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Late ex-President Umaru Yar’Adua
If invoking the name of Umar Musa Yar’Adua could give Nigerian politicians money and votes, they would have struggled for a front role in a gathering on May 5 to pour libations at the graveyard of the late Nigerian leader.
Alas, it has been a period of tricks and politics and gathering in the name of Yar’Adua, who passed on on May 5, 2010. Thus, what would have been the 12th anniversary of the death of the Nigerian hero passed largely unnoticed.
Even if everyone forgets Yar’Adua, I will not forget him for three reasons: the rule of law, servant-leadership and rotational presidency.
I will briefly deal with the third because Yar’Adua did not make any pronouncement on rotational presidency. However, the death of Yar’Adua dealt a heavy blow to rotational presidency. This was a tonic that I felt had come to stabilise the Nigerian polity. After Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, it was both moral and rational that power should shift to the North.

It was under this circumstance that frontline presidential aspirants from the Southern part of Nigeria, including Peter Odili and Donald Duke, were shoved outside by the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party under the paternalistic eyes of Obasanjo. Backed by Obasanjo’s magic, power shifted to the North with Yar’Adua, who was not really gunning for the presidency, at the helms of affairs.
However, the death of Yar’Adua threw up his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan. As soon as that happened, I knew that rotational presidency, which was just taking root, had suffered a setback. Since then, when it would benefit a Nigerian politician, he would shout zoning, rotation or federal character. When they would not be favoured by these, they would shout competence and merit. It is high time the principle of rotational presidency based on the six geopolitical zones (or confederation) was enshrined in the constitution to remove them from the whims and caprices of our dishonest politicians.
Yes, Yar’Adua was only a beneficiary of rotational presidency but he was an intentional advocate of rule of law in Nigeria. The rule of law, simply put, is the subjection of individuals and institutions to the same laws of the land. Apart from the popular maxim that everyone is equal before the law, the rule of law encompasses four other principles—supremacy of the law, certainty of the law, individual right to personal freedom and independence of the judiciary.

We are not going to assess here how President Yar’Adua fared in implementing the rule of law. Even if Yar’Adua was not fully committed to the rule of law, he remains a man of history for insisting on the rule of law in a society where elected leaders behave like emperors. If Yar’Adua had lived to nurture the tree of the rule of law, perhaps, Nigerian institutions and processes would have been working by now.
Institutions in countries where the rule of law works take care of strong individuals that see themselves as gods. That is why despite the autocratic inclination of President Donald Trump, he couldn’t cling to power with all his claims that he won the 2020 presidential race in the United States.
Contrast Yar’Adua’s attitude to the rule of law with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)’s stance on the same subject. At the inauguration of the 2018 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association on August 26, Buhari said that the rule of law must be subjected to national interest.
“Rule of law must be subject to supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest,” Buhari had said. This may sound noble but the problem is that men and women have done evil in the name of national interest. In a country where people in government equate personal and other parochial interests to national interests, subjecting the rule of law to national interest becomes problematic. It could even become oppressive.
It is depressing that in Nigeria today the certainty of the law, which is an offering of the rule of law, has been thrashed by the government of Buhari. Under the current regime, bandits, terrorists and kidnappers have a free reign. Terrorists reign supreme on the highways and railways; bandits occupy the bushes. Arsonists accuse citizens of blasphemy in schools and on the streets, stone and burn them. Hoodlums and unknown gunmen determine the days that citizens would stay at home or go to work. The state watches helplessly and offers platitudes. Indeed, because we have fallen from the rule of law, we now have the rule of the mob. Nigerians now would grab with both hands benevolent dictatorship rather than the current rudderless state that breeds the rule of the mob and the evil across the length and breadth of the nation.
Indeed, the wise Solomon was right, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” The predicament of Nigeria is even worse. It is not about speedy execution of sentences against evil. It is about finding the workers of iniquity. Sometimes, it is about shielding the perpetrators of evil with state resources. It is even about turning the resources of the state to strengthen evil machinations.
Oh, how we must all be yearning for the rule of law—the days of Yar’Adua—as we groan under the rule of the mob! They now look like the days of yore, the dispensation of innocence. The state that cannot protect its citizens from the reign of the iniquitous has lost the right to demand obedience from the people.

Finally, what endeared Yar’Adua most to me was the posture of servant-leadership. He presented himself as a servant-leader. A servant-leader is after the interest of his people. He leads by example and puts the interest and welfare of the people he is leading above personal interests. The servant-leader sees his position as an opportunity to advance the course of the people and would stop at nothing to defend the mandate and the trust of the people.
Robert Greenleaf was said to have coined the concept of servant-leadership in a 1970 essay titled, The leader as a servant. However, Jesus Christ had articulated the concept of servant-leadership much earlier. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave,” he told his disciples. Again, he said to them, “I am among you as one that serves.” Servant-leadership could hardly be better defined.
These days when even modern disciples of Jesus Christ seem to have forgotten their master’s concept of leadership, I found it ennobling that Yar’Adua, a Muslim, would get to the pyramid of leadership in the country and start promoting the concept of servant-leadership. It was even stranger that this was happening in a country where self-aggrandisement and enrichment were the end of leadership, a country where advisers tell their principals only what they would love to hear for the fear of losing patronage.
How much we need to invoke the spirit of Yar’Adua today if it could ignite the spirit of service in a nation that is starved of heroism; a nation that has abundance of material and human resources but endowed with more than enough dose of inept leadership and even humanity!
The worse part of it is that as the day goes by, we descend more and more into the abyss of clueless leadership. The cluelessness of yesterday dazzles in glory in comparison with the grandeur of today. We watch helplessly as the labours of our late heroes are frittered at the altar of unenlightened parochialism. May the spirit of Yar’Adua and other ancestors forbid that we descend further from the classification of a weak state to a completely failed state.

  • Dr Amaefule, a former group business editor at The PUNCH, wrote from Abuja via [email protected]

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