peoples are kept ignorant of the real issues abroad by their governments, journalists and “civil society” groups. And because majority of Americans have not travelled abroad, lived and interacted amongst other peoples, they swallowed hook, line and sinker whatever stereotypes they were fed through the mass media and other fora. That made it easy for America to manipulate the truth about Muslims, with coinages like “fundamentalists,” “extremists” and “terrorists.”

The sad event of 9/11 was a reaction to perceived Western injustices by a segment of Muslims. Such a segment, of course, is a powerful minority among Muslims and does not represent the interest or belief of the rest. Majority of Muslims are peace-loving, taught by their religion to co-exist with the faithful of other religions in many areas of human endeavour. President Obama is latching on Islam’s universal message of peace to isolate the extremists among the Muslims. He may succeed in this, I think, only if he matches rhetoric with action. Across the Muslim world there are millions who desire to live peacefully with their neighbours. America needs to come off clean in its commitment to ensuring this through concrete action.

As I argued in this space soon after Obama’s Ankara speech (“Obama and Rebranding of America, LEADERSHIP, April 10), most of the bad image brand America acquired in the last decade had to do with its treatment of Muslims. Obama has drawn a roadmap for the new relationship between not only his country but also the rest of the West and Muslims. But it isn’t enough for Obama to simply deliver pleasing rhetoric; he must follow them up with action. In that piece, I argued that the determining point to gauge a genuine rapprochement between between the West and Islam is, indeed, the US’ handling of the Palestinian question in the months to come.

Is the U.S. (read: Obama) ready to force the hawkish government of Benjamin Netanyahu to recognise the Palestians’ right to a homeland, with East Jerusalem as their capital? The rhetoric by Obama yesterday about Israel’s special place in the American psyche was a disturbing rehash of the old argument by past U.S. governments. If he cannot successfully push for the two-state option that he canvasses today, then forget it; it would be near-impossible to isolate the extremists who are always looking for such weaknesses to advance their cause while trying to persuade the majority to support them.

On the other hand it was cheering to hear President Obama expressing commitment to righting the other major wrongs in the U.S. foreign policy: the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Withdrawing the marines from those countries and allowing the people to manage their own lives would assure Muslims that America is no longer the brute others consider it to be. That should be followed up with concrete action on the treatment of Muslims in other Muslim countries and in the West. Surely that would encourage the Muslims to believe in Obama’s promises and see the need for unity. It would help isolate the extremists, forcing them to remember the teachings of the holy Qur’an that emphasise the mutual respect for human dignity and the life of all people.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Obama’s Speech in Cairo

This speech, considered epochal in the Islam - West relations, was delivered in Cairo by President Obama yesterday

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

Know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."
Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.
The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Yar’Adua: Great Expectation, Disappointing Outcome

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s current President, and unless his health fails will remain the Chief Executive of Africa’s most populous country at least until 2011, and perhaps till 2015 if re-elected. Having been in office for less than two years, it may be premature to pass judgment on his leadership and governance styles. But there is a saying prevalent amongst Hausa speakers of Northern Nigeria, which roughly translated means: “You know that an enjoyable weekend is round the corner when things begin to look good by Wednesday, (otherwise, forget the weekend, or just pray).”

It is on the basis of this that I will attempt to present an assessment of Umaru Yar’ Adua’s time in office, and venture to predict what his first full term in office is likely to be. I do not share the views of the Economist that Umaru Yar’ Adua’s health is such an issue that he would not be available to attempt re-election.

And because Umaru Yar’Adua has been in office for so short a time, not much has been written about him. This essay will therefore be a summary of what the utterly free but unreliable Nigerian media and bloggers have published, tempered by my personal knowledge of Yar’Adua since I first met him in 1972, and what others that have grown up, lived and worked with him have related to me.

I will also present not only a contextual summary of the Obasanjo Administration’s twilight days, and Obasanjo’s decisions and actions and the impacts these would have on Yar’Adua’s governance, but a biographical sketch that throws some light on the personality of the new president. My hope is that these will help explain some of Yar’Adua’s decisions and actions, as well as successes and failures as President of Nigeria.

I will compare Yar’ Adua’s promises and commitments upon his swearing-in, with actual outcomes achieved. I will review his political, economic and foreign policy vision, policies and actions to establish how transformational he has been.

Nigeria in May 2007

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 146 million inhabitants living within an area slightly more than twice the land area of California. With a GDP of over $296 billion and huge reserves of crude oil, Nigeria is the second largest economy in the Continent, the leading oil exporter and 37th largest economy in the zorld.

Nigeria is located in the Gulf of Guinea in the Western part of Africa. Nigeria was created by the amalgamation of what were known as the Protectorates of Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and the Colony of Lagos into one nation in 1914. The nation was granted independence in 1960 in what was considered by Time magazine as a model of negotiated self-rule.

