In the 70s, Tony Wilson sang about politicians and in that ballad, he highlighted their antics in ‘I Like Your Style’. Politicians, according to him, are men of many words and in other words, they say much but deliver little. At worst, they renege on their promises with reckless abandon. However, not all politicians are the same, and clearly, Malam Nasir el-Rufai is of a different cut. Largely, he walks his talk and oftentimes, he shoots from the hips, firing from all cylinders, taking no prisoners as he does.
In Nigeria, this exception is a double-edged sword and for El-Rufai, it has been cutting both ways, either as a minister or governor of Kaduna state. Indeed, the political class, entrenched interest groups and the upper crust of society see him as a defiant outlier. Conversely, ordinary people, development partners and civil society applaud his consistency, achievements, and derring-do.
Significantly, his solid achievements, belling the cat at critical times and taking on difficult assignments, are well documented in his public service career. For example, remodelling the Federal Capital Territory, reengineering governance and the Kaduna Urban Renewal Project stand out in recent times. In fact, in the run-up to the presidential primaries, the 2023 election and the emergence of President Bola Tinubu, his altruism came out in bolder relief. Indeed, El-Rufai’s principled position, insisting on the right thing and patriotic intervention, dates back earlier, when the polls were three years away. At this point, let me share a privileged insight.
In 2020, the Kaduna state government, in early January, organised a retreat for political appointees, where special advisers, senior special assistants and special assistants converged at Kaduna Business School. The team, for two days, listened to experts and bureaucrats, who walked us through the nuances of public service, its code of conduct and defined boundaries. Besides, the appointees bonded and exchanged banter amidst lectures, tea breaks and group tasks. El-Rufai, on the last day, graced the event and shared his diverse experiences, fielded questions from the team ranging from family life, professional career and governance.
Specifically, Malam Nasir El-Rufai was asked, amongst other questions, whether or not he would contest for the presidency in 2023. Point blank, the governor answered in the negative and his argument, without equivocation, hinged on justice, equity and fairness. The North, by the year 2023, would have held power for eight years at a stretch and its leaders, in the interest of national unity, should ensure power shift to the south. The north, he argued further, is known for keeping its word, and in any case, power rotation is one of APC’s building blocks. Indeed, follow-up questions were asked but El-Rufai stuck to his guns, rooting for national cohesion, peaceful coexistence and the paramountcy of respecting covenants in politics. The retreat, in the manner of Chatham House, was a platform for frank and honest discourse, so El-Rufai wasn’t playing to the gallery.
However, in spite of his position, individuals and groups started mounting pressure on El-Rufai to run for the presidency. Predictably, he kept a deafening silence and continued serving the people of Kaduna state that voted for him. Undeterred, one Nassiriya Organisation, a northern-based group, instituted a suit in October 2020, to compel him to contest the 2023 presidential election. In fact, its national leader, one Garkuwa Babuga, said that Nassiriya has members in 21 states and overwhelmingly, they had endorsed El-Rufai based on “his track records of achievements”. Unyielding, El-Rufai kept a stiff upper lip over the call, insisting on a power shift to the south.
Regardless, a lot of permutation started making the rounds, from the probable to the ridiculous, aimed at muddying up the waters. At once, the idea of an El-Rufai and Amaechi ticket, El-Rufai and Yemi Osinbajo running together, and El-Rufai and Kayode Fayemi, the former Ekiti state governor gunning for presidency, were all on the cards. In fact, the Aso Rock cabal and its allies, in desperation, reached out to Goodluck Jonathan, the former president and a PDP stalwart to boot, to recontest on the APC ticket. Besides, they pencilled down CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, for the presidential ticket but the whim didn’t fly.
In June, on the eve of the convention, the cabal conscripted Ahmed Lawan, the senate president at the time, for the presidential primaries in 2022. In fact, Abdullahi Adamu, the then APC national chairman, was the enforcer-in-chief of the project. Hurriedly, he convened a National Working Committee meeting and unveiled Lawan as the anointed candidate. Earlier, the Northern Governors’ Forum, at El-Rufai’s prompting, had met and insisted on power shift to the south. Indeed, foisting Lawan on them, as Adamu attempted, presented a fait accompli and they were at a crossroads. More so, the APC helmsman claimed that President Buhari, in a one-on-one meeting, had endorsed Lawan’s choice.
Again, El-Rufai came to the rescue, by leading the calvary charge against the cabal. In particular, the northern governors met Buhari, notified him of their resolution on the power shift and asked for his position on Ahmed Lawan’s anointed candidacy. Categorically, the then-president washed his hands off the phantom anointment and by so doing, cleared the doubt of APC faithful. Thereafter, El-Rufai rallied support for Tinubu, ditching friendship and other political alliances as a result. Afterward, Tinubu won the primaries on the first ballot and by a wide margin.
Significantly, El-Rufai campaigned vigorously for Asiwaju, and engaged focal groups and the media, to sell Tinubu to the electorate. In the end, the APC presidential candidate won the election and thereafter, Tinubu sent emissaries to El-Rufai, to firm up his commitment to work with him. Specifically, the president-elect promised El-Rufai, in no uncertain terms, the new ministry of energy. Thereafter, El-Rufai mobilised his team and produced a blueprint that wowed Tinubu, about three weeks before his ministerial nomination.
Afterward, the comedy of errors began, first by a security chief who, in a hurry to nail El-Rufai, breached official communications protocol. First, he wrongly sent a letter to the senior special assistant to the president on national assembly matters, instead of the senate president. Second, the letter was signed by a director of the State Security Service and not the president. Third, the issues raised were rehashed political altercations and selective interpretations. Besides, the ban on El-Rufai from holding public office, a recommendation of a house committee, has been quashed by the court. The senate, on mere allegations, refused to confirm El-Rufai as minister.
However, when El-Rufai met with Tinubu, the usually forthright and straight-talking president, according to reports, pleaded for time to deal with the matter. Tinubu, at that point, started being evasive like the politician that Tony Wilson sang about. El-Rufai, on his part, has turned his back on the ministerial nomination, gone back to school, to learn, unlearn and relearn, to someday serve the public in another realm.
Ibraheem was El-Rufai’s senior special assistant on media and publicity
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