The new widow's grief-stricken face filled Nigeria's newspapers' front pages
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa laments the former first lady's part played in lessening Nigeria's sense of loss for their late leader.
I am writing this 24 hours after
the burial of President Umar Yar'Adua,
that very decent and dignified leader of Nigeria,
whose tenure in office was cut short by kidney and heart-related death.
I am not thinking seriously of him but of his widow, Turai: her grief-stricken face is on the front page of the newspaper before me.
By the time he [President Yar'Adua] died his image had been far removed from the consciousness of many people
Shorn of the immense power she derived from her husband she cuts the picture of any other widow.
Only her face and throat are visible under the sky-blue veil wrapped around her head and shoulders.
She does not seem to be looking at anything or anyone in particular. Her eyes are barely open. Her lips are dry and pulled taut. She is withdrawn but perhaps not totally uninterested in what is going on around her.
The picture was taken at Katsina airport shortly after her arrival on board a presidential jet for her husband's burial.
The mother hen
The more I look, the more I see a widow in mourning rather than a first lady of 11 years standing.
President Yar'Adua's passing away attracted tributes galore but little emotion
Now I am wondering, what is on her mind? Could it be blank? Could she be thinking of her landing from the skies of presidential glamour and power onto the solid ground of reality? Could she be thinking about the horde of officials who were milling around her but who would not even have dared to dream it three days earlier unless she summoned them?
I am looking at a lady who for five months took exclusive control of the president and thumbed her nose at a nation which only sought to empathise with him as he lay prostrate with pain on his hospital bed.
Some other people said then, though, that she saw Yar'Adua only as her husband and she decided that her devoted love was all he needed to ease his pain.
The mother hen protecting her chicks?
Now I must turn the page.
the new President Goodluck Jonathan, who since November last year was prevented by Turai from seeing his former boss.
I cannot ignore the scenes I saw on television immediately after the announcement of the president's death and during the funeral rites.
Everybody seemed to say what was "proper" but there was little emotion.
Four Nigerian heads of state died in office up to 1998.
The most moving funeral was that accorded General Murtala Mohammed who was assassinated on his way to work in Lagos in a failed coup on in February, 1976. Nigerians everywhere across the country poured out in their millions in grief to honour him.
Nigeria's new first lady has a lot to learn from her predecessors
In my opinion Yar'Adua deserved no less than that impromptu outpouring of emotions.
Mohammed was rated to have been great at his death but Yar'Adua was far greater.
Calling the shots
Yar'Adua was a true leader who came into office without blemish and who applied himself to his responsibilities with dignity and with respect for the rights of all.
His enforced hiding by his wife and a tiny cabal of friends broke the growing chord of personal admiration Nigerians were developing for him.
By the time he died his image had been far removed from the consciousness of many people.
A new first lady has stepped in.
Mrs Patience Jonathan has a lot to learn from the experiences of her predecessors.
There are not written but the roles of wife and first lady are to be moderated in a common-sensical way by every occupant of the office.
Call her First Lady or whatever else, the madam in State House cannot call the shots for the country.
Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:
Unless it is Northern tradition, Turai did not handle the situation well. Umaru Yar'Adua belonged to a family. No matter how protective she would have been, she should have got the owners of the man involved in his fragile situation. The whole thing would not have been messed up. At a point, the country forgot about him. Even when his death was announced, people asked if he was still alive. What a shame!
idumota LAgos Nigeria
Yes. Yar'Adua was a husband before he became president. But once he took the oath of office he became a public servant first then a husband. That aside my point or question is when would our leaders stop draining our country. I would imagine that the amount of money poured into Saudi Arabia and other places towards his illness would have built a tertiary hospital in Nigeria that could benefit more than one man. Nigeria has one of the best nephrologists living today in the world. We have some of the best dialysis technicians around. Wouldn't it have been a patriotic move to bring these people home or even fly them home as needed instead of taking a plane load of leeches out of the country so often. Of course this has been our lot from agricultural mega industries to oil refineries overseas with stolen Nigerian money to swelling foreign banks with our oil money. It is shameful that such a rich country with so many first class doctor overseas does not have the facilities to take care of even one man with so many going to India lately for their illness. One day I know Nigerians will stand up to this rape and say NO! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Osita, Missouri, USA
There is an adage that says "The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them" but in the case of Late President Yar'dua, and all those involved, The Evil they committed without bearing the interest of about 150 million Nigerians at heart will continue to hunt them in their grave, and in their various homes, Amen. Those alive will live long and see Nigeria grow to an enviable height, God Bless Nigeria.