Nigeria in May 2007 was in high spirits – we were about to successfully transfer power democratically from one elected government to another, handing over a sound economy that is almost debt-free with healthy reserves of over $45 billion. For the first time since Nigeria’s first republic was terminated, there was a window of opportunity to break from the past. The world was watching with interest, with good reason. According to Rotberg in a report prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations: “For policy makers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country’s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa.”

For some of us in President Obasanjo’s government, the elections were disappointing but the best candidate won. We have elected our first University graduate as President, a person we were convinced was a decent man, and raised the possibility that we will break the vicious cycle of bad leadership that has defined our nation. We were optimistic about the future.

Abuja on May 29, 2007

It was on the eve of the Hand-Over date and we had gone to Defense House to take a final look at the Inaugural Speech that President-Elect Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would read to the world tomorrow when he is sworn in at 10.00 am Nigerian time. Abuja – the City I had administered in the last four years and have lived since 1998 was not as festive as it should be. Instead, what was in the air was a huge sigh of relief. I had been in my office for the last time, knowing that I will never ever visit the FCT Administration again. My family had moved out of the official residence a couple of days before, and moved into the house I had just bought from the Federal Government.

We had brought the only African to ever win a Pulitzer Prize - Dele Olojede (now the publisher of Next Newspaper) from South Africa, to write the speech. We (Dele Olojede, Nasir El-Rufai, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Jimi Lwal and Aliyu Modibbo) reviewed the third draft of the speech with Umaru Yar’Adua and made a few corrections. We argued whether it was appropriate to mention that 54% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line in view of the unreliability of our national statistics. It was a great speech Dele had prepared from several intearctive sessions with the President-Elect.
At about 11pm, Tanimu Yakubu came in to the room we were all meeting, and asked me out. He requested that I get one of the judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory to come and sign the Asset Declaration Forms of the President-Elect, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria had vowed that he will not appear at the Inauguration unless they were submitted to him in the morning. I called my Chief of Staff to wake up any of the judges for this purpose. I rejoined the group and finally left the President-Elect at 2.00 am in the morning of May 29, 2007. Tanimu, my Chief of Staff and the Honorable Judge were still waiting for the paperwork to be put together.

As I was driving home, my cell-phone rang and it was Nuhu Ribadu – the respected and dreaded chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He told me that he was with President Obasanjo and would want me to join them. I diverted to the State House and met them sharing drinks and reminiscent about the last four years. We left President Obasanjo who said he expected us at 8.00 am for a final breakfast with him before going to Eagle Square – the venue of the Inauguration Ceremonies. I got home about 3.00 am for a wink and was up early for the Farewell Breakfast with Obasanjo.
It was a time of great relief for us too – we will soon be free to pursue our private lives. I was personally uneasy about the poor succession outcome, inadequate preparation of Umaru Yar’Adua for the office he was about to be sworn in, the flawed elections and the legitimacy burden arising therefrom, and the abysmally poor briefing of the incoming team of the opportunities and challenges before them. How did we get to this point?

(Note - Most of the biographical information is taken from the Umaru Yar’Adua/Jonathan Goodluck campaign website:

Early Life and Education

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is Nigeria’s thirteenth Head of Government and the second President of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. He was born on 16th August, 1951 in Daudawa, a village within the then Katsina Province of the Northern Region of Nigeria. His father, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua was at the time the senior civil servant in charge of the farm settlement of Kamfanin Daudawa, now part of Faskari Local Government of Katsina State.

Umaru’s father – Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua hailed from the Sullubawa Ruling Family of Katsina and held several aristocratic positions including royal titles of Tafida, and later the Mutawalli of Katsina (custodian of the treasury of the Katsina Emirate) until his death in 1993. Musa Yar’Adua was an active member of the Northern Peoples’ Congress – the dominant political party in Northern Nigeria at the time. He was the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa between 1960 and 1966. Umaru was the third eldest male of several children of Musa Yar’Adua’s several wives.

Umaru Yar’Adua was therefore born in privilege, and grew up learning from two respected tacticians in Nigeria’s political history – his father, Musa Yar’Adua and his elder brother – Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was General Olusegun Obasanjo’s number two in the military junta that ruled Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. Umaru has always been an introvert and grew up in the shadows of his flamboyant, more extroverted and military-officer elder brother Shehu.

