As Nasir el-Rufai Takes on the Lion of Bourdillon

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Nasir El-Rufai,

 FRONTLINES 

By Joseph Ushigiale

Mallam Nasir el Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State is not one to be shy of controversy. In fact, he craves it most of the time. Whether you like or hate him, el Rufai would always speak truth to power no matter whose ox is gored. He’s blunt, has guts, courage and sometimes at the risk of his personal safety says it as it is, damning the consequences.

Such was the situation he found himself about a week ago when he was a guest in Ikoyi, Lagos, at an event organised by the Bridge Club tagged, “An evening with His Excellency Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State.”

During the question and answer session, former Lagos state Commissioner, Dr. Muniz Banire had wanted to know from el Rufai what professionals in Lagos could do to grab power in the face of godfather politics.

Without mincing words, El-Rufai said, “Godfatherism. This is Lagos. Let me tell you something sir; you know, Kaduna State used to be like that. There were three or four politicians in Kaduna that you could not become anything unless you had them on your side. Those were the godfathers of Kaduna politics and you had to carry them along and you know, the three words, ‘carry them along’ mean paying them regularly. But we chose a different path and the long and short of it now is that after this election in 2019, we have retired all of them; we had to.”

The statement has since provoked national discourse and still dominates political discussions as you read this piece. The controversy is not without reasons. There are those who view El Rufai prescription as a direct affront to the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who has held Lagos in a vice grip since he came on board in. 1999.

Even after serving his constitutional two terms which ran their full course in 2007, Tinubu has remained the godfather of Lagos politics; choosing who becomes governor, senators, House of Representatives members, State Assembly members, LCDA chairmen and councillors effortlessly since then.

El Rufai’s outburst is being viewed by the Tinubu’s camp as the height of ingratitude and an open declaration of war by certain elements in the North spearheaded by the Kaduna state governor to dump Tinubu after using his resources to secure success for the party across board in from 2015 to 2019 polls.

They believe the intention is to eventually dismantle the Tinubu hegemony in Lagos in addition to El Rufai scheming to demystify Tinubu who is eyeing the presidency in 2023 to clear the way for him to emerge as the party’s presidential flag bearer from the north in the same year.

Can El Rufai’s prescription work in Lagos? It might work in Kaduna and fail woefully in Lagos for the reasons that the Kaduna state governor was merely engaging in an academic exercise and failed to grasp the complex political network or structure that Tinubu has been able to put in place to succeed.

First and foremost, Tinubu has the grassroots behind him and indeed Lagosians and not Tinubu are in charge of their affairs because of the structures and super structures that have been embedded to create political hegemony.

Tinubu is a strategic thinker, he was able to identify all the pressure points in the polity. Having done that, he created layers upon layers of heirarchical commands, the heads of these commands consult directly with him on a needs basis and so Lagos runs on auto pilot with or without Tinubu because he has succeeded in amalgamating once disparate unions into a formidable political machine to win elections in Lagos.

An example here would suffice, Tinubu identified the markets, drivers, parks, refuse disposal, Motorcyclist, Keke Tricycle etc and formed them into strong unions. The markets are controlled by Iyalojas who reports to Tinubu, the Parks have Unions and the heads of the various parks consult Tinubu, ditto, cyclists, tricycle, and other sundry unions. All these unions collect levies in excess of over N5b monthly put together.

In the area of waste management or refuse disposal, Tinubu opted to create a refuse to wealth programme by dividing Lagos into zones which are cleaned by the different Private Support Partnership operators. These PSPs are chosen based on their loyalty and political clout in their respective areas. This army of loyalists are Tinubu’s grassroots foot soldiers who run Lagos affairs.

Then you go down to the Local Community Development Association (LCDA), there are about 54 LCDAs in Lagos each producing a chairman and councillors forming full legislature. These LCDAs have status of a local government council, funded, staffed and they undertake minor community development like building culverts, intervene in primary schools, health care and directly impact the people.

It is from the pool of these LCDAs that members of the state assembly emerge. What could be more democratic than this model where the people themselves are involved in the day to day running of their affairs?  So Lagos is a different ball game from Kaduna state where El Rufai holds sway and it is these grassroots people and foot soldiers that usually turn out en masses during the primary elections to turn the tables the way Tinubu want them to go.

But let truth be told. It is surprising that if not for mischief purposes what democratic credentials does El Rufai has to make such an outlandish prescription? Tinubu has done exploits right from NADECO days, where was El Rufai?

In today’s north, El Rufai should size his political exploits with three time former governor of Borno and Yobe states, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a tested and proven politician and the only one living who has been governor thrice in Nigeria.

He was governor in Borno when Yobe state was created, he moved to his home state, contested and won two terms. Since 2007, Ibrahim has represented his senatorial zone thrice till date. His political exploits are well documented in his recent book titled: POORLITICS: The Little Boy from Goniri and the Progressives’ Manifesto.

While El Rufai canvasses for N2b from people in black ties to flush out Tinubu, Ibrahim contested for governor at the age of 42 with N20,000 in his pocket. He had no thugs, money nor godfathers like his opponents had, yet he won.

He opined that “With the people fully behind you, you do not need much money, thugs or godfathers to succeed in politics.”

Former US President Barack Obama started grassroots organizing very early in his life, when he was ready to run for President he had succeeded in creating a mass movement of people who became the major donors that fueled his political campaign from the primaries to the last day he won the presidency. The activities of these two personalities should help shaped El Rufai political future going forward.

Long before El Rufai came along, Kaduna was under the grip of the Kaduna mafia, a loose term for an association of some retired generals with interest in influencing political outcomes.

If El Rufai is today boasting of retiring godfathers in Kaduna, those conversant with Kaduna politics disagree with him. On the contrary, some insiders believe a combination of assistance by security forces and support from the federal government saved El Rufai from defeat at the 2019 polls.

Those conversant with the development argue that the governor’s handling of the state government’s face-off with teachers, the deteriorating state of insecurity which has left security people dead and several others displaced, the lingering Shiite problem in the state made him a very unpopular governor for reelection in 2019.

This is not to say, Tinubu and his hegemonic style of politics can not be uprooted by some other democratic forces, of course, it is possible but not with the El Rufai recommendation. Followers of Lagos politics would notice that there are already cracks on the walls in Lagos which indicate that an implosion from within the structure would be the best and quickest way to end the Tinubu dynasty in Lagos.

Those following Lagos politics would notice a gradual rise of nationalism within the ethnics that make up Lagos state. In other words, Lagosians are gradually stepping up to take over their state in not too distant future.

In 2015, when Babatunde Fashola was leaving office, it was alleged that he was backing some candidates including Supo Sashore to succeed him. Eventually, Tinubu’s favourite, Akinwunmi Ambode emerged. As Ambode fell out of favour with the Tinubu camp, a replacement in the person of Babajide Sanwo-Olu emerged. Unhappy with the shabby treatment he was subjected to, Ambode at some point wanted to rock the boat but wise counsel eventually prevailed.

The chronology above is just to point to the silent resistance that is gradually building up until it reaches a crescendo or boiling point where push would turn to shove. Until then, but for now, Tinubu holds the aces.

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