Urubaramnanwa Oluchi Diaku, Imo State, Nigeria.
In a country where no one learns anything, it is usually not encouraging to comment on matters that require some intelligence but Sola wrote a terrific treatise here.
There is a huge disconnect between the 'official life' and 'private life' of thieving government officials in Nigeria. The empyrean life Turai lived at the expense of everything sensible could only be used to teach Patience some sense if indolents that sit in the Senate would not have said 'let sleeping dogs lie' about the President of Nigeria. Why would not a proper investigation be conducted? Does it mean that the CSO and ADC of Yar'Adua did the right thing by smuggling 'The President' of Nigeria in like contraband? Is it alright that a handful of military boys escorted 'The President' to the villa without the knowledge of the C-in-C? Are we sure any 'rogue' group of military boys cannot organise a successful coup as anything is possible? The questions go on and on and on...... And they say 'let sleeping dogs lie'? Turai should be made to know the difference between the wife of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua since circa 1975 and the wife of the President of the Federal republic of Nigeria circa 2007. Once the oath is taken, the President becomes public property as it is the public coffers that cater for them. And they say 'let sleeping dogs lie'?
Na'allah Bako, Abuja, Nigeria
To me the whole scenario is simple. Yar'Adua was a good man. Turai is a bad woman. When Yar'Adua was alive he was in control of his family and his good nature probably meant he did not steal any money. This infuriated Turai. Following his illness, she saw an opportunity to take advantage and steal money for herself after her husband's death (about 4 or 5 months ago). Now she satisfied with her loot, she declares his death. Chikena! Simple!
gbenga, London Uk
I thank all the commentators, We Nigerian citizens are great people, but let Nigerians leader has classroom to learn from Yar'Adua death. I have never seen a country where a wife take over command from her sick husband when the branch of government are still there. Nobody can see the sick but they can see the dead. Where is Turai after death. This is a clear message God or Allah.
Lucky Okoro, NY, USA
Well Fellow Nigerians. The concept of Democracy still marvels us. Firstly, Leadership is not about being respected. (craving for public adulation). But being a broken servant for the people. Yar'Adua chose to rule and the masses never did. The British Hung Parliament would never in a thousand years be resolved in Nigeria. I think the mentality and the hunger for unnecessary fame as a leader in Nigeria has to Change. Its a big shame when educated men get silly over power.
Bonaventure Ezekwenna, May God bless you, have said it all. Yar'Adua Regime is the worst I have witness, the impunity his aides looted the treasury even to the extent of presenting forged budget to the entire nation, all the aides and cabal should be probe and jail this is for the interest of justice and for the Nigeria as a nation.
Odunfa has summarised the irony of Nigeria's failure precisely. Events overnite in British politics highlights a stark difference in Nigerian politics and British politics. Withness a comatose Yar'Adua for 6 months trying to stay in power aided by a power drunk wife and a few money grabbing wolves even though it was crystal clear the dying president was in no position to rule. Contrast that to Gordon Brown who gracefully resigned office after 4 days of failing to gain the full mandate of the country. If Brown had been African or Nigerian, he would have remained in office indefinitely mandate or no mandate. Any one who showing any signs of resistance would have met an untimely death. Such is the magnitude of the failure of our democracy or lack of it that one is sometimes embarrassed to be a Nigerian...It's all comical.