Umaru attended primary schools in and around Katsina, and went to Government College Keffi for his high school education (1965 to 1969). He did his two year senior high (A Levels) (1970 to 1971) at the famous Barewa College, Zaria – the premier high school that produced the bulk of Nigeria’s leaders from the North. (Note: Barewa College, Zaria was established in 1922 by the Colonial Government to produce teachers of Northern Nigerian origin. The College has so far produced four (Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari and Umaru Yar’Adua) out of Nigeria’s twelve Heads of Government, and Sir Ahmadu Bello – the Sardauna of Sokoto who was the de facto Head of the First Republic Government but chose to be the Premier of the Northern Region. See for more details.)
At Keffi, Umaru was a brilliant Science student who loved James Bond novels, and was nicknamed 007. Oddly enough, according to people that knew him then - his favorite character in the novels was not Bond himself but Ernst Stavro Blofeld – the leader of the criminal extortion organization intent on achieving world domination – S.P.E.C.T.R.E.! – (Note - SPECTRE stands for the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion - Admiring the villain in a spy novel was very strange indeed, and indicative of Umaru’s rebellious ways, or perhaps a future sinister streak!)

At Barewa College, Umaru was not a particularly conscientious student, missing classes often, was a chain smoker, and drank a lot of alcohol, contrary to College Regulations. He got a new nickname “Bad Man” for his anti-establishment and rebellious ways. In spite of this, he was not only appointed House Captain of Mallam Smith House but was surprisingly able to pass his A Levels reasonably well enough to get admitted into a degree program. (Note - I got admitted to Barewa College in January 1972 - a few months after Umaru Yar’Adua graduated. I was a freshman in Mallam Smith House where he was House Captain, and placed under the care of Sani Maikudi, Umaru Yar’Adua’s first cousin. Umaru was a legend, admired by all for his populist, non-chalant administration of the House, and fondly remembered by his Barewa nickname – “Bad Man”).

Umaru was admitted to the Ahmadu Bello University and graduated with BSc in Chemistry/Education in 1975. He spent one year in Lagos during the mandatory National Youth Service at Holy Child College as a high school Chemistry teacher. He returned to Ahmadu Bello University in 1978 for two years for an M.Sc in Analytical Chemistry. It is noteworthy that Umaru’s upbringing and education has always been limited to the states that make up the old Northern Region. He knew little else outside of his immediate geographic, ethnic and religious environment. This is to have some implications for his future governance roles.

Employment and Professional Career

On completion of the compulsory National Youth Service Scheme, Umaru joined the services of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), Zaria as a Chemistry lecturer. He earned his M.Sc in Chemistry while still teaching at CAST. He remained in the employment of CAST, which later became the Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (KCAST) and then Katsina Polytechnic until 1983 when he resigned to work for his brother, Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, then retired.

(Note - CAST Zaria/KCAST Zaria - This was a senior high school which replaced the British-style “A Levels” in the Northern States, and served to accelerate the preparation of high school graduates to move on to University. Coincidentally, my cousin and adopted father – Yahaya Hamza was the Principal of the College who interviewed and employed Umaru.

During his years at CAST, KCAST and the Polytechnic, Umaru became fascinated with socialism, and had great admiration for the Soviet economic and political system. He was the Patron of the students’ socialist movement, the Movement for Progressive Nigeria during the period. He admired the works of Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and read most of them. It was at this point that Yar’Adua also discovered Lobsang Rampa – the Tibetan mystic and author of the bestseller “The Third Eye”, introducing him to oriental thinking, superstition and myticism.

Upon retirement in 1979, Umaru’s elder brother and General Obasanjo’s deputy – Major General Shehu Yar’Adua had gone into the private sector in a big way – causing many people to wonder where all the money came from . The elder Yar’Adua’s farming venture – Sambo Farms Ltd., located near Daudawa (Umaru’s birthplace) was one of the ventures. Umaru became its pioneer General Manager in 1983 and remained there until the Company reportedly filed for bankruptcy in 1989. During the period, Umaru served on the Boards of several State-owned enterprises and agencies and on several private boards as a nominee of the Yar’Adua family:
• Katsina College of Arts, Science and Technology (1979-83)
• Kaduna State Farmers Supply Company (1984-85)
• Katsina Investment and Property Development Company (1994-96)
• Habib Nigeria Bank Ltd. (1995-99)
• Lodigiani Construction Nigeria Ltd. (1987-1999)
• Hamada Holdings (1983-1999)
• Madara Ltd, Jos (1987-99)
• Nationhouse Press Ltd. (1995-99)

Umaru Yar’Adua never had any formal training in business or economics but through these boards got exposed to corporate practices prevalent in Nigeria at a time of rapid economic change – the years of Structural Adjustment Program and the endless political transitions of the successive military juntas of the mid-1980s to the late 1990s in Nigeria.

