More Troubles for Nasir el-Rufai

Barely 10 months after the ministerial bid of the former Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, crumbled due to his non-confirmation by the Senate on account of alleged security concerns, an ad- hoc committee set up by the state House of Assembly has indicted the ex-governor for allegedly siphoning a total of N423 billion, while leaving the state with huge liabilities, Ejiofor Alike reports

Immediate-past Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai is in the news again for the wrong reasons.

As governor of Kaduna State, el-Rufai had gained notoriety for courting controversies with his inflammatory and divisive utterances.

But since he left office, his past has been haunting him, right from when President Bola Tinubu submitted his name to the senate for screening as one of the ministerial nominees, as a reward for the former governor’s contributions to the victory of the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last presidential election.

Before the 2023 general election, he was known to have boasted in a video that he would not be a minister, having previously occupied the position at the age of 43.

El-Rufai also reportedly made disparaging remarks about past Nigerian leaders, including his perceived benefactors.

As governor, he once threatened that foreign election observers and monitors who interfered in the 2019 general election would return to their countries in body bags.

His critics believe that this particular threat earned him a visa ban in one of the foreign countries.

He had also declared publicly that President Tinubu was not his man because he did not like the style of politics of the former Lagos State governor.

El-Rufai’s alleged divisive utterances had also manifested when he declared that the anti-open grazing laws enacted by the southern governors were not implementable.

His comment that the Muslim dominance he established in Kaduna State could be replicated at the national level, had provoked the ire of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), which described him as a dangerous politician that must be avoided by President Tinubu, according to MBF’s National Publicity Secretary, Dr. Isuwa Dogo.

Also reacting to his statement on the replication of Islamic dominance in Nigeria, the Chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Joseph Hayab, had also accused him of setting traps for President Tinubu.

 His critics were not surprised that the Senate withheld his confirmation as minister over security screening.

During his screening by the senate, the lawmaker representing Kogi West, Senator Sunday Karimi, had told his colleagues that he had a petition written against the former governor over the issue of killings in Southern Kaduna.

A group of protesters under the aegis of Secure Nation Group (SNG) had also staged a protest at the premises of the National Assembly to call on the lawmakers not to confirm him as minister.

In what many believed was a face-saving measure, el-Rufai had held a closed-door meeting with President Tinubu where he reportedly withdrew his ministerial bid to pursue further studies abroad, after it dawned on him that the federal lawmakers would not give him a clean bill of health.

Since his botched ministerial ambition, the last that was heard of the APC chieftain was in March when he met with chieftains of opposition parties twice in less than two weeks, fuelling speculations about his possible defection.

Explaining his first visit to the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Abuja, his aide, Muyiwa Adekeye, explained that the visit was without any political colouration.

Indications that his relationship with his successor and close ally, Governor Uba Sani had gone sour emerged when the governor raised the alarm in March that the huge debt burden he inherited from his administration was suffocating the state.

Speaking at a town hall meeting, tagged: ‘The State of Kaduna State’, the governor lamented that the debt burden was so huge that the government would have to borrow to be able to pay workers’ salaries.

 According to the governor, the debt burden includes $587million, N85 billion and N115 billion contractual liabilities, “sadly inherited from the previous administration”.

According to him, Kaduna State only receives N3.6 billion after deduction  of N7.2 billion for debt servicing.

“What we received from the federal allocation in Kaduna this month was N3.6 billion out of over N10 billion. The sum of N7.5 billion was deducted from our allocation to service debts.

“We cannot pay salaries without borrowing. Our salary bill is N5.2 billion. We will have to borrow N2 billion to be able to pay salaries,” the governor added.

Barely two weeks after the governor’s comments on the state’s debt burden, the state House of Assembly set up a 13-member fact-finding committee to probe all finances, loans and contract projects awarded under el-Rufai’s administration.

The ad-hoc committee, in a report it presented on Wednesday, alleged that a total of N423 billion was siphoned by the el-Rufai’s administration while leaving the state with huge liabilities.

It recommended that the ex-governor should be investigated by appropriate law enforcement agencies for alleged diversion of funds and money laundering.

Presenting its report at plenary, the chairman of the committee, Hon. Henry Zacharia, said most of the loans obtained under the administration did not follow due process and were not used for the purposes for which they were obtained.

The committee accused the former governor of breaching his oath of office and failing to exercise due discretion in the administration of the state, thereby plunging Kaduna into unwanted, unjustified and fraudulent domestic and foreign debts over and above the total loans obtained by Kaduna State from 1965 to 1999.

The report, which was adopted by the assembly, further recommended that all those who served as Commissioners of Finance and Accountant Generals of the state from May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2023, and chairmen of Kaduna State Internal Revenue Service (KADIRS) from 2018 to 2023, be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agencies for investigation.

The committee asked the current Commissioner for Finance to step aside to allow for proper investigation into the activities of the ministry from May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2023.

Also recommended for further investigations by relevant law enforcement agents, were the former governor’s allies, Jimmy Lawal and Muyiwa Adekeye.

Meanwhile, el-Rufai in a statement by his media aide, Adekeye, said he served the state with integrity.

The statement said: “Malam Nasir El-Rufai is immensely proud of his record of governance and the legacy he left in Kaduna State. This record of consistently high performance in public and private office cannot be altered by any malicious effort to use the auspices of a state legislature for defamation and undeserved smears.

“Many of the officials who served in the el-Rufai government appeared before the ad-hoc committee because of their confidence in the quality of their service and the rectitude with which they served Kaduna State. They were under no illusion that they were participating in a fair process. It was obvious that the ad hoc committee was merely going through the motions of an inquiry just to give some gloss to predetermined conclusions.

“It is sad to see such a shameful departure from any notion of decency and fairness by a state legislature. We dismiss with contempt the claims being peddled in connection with the report.”

In his reaction, Senator Shehu Sani, who represented the Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly, said the indictment was a vindication for all he had been saying.

The former senator said other politicians in the state were intimidated and silenced while he remained steadfast speaking against the systematic looting of public funds embarked upon by the el-Rufai’s administration.

Indictment by lawmakers is not new to el-Rufai as the House of Representatives had in 2005 barred him from holding public office for 50 years over his alleged abuse of office as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

But in June 2005, he filed a suit No. FHC/ABJ/M/2005 at the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, against members of the House of Representatives challenging their decision to ban him and the outcome of the litigation was in his favour.

The question is: Will the anti-corruption agencies controlled by the federal government prosecute him based on the recommendation of the Kaduna State House of Assembly?

This, perhaps, is because no state governor has ever successfully prosecuted his predecessor over corruption charges without the direct involvement of the federal anti-corruption agencies.

Many believe that if the federal agencies go after him as recommended by the lawmakers, it will confirm speculations that his relationship with the APC-led administration has broken down irredeemably.

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