Femi Fajuyitan-Atoms, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Yar'Adua realised early enough that the Delta boys are not bundle of rogues or bandits that could be dealt with military force as General Abacha did, but graduates who meant business in demanding their fair shares in national cake and who should be discussed with. In fact Yar'Adua showed he was indeed a chemistry teacher. The chemistry between the diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria is discussion, debate and again discussion and neither weapon nor military force
Sunny Ekwenugo, Berlin, Germany
If not that this woman that aided the demise of our late president was his wife, I would have suggested that Yar'Adua's body be exhumed and a proper autopsy carried out to determine the actual cause of his death. Her behaviour was not only cruel, it was also inhumane. How can a wife hide her sick husband from people who might help save his life just to hang on to power. Now she has lost everything. I hope all the wealth she acquired while in office will go a long way in replacing her dead husband.
Afeez Alade, Lagos, Nigeria
As long as i am concern, every Nigerian should give thanks to Prof. Dora Akunyili on the part she single handedly played to save our country Nigeria. If not for her, i believe Nigeria should have been smoking by now. Yar'Adua or no Yar'Adau, Turai or no Turai ...Telling lies is a serious offence before God and man. Nigerians must believe that and take the offence seriously, punishable with capital penalty. most people may not understand my point on this topic!
Johnny, LA, USA
We must never say bad about the dead. Aside, Yar'Adua came to power through the backdoor and left through the backdoor. He was part of the conspiracy that held the nation hostage. In life he encouraged his wife and friends hence they acted in such despicable manner that was attributed to them. Even the acting president was not allowed to see him alive, but they were quick to let him see his corpse. Why they did not go ahead and bury him in secret and spare us the agony beats me.
Sola has no right to criticise a woman playing her natural role as a mother and wife to a very sick husband. It would have been unAfrican for Turai to have done other wise seeing the magnitude of mischief that surrounds politics in Nigeria.
William Aku, Nri, Anambra State
I'm not sure as to what the constitution says the role of a first lady should be but when it comes to Nigeria's politics, this lady Turai ran the show. She was more than a first lady and in fact she was the head of the so called "cabal" that held the country in that backwards pedestal for those six months.
I don't mourn with her and neither do I feel any emotion with this family. There's a thousand and one Nigerians that die everyday as a result of Yar'Adua's failure while he was a governor and he had the second chance to correct it when he was "selected" and still failed woefully.
Of course Yar'Adua's image had been erased from a lot of Nigeria's consciousness and the worry of not speaking evil of the dead is why Nigerians are scared to state the obvious that the late president was an immense failure who should had been taken out by the masses in a cataclysm proportion.
Heck, the mere fact that he even protected the fraudulent MPs. Christ. When will my people start reading between the lines and realise that even his widow was not interested in moving the nation forward as she could have advised her husband not to accept the role of Africa's most difficult job due to his failing health.
Young Ya Bhoy, London, UK
Humm... The most important lesson from all of these 'Yar'adua Saga' is that, life is not for ever - every opportunity earned or given should be treated golden and used to impact positively on the lives of people in the immediate environment, or else, Just like Abacha, Yar'adaua etc. Such open-doors soon turn to death traps.
Saintluke Ndubuisi, Abuja - Nigeria
Yar'Adua was a good man!!well, that's for his maker to decide. Nigeria was too big for him to govern considering the complex nature of the country visaviz his charisma and health condition. we miss a good man but we need a president.my prayers go to president Jonathan for God's grace and wisdom to register his name as the leader we have long prayed for.
Sam, Jos, Nigeria
How can you compare Yar'Adua to Murtala Muhammed? Even Yar'Adua would not accept that, Please Apologise.
Muhammed Ali, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Yar'Adua's death was welcomed with a huge sigh of relief by me. For all the months he spent out of the country without leaving room for his deputy to pilot the affairs of the nation shows his hunger for power instead of the progress of our nation. His wife refused access to him because she knew the moment we got a glimpse of her bed stricken husband, we would declare him incapable and invoke S.144 CFRN 1999 and that proves her greed & power drunkeness. Nothing lasts forever because he is 6ft deep. God bless Nigeria!!!
