17 February 2013

Nigeria: El-Rufai - Like a Bull in a China Shop


Long before publishing his controversial memoirs titled The Accidental Public Servant which was presented to the public on February 6, 2013, Malam Nasir el-Rufai had been a controversial figure in the Nigerian public and its institutions. Perhaps, he agrees with the sage who said "every dog should have its own fleas; at least to remind it that it is still a dog". For the period he held sway as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and afterwards, the diminutive el-Rufai has been a rather ubiquitous flea in the Nigerian public sphere.

While he was FCT Minister, el-Rufai enraged distinguished senators, some of who were old enough to be his father, including the likes of Professor Iya Abubakar, who may have signed el-Rufai's degree certificate as Vice-Chancellor of his alma mater. The Senate had threatened to go on strike unless he was sacked. Instead of debating bills and motions for the security and good governance of Nigeria, they were forced to discuss el-Rufai. Ultimately, he profusely apologized to the senators. This underlines the difference between el-Rufai and the current Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who, although no less aggressive appears to be more circumspect and was able, in a similar situation, to stand up to the senators by refusing to apologise or retract his remarks.

Earlier, el-Rufai had alleged that senators demanded for bribes before confirming his nomination by the President as Minister. When a committee was set up to investigate the allegation, which the named senators denied, Malam el-Rufai claimed that God was his witness! How could anyone deign to invite or subpoena God to testify before a Nigerian senate committee?

It was not the Senate alone that has had to endure the distraction of Malam Nasir el-Rufai: civil servants, transporters, commuters, Justice Bashir Sambo and so on. As FCT Minister, for instance, el-Rufai demolished scores of buildings that were used as offices, residences, recreational facilities and worship centres.

I concede that el-Rufai's action towards building an expensive and beautiful capital city for Nigeria would assuage our national ego as the giant of Africa. Also, some people would have benefited materially from such demolitions. Indeed, some people would always be happy or unhappy about virtually every government action, no matter how benevolent or malevolent such action is. Still, government programmes and policies ought to always be guided by the need to safeguard the interest of the larger society over and above parochial considerations. When large segments of the society are adversely affected by a particular government action that is considered necessary, its officials need to empathize with the victims. Unfortunately, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, as FCT Minister, tended to enjoy inflicting pain on the public for the sake of it. He seems to be more eloquent when he is criticizing or denouncing people than explaining or placating others when he ever gets to do so.

However, in justifying the payment to two of his aides in dollars worth over N20 million for working156 days and also allocating choice plots of land to members of his family and friends, Malam el-Rufai has demonstrated that, like other mortals, it is blood, not mercury that flows in his veins.

Malam el-Rufai's latest book copiously elucidates his high nuisance value. Take his reported role in the Third Term imbroglio for instance. Olusegun Obasanjo, like other mortals, has his own peccadilloes and may have shown some proclivity for clinging to power, but it was el-Rufai that first seriously broached the idea to him. By his own account, when David Cowan, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Senior Consultant covering Nigeria drew his (el-Rufai's) attention to the huge $60 billion that the Obasanjo regime will bequeath to its successor and the possibility that the money could be frittered away, el-Rufai met Obasanjo and in the ensuing discourse that took place two years into his second term, the third term plot was hatched.

Whether the plot would succeed or not, el-Rufai thought he would be the greatest beneficiary. If the project succeeds, he, already as-in his words - 'de facto' Vice President will smoothly become de jure Vice-President with the brighter prospect of eventually becoming President. If the plot failed, he would most easily be anointed to be the President as a highly loyal and leading member of the regime's Economic Management Team who indeed mooted the idea of shopping for a successor. So, head or tail, as far as Third Term was concerned, el-Rufai would win. Or so he thought. When the plot failed and Obasanjo chose 'Yar'adua to succeed him, el-Rufai was aghast, hence his acerbic vituperations.

So, according to el-Rufai, Obasanjo said "No Third Term, No Nigeria"! He really said that? And yet the powerful, patriotic, fearless el-Rufai kept quiet?

Oh, well he acted! He pleaded with General Buhari to talk to Obasanjo saying: "As national leaders, you have a duty also to engage him, so that if he does not get it, you would prevent him from becoming a bull in a China shop of the Nigerian state". Evidently, el-Rufai was more concerned about how Obasanjo would be placated if the plot failed. Apparently, he had no qualms if Third Term succeeded. Indeed the prospect of becoming substantive Vice-President in a Third Term Obasanjo presidency was quite alluring.

If el-Rufai was averse to Third Term, why did he not expose and openly oppose it like Atiku Abubakar and the others did? As it turned out, the Third Term plot failed, Obasanjo remained a human being rather than a bull in the chinaware in Nigeria's shop. But I can see that Nasir el-Rufai's clay presidential chalice has cracked ominously.

As it is, that imagery seems to fit Nasir el-Rufai neatly. For instance, he seems to stridently attack every action or inaction of the Goodluck Jonathan administration with maniacal obsession. This, he hopes, would enhance the chances of the opposition to which el-Rufai belongs, to wrest power from the ruling party.

Dr. Edgar Amos, Unguwan Nasa, Dumne, Song Local Government Area, Adamawa State.

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