Political Career

During their employment as lecturers at the CAST Zaria, Umaru Yar’Adua along with Lawal Batagarawa joined the leftist Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP). Umaru Yar’Adua’s father was at that time, the State Chairman of the rival, right-wing National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

(Note - Lawal Batagarawa was a schoolmate and friend of Umaru Yar’Adua. He also hails from Katsina and attended Government College Keffi. He studied Electrical Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University. He taught Mathematics at the CAST Zaria at the same time as Umaru Yar’Adua. Later in life, Lawal went on to be Minister of State – Education and Defense in the Obasanjo Administration. He was Special Adviser to Obasanjo between 2003 and 2007).

However, when the PRP’s candidate was surprisingly elected the Governor of Kaduna State, Umaru Yar’Adua declined to accept a position in the government ‘for family reasons’ . Lawal Batagrawa left CAST taking up appointment as a Permanent Secretary in the Kaduna State executive branch. The Second Republic was terminated by a military coup in 1983, and by then Umaru had left public service to work for his brother, Shehu Yar Adua – who was mixing business with sporadic forays into politics by then.

When the Babangida Administration announced its Transition to Civil Rule program in 1988, Umaru joined his brother’s right-of-center political association, the Peoples’ Front (PF) in an act of final separation from leftist politics. He was elected, in 1988, on non-party basis, a member of the Constituent Assembly whose deliberations led to the enactment of 1989 Constitution by the Babangida junta. When the military junta decreed a two-party system for the country in 1991, the Peoples’ Front opted to merge into the left-of-center Social Democratic Party (SDP) rather than the right-of-center National Republican Convention (NRC).

Umaru Yar’Adua was an active member of the SDP at national and state levels. He was Katsina State Secretary of SDP and member of the party’s National Caucus. He contested the Governorship of Katsina State in 1991 but lost to Saidu Barda of the NRC, in what many saw as rejection of what looked as monarchical rule in Nigeria - Shehu Yar’Adua was contesting the Nigerian Presidency while his kid brother wished to run his home state of Katsina!

From then on, things took turns for the worse for the Yar’Adua family. Shehu was arrested and detained by the Babangida junta, released and then disqualified from running for office. He was re-arrested and tried for treason, along with his former boss – Olusegun Obasanjo - by the Abacha junta in 1996. Umaru was compelled by circumstances to assume the supervision of Shehu’s vast political and business empire. Shehu died in prison under very questionable circumstances.

(Note - While in prison, Shehu Yar’Adua sent a note to his supporters that he had been invited to the office of the prison warden where he met Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, then Chief Security Officer to General Abacha, and two others he did not know. He was forcefully injected with a colorless liquid by the three persons. Shehu’s note added that he was not ill and has not had even a headache since the incident happened – a few days before he sent the note. Shehu died in Abakaliki Prison in 1997 - less than two years after the incidence. Many of his supporters believe he was injected with HIV or Hepatitis virus or both.)

When General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed the leadership of the military junta after the sudden death of General Abacha in 1998, Umaru Yar’Adua teamed up with Shehu’s allies and formed the Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM). This movement merged with other disparate political groups to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 199.
Even though Umaru was not the most popular aspirant for the governorship, there was near -unanimous consensus, with General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as main advocate that the Yar’Adua family ought to be compensated for Shehu’s efforts and ultimate sacrifice for Nigeria’s democracy. This he argued will only be achieved by getting Umaru elected Governor of Katsina State. This led to several angry defections from the party by aspirants Kanti Bello, Nura Khalil and others to the rival All People’s Party (APP now ANPP). In a pattern that will repeat itself again and again in his political life, Umaru got the PDP ticket virtually without any effort due to the advocacy and sacrifice of others. He was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003 as Governor of Katsina State.

(Note - Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau has been a regular figure in all of Nigeria’s military juntas. He was at various times the Director of Military Intelligence to the Buhari regime, National Security Adviser to Babangida, and Obasanjo, and Chief of Army Staff to the Shonekan and Abacha Administrations. He contested against Umaru Yar’Adua in the 2007 presidential primaries and lost. He remains an influential power broker in Nigeria and respected by the intelligence community worldwide).