Sule Junaidu Onoja, Abuja, Nigeria
Personally, the comment Mr Odunfa made was quite striking. Late president musa yar adua was a good nigerian leader who could not achieve much all because of two factors; wife and his failing health. I believe if he had resigned earlier he would not have died so soon. And by this he could become an elder statesman. Thanks.
Ajayi kola, Nigergia
There's no two ways about it, you said it all!! Let the living learn from the mistakes of others, and have in mind that death is inevitable. The axe of the Almighty God is dangling on the head of evil men in Nigeria enough is enough. GOOD WRITE UP KUDOS.
Mega Rich , GZ China
Whatever his shortcomings, Yar'Adua deserved the prayers and well wishes of Nigerians on his sick bed. His close aides robbed Nigerians of the opportunity to show kindness to his family at the very trying moment. The secrecy surrounding his illness and whereabout led to so much rumours and insinuations. I believe we, Nigerians, are all guilty. We got sucked into the politics of his absence and forgot to show any sympathy to a grieving family or even the man whose life was slowly fading away.
Deji, Lagos, Nigeria
Every story has two sides. The Nigerian media consistently painted Mrs Yar'Adua black since the illness of her late husband and she kept quiet. None ever quoted directly from Mrs Yar'Adua to buttress any of those speculations which could have been politically twisted against a woman battling to save her sick husband. We should not forget that Yar'Adua was her husband before he became the president. Now that her husband is no more, I think she should be left alone to mourn in peace, at least, out of respect for Yar'Adua.
Ahamber, California, USA
This article really has good advice for all first ladies or whatever they are called. It was wrong for Mrs Yar'Adua to deny the vice president access to the president. The late president (may his soul rest in peace) was a public figure and anything happening to him had far reaching consequences on the country. The first lady was supposed to know this and respect it. What is the mother hen for? Who knows she was lying to the president about the vice president and other leaders thereby causing the president even more pain. Obviously he was wondering why his colleagues were not coming to see him and I think this affected him a lot. First ladies should not be overzealous and think by virtue of being wives to presidents they wield the same power. This may likely also happen in Zimbabwe as Mugabe grows senile and incapable. Sorry Mrs Yar'Adua you were wrong, unfair and disrespectful to your husband and his colleagues.
Lusungu Mwaungulu, Raleigh
The greatest mistake one can ever made on earth is to compare Murtala Mohammed with Umar Yar'Adua. Just because they are both death.
Dayo, Calgary, Canada
I think we all have points. But to me, Yar'Adua (may his soul rest in peace) has not done anything for this country that have seen. For Turai his wife to have hidden him until his death, she has shown no respect to this great nation. She would have buried him alone. I think we have no law, for a woman to have suffered us this long. Just when Goodluck Jonathan is about to start working the tenure is almost finished. Nothing good, no better change has happened in Nigeria for complete three years now. We fail to learn our lessons.
Kelly charles kalagbor, Ph. Naija
Tell that to chantal biya of cameroon and all the other madam dictators of africa and see their reaction yar'adua wife did not believed that her husband will die as all the other first ladies in our beloved dictatorial africa, she knew that some how someway by shielding her husband from the public eye she could still will power from behind the scene and some how dictate on death to visit another poor home in nigeria but forgetting that like rain it falls on all rooftop. May yar'adua soul rest in perfect peace. Had Obasanjo allow this man in peace rather than rigging an election for him to cover his mess who knows Yar'Adua might still be alive
gerald galabe, cameroon
It's a pity she lost her husband. But the presidency is not an ancestral chieftaincy title. She should have advised her husband to step aside in the name of decency. But what does an average politician's wife know about decency? We heard that she was even signing the checks at one time!
Ola, New York
Odunfa, I don't know why people keep forgetting that we Nigerians have a similar blood flowing in our veins. Ninety nine percent of ladies would do exactly what Turai did if given the opportunity. OPPORTUNITY is just what an average Nigerian needs and you will see his true colours. I must say that, I strongly salute her courage as The Former Madam.
Zaharadeen Sani, Katsina, Nigeria.
