By Uba Sani
Strangely, but not entirely unexpectedly, even before the inauguration of recently elected persons into their respective political offices, the nation is virtually on the throes of another electioneering campaign. For some politicians and their acolytes, the elections of 2023 are already around the corner. It is obviously against this background that they are already poised to hack down persons considered, no matter how remotely, as threats to their respective political ambitions. Some of us believe that it is clearly for this reason that Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the re-elected Governor of Kaduna State, is being targeted by persons that are apparently feeling threatened by his rather intimidating profile and giant strides in Kaduna State in the last four years.
It is understandable that both friends and foes are all too often intrigued by the brilliance, clarity of thought, sagacity, raw energy and boldness of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai; however, it is totally unacceptable to unfairly target him just to score cheap political points.
I have followed very carefully the very latest attempt to mire Mallam El-Rufai in dirty politics. Given my well known closeness to El-Rufai, let me clarify that he deeply appreciates the good people of Kaduna State who thronged polling booths on the 9th of March this year to overwhelmingly re-elect him as their Governor. Mallam El-Rufai is totally focused on consolidating Kaduna’s lead as the best governed state in Nigeria in the last four years. As a good Muslim, El-Rufai views talks or insinuations bothering on the elections that would hold three and half years from now, as not only preposterous but also sacrilegious. Therefore, his unfair targeting by close associates of one of the national leaders of our great party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, is totally un-called for and should stop forthwith. It is also not helping that these persons are using a glaringly innocuous statement that Governor El-Rufai made recently at a private event in Lagos, to underhandedly haunt him.
I have carefully gone through a reasonable number of commentaries in the media on the so-called ‘verbal attack’ on Asiwaju Bola Tinubu by Governor El-Rufai during the said Lagos event. In several of these commentaries, mostly by political jobbers, the impression is being created that Governor Nasir El-Rufai deliberately went to Lagos to lay out the blueprint for the possible dismantling of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political machine in Lagos State. Or like one of the writers put it: “El-Rufai went to Lagos to draw a conjectural map for them on how to retire Tinubu.” I dare say that nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Mallam El-Rufai had rounded off his remarks at this private event when a participant raised a question on how good-intentioned or well-meaning candidates who do not have ‘political godfathers’ could ever win elections in Nigeria, using Lagos State as an example. Mallam El-Rufai’s reply was typically forthright and blunt just as his dispositions on all issues. In his answer to this question, Mallam El-Rufai simply told the gathering that he won the governorship election in Kaduna State without a godfather and that all it took was hard work.
Let me quote a reasonable portion of Governor El-Rufai’s answer to the question: “It is possible to win election anywhere without a political godfather. But it takes careful planning and hard work. That was exactly what we did in Kaduna in 2015. Connecting with the people, that 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,” he said. Mallam El-Rufai further added, “Here in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters, only about a million voted (in 2019 general elections); 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 did 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.” There was nowhere and at no time at this event or while answering the question did Governor El-Rufai mention Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whom he has immense respect for. The deliberate distortion of this general comment by Mallam El-Rufai at the Lagos event has not come to us as a surprise at all. It clearly fits into what is already obvious; that persons who view him as a threat to their future political ambitions would go the whole nine yards to tarnish him. The truth however is that Mallam El-Rufai is very conscious of the fact that power comes only from God.
Another trend in several of the commentaries is that Governor El-Rufai is himself a product of godfathers. This, again, is not true. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai’s very intimidating profile is in the public domain for anyone to peruse and make reasonable judgments.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Quantity Surveying with First Class Honors from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai established a Quantity Surveying and Project Management Consulting firm (El-Rufai and Partners) in 1982 with three other partners. The firm became instantly successful, handling remarkable building and civil engineering projects in Nigeria, and in just few years, the partners became very successful while still in their twenties. El-Rufai’s first foray into public service was in 1998 when he served as an Adviser in the transition administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. From November 1999 to July 2003, he was the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPP) and the Secretary of the National Council of Privatization where he meticulously spearheaded the privatisation of many government-owned companies. In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo who was clearly impressed by the dogged and dexterous way Mallam El-Rufai undertook his assignment at the BPE, appointed him the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, which was then notorious for seemingly intractable corruption and land racketeering. It was as the Minister of FCT that Mallam El-Rufai truly established himself as one of the nation’s leading crusaders against corruption. Working round the clock with a profound team, El-Rufai, in a matter of months radically transformed the FCT. He boldly commenced and succeeded in the restoration of the original master plan of the Federal Capital Territory. He outstandingly ended the very embarrassing incidences of land racketeering with the establishment of the Abuja Geographic Information System within 12 months of being Minister of the FCT. Abuja became the first municipality in Nigeria with a computerised land register and information system.