Governance of Katsina State

The PDP has from its inception, perfected the bad habit of expecting its candidates for political office to bear the disproportionate burden of campaign expenses. So Umaru got the ticket but had to raise monies for his governorship bid. As the head of the Yar’Adua family, he was assumed to be wealthy. This was far from the truth. By the time Shehu died in prison, most of the businesses were shut down or near bankruptcy except Habib Nigeria Bank. Nicotes Services had been expropriated by the Abacha junta, the name changed to Intels Logistics Services and the chairmanship transferred to the Emir of Kano. Under Umaru’s non-business supervision, the family fortune was virtually disappearing. Umaru had no money to spend on the Governorship.
A group of young professionals of Katsina State origin, who had made money from the Petroleum Special Trust Fund (PTF) program under the supervision of General Muhammadu Buhari, came to the rescue. Their leader was Tanimu Yakubu, an Economics graduate of Wagner College, New York, and included Dr. Aminu Safana and Ibrahim Shema. Nura Khalil was part of the group but decamped to the APP. Other ‘businessmen’ like Dahiru Mangal and Ahmadi Kurfi (both alleged to be professional smugglers) contributed financially to the Yar’Adua for Governor Campaign in 1998-99. Other notable figures include that played key mobilizing, but not direct financial roles included Lawal Batagrawa, Aminu Bello Masari and Samaila Mamman.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy was nominated by the young professionals, though not one of them – Tukur Bakori. His governance style in Katsina from 1999-2007 was influenced by this history and relationships. Tanimu Yakubu became Commissioner of Finance, Dr. Safana was appointed the Secretary to the State Government while Ibrahim Shema became the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice. These three persons would continue to play key roles in Umaru’s political life from 1999 to the present time. Umaru Yar’Adua formed what he called Katsina Group of 11 (K-11) which then became group of 34 (K-34) which included his inner circle, Party leaders, State Assembly leadership and his campaign financiers as the main vehicle for the political control and governance of Katsina State. His wife Turai, and favorite daughter Zainab, were not members of K-34, but everyone in the state came to realize how influential they can be in getting the Governor to approve policies and contracts in record time.

Umaru then began a process of neutralizing all sources of checks and balance in the governance of the State. He ensured that only K-34 members became leaders in the state Legislature. He then faced the opposition parties in the State and through patronage; conversion and intimidation virtually decimated the APP by 2007. Kanti Bello and Nura Khalil all briefly returned to the PDP at some point during this period. By 2003, he had won over ANPP’s main hatchet man, Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma to the PDP. He appointed him Secretary to the State Government and persuaded Dr. Safana to run for the House of Representatives and move to Abuja. He also got Tanimu Yakubu – his then popular and effective Commissioner of Finance to move to Abuja as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.

What commentators said about these ‘deployments’ was that Umaru could not neither tolerate any opposition nor share the limelight with his initial financiers and supporters any longer! Others said he was rewarding loyalty, but the consensus was that Umaru was turning out to be an autocratic and insecure governor, but in a very nice, quiet and detached way.

Umaru’s introverted personality helped a great deal in his relations with the Federal Government. He hated travelling so hardly came to Abuja. He avoided most Governor’s meetings, and usually got his Deputy Governor to represent him. He interacted minimally with President Obasanjo and had a testy relationship with Atiku Abubakar right from their PF and SDP days.

His favorite official in Abuja was General Aliyu Mohammed, Obasanjo’s National Security Adviser, who continued to see him as Shehu’s kid brother. This meant that unlike most state governors who frequented Abuja Federal offices and the Lagos media houses to advance their political agendas, Umaru and Katsina State were virtually off the radar. He was also seen by Federal officials as an undemanding, simple and humble governor. All these were to play key roles in Umaru’s ascent to the Presidency.

In Katsina, Umaru spent the first 8 months of his governorship doing little but what he called ‘planning’. Actually, he inherited an empty treasury, a bloated civil service, huge pension arrears, and many construction projects started but abandoned half-way. The schools and hospitals were run down, and there were no resources to tackle them all at the same time. Tanimu Yakubu who was Finance Commissioner suggested that the state should just pay salaries until they have a firm handle on their books. Within 2 years, the books had been balanced, and helped by higher oil revenues and transfers from the Federal Government; the Katsina State Government cleared the pension arrears, reconciled domestic debts, and began the completion of abandoned projects.

In 2000, Katsina State became the fifth Northern State to adopt the Sharia Law. According to Wikipedia, in 2002, Amina Lawal, an unmarried woman from Bakori was sentenced to death by stoning by a Sharia court for adultery. The story attracted international attention but Umaru Yar’Adua refused to exercise his prerogative of mercy to pardon her. The sentence was initially upheld on appeal to a higher Sharia court in Funtua, but like all such cases in Nigeria at the time, was quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Umaru Yar’Adua’s achievements as Governor are mixed depending on who you talk to. What is not in dispute was that the quality of schools and hospital buildings, urban and rural roads and fertilizer distribution system improved dramatically under his watch. But Katsina State’s performance in the two national high school graduation examinations – the NECO and SSCE has not improved. Indeed according to a very critical journalist , in both 2007 and 2008, the state was ranked the worst in both national examinations. In May 2007, another former adviser to Yar’Adua when he was governor in Katsina had made similar allegations regarding the actual quality of educational and health services in the State, as different from the quality of buildings!

(Note - See Sam Nda-Isaiah – “Between Yar’Adua and El-Rufai”, Leadership Newspaper, 20th April, 2009. accessed on 04/20/2009.)

