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Why we can’t compare Abacha’s death with Yar’adua’s –General Jerry Useni

What is your take on the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua? Naturally, I should feel sad for losing a friend, not to talk of…

What is your take on the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua?

Naturally, I should feel sad for losing a friend, not to talk of a President who has suffered for months on hospital bed and eventually died. So, I join millions of Nigerians to mourn and express my sadness, but as a Christian, I cannot question God.

How did you receive the news?

I received it with shock. In fact, it was General Jonathan Timlong who telephoned me very early in the morning. Then I was still in bed. But, at the same time, one is happy that no vacuum was left.  The acting President was sworn in immediately because the affairs of the nation must continue.

As a politician what kind of a leader would you say the late President Yar’adua was?

He was better than his predecessor, Obasanjo. Yar’adua used to listen, though he was slow, sometimes it is better to be slow and get things done properly than be in hurry and allow things fall apart. And he was a man who respected the rule of law. We are going to miss him.

What are some of his legacies worthy of emulation? 

Well, he maintained some state of peace. Before he came, there was no rule of law, no respect for court orders and no respect for human beings. Things were done anyhow, but if you look at the way Yar’adua handled things, there were differences. But his 7-point agenda was not implemented. We still have education crisis, unemployment and problem of electricity. These are contained in the 7-point agenda. 

What are your expectations of President Goodluck?

Well, like any Nigerian, I have very high expectations and it is only natural that human beings always expect more. So far, he has done well, even as an Acting President. He listens to people. He has set up the advisory committee.

I think he has done well when you look at the caliber of people, not only cutting across the country, but well-picked, and these are people who give advice as they see things. I like the way he takes actions, without wasting too much time and I believe he brought to life the electoral reform.

Possibly, we may get, at least, a completed electoral reform before the elections, going by the speed with which the Senate and the House of Representatives are moving.

Look at the elections conducted during Goodluck’s tenure as acting president. Before the Anambra elections, he said every vote must count. So he did not allow those used to rigging to do what they were used to. If it were during Obasanjo, Obi wouldn’t have won.

Look at the Sokoto case, the matter was almost dead, but Jonathan has revived it. So, I think he means well. Now that he is in the seat proper and well-seated, I believe he will do more, if given the required support. What is wrong with our people is that we like to drag people down instead of giving them the opportunity to prove their mettle.

One of the issues that has come up now is the zoning principle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum Board of Trustees, what is your position on zoning as it affects Jonathan in 2011?

The ACF is not a political organization. We are a cultural organization. Of course, we talk politics, in the sense that we look at the political arena, look at what is going on politically and see whether it will benefit the North.  Zoning is a PDP arrangement. In my party, the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), we don’t zone. We go for the best. You can come from anywhere. So the ACF has nothing to do with that. We cannot go and tell a party what they should do. We look at the interest of the North, in particular and Nigeria in general. We advice our political leaders to make sure they choose the best people for us. We have no business with the PDP’s zoning. Even those in the PDP cannot raise that issue for discussion at ACF meetings.

How would you want President Goodluck to choose his Vice President?

You see, this type of thing is not a one-man show. Of course, we know that the PDP is ruling. Whoever becomes the vice president will eventually come from the PDP. So the party, too, has a very strong role to play. The President is from the South. Politically, the Vice President should come from the North. This has been the practice, whether civil or military regime. When Olusegun Obasanjo from the South was President, Atiku Abubakar from the North was Vice. But before the president chooses his deputy, he has to consult widely.

You were close to the late General Sani Abacha before he died. This is the second time a president will die in office as a result of ill-health. Why is it difficult to resign before the inevitable happens? 

For your information, I am still close to the Abachas, I always tell people that.  For Yar’adua, I criticized his hold on to power when it was obvious he was sick. It was only the PDP that didn’t. Because, even when General Ibrahim Babangida was sick for two months, we, as ministers, knew what was wrong with him. We arranged for some ministers to go and see him and they came back to us with latest information about his health. But that of Yar’adua was a new thing altogether, to the extent that you didn’t know what was wrong with your President. The president is supposed to be a kind of public property.

Yet, certain people decided to hide him.  When Abacha died, we all saw him before he was buried. So you cannot compare his own with that of Yar’adua. We all saw Abacha’s body before he was buried. But this one I don’t think anybody saw his body, except those who dressed him.

Can you imagine even the President, in his capacity as Acting President, could not see the President when he was ill? Kano state Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, said it. No governor saw him, not even emirs. So, you cannot compare Yar’adua’s death with Abacha’s. Abacha died in his house. The family, and all of us, the ministers, saw him but this one was strange.


When Abacha died, there was a kind of uncertainty and apprehension that morning. Did you observe any similarity last Thursday morning?

The difference is that we buried General Abacha before we discussed who was to be the next president. But this one, the President was sworn-in before Yar’adua was buried. Abacha died very early in the morning. We had to inform foreign countries, especially African countries, before moving to Kano. A lot of things needed to done. It was  like we had wanted to get a head of state before burying Abacha, but, then, we saw that time was going and I said, “Look, people are waiting for us in Kano.  Let’s go and bury his remains, then we can come back to discuss leadership. So, we buried him before the emergence of the head of state.

Although you are not in the PDP. If your opinion is sought, do you think Jonathan should contest come 2011?

Of course, he has the right to contest. I am not in the PDP.  Even if I am in the party, I say he has the right to contest. You see, what we tend to forget is that, first of all, the constitution said you can rule for four years and you are eligible to re-contest.

If the people think you are good, they can vote you in again. But people have taken it as a right that once they are voted in, they must do eight years, or if they are not there, your party must do eight years or the zone you came from must do eight years. That is not the interpretation. After all, see what Obasanjo had to go through before he got a second term.

The majority of the governors were behind Atiku.  If he had stood his ground and all those governors said, no, they wanted Atiku, Obasanjo wouldn’t have got it.  So, what would he say?

That Atiku is from the north and the south hasn’t done eight years? Supposing Yar’adua was alive today, got well and returned to office and his party decided that he should go on, that doesn’t mean others, even from the north, particularly his own zone, will not come out, like Atiku came out. They didn’t say Obasanjo was already in office so nobody should come out.

Now, Yar’adua is not there. A new person has come, but people are not talking of the person. They are now talking of the north.  If Yar’adua was there, they wouldn’t be talking about the north. They would be saying Yar’adua should continue.

But Yar’adua is dead; Jonathan is now the President. Nobody is talking about Jonathan continuing in office. They want the north to continue and I think this is wrong. As far as my party is concerned, the president can come from anywhere.ath of Yar’adua’s demise last Wednesday. Excerpts:

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