Nigeria's President Yar'Adua died on May 5th, 2010. He was known to suffer from a kidney disease, but developed pericarditis, a hardening in the lining of the heart, in late 2009. He left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia in November 2009 and returned 3 months later but was not seen by the public, politicians or even the Vice President-turned Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan. Prior to his death, Yar'Adua was visited by Muslim clerics and then Christian leaders. He was only 58 and leaves behind his wife of 35 years, Turai Yar'Adua, their 7 children, and 2 children from a previous marriage. In accordance with Muslim tradition, he will be buried one day after his death on May 6th at 2pm.
Now that Yar'Adua has passed away, ongoing pressure to impeach him will likely come to an end. Thursday has already been declared an official day of mourning for the late President and Acting President Jonathan encouraged the nation to spend a week in mourning. Speaking on the passing, Jonathan said,
"Nigeria has lost the jewel on its crown, and even the heavens mourn with our nation tonight... [a]s individuals and as a nation we prayed for the recovery of Mr. President. But we take solace in the fact that the Almighty is the giver and taker of all life."The reigns of power will be passed over to Goodluck Jonathan who will be sworn in as President and a new Vice President will be selected. They will serve out the rest of Yar'Adua's original term.
The unfortunate passing of President Yar'Adua will reduce any lingering questions over who controls the country. Although Jonathan was officially declared Acting President in February 2010, there remained a President, albeit an incapacitated one. The President's death will further free the Jonathan administration to make even more changes during the short amount of time they have before the 2011 elections.
Yar'Adua's severe sickness and passing also highlights the importance of a leader's health and its impact on a nation. The late President was known to be sick before he was elected, but, the extent of his illness was never fully explained to the citizenry, despite calls for such. Yar'Adua's health emergencies interfered with diplomatic visits, such as the cancellation of his 2008 trip to Brazil. The very last health emergency of November 2009 lead to a political vacuum that spurred insecurity and uncertainty. Yar'Adua's sickness allowed opponents, opportunists and others to question his ability to govern, weakening his position. This, combined with his slow leadership style, diminished his standing and reputation amongst far too many. Consequently, one of many lessons that must be learned from Yar'Adua's time in office must be that the people have a right to know the health status of their leaders because it plays a factor in the day to day lives of citizens.
THE NORTH - SOUTH FACTOR
Prior to his death, Northern elites were concerned that Yar'Adua would not be able to serve out his 'term. This is because of an agreement that Presidential power would fluctuate between the North and South of the country. In fact, the ruling party declared that its Presidential candidate would be a Muslim from the North.
Now that Jonathan will be sworn in as President, it will be crucial for all parts of the nation to be respectful of Yar'Adua's passing. If the North believes that Yar'Adua's death is being celebrated by the South, that could ignite violence of the kind seen recurrently in Jos. Inflamed tensions would mirror those from 1966 when the North felt that the South was jubilant at news of the deaths of prominent Northern politicians killed in a coup. According to Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture, Southerners were pleased by the removal of these politicians from office and the coup led to Southern Igbos controlling politics. These factors were interpreted as an anti-northern act and led to tensions. The tensions from that period in Nigerian history led to a follow-up coup, arguably contributed to the Biafran war and remain a factor in the continuing distrust between various tribes today. Therefore, the manner in which the country reacts to Yar'Adua's death could inflame tensions if not done in a manner that is respectful. Hopefully, the week of mourning announced by Jonathan will provide an opportunity for the entire nation to come together.
President Yar'Adua is not the first Nigerian Head of State to die while in office. Nonetheless, he is the first President to die right before an election season poised to be the most important in Nigerian history. His death will undoubtedly add an additional element to the Nigerian political landscape and only time will tell what that will be. Until then, may his soul rest in peace.
From the Archives: - Siollun, M., Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976); Algora, 2009.
From the Archives:
- Is Yar'Adua Brain Damaged Or Not?
- Nigeria's President Absent During Crisis
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health