Some of the critics of Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration suggest that the good buildings and roads resulted from the desire of the Governor to award construction contracts without any competitive bidding almost entirely to three companies that are closely related to him – Lodigiani Nigeria Ltd. (the Yar’Adua family business), B. Stabilini & Co. (Nigeria) Ltd., with Aliyu Bala Kuki (a close family friend), and Mangal Enterprises (Yar’Adua’s alleged campaign financier). What no one can take away from Governor Yar’Adua was that the jobs were executed and to acceptable quality unlike in most states in the Federation. This was attested to by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, then Minister of Education when she visited Katsina early in 2007. Oby is now Vice President (Africa Region) at the World Bank.

(Note - Indeed, according to the BBC on 29th May 2007 ”Although he is reputed to be prudent in managing funds in Katsina State where he had been governor for the past seven years, critics say contracts have gone to companies with links to his family’s vast businesses.” See accessed 04/27/2009.)

Yar’Adua’s humble and austere personal lifestyle endeared him to many. He was not considered personally corrupt compared with other Governors. When Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s respected anti-corruption czar and then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced the names of ‘corrupt governors’, Umaru Yar’Adua was not on the list.

(Note - Nuhu Ribadu said Umaru’s name was initially on the list but he was persuaded to remove it by Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (not Obasanjo) because “Umaru’s corruption was not personal, and was productive” relative to other venal Governors!).In the end, this piece of omission got Umaru the support of many of us for the presidency.)

8. Illness, Cure and Dreams of Being President

In 2001, the second year of his first term as Governor, Umaru’s health began to deteriorate. His mentor, General Aliyu Mohammed arranged for him to go to Germany for a comprehensive medical check-up. In Germany, he was diagnosed with renal failure and he was prescribed medication to supplement regular dialysis. In all he spent nearly six months in Germany, and as required by the Constitution, handed over the governance of the State to his Deputy, Tukur Bakori. Before departing for Germany, a spiritualist from neighboring Niger Republic had met Yar’Adua and informed him that his illness will miraculously disappear within a year, if certain prayers and sacrifices of animals were made. His influential wife, Turai ensured that these were done.

When he returned, he found that as Acting Governor, Bakori had allegedly squandered the state’s resources and embarked on several projects that the Governor was unhappy about. Umaru got his deputy impeached by the State Legislature within months of his return. Bakori decamped to the rival ANPP in protest. Umaru continued to undergo dialysis until his kidney functions miraculously improved. When he returned to Germany for another check-up in 2002, his kidney functions were found to have fully recovered, and a proposed transplant was unnecessary. Yar’Adua’s belief in his spiritualist from Niger Republic strengthened with this outcome.

It was around this period that Umaru claimed to have had a very vivid dream that he will be elected President to succeed President Obasanjo sometime in the near future. Umaru Yar’Adua believed that he had been shown the future. He therefore decided, and communicated this to his K-34 members that Obasanjo’s government and its policies must be supported fully and totally by every official of Katsina State – whether State or Federal, at a time when he had become increasingly unpopular in the North. This was quite courageous.

Some years later in 2006, Umaru Yar’Adua was one of the few Northern Governors that strongly supported Obasanjo’s bid for a Third Term in office. Indeed, he offered to host the zonal debates for the particularly sensitive North-West zone in Katsina. This led to protests in the city and at least two persons were shot and killed by law enforcement agents that confronted them. Umaru also directed all Katsina State representatives in the National Assembly to support the proposed Constitutional Amendment and expelled Aminu Bello Masari from K-34 for non-compliance with his wishes. One of the arrowheads of the Third Term in the National Assembly was Dr. Aminu Safana – Umaru’s former Secretary to the State Government. All Katsina PDP legislators except Dr. Usman Bugaje lined up to support the Third Term project till its defeat in the Senate in May 2006.

9. Preparing to be President

As soon as ‘the Third Term Agenda’ collapsed in the Nigerian Senate, Obasanjo concluded that unless he found a way to acquire and sustain the loyalty of Nigeria’s powerful (and mostly corrupt) State Governors on the one hand, as well as his team of technocratic reformers on the other, his succession will be out of his hands. He took two steps – first he asked me and four other Abuja-based senior Federal and party officials to come up with a succession strategy. This kept the reformers which I was a key member engaged and loyal to him. He then announced that he expected to be succeeded by one of the State Governors and encouraged virtually all the PDP Governors to join the race to be President. These two moves ensured that his estranged Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other aspirants like General Ibrahim Babangida had few governors available to recruit to their camp.

