The school days of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua
In this 13th year of the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, there has been a generous outpouring of tributes to him. Former President Goodluck Jonathan has described the late president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as an exemplary leader who lived above prejudice and was fair to all. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar eulogised the late president as a beacon of humility and integrity, who was gracious enough to acknowledge the shortcomings of the very election that brought him to power in 2007.
Atiku Abubakar recalled that “despite the illness that eventually claimed his life, President Yar’Adua continued to fight for a better Nigeria, initiating a correcting process and setting a path for future leaders to follow”.
The President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu wrote: “As a friend and political associate, I cherish the fond memories of honesty, steadfastness, patriotism and excellence in public service left behind by the late Yar’Adua both as governor of Katsina State (1999 to 2007) and president of Nigeria (2007 to 2010).”
“As I prepare to take the reins of leadership of this country on May 29, I am determined to follow the good examples set by leaders like Mallam Umaru Yar’Adua who showcased an exceptional sense of propriety and selfless service to our dear country.”
All over the country, many others would have fond memories of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. I have fond memories of him too, but chiefly of his school days. We attended the same school, Government College, Keffi, though he was two years ahead of me. GCK was then uniquely a unity school that catered to all the provinces in the Northern Region.
Along with Government College Zaria (now Barewa College) and Government College, Kaduna, entry to GCK was supremely competitive. It was only the best-performing students in the common entrance examination in the provinces of the North that were considered for enrollment.
There was, then, hardly a hint of magumagu in the selection process. That’s why those colleges were a potpourri of society, reflecting its cleavages and inequities. In every classroom, you were likely to find the children of farmers, traders, and clergymen sitting side by side with children of ministers, permanent secretaries, emirs, and chiefs.
The college was patterned after British grammar schools, was entirely boarding, and boys all lived together for all the stipulated years. When Umaru Musa Yar’Adua got into GCK in 1965, his father was a Katsina title holder and a well-regarded minister, in the Tafawa Balewa government, in charge of Lagos affairs, the FCT of the time.
When I encountered Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, I was a form one student. Though he lived in a hostel that was some distance away from mine, he was frequently in our room visiting his friend, Yusuf Tukur, his fellow Katsina compatriot, then a form two student who shared a room with us.
Umaru was a well-known student because he played cricket for both the team of his house and the college as well. He was reputed to be a fast and ferocious bowler whom even the best batsmen were always apprehensive of. Whenever Umaru bowled, wickets were wont to fly into the air. GCK was one of the few schools where cricket, a muchloved British game, was played.
As both the principal of the college as well as most of the tutors were British, one would understand why Umaru was so well-noted as a student. Those who shared rooms with him say he was a very quiet student who never exhibited any airs of being the son of a minister.
He spent most of his time lying on his bed reading novels. He was particularly drawn to novels written by Ian Fleming, the famous espionage writer and creator of James Bond 007. Umaru was said to be so enamoured of James Bond books that his friends called him 007, a nickname that remained with him, with which his very close associates called him whenever they were with him.
I didn’t get to meet Umaru Musa Yar’Adua again till when he arrived in Abuja as the President in 2007 to reside and hold office in the Presidential Villa, where I was posted as a director in the office of the Principal Secretary to the President and Permanent Secretary. I had no illusions that he would recognise me, being a junior schoolmate, and I guessed he did not. I recall that when we were taken to be introduced to him and it came to my turn when GCK was mentioned, he just glared at me, and shook my hands while beaming a smile.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became president in a chequered period of our lives. His predecessor, President Olusegun Obasanjo, was on course to finish on a high note but decided to toy with a third-term ambition. It was when that failed that Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Katsina State Governor who impressed Obasanjo as a quiet performer, was drafted to fly the flag of the PDP.
The country had high hopes for the Yar’Adua administration as he had begun well and in earnest. Unfortunately, he was beset with an illness which eventually took his life.
Allah ya ji kan Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Allah ya rahamsheshi. Amin.
All over the country, many others would have fond memories of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. I have fond memories of him too, but chiefly of his school days. We attended the same school, Government College, Keffi, though he was two years ahead of me. GCK was then uniquely a unity school that catered to all the provinces in the Northern Region