Nigeria's complacency to the extent of allowing a woman (even a President's wife) hold a whole nation hostage as the president lay in his dead bed is surely responsible for the fragility of its institutions. Mrs Yar'Adua defied the nation's duly elected representatives and even the cabinet and refused them from seeing the president as he lay sick. And all this just so that she could pull the strings of power from the shadows. And the nation allowed her to do so. Yet we are told Muslim women are obedient and very subservient females. A nation that can be so manipulated by one woman cannot possibly be a strong democracy.
Chief Bisong Etahoben, Yaounde, CAMEROON
In the natural order of every society, the family comes before the country. The late Nigerian President was her husband first and anything else after. Ask any sincere Nigerian who they would rather entrust their welfare in their times of crisis; their immediate family or the nigerian public. I want a mother hen.
kehinde Edosa Amadin, mississauga, Canada
Looks to me like Mr Odunfa has hit the nail on the head ... his comments basically confirm what I felt but couldn't really put into words ...
Olu Dan, Toronto, Canada
What a hypocrite Odunfa is! Next to Obasanjo, Yar'Adua was the worst leader Nigeria ever had, who does not qualify to be described as a leader as he did not provide any leadership for the country in 3 years. I sympathize with his passing, but the fact is Yar'Adua and the 'Cabal' (Turai inclusive) deceived Nigerians from Day One about the true nature of his illness. Their fraud and subterfuge continued while Nigeria burned until his 'death' last week. Thank God for a breath of fresh air in Goodluckathan.
Kevin E, Dallas, USA
Mrs Turai was just protecting her husband from those hungry politicians that will do anything to stay in power but little did she know that she was indirectly playing into the hands of the so called Cabals. Although, many things were written about her and her ambitions. My problem is that a President is death and the country is still in shock, but politicians are up in arms calling for a VP. The memories of Mr Yar'Adua is still with us here and these hungry politicians are all over the place calling for a VP even when the country is officially mourning the late President. Mrs Turai, If you happens to be a first Lady again, I know that you now knows who to avoid and those who to be careful with. But a woman will always be a woman.
Obinna, Abuja, Nigeria
I completely agree that only good things should be said about the dead. But we tend to overlook the gradual northernization of Nigeria by the Yar'Adua administration. He even made it worst by giving it a Katsina colouration. A good man with a wife that is deluded and his own weaknesses apart from health problems....that is Yar'Adua.
Dr Enabulele, Lagos, Nigeria
Turai, It is time to come clean and tell us what happened. I was one of the avid supporters of the former president, all the accolades were right, the beginning almost excellent, but unfortunately the end always justifies the means, and that means since his tenure ended poorly mostly because of over protectiveness, maybe you should come out and tell us what happened. This is important for simply one reason, those people behind all this "cabal" issue need to be singled out for us to know so that they will not be allowed to be in power in the future. Please Turai, do something, do the right thing.
Gimba Goyo, Jos, Plateau State Nigeria
I think she brought it upon herself. It was not hard to see that Nigerians did not really have much sympathy for her.
She used her husband as a pawn. The so-called kitchen cabinet backing her up could not do a thing for her when her husband gave up the ghost.
She looked so alone and afraid for the future. I almost felt a thing for her but when I remember how she held a whole nation to ransom, whatever feeling that's left vanishes.
I can only wish her well in her future endeavour: arranging marriages for her remaining daughters.
Melinda, Lagos, Nigeria
I quite agreed with adamu abuh, no sensible woman will watch her husband died when she's not evil in nature. To be candid a woman can be a mother-hen for any just course. She has actually protected the image of the nation for preventing the sight of the president to be ridiculed in the public.
Odunwole, Lagos, Nigeria
Mr James, from Portugal. Your are the true son of your father, you have said it all as it is and God bless you. It is always good to call a spade a spade regardless of whose ox is gored. This is the only recipe for Nigeria's advancement period.
