The World’s Carol Hills reports that Nigerians are mourning their president, Umaru Yar’Adua, who died last night. There were great hopes for his presidency when he came into office in 2007, but his term was marred by chronic health problems.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. You may have heard that Nigeria’s President, Umaru Yar Adua, died last night. Yar Adua’s election in 2007, flawed as it was, was the first time in history that power was handed over peacefully in Nigeria from one civilian leader to another. But as The World’s Carol Hills reports it may be Yar Adua’s long decline and death that Nigerians remember most.
CAROL HILLS: Nigerian television broke into scheduled programming last night to announce the President’s death.
FEMALE VOICE 1: The President and Commander in Chief of Armed Forces – - Umaru – - Adua died a few hours ago in the Presidential Villa.
HILLS: What followed were the usual polite obits, like this one, broadcast by the BBC.
MALE VOICE 1: Born into an aristocratic family, he had a reputation as a quiet but effective administrator.
HILLS: President Yar Adua’s accomplishments were duly noted. His reform of Nigeria’s banking system, a crackdown on corruption, and most importantly, a cease fire he brokered with the rebels in the oil rich Niger delta.
MALE VOICE 1: Considerable achievements for a man widely regarded as a gentleman in the rough world of Nigerian politics.
HILLS: Rough indeed. Yar Adua had come in with big ideas, a marshal plan for the impoverished Niger delta, the promise to reform the power sector. Nigeria is plagued with power shortages. Ideas about reforming education. But Darren Kew, an expert on Nigeria a U Mass Boston, says progress was slow and Yar Adua ended up with the nickname “Baba go slow”.
DARREN KEW: Baba means father, and go slow is a traffic jam. And so Baba go slow was the majority of Nigerians waiting for the President to fulfill some of his public policy agenda.
HILLS: That may be because Yar Adua seemed to be chronically ill. He was a chain smoker and looked much older than his 58 years. His ailments were variously described as relating to the kidney or an inflamed heart. And he sought treatment in hospitals overseas, often. At the end of 2009 Yar Adua went to Saudi Arabia for treatment. He was gone for three months.
KEW: I mean, can you imagine if Barack Obama disappeared for more than two hours from the public eye?
HILLS: Darren Kew was in Nigeria during President Yar Adua’s three month absence.
KEW: You would get these strange messages coming out of Saudi Arabia through the First Lady of the President is sitting, watching football. Or the President thanks everyone for their prayers. But then there was no real sense of who was governing the country.
HILLS: Nigerian writer, Wole Soyinka, thinks he knows who was in charge during the long absence. He says Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt political elite used Yar Adua’s failing health to jockey for position in advance of next year’s Presidential election.
WOLE SOYINKA: This man was not allowed to be even ill in dignity. He has been kept in a vegetable state while the country was lied to, repeatedly, and in this conspiracy his family was involved, to one’s disgust. And the whole thing had – - on politics and who’s going to be the next party candidate for next year?
HILLS: Year Adua’s deputy has been acting President since early February when Nigeria’s National Assembly stepped in to resolve the leadership crisis. Today, the aptly named “Good luck Jonathan” was formally sworn in. For The World, I’m Carol Hills.
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