Nigeria's late President Umaru Yar'Adua grew so weak while in office he needed once to be carried by a soldier off a runway during a state visit to Togo, ultimately becoming unable to speak in the last weeks of his life, according to a new book by his former spokesman.
The book by Olusegun Adeniyi tells of how the ill leader became a political pawn in a charade that saw soldiers deployed without authorization and rumors of a possible coup float among the elite in the oil-rich nation. It also describes the rise of militancy in the oil-rich country's crude-producing southern delta, including how a militant leader stole thousands of machine guns from Nigerian army depots.
Though portraying his former boss in a largely flattering light, Adeniyi's book shows how tenuous democracy is in a nation plagued by vote-rigging and that cast off military rule only 13 years ago.
"If we will be honest with ourselves, we all know how we rig elections in this country," Adeniyi quotes Yar'Adua as saying during a closed-door January 2008 meeting about the corrupt election that saw him become the nation's leader. "We compromise the security agencies, we pay the electoral officials and party agents while on the eve of the election we merely distribute logistics all designed to buy the vote."
The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of "Power, Politics and Death: A Front-Row Account of Nigeria Under the Late President Yar'Adua" from the author, who now writes a column for ThisDay newspaper. Reuben Abati, a spokesman for current President Goodluck Jonathan, declined to comment on the book. A spokesman for the ruling People's Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.
In the book, Adeniyi acknowledges Yar'Adua's ascension to power through a rigged 2007 presidential election. Yar'Adua, already sickly from a chronic kidney condition, weakened quickly under the strain of the presidency.
Those around him tried to protect his image. Adeniyi recounts instructing a cameraman from the state-run television network to film the president from the side only in one instance in 2008 to hide Yar'Adua's swollen face after an allergic reaction.
Yar'Adua then had "minor surgery" in Germany, but could only work a few hours a day, if at all, after the procedure, Adeniyi writes. As he grew sicker, Yar'Adua began receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia with government officials suspecting that "American security agents had penetrated the (German) hospital and had gained access to the president's health profile," according to the book.
At one point during a trip to Togo, the military officer assigned to Yar'Adua had to drape traditional robes over his arm to hide the fact he needed to nearly carry the president off a landing strip, the book claims.
Yar'Adua departure in late November 2009 for a several-month stay at a hospital in Saudi Arabia set up a constitutional crisis that saw government grind to a halt in the OPEC member nation. The National Assembly ultimately voted to empower then-Vice President Jonathan to serve as acting president. Yar'Adua was whisked back into Nigeria's capital Abuja under the cover of darkness days later, apparently unable to talk. He apparently was brought back so those close to Yar'Adua could exert control over Jonathan.
Soldiers deployed to the Abuja airport to escort Yar'Adua home in an ambulance without Jonathan's knowledge, the book claims. The next day, rumors of a possible coup flourished.
"There were fears among (Jonathan's) closest aides he could be shot by the soldiers," the book claims.
It later adds: "Signals from the military were also hazy, with fears that some soldiers could take out both Yar'Adua and Jonathan."
Yar'Adua died on May 5, 2010. Jonathan was sworn in as president the next day.
The book also describes the Yar'Adua-led amnesty program offered to militants in the country's Niger Delta, where foreign oil firms have pumped crude oil for more than 50 years. Despite the billions of dollars earned yearly from oil sales, the region remains desperately poor and polluted.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was the region's premier militant group, its rise aided by a series of weapons thefts engineered by the group's alleged leader Henry Okah from Nigerian military depots, Adeniyi writes. The theft of thousands of weapons, including pistols, machine guns and rocket launchers, "was so staggering and the crime so well organized that the investigating team could hardly determine the exact amount of arms removed," Adeniyi writes.
Okah, who denies leading the militant group, now faces terrorism charges in South Africa over a dual car bombing Oct. 1, 2010, in Abuja that killed at least 12 people. Six soldiers were sentenced to life in prison over the arms thefts.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.