Mallam El-Rufai was also a member of the very successful Economic Management Team of Presidential Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration alongside the likes of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mallam Lawal Batagarawa, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, among others. At various times during his tenure as Minister, he was tasked by the President to superintend over the Federal Ministries of Commerce (twice) and Interior. He also chaired several high-profile cabinet committees that led to the establishment of a mortgage system in Nigeria, National ID card system for Nigeria, Electric Power Supply Improvement and the sale of Federal Government real estate in Abuja.
After succeeding Obasanjo as President in 2007, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua appointed Mallam El-Rufai to the National Energy Council in September 2007, due to the belief that he could contribute positively to the under-achieving power sector of the country. Nasir El-Rufai resigned the appointment in June 2008, when he realized that the administration had begun derailing. Having exited government and public service, El-Rufai devoted his time and energy to the acquisition of further education. He attended post-graduate programmes at Harvard Business School and Georgetown University. He completed an LL.B degree from the University of London, graduating in August 2008 with Second Class Honors, Upper Division, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in June 2009. He also received the Kennedy School Certificate in Public Policy and Management having spent 11 months as an Edward A. Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management from July 2008 to June 2009.
By 2015, it had become all too glaring that Nigerians were totally fed up with the very inept and irredeemably corrupt Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration at the centre and across a number of States in the country. It was also obvious that the movement for change had gathered momentum and the incorruptible retired General Muhammadu Buhari had become the champion of this movement. General Buhari was at the time the leader of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Mallam El Rufai was a member of the CPC, having left the PDP as far back as 2007. With the alignment of political energies, the CPC joined forces with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). Under this alliance, General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the Presidential candidate while Mallam El Rufai who was very busy at the time working assiduously to actualize the alliance, was prevailed upon by not just the indigenes of Kaduna State but top leaders of the newly formed APC, especially General Muhammadu Buhari, to run for the office of Governor of Kaduna State. It was landslide victory for President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election while Mallam Nasir El Rufai decisively won the governorship contest in Kaduna State.
I have taken the time and the trouble to trace the political journey of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to debunk the wrong assertion that he got to where he is today at the behest of one godfather or the other. It is true that he enjoyed and still enjoys the support of many political, religious and traditional leaders across the country but it is not true that one godfather catapulted him to the office of the Governor of Kaduna State. Mallam El-Rufai himself has severally said that he would not have contested for the office of the Governor of Kaduna State in 2015 but for the insistence of General Muhammadu Buhari. Having secured the support of Buhari and several other leaders of the party, the onus now fell on El-Rufai to work extremely hard, deploying his intellect, superb organizational skills and other resources to reach out to the electorate. Above all however, God Almighty blessed his aspiration and efforts. At the Lagos event, Mallam El Rufai merely told the story of how hard work earned him the Governorship of Kaduna State. He was underscoring the point that persons who seek to be elected into political offices must understand that it is no longer enough to assume that having earned good education, attained a certain level of economic and social pedigree or even good intention only would earn them votes. He counselled hard work that is steeped in actually reaching out to the highest number of potential voters irrespective of where they are in the voting constituency.
Mallam Nasir El Rufai did not go to Lagos to help anyone plot any scheme to oust the political leader of the State. He could not have done so because it is not even nearly his business to do so. Seeing as he is not from Lagos State.
I must however state that the political family of Governor Nasir El-Rufai have been able to decode all the attacks on our inimitable leader. The well organized, syndicated and sustained attacks are no doubt the handiwork of mischief makers. You don’t have to be sophisticated or discerning to know that they have unleashed their media machine and despicable e-rats on Governor El-Rufai. Their pens and fingers are all dripping with vitriol. They are so unsparing and indecent in their attacks.
In their haste and hate, they are deeply hurting their Principal whom they are so eager to project and position for the 2023 presidential contest. Why see El-Rufai as your 2023 rival when the 2019 elections have just been concluded? Why burn bridges of understanding and cooperation when you should be expanding your political and social networks across the country?
Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s associates and supporters are deeply pained by these sustained attacks but have been pacified by the Governor himself. But if these attacks persist, the El-Rufai camp may be forced to respond in equal measure. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
Uba Sani is the Senator-elect for Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone