When El-Rufai Spoke Truth to Power

Nasir El-Rufai

The Bridge Club (TBT), an association of top business executives, professionals and scholars, had tagged the event ‘An evening with His Excellency, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State’, but they got more than they bargained for.

According to its President, Abdul-Hakeem Uthman Mustapha, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the meeting was informed by the need for El-Rufai to come and share his experience as a political leader and perhaps put the record straight as regards the image being given to him by the media.

From his opening remark, El-Rufai, assured his hosts not to hesitate to ask him any question, regardless of how controversial, adding that he was prepared to stay with them till 12 mid-night if there was need for it. He was also frank enough to tell his listeners that most reports credited to him by the media were true and not fabricated. The title of his paper was ‘Politics not Economics Solves Everything’.

After commending various stakeholders that were involved in the just concluded general election, which he said was another improvement over previous ones, considering the number of incumbent governors that didn’t make it to the government house the second time, the governor lamented the poor turnout in Lagos and a few other places.

“The last election further gave us the hope that we are getting there little by little. Since 2015, Nigerians have been witnessing how incumbents were losing in elections to candidates of other parties. The number of incumbent losers increased in 2019 and is a sign of better things to come.
“It is good for our democracy because the moment a governor thinks he would always win, either he performs well or not, he will be neck-deep in impunity and corruption. But when he realises he could be removed by the electorate during election, he won’t have choice but to fasten his belt and work well if indeed he wants to return.

“Having said this, let me point out that the disregard for elections by people of Lagos State is disturbing. To make a change we all desire in the polity, everybody, including the business class must come out all, be part of our electoral processes. You can’t sit down at your comfort zones on the Election Day and expect miracle to happen. Election is about numbers,” he said “After the election, what next?” the governor had thrown the question at the audience. Then he fired his first salvo of the evening at the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. He said Mr. Buhari must be firm and decisive if indeed he’s determined to make the necessary change.

“For President Buhari to deliver on his electoral promises to Nigeria as he prepares for his second term in office, he must avoid fielding incompetent hands,” El-Rufai warned.

While itemising the benefits of having quality personalities, who can add values in government, he pointed out that Nigeria can boast of first class brains in all disciplines that can beat their contemporaries from anywhere. He made reference to major countries of the world, including US and United Kingdom, who have benefited from having competent leaders in government.

The governor, who denied being a member of the popular Abuja cabal or Kaduna mafia, said he was confident Buhari would not allow himself to be teleguided by any individual or group in deciding those who will work with him to provide good governance for Nigeria in the next four years.

“Though I’m close to the President of the country and I have unbridled access to him but I must confess I don’t have any knowledge more than what other governors have about many things.

“For instance, I don’t have deeper insight into the shape his next cabinet would be. I don’t belong to the so-called Abuja cabal. You can check the list if it exists to confirm. But I’m sure the president would not give in to blackmail or pressure from selfish politicians in assembling his team this time around,” he said.

To this end, El-Rufai, charged the Nigerian business and professional class, especially members of The Bridge Club, which parades top captain of industries, technocrats and professionals to take up the gauntlet and come into politics and public service to make the change Nigeria required.

“It is common to hear Nigerian professionals and top captain industry, describe politics as being dirty and unfit for gentlemen. My question is if indeed politics is dirty and left for dirty people, what then should we expect as outcome? It is on this note I will urge the business class and the intellectuals in Nigeria to come out and be counted in the political terrain.

“I keep saying it; the difference between Nigeria and Progressive nations of the world is because incompetent people are in charge in Nigeria. Don’t shy away from politics, because it is more important than making money as bad politics and policies in Abuja could mess up all the businesses you are doing in Lagos if you are not a party to the process.”

El-Rufai said Nigeria had permanently remained a country of potential because good and competent people had distanced themselves from politics.

“In most of the developed worlds, the best and the brightest are in politics and public service. I urge you to Google the profiles of the captains of the USA, UK, Japan, China and Singapore over the last 10 years and compare their educational and experience profile with ours, you will understand why we are where we are.

“The UK has been run by graduates of Oxford most of the time; the US has been run by graduates of Harvard and Yale most of the time in the last 100 years. You go to China, Singapore, similar profiles. In Nigeria, we have people that never went to school in our National Assembly. We have people with questionable qualifications as state governors. We will go nowhere as long as our best and brightest, people that sit in rooms like this are not in politics or public service,” he said. El-Rufai however stimulated his audience while reacting to a question asked by a former National Adviser of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Dr. Muiz Banire on how godfatherism has made it difficult for businessmen and professionals.

Banire, a three-time commissioner in Lagos, had asked how the challenge could be tackled.

Responding, El-Rufai paused as if conversing with some unseen spirits before adding… ‘We are in Lagos’. In surmounting the courage to answer the question, the governor, who painted the picture of how he defeated and retired four political godfathers in Kaduna State, said it can also happen anywhere in Nigeria.

Though admitted that defeating godfathers is difficult, considering the time and resources required but was quick to state that godfathers existed only on paper or in the minds of the people. To defeat godfathers, the governor therefore recommended the need for politicians to go directly to the people.

“Godfatherism…this is Lagos. But let me tell you something, sir. 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.

“When we started this journey prior to 2015 elections, only one of them was with us because we chose a different path. Today, the long and short of it now is that after this election in 2019, we have retired all of them. We had to.”
The governor tasked politicians in Lagos, who are keen at retiring their godfathers to first conduct research on why a small fraction of Lagos population votes during elections.
“The fact that only one million out of the six million registered voters in Lagos voted in the last general election was an opportunity to end godfathership in the state. Here in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters and in the last election, only about a million voted; five million did not vote. If I want to run for governor of Lagos, I will start now.
“I will commission a study to know why those five million registered voters did not vote; where do they go on election day? Then I will start visiting them for the next four years. I will try and get just two million of them to come and vote for me. I will defeat any godfather. The key is to go to the people.

“The card reader and the biometric register have given us the tools to connect directly with the people. I assure you if you do that for the next four years, connecting with the people; the tin godfather, you will retire him or her permanently. But it is hard work. It requires three to four years of hard work. So, if you want to run in 2023, you should start now,” Aside house-to-house campaign and early preparation, the governor was also frank enough to declared that the project of unseating a godfather would attract nothing less than N2 billion.

Responding to general discomfort on the faces of his audience on how to source for the money, the governor simply added that “the people in this room will raise it”. He obviously used this to refer to business executives and technocrats with deep pockets.

“With about N2bn; if you start, you see these guys with black ties, they will give you the N2bn,” he said.

President of Bridge Club, Mustapha, had earlier stated that the club was formed by people of like-minds to serve as a bridge between the seemingly endless problems confronting the society and proffering well-thought solutions, while creating enduring opportunities not only for the members but the society at large.