22 May 2009

Nigeria: El-Rufai on Trial

Lagos — Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is one of Nigeria's privileged young men who attained heights; wined and dined with power brokers in the nation when majority of his age-mates were still struggling to find their bearings.

The ex-minister's first break came in 1998 during the transitional government which followed the death of then military ruler, General Sani Abacha. He was said to be part of the think-tank used by General Abdulsalami Abubakar's military government during its stint in power.

Nicknamed "Giant" at the University due to his diminutive stature, the ex-minister has proven that despite his pint size, he was capable of rocking the Nigerian political establishment. His feisty character came to the fore when he, as Chairman of Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), challenged those alleging foul play in the privatization exercise to come forward and buttress their claims. Despite all accusations, he was rewarded with the portfolio of Minister of Federal Capital Territory. While holding sway as Minister, he challenged the Senate of the nation and came out unscathed.

Currently, el-Rufai is under trial at the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja.

Reports indicate that he is questioning his arraignment for criminal conspiracy and abuse of office before Justice Shuaibu Bello.

The former FCT minister and three others may also face trial for alleged poor handling of the sale of 22, 000 houses belonging to the Federal Government and misappropriation of about N2 billion proceeds.

The recommendation for the trial of el-Rufai is contained in the report of a panel raised by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the sale of the houses. It was also revealed that charges against him before a Federal High Court might be amended to accommodate the recommendation of the panel.

The report reads: "That conflicting records were submitted by the Ad-hoc committee during the investigation. It is therefore not surprising that the committee could not explain the N1.9 billion deficit observed from various records of the proceeds as detected by this investigation. It is obvious that the sale of FG houses, which was intended among other things to raise revenue for the government, was used as opportunity by some persons under the control and supervision of the then FCT minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai to siphon money and fraudulently enrich themselves."

Others expected to face trial with him are former chairmen of ad hoc committee on the sale of FG houses, Jimmy Lawal, Abass Umar and a woman who is still being trailed.

General Secretary of Lagos State Youth Forum (LSYF), Oluwakayode Odunuga is of the belief that el-Rufai remains innocent until a competent court of jurisdiction rules otherwise.

He suggested that it will be wrong for anybody to say the former minister has committed the alleged crime when it has not been declared to be so by a court.

"The court is the final point. We should allow the judiciary play its part effectively," he said. He however charged those occupying public offices to beware of their activities while in office.

Born on February 16, 1960, el-Rufai was the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the privatization agency in Nigeria and also the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja from July 16 2004 to May 29 2007.

He went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Quantity Surveying with First Class Honors. He also attended post-graduate programs at Harvard Business School and Georgetown University.

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