Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua was the country's first university-educated president. Although Yar'Adua earned university degrees, so did Nigeria's first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who served from 1963 to 1966.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua dies

Umaru Yar'Adua, 58, was Nigeria's first university-educated president.
Umaru Yar'Adua, 58, was Nigeria's first university-educated president. (George Osodi/associated Press)
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By Dulue Mbachu
Thursday, May 6, 2010

Umaru Yar'Adua, the first university-educated president of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and second-biggest oil producer, has died. He was 58.

Yar'Adua died Tuesday evening at the Aso Rock presidential villa in Lagos, the Associated Press reported, citing presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan became acting president in February, three months after Yar'Adua left for Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment. The BBC reported in November that he had acute pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart.

Yar'Adua took office May 29, 2007, amid charges of electoral fraud and facing an insurgency in the Niger River Delta that had cut 20 percent of Nigeria's oil production. He helped bring about a cease-fire in 2008, with 15,000 rebels laying down their arms. In January 2009, the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said it was resuming hostilities.

The inauguration of Yar'Adua marked the first transfer of power from one elected civilian leader to another in the West African nation of 140 million people and 300 ethnic groups that has experienced six military coups and a civil war since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.

An observant Muslim, Yar'Adua had a modest style that contrasted sharply with the ostentatious rule of most of his predecessors. He won plaudits by being Nigeria's first leader to publicly declare his assets and vowed to be "a servant-leader" who would root out endemic corruption.

Though Yar'Adua was personally chosen by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, he went on to reverse some of Obasanjo's key policies, including the planned sale of state-owned oil refineries and steel plants that critics alleged had been bought by the former president's associates.

To his critics, Yar'Adua was indecisive and slow to implement his programs. Many of the key problems he inherited and promised to tackle have survived him.

Yar'Adua's removal in December 2007 of Nuhu Ribadu as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission also raised questions about his commitment to fight corruption, seen by many as the biggest impediment to Nigeria's development. Ribadu had waged a war against corrupt public officials and charged several state governors in court.

Yar'Adua was born in the northern city of Katsina in 1951. He was the son of a cabinet minister in Nigeria's first post-independence government.

Yar'Adua began his political career as a member of the left-wing People's Redemption Party, defying the conservative politics of his family. In the 1990s, he joined the Social Democratic Party.

In 1999, Yar'Adua was elected governor of Katsina state on the platform of the ruling People's Democratic Party. He was reelected four years later and during his eight years as governor achieved a reputation of prudent management.

Yar'Adua and his wife, Turai, had six children.

-- Bloomberg News

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