Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, GCON was a Nigerian general and politician who was the de facto vice president of Nigeria as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters when Nigeria was under military rule from 1976 to 1979. He was a prominent politician during the later transition from military to civilian rule in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
Yar’Adua was born in Katsina into a titled family. His father, Musa Yar’Adua, was a teacher who later became the Minister for Lagos Affairs from 1957 to 1966 during Nigeria’s First Republic and held the chieftaincy title of Tafidan Katsina before he was appointed to the title of Mutawallin Katsina (keeper of the treasury). Yar’Adua’s grandfather, Malam Umaru, was also the Mutawalli, and his younger brother Umaru Yar’Adua, who later became the President of Nigeria from 2007 to 2010, held the title as well. His paternal grandmother, Malama Binta, a Fulani from the Sullubawa clan, was a princess of the Katsina Emirate and a sister of Emir Muhammadu Dikko.
Yar’Adua attended Katsina Middle School and then Katsina Provincial School (now Government College, Katsina) for his secondary education; at the provincial school, where he was classmates with former Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari.
At the urging of his father and his father’s friend, defence minister Muhammadu Ribadu, Yar’Adua took the entrance exam of the Nigerian Military Training College. He passed and was enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1962 as part of the course 5 intake of the Nigerian military training school. Yar’Adua was selected for further training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was turbaned as the Tafidan Katsina by the Emir of Katsina Muhammadu Kabir Usman.
In 1964, after he returned from Sandhurst, Yar’Adua was posted to the first infantry battalion of the Nigerian Army in Enugu under the command of Col Adekunle Fajuyi as second lieutenant. From 1964 to the end of the Nigerian Civil War, he held various positions including platoon commander in 1964, and from 1965 to 1966 adjutant of the First Infantry Battalion in Enugu. He was a battalion commander in 1967, and in 1968 became a Brigade Commander. During the civil war, he commanded the 6th infantry brigade under the leadership of Murtala Muhammed, commander of the second division. In October 1967, Yar’Adua was given the responsibility for the capture of Onitsha after two (2) unsuccessful attempts by the Nigerian troops.
In 1975, he was an active participant in the military coup d’état that deposed General Yakubu Gowon as Nigeria’s Head of State.After the success of the coup, he served as Transport Minister in General Murtala Muhammed’s regime. As Transport Minister his major task was to decongest the Lagos port. Prior to the coup, officials of the previous regime had ordered 16 million tonnes of cement to build military barracks around the country. However, the berthing facilities of the port were inadequate. The financial implications became more striking because the Nigerian government was liable to pay demurrage fees by the shippers. The Muhammed regime decided to transfer some of the cargoes to neighboring ports and introduce cement management firms to clear and sell the cement and build the new Tin Can Island Port.
Arrest and death
In March 1995, General Yar’Adua alongside Olusegun Obasanjo, Lawan Gwadabe and others were arrested on allegations of plotting a coup to overthrow the General Sani Abacha regime. He was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1995, after calling on the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha and his Provisional Ruling Council to re-establish civilian rule. The sentence was commuted to life in prison but he died in captivity on 8 December 1997.
In 1965, Shehu Yar’adua married Hajia Binta and they have five children, including Murtala Yar’Adua, former Nigerian Minister of State for Defence.
After retiring from the military, Yar’Adua established a holding company called Hamada Holdings with several business interests in shipping, banking, publishing allowing him to amass a vast private fortune.