We held several meetings and wrote most of the Succession Strategy Paper with the help of Tanimu Yakubu – now Yar’Adua’s Chief Economic Adviser who wrote the first draft in London in June 2006. We submitted the Strategy Paper and the budget of about N7 billion (US $56 million then) to President Obasanjo in August 2006. The paper is attached to this essay as Annex I. President Obasanjo thanked us and promptly filed it away and never adopted any of our recommendations. By then, virtually every PDP State Governor in Nigeria had declared the aspiration to be next president – except Umaru Yar’Adua! Obasanjo continued to be cagey, encouraging every one above the age of 30 to run for the exalted office.

Umaru Yar’Adua was finally invited by President Obasanjo to join the race through Governor Ayo Fayose initially, and this was actualized sometime in November 2006. According to then Governor Yar’Adua, when he visited me - the President sent Governor James Ibori of Delta State to see him in Katsina and invite him to pick the Presidential Nomination Form of the PDP. Umaru flew to Abuja in a private jet arranged by Obasanjo and Ibori the following day. By the time he got to Abuja, Ibori had already paid the N5 million (US $40,000) application fee and collected the form in Umaru’s name. He added that they met with Obasanjo and agreed that he should bid for the highest office with Obasanjo’s full support.

Over the next three months, I held several such meetings with Umaru, arranged other meetings between him and other stakeholders, raised money to support the candidacy and hired pollsters and publicists to handle some aspects of the effort. Umaru had several such meetings with State Governors and other power brokers within the PDP and outside before the Primaries scheduled for January 2007. The most notable of such included General Ibrahim Babangida, Aliko Dangote (the richest Black African in the World), Femi Otedola, Andy Uba and Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.

10. The Primaries and the Campaign

Umaru Yar’Adua’s anointment by President was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it almost ensured that he will be PDP’s candidate in April 2007 Presidential Elections, but throws up questions about Obasanjo’s motives and Yar’Adua’s suitability for the highest office in Africa’s largest nation. Because Yar’Adua’s medical history is fairly well-known, many Northern power brokers concluded that Yar’Adua’s selection by Obasanjo had some ulterior motives.

This concern came to the fore when Yar’Adua had to be flown to Germany for medical attention because of “a bad flu; arising from exhaustion” just before the primaries in December 2006. This is to happen again in March 2007, just weeks to the Elections. The failure of both Obasanjo and Yar’Adua to offer full disclosure about Umaru’s health has led to all kinds of conspiracy theories that continue to haunt the Yar’Adua presidency till today.

The primaries and the campaign were largely uneventful as everyone expected PDP to win whether the elections were free and fair or not. Only two events of significance took place during the period – the investigation of the finances of Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State by the EFCC and his subsequent exclusion from the primaries, and the insistence of Obasanjo and the PDP apparatchiks that Yar’Adua announced him as his running mate in an acceptance speech already prepared for that purpose.
At the night of the primaries, Umaru Yar’Adua sent for me and came out of the State Box at Eagle Square and intimated me of this. An acceptance speech had been prepared for him, containing the announcement of Peter Odili as running mate. This was not acceptable to him, but he was also unwilling to disagree with Obasanjo so early in the game. I suggested that he rallies the governors to oppose the decision to announce Odili as running mate, and decline the nomination if all else failed.

When this failed to change the combined minds of Obasanjo, Tony Anenih, Ahmadu Ali and Ojo Maduekwe, I came up with another “last resort”. I sent people to wake up Nuhu Ribadu, then Chairman of EFCC to help persuade Obasanjo since all else appeared to have failed. It was not until about 5am that Ribadu succeeded in getting Odili off the ticket. The next morning, Governor Goodluck Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua instead of Peter Odili.

President Obasanjo then announced the Presidential Campaign Council with him as chairman. The only Yar’Adua nominee to the Council was Tanimu Yakubu who was to be Director of Finance. The premises used by the Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign in 2003 were rented as the Yar’Adua-for-President Campaign Office. During the commissioning ceremony which I attended along with other PDP governors, ministers and leaders, Yar Adua announced his Seven Point Agenda which he said will form the basis of his contract with the people of Nigeria when elected:
1. Infrastructure particularly electricity and transportation
2. Niger Delta regional development
3. Food Security
4. Human Capital – investments in health, education and training
5. Land Reforms and home ownership
6. National Security, and
7. Wealth Creation

The President’s Economic Team which I became one of the de facto leaders when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala resigned in 2006 began to brainstorm on how best to sustain the foundations laid by the reforms of 2003-2007 that we had spearheaded. We were quite concerned that the elections of April 2007 be free and fair. We were convinced that Yar’Adua and PDP would win and there was really no need to cheat or rig in any anyway. We needed to prove that to the politicians.

We therefore took the decision to hire campaign advisers for Yar’Adua, show that the Elections can b won - free and fair - and prepare briefing notes to bring him up to speed on the reform programs of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The campaign consultant was a consortium of Nigerian ad agency, (remember the PDP de ko ko ad?), (media/messaging), British (campaign management/international outreach), and American (polling and focus groups). The whole assignment cost about US $2 million over a three month period. We also prepared series of briefs titled - “Preparing to be President” as basis for discussions with the Presidential Candidate. The first of such briefs is attached to this essay as Annex 2.

