Security operatives from the Department of State Security Service Saturday seized former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, shortly after he arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, from London.
El-Rufai, a chieftain of Congress for Progressive Change and a Friday columnist with THISDAY, was taken to the SSS headquarters for interrogation.
The former minister who was whisked away at 6.30am, regained his freedom 16 hours later following the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians, including THISDAY publisher and President, Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena.
Obaigbena who was at the SSS headquarters in Abuja signed el-Rufai's bail bond.
El-Rufai is a visiting member of THISDAY Editorial Board.
The duo, along with el-Rufai's second wife and assistant left the SSS headquarters at about 11pm.
The former minister is to return to the SS headquarters Monday for questioning.
THISDAY gathered that his arrest was in connection with his column in last Friday's edition of the paper in which he criticised the cost of governance.
In the column, titled, "What Nigeria Pays FG," the former minister quoted figures to show what it costs taxpayers to run the government and to maintain political office holders.
His reference to the budget for security services may have landed him in trouble as the SSS said the figures he quoted in his column were wrong.
His arrest triggered a gale of criticisms from members of the opposition and civil society groups, including CPC's presidential candidate, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana and former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.
SSS spokesperson Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, confirmed the arrest.
Ogar, in a statement, said, "This became necessary following Mallam el-Rufai's recent articles in the cyber and print media which have been considered by well-meaning Nigerians to be inciting, inflammatory and grossly misleading. For instance, his column on the back page of 1st July, 2011 edition of THISDAY newspaper titled "What Nigeria Pays FG" clearly attests to this.
"It is pertinent to note that the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI Bill) has been passed into law, yet he refused to cross check his facts before publishing. He rather chose to misinform the public with mischievously orchestrated data with the intent of causing disaffection among the populace thereby subverting Government. It is expected that the former minister should have been more circumspect against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country," she said.
A source from the SSS said in the Appropriation (Amendment) Bill 2011 signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on May 26, the intelligence community got a total allocation of N109,855,099,466.
According to him, the following accrues to each security agency: the Office of the National Security Adviser - N40,846,937,023; Directorate of State Security- N23,452,705,993; National Intelligence Agency - N27,720,580,338; and the Presidential Air Fleet -N17,834,876,113.
"So where did el-Rufai get his N208billion? Even then, all the funds due to intelligence community are controlled by the permanent secretary (social services) in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. When did amnesty programme become part of intelligence community whose vote is being managed by the national security adviser? It is very wrong and inciting to manufacture figures and present them as truth because you lost out somewhere and suddenly realised you should become relevant by writing a column in a newspaper. He is certainly appearing in court on Monday," SSS source said.
El-Rufai, who first broke the news of his arrest on a social media network, twitter, could not be reached again later in the day as his phone was switched off due to low battery.
The former minister gave an account of his arrest as follow:
"Got detained by the SSS on arrival at Abuja Airport. No reason given. On our way to the SSS HQ. Will keep you posted if phones not seized.
"We have arrived safely at SSS HQ. They are polite and courteous.
"Inside the building waiting for the Director to arrive. I still have my phones but under watch by three polite SSS officers.
"Taken up three floors to see the DG. He was my director of security in FCT, 2003...decent man then, will soon know if fresh air has got him.
Finally, el-Rufai tweeted: "Phone battery is going down...no tweets until I recharge." Buhari in a statement criticised the arrest of the former minister and demanded his immediate release.
Buhari, in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, described el-Rufai's arrest as "brazen act of intimidation, harassment and a flagrant violation of citizens' rights in a democratic atmosphere."
He added that hounding innocent citizens to detention in less than a month in office of the Jonathan administration while failing to rise to the security challenges facing the nation is a sign of misplaced priorities.
Falana, also in a statement, said el-Rufai's arrest was uncalled for.
"The arrest of Mr. el-Rufai by security forces at the Abuja airport is an unwarranted embarrassment. Having pledged to run the country on the platform of rule of law, President Jonathan should halt repressive tactics. The constitution guarantees Mr. el-Rufai's freedom of expression but if there is evidence that the ex-minister has committed any legally-defined offence, he should be charged to court without delay," the statement said.
On his part, Fani-Kayode said the arrest was an error of judgment on the part of the Jonathan administration.
His words: "The arrest of Mallam el-Rufai is a disgrace and a monumental error on the part of this administration. Since when has it been a crime to be critical of government? I thought this was meant to be a democracy. Those that speak out are not the ones that President Goodluck Jonathan should be worried about. It is those that do not speak out but who bomb, maim and kill that his SSS should be hunting down," adding: "They should release Nasir el-Rufai immediately and stop this childish game and this display of shameless paranoia. You cannot silence dissent and opposition by the brazen display of brute force and intimidation. When you do that, you only make it grow. It is el-Rufai today, who will it be tomorrow?"
El-Rufai was part of Buhari's delegation to Chatham House in London where he addressed dignitaries on last general elections. Also on the delegation was CPC's vice-presidential candidate, Pastor Tunde Bakare.
Chatham House is the famous Royal Institute of International Affairs, which promotes significant open and confidential debates about international affairs.