Vincent Ezeora, New York
Two wrongs can not make a right. No doubt Turai mess up the good responsible image of his late husband but the truth remains that Umaru Yar'Adua was a fine, and true national leader. Turai is not alone; most Nigerian woman would probably do what she did. It all amount to pathological greed among Nigerian including myself. We have failed to embrace the new trend of globalization in the world order about the ills of corruption and creed. Give the new First lady Patience few weeks and you will see her true colour. God help Nigeria
Innocent Egwim, Lagos
I was thought not to speak bad about someone that is dead, But i want to express my thoughts here. Yar'Adua at a point was very alert. He allowed his wife and friends to manipulate Nigeria. He would have done the right thing before going to Saudi for treatment, he would have transferred power to Goodluck but he did not, when he was in sick bed, if he was not patriotic, he would have resigned but he refuse, he was so selfish with power, and he paid the ultimate price. He allowed the wife and friends to take advantage of the situation. At a point a country of 150 million people had no leader, only receiving orders from a lady that was not in the ballot box. Was that democracy?
John , Texas, USA
President Yar'Adua's handlers are to be blamed for the less outpouring of emotions and sympathies he received from the Nigerian People. Where was Former President Obasanjo in all of this. The World knows the election of President Yar'Adua was not democratic, however, this arrangement was better than a military take over. Having said that, this kind of political gamemanship needs a grantor, and that was Former President Obasanjo. He has the ears of the superpower and some political capital with some Nigerians, even though he left office as a damage goods. There is this famous saying in African Countries "The president is good", but the people he surrounds himself with. This is precisely the problems. Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are. President Yar'Adua surrounded himself with political gangsters and yes sir men, who was not forthcoming with the Nigeria people when he began ill. This was also a recipe for bad governance. The fact that the president left the country without clearly explaining his illness to people and how long he was going to be away, would have easily re-invited the military to power. Nigeria or most Africa countries for that matter are male dominated. The former first lady might have been held hostage to go along with these political gangsters to exploit the North and South divisions to their advantage. President Yar'Adua meant well, but he surrounded himself with the same old order of business "me first and country and fellow citizens last".
T. Chuku Welwolo, South Plainfield, NJ, USA
Great piece but too shallow.why skim out her power struggles while her "darling" lay writhing in pain.
Mr Odunfa's summation was right. I forgot how the former President looked like until he died and his pictures were all over the place. Nigeria has made the office of the First Lady too glorified. I Can not see Michelle Obama telling President Obama what to do. He knows he does not to belong to her alone but to his people but can Nigeria ever leave the domestic 'thing' out of our politics and concentrate on good governance? Yar'Adua was a good man but he was not a leader of repute. The nation was too big for him and he should have quit earlier and gone on home to rest in peace.
JANE AGUNABOR, Kaduna, Nigeria
i truly feel for her. she was right to play the mother hen role at a time so many people wished president Yar'Adua died before the day he actually died. i am not sure if she could have been able to stop the so-called cabals in those trying times when her husband took ill. the cabals wanted to keep amassing wealth while what was paramount to her was the survival of her husband. she was a true African woman. she could pass for a superwoman too. its difficult to say she was power drunk - after all, when she was no where to be seen in the public arena when the husband was sick. she deserves our sympathies and prayers. may God give her the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss of her husband, our president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
adamu abuh, kano
I completely disagree with Odunfa on this issue of gentle Yar'Adua. He was part of the fraud that brought him to power. On his inauguration day, he promised heavens and earth to tackle corruption and bring about lasting and credible electoral reforms. His rule of law slogan was a big slap on the faces of oppressed Nigerians providing covers for extremely corrupt politicians who bankrolled his campaign bill. We all know how he frustrated fight against corruption and how his appointments were not based on merit but nepotism, appointing people of questionable characters into key positions. In my own book, I will remember him as a leader who had the opportunity to prove sceptics wrong but failed woefully to do so. To add salt to injury, his wife became so greedy that her greedy interest took pre-eminence over the interests of over 150 million suffering Nigerians. History will judge Yar'Adua, his wife, and the so-called cabal that brought Nigeria on the brinks of collapse!
Gbammm!!! means you're exactly on point; precisely.
Bonaventure Ezekwenna, New York, USA