11. The 2007 Presidential Elections, Transition and Handover

There were many concerns within Nigeria and abroad that the 2007 Elections may not hold. There were grounds for these concerns – Obasanjo had lost the trust of Nigerians after the inchoate attempt to amend the Constitution. The voters’ register was still not ready and published 90 days to the Elections as required by law. Biometric voters’ identification cards promised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had not been issued, and there were cases of massive disqualifications of candidates, replacement of candidates by parties and several lawsuits arising therefrom that the levels of uncertainty in January to March 2007 were quite high.

The Elections took place amidst poor preparation and horrendous logistic failures. All the politicians and political parties were determined to rig the results without regard to the will of the voters. As Minister of Abuja, I was determined that the elections in the Federal Capital Territory were free and fair. I met with all political parties, INEC, regulatory and security agency heads and threatened that anyone involved in any electoral irregularity will be arrested by EFCC and prosecuted without delay. I was particularly harsh with the leadership of the ruling party which I was a member, as I knew they had the first-mover advantage in that area.

The FCT elections were violence-free and had very few reports of rigging. Nationwide, the elections were fraught with many documented irregularities. But most Nigerian citizens were generally relieved that the elections had actually taken place – warts and all, and that Obasanjo had not been given any excuse to declare any emergency to stay in power longer. Only a few of us in government knew different and no one would believe us anyway.

Immediately the results were announced, I became concerned about violence breaking out in the North particularly where the ANPP candidate Buhari enjoyed mainstream support. I suggested to Yar’Adua, and arranged a meeting between the leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to meet with the President-Elect in the Abuja residence of its chairman, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, may his soul rest in peace. A subsequent meeting was held between Chief Awoniyi, Former Inspector-General Ibrahim Coomassie and Umaru Yar’Adua to cement ACF’s support to preach against any forms of extra-legal activities. This was helpful in encouraging all the candidates to pursue judicial remedies rather than the threatened “mass action”.

President Obasanjo had instructed all ministers and heads of extra-ministerial agencies to prepare hand-over notes and submit to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation by the end of March 2007. However, face-to-face briefings of Yar’Adua and his team did not start until the third week of May 2007! Each Minister had 20-30 minutes to bring the President-Elect and his team up-to-date on the activities of the Ministry and its parastatals with branches all over the 36 states of the Federation! Only the Ministers of Finance and the Federal Capital Territory (because I supervised many other assignments in addition to Abuja; like the Civil Service Reform, Sale of Government Real Estate in Abuja, National ID Card System, the National Census, etc.) were given one and a half hours. The briefing in my view, served to confuse rather than assist Yar’Adua and his team! Yar’Adua’s team then consisted of the VP-Elect, Babagana Kingibe, Governors Peter Odili, James Ibori, and Ahmed Makarfi. The composition of the “team” should have indicated to us that change was not on the way in our country, but we were to naive to notice.

Early in the month of May, I received a letter from President-Elect Yar’Adua to send him the names and resumes of three persons for appointment into ‘senior government positions’ when he fully takes over. I requested a meeting with him to ascertain what positions he had in mind. He informed me that he wrote a similar to every State Governor or PDP Chairman as appropriate as he intended to nominate Ministers, Ambassadors and Chairmen of Statutory Corporations from the list. This distributive state-of-mind was the first sign for me that Yar’Adua was not on the right track. I suggested that if he chose his cabinet that way, he would end up with “not the best people”. He listened and thanked me for my views, but explained that his election was made possible by State Governors and PDP leaders and his first priority was keep them on his side, for the time being.

About the same time, Yar’Adua had asked me to work with a small group (Udoma Udo Udoma, Salihu Ibrahim, Isabella Okagbue, Tanimu Yakubu, Aliyu Modibbo, Dele Olojede and three others I cannot recall now) to work out the key priorities for his administration and provide inputs for his inaugural speech. We had a brief discussion with Yar’Adua, Tanimu Yakubu and Dr. Aliyu Modibbo on the areas closest to the President-Elect’s heart and began meeting in Hakeem Belo-Osagie’s office in Life Camp. Dele flew in from South Africa, met at atleast twice with Yar’Adua and worked with us until the hand-over. We learnt that another group of Governors were doing the same thing, and Baba Kingibe and Charles Soludo drafting another speech, but we moved on. These activities continued until the morning of May 29, 2007 when the Handing-Over Ceremony took place at Eagle Square, and Yar Adua got sworn in. We escorted President Obasanjo to his farm in Otta and returned to Abuja the same evening.

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.