4 February 2013

Nigeria: El-Rufai Says in New Book, Obasanjo Told Us, 'No Third Term, No Nigeria'.

Photo: This Day
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Nasir El-Rufai.

Former FCT minister Nasir El-Rufai has alleged that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo badly wanted to extend his stay in office beyond 2007 such that he told his aides: "No third term, no Nigeria.'

In his 627-page memoir titled The Accidental Public Servant, scheduled for public presentation on Thursday, El-Rufai also defended the dollar salaries paid two of his aides when he was minister of the Federal Capital Territory in 2003-2007.

The former minister said when rumours of a third term plot began circulating in 2005, he confronted Obasanjo who responded thus: "Do you think I am looking for a job? I came out of prison, I was on my farm, I was begged to come and do this job. Now that we are about to finish this job, do you honestly think I would be looking for another job?" He added: "I am looking forward to May 29, 2007, I will go back to my farm and that is it."

But, according to El-Rufai, as time went on he was convinced a third term plot existed and so he confronted Obasanjo again who now said "if the National Assembly wishes to amend the constitution it was not my business."

El-Rufai said later in February 2006, in the gardens of the Presidential Villa, Obasanjo said to him, "No third term, no Nigeria," a threat the president repeated to then-chairman of the EFCC, Malam Nuhu Ribadu.

He said in May 2006 in the heat of the third term debacle, he along with three other cabinet members met Obasanjo's chief of staff General Abdullahi Mohammed and asked him to lead them to confront the president and persuade him to drop the tenure elongation idea.

But Mohammed told them the president had consistently denied to him of the existence of any such plot, and so there was no point leading them to him on that.

"I told the chief of staff that Obasanjo had admitted it to me and Nuhu (Ribadu) confirmed that he had had similar conversation in which the president even used the words, 'No third term, no Nigeria'," El-Rufai said.

Still Mohammed declined leading the delegation but instead pledged to talk to the president on the matter, "just two old soldiers talking."

El-Rufai said among the things Obasanjo did to canvass support for third term was to hint different people that he would give them the vice presidential slot.

"For instance, he hinted to the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari, that if he supported the third term project, Obasanjo would pick him as running mate and prepare him to be the next president. Surely, the speaker could not have been the only one Obasanjo made this pitch to," he said.

He also said the third term lobby team, funded by Lagos-based billionaires, raised more than $300 million (equivalent N45 billion) "by Nuhu Ribadu's informed estimate."

El-Rufai claimed to have worked behind the scenes to help defeat the third term project, by working with especially Senate President Ken Nnamani, Masari and Dr. Usman Bugaje, who was then a member of the House of Representatives.

He said he feared that if Obasanjo lost the tenure elongation bid, he could turn into a "bull in a China shop" and may even consider declaring a state of emergency so as to remain in power.

El-Rufai said because of that, he consulted major northern leaders including General Muhammadu Buhari and former President Shehu Shagari and advised them to be in touch with Obasanjo such that in the event he tries to run wild, they could talk to him.

He said he told Buhari: "As national leaders you have a duty also to engage with him, and be talking to him, so that in case he does not get it, you would prevent him from becoming a bull in a China shop of the Nigerian state. He could destroy everything. He could endanger our democracy, he could make wrong choices or unleash vengeful policies that will negatively affect the people of Nigeria as his revenge on them for openly opposing his third term bid."

He said Buhari agreed to re-establish communication with Obasanjo which had broken off since 2003.

El-Rufai said after losing the third term gambit, Obasanjo picked Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan because they were weak and so would be servile to him.

He said sometime in the run up to the 2007 elections, Obasanjo said to him: "The next four years--2007 to 2011--is just a transition period.... Well, nothing will change. I will be in Ota but we will be running things. Everything will remain the same, you know, you will remain in the government, the economic team will remain. Nothing will change. Only I will move to Ota and Yar'Adua will be here but we will be running things."

Dollar payments

During his tenure at FCT ministry, El-Rufai had running battles with the Senate, including when he was accused of paying huge amounts in US dollars as salaries and allowances to his aides.

In his new book, El-Rufai defended the payments, saying he initiated a program of recruiting the best brains when he was in the Bureau of Public Enterprises and that the 'consultants' were paid by funding from international donor agencies.

He said he would not write much on the matter because the then Senate public accounts committee chairman Mamman Ali who raised dust on the payments is dead and no longer in a position to defend himself.

But in the appendix to the book, El-Rufai included documents showing how his two aides--Dr. Abdu Mukhtar and Aishatu F. Kolo--were paid N10.29 million and N9.73 million respectively as arrears for 156 days' work.

A memo initiated by El-Rufai's protocol chief to the permanent secretary said "under their terms and condition of engagement, they were to draw their remunerations from the World Bank Loan Facility, under the Economic Management Capacity Building Credit Scheme which does not exist with FCT, as previously done in Bureau of Public Enterprises.

"Under the arrangement the officers receive the following: 1) Dr. Abdu Mukhtar - $437 daily. 2) Aishatu F. Kolo - $412.91 daily. Accordingly, the officers have worked for a total number of 156 (one hundred and fifty six) days without pay.

"In view of the above, you may wish to consider the granting of an advance to the officers in order to alleviate their problems which will be reimbursed by the Federal Ministry of Finance: Dr. Abdu Mukhtar - $437 x N151 x N156 days = N10,293,922.00; Aishetu F. Kolo - $412 x 151 x156 days = N9,726,600.00. Grand total = N20,020,522.00"

'Obasanjo wanted Buhari/Ngozi in 2011'

El-Rufai said in the run up to the 2011 elections, Obasanjo had plotted to stop President Goodluck Jonathan by seeking to pair and support Buhari and Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

He said on January 25, 2011, Obasanjo invited him to a meeting in Abuja and "said that he concurred with my earlier belief that Jonathan would not make a competent President and that the best presidential candidate of the whole lot was Buhari.

"He expressed willingness to support Buhari and go public with it if CPC and Buhari are willing to consider his suggestions and implement them. Obasanjo suggested that I should convince Buhari to pick Ngozi as his running mate, enter immediately into an alliance with the ACN and ANPP, and then offer the Senate President's position to the South-West to secure Tinubu's support."

He said when he delivered the message, Buhari asked for his opinion, to which he replied that he thought Obasanjo was honest in his recommendation on merger with other parties but he did not think he would help Buhari in any way.

"I also added that Obasanjo's faction of Ogun PDP had just lost all their tickets to contest the next elections and should this situation change, Obasanjo would renege on everything he had committed to. Obasanjo may also be making another strategic move of removing Bakare's name from the ticket, in addition to responding to Jonathan's failure to ensure that his faction got the ticket by hook or crook- something Jonathan simply refused to do, preferring to support the state governor Gbenga Daniel and his faction.

"Buhari restated that he thought long and hard before deciding on Bakare and would not change his mind. However, we all agreed to continue to engage Obasanjo and encourage contacts with Ngozi while pushing to see real movement towards the financial and other political commitments made.

"The same evening I returned to Obasanjo to brief him. He was excited and promised to contact Ngozi, Labour Party, the ANPP leadership and a few wealthy benefactors," he said.

But as the courts reinstated Iaybo as a senatorial candidate of the PDP, Obasanjo backtracked, El-Rufai said.

"By then (February 2011), a weird Federal High Court ruling had restored the tickets of Iyabo Obasanjo and other members of their faction in Ogun State. So true to form, Obasanjo simply backtracked, rejected the roadmap he had asked us to prepare, and said we should now explore ways of 'remedying Jonathan's weaknesses' and supporting his candidature."

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