Abuja: Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s third elected civilian president who died Wednesday, was known for his honesty but in the end lacked the strength to tackle the corruption in this oil-rich country.
A “servant leader” as the Muslim northerner called himself, his reputation was for financial prudence and accountability, a rare quality among Nigerian politicians.
But a lack of drive, charisma and in the end his own physical frailties prevented him from imposing his values on to the country.
Yar’Adua came to power in 2007 elections which he himself acknowledged were flawed, accepting criticism from both inside the country and abroad.
The country’s Supreme Court nevertheless ruled in December 2008 that he could stay in office, dismissing objections lodged by rival candidates.
Yar’Adua had made the rule of law a cornerstone of his campaign, but even before he was elected, there were doubts that he had the physical strength to reform the most populous country in Africa.
His health problems dated as far back as the late 1990s when he was governor of his native Katsina state, when he travelled to a German hospital on several occasions.
At one time he disappeared for six months for a suspected kidney transplant, according to his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo.
Then in November 2009 the president flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to be treated for what his doctor said was a heart condition.
He was flown back home in an air ambulance under the cover of darkness in February and was never seen or heard in public after that.
Christian and Muslim clerics who visited him in April would say nothing in public about his condition.
Yar’Adua was the first leader to represent Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north under a arrangement in which power alternates every second election in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Obasanjo had completed a full term for the mainly Christian southerners when he stepped down in 2007.
Yar’Adua’s death, short of his first term, throws that arrangement into disarray, threatening to rekindle bitter religious and political rivalries that could shake the unity of Africa’s most populous nation.
Yar’Adua, a former chemistry lecturer and one of 19 children of a polygamous father, was plucked from national political obscurity by Obasanjo to run for elections in 2007.
He was son of a former minister in the first post-independence government and younger brother to late politician and retired general Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, then second in command under Obasanjo’s military rule.
He had eight children, five with his current wife Turai, seen as an influential force behind him.
His Katsina State is one of the 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states to have adopted Sharia law.