Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua was president of Nigeria from 2007, breaking the cycle of civilian rule and military coup which had dogged the country since independence. Yar'Adua was somewhat reclusive in his dealings with the public and press, and his only major political success was dealing with the civil unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta -- convincing many to give up their arms during a three-month amnesty in 2009.
Date of Birth: 16 August 1951. Katsina, Nigeria
Date of Death: 5 May 2010, Abuja, Nigeria
An Early Life
Umaru Yar'Adua was born to elite Fulani family in Katsina, northern Nigeria -- one of Nigeria's the leading centers of Islamic study. Yar'Adua's father was prominent in both traditional and national politics -- he was the Mutawalli, the custodian of the royal Katsina treasury, and the federal minister for Lagos during the First Republic (1963-66). Yar'Adua's elder brother, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, was an army general and served as deputy leader to Olusegun Obasanjo's military government of 1976-79.
Umaru Yar'Adua attended schools in central and northern Nigeria -- particularly the government college in Keffi from 1965 to 69, and Barewa College in Kaduna (considered to be the most prestigious school in northern Nigeria) until 1971. Yar'Adua attended Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, between 1972 and 75, where he obtained a BSc in Chemistry. (He went on to gain a masters degree from Ahmadu Bello in 1978.) Whilst at university, he developed a strong interest in Marxism (causing some tension in the family since his brother had Capitalist tendencies). In 1975 he married his first wife Turai.
Between 1975 to 1983 Yar'Adua taught as a chemistry teacher at various colleges and schools in northern Nigeria before becoming a business man: working as a manager (initially for Sambo Farms Ltd in Katsina) and director in several companies, including banks and investment houses.
Starting Out in Politics
Umaru Yar'Adua began his life in politics with the People's Redemption Party, PRP, during Nigeria's Second Republic (1979-83). The country had emerged from Olusegun Obasanjo's military government under the leadership of President Shehy Shagari (National Party of Nigeria). Shagari's rule was largely ineffectual, with widespread corruption. After winning a second term through a questionable election, Shagari was overthrown by Muhammadu Buhari in a military coup in December 1983.
A second military coup followed in 1985, when chief-of-army staff Ibrahim Babangida removed Buhari. Nigerian politics entered a transitional stage, from 1989 to 93, as Babangida began the transfer of government to civilian rule. During this period Umaru Yar'Adua became a founding member of the People's Front, PF, along with his brother Shehu Musa who became the party's leader. Umaru Yar'Adua started looking towards state politics and stood as a candidate for the Katsina gubernatorial (ie state) election. He lost to an ally of Babangida. In 1992 Umaru Yar'Adua married his second wife, Hajiya Hauwa. They were divorced five years later.
Having discovered he enjoyed being in power, Chairman of the Armed Forces Ruling Council Ibrahim Babangida did his best to stymie the transition of power -- annulling the presidential election of 12 June 1993 which he had lost. He was forced to hand over government to an Interim National Council, under Ernest Shonekan in August 1993. Only three months later, another military coup put General Sani Abacha in power. Umaru Yar'Adua and his brother were imprisoned in 1995 (along with Olusegun Obasanjo) during the middle of Sani Abacha's period of military rule (1993 to 98) -- they were accused of plotting a coup. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua died in prison in 1997.
Olusegun Obasanjo along with Umaru and Shehu Yar'Adua were founding members of the People's Democratic Party, PDP, which became the most 'national' of Nigeria's political groups as Abacha's rule came to an end -- he died from an apparent hert attack on 8 June 1998. He was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who released many of Abacha's political prisoners. New elections for state assemblies, governorships, the National Assembly and the presidency were held through 1999. Umaru Yar'Adua once again ran for governor in Katsina state, under the mandate of the PDP. He won (and was re-elected in 2003). Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president in May 1999, creating Nigeria's Fourth Republic.
As state governor Yar'Adua is credited with a focus on socio-economic development, especially within education and health. He was also, however, accused of nepotism -- several key contracts were given to companies linked to his family's business empire. Charges of corruption, a common thread to Nigeria's post independence history, were not uncommon and Yar'Adua had attempted to preempt these by publicly revealing his assets before the election took place. Katsina state had significant debts, inherited from his predecessors' terms as governor. But Yar'Adua was a prudent state official, and over the next two terms turned the deficit into a $50 million surplus. In 2000 Katsina became the fifth Nigerian state to adopt Sharia Law.