By Dave Baro-Thomas

NEWSDAILYNIGERIA: Lord John Dalberg-Acton, a 19th-century British historian, politician and writer, propounded the maxim: power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This postulation requires no rigour, and sadly, it plays out across the African continent, and has become an albatross to political leadership in Nigeria over time.

Interestingly, this aphoristic assertion succinctly captures the glorious rise and contemptible fall of Mallam Nasir Ahmad El Rufai. And since Mr President sent the ministerial list to the hallowed chambers, El Rufai, like no other nominee, was engulfed in bile and controversies.

Nasir Ahmad El Rufai, a delicate mix of intellectual sagacity and boldness, cuts a picture of a diminutive lion that rules his jungle fearlessly, and he seems to evoke combustive sentiments leaving bewildered observers no room for middle grounds – you either love or hate him.

From the desert heat and dusty courtyards of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, young Nasir had a first-class honours in Quantity Surveying- a feat by no means a fluke because, against all odds with the loss of his father at the tender age of 8 years, he had earlier won the coveted prize at Barewa College in 1976, as the best-graduating student in his class. He went further to attend some of the prestigious schools in the world, like the John F. Kennedy School of Governance of Harvard University, after obtaining a Law degree from the University of London.

After ABU Zaria, he plunged into a very successful practice before being invited into the murky waters of politics by General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1998 as an economic advisor, working with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Touted smart, intelligent and highly effective from the above assignment, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the then mint Vice President, having incredible latitude under the new Obasanjo administration, singlehandedly head-hunted Mallam El Rufai and saddled him with the responsibility as Director of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and Secretary of the National Council on Privatisation – a twin responsibility he discharged with clinical precision.

It became the springboard with which El Rufai burst into the national limelight and was subsequently rewarded with a new and higher portfolio, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT – although a position many believed was a shoe bigger than his legs, again what Nasir, as he was fondly called by Obasanjo, lost in heights, he gained in cerebral prowess and uncommon boldness and left indelible marks.

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After serving his term as the most ruthless, daring and controversial FCT Minister and testing blood in the corridor of power, cracks in the character and moral walls of Mallam Nasir began to unfold. He fell out with his erstwhile benefactor, Abubakar Atiku, as he grew in prominence and influence under the shadows of Obasanjo, but he would also later turn his teeth at Obasanjo and dealt a deadly blow on his (Obasanjo) hard-earned reputation.

The tenures of Mallam El Rufai, both at BPE and as FCT boss, were characterised by a rule with the tail of a scorpion and dogged with accusations and allegations of highhandedness, intimidation, executive recklessness, and mind-boggling corruption, gratifications of cronies and reckless application of our common patrimony. For others, their hard-earned land was confiscated and allotted to friends and well-wishers of Mr. Minister, such that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) eventually dragged him to court over an N32billion fraud in BPE and other sundry charges before governorship immunity brought some respite.

In all of this, one of the most damming assertions of the former president on the man El Rufai, who was his beloved son at a point and touted as the de facto Vice President after Atiku and Obasanjo had that swine fight in the mud, Baba described Nasir as a “pathological purveyor of untruths and half-truths with little or no regard for integrity,” he went on, “the worst being his inability to be loyal to anybody or any issue consistently for long, but only to Nasir el-Rufai.”

These assertions and many more by President Obasanjo about Nasir, a man he gave all the latitude and leverage to launch himself politically, demand a closer examination of the character and person of the man in view. Also, former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua hounding Mallam El Rufai to account for his stewardship, led the strong man from Kaduna into self-exile, and he only returned after the death of Yar’Adua – who was coincidentally the house captain to Mr El Rufai back then at Barewa College.

Fast Track to 2015, El Rufai submitted himself to the political leadership of Muhammadu Buhari, a man he was always kneeling before to have a close conversation, usually with an awe-struck demeanour. Buhari went on to boot out Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, while El Rufai rode on that wind to emerge, Governor of Kaduna State, beating the incumbent, and from that point, the lord, conqueror and emperor was born.

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As governor, a certified lawyer became a shame to the very practice as a litany of allegations of disobedience to court orders and trampling of fundamental human rights of some Kaduna indigenes followed in droves. From the persecution and intimidation of journalists who dare question his action or call for accountability, the Lord of the Manor, literarily transmuted, and a human rights organisation, reported that Mallam El Rufai grossly violated human rights when in December 2016, barely a year in office, he punished protesters by locking down an entire community at least six times and a community (in Jema’a Local Government in Southern Kaduna), was lockdown for 72 days beginning in June 2020, where about 120 villagers were killed during this unfortunate saga not investigated under his watch.

In 2015, with a Christian Deputy Governor, Mallam El Rufai won the election but reversed himself in 2019 when he told the world that the country should grow above religious bigotry, but won with a narrow margin, in an election alleged to fall below standards. Before now, El Rufai cuts the image of a Pan-Nigerian who abhors religious and ethnic affinities, and for anyone who cared to listen, he mentioned the likes of Pastor Bakare as his friend and what have you. But when he returned for his second tenure, he brought back the religious preaching edict of 1984, which established the Interfaith Preaching Regulatory Council, a ploy to stifle religious freedom of some faiths even when he pretended to be checkmating religious violence, but the people knew better.

He went further to accuse the Christians of being the sponsors of Boko Haram, forgetting he had said on camera that the government knows the true identity of these terrorists. Is it news that Boko Haram is a sponsored Islamist terror group with strong ties to the Islamic States, so why criminalise the innocent? This same El Rufai threatened international observers to send them back in body bags if they meddled in our politics during the 2019 presidential election, forgetting how in 2015, they went begging the same international observers and shuttling the globe for the same interventions.

Immediately after President Tinubu was declared the winner and sworn in, Mr. El Rufai, in a viral video which he has not denied, unveiled the motivations behind the Muslim-Muslim tickets. For a man that transverse the length and breadth of the nation with the presidential campaign team selling the Muslim-Muslim tickets and convincing Nigerians to accept it as a reflection of an urbane society, only to declare secretly behind that other clandestine motive bordering on religious superiority was the driver. Simply impossible from a man we trusted so much and some even dare to admire.

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Sadly, nobody asked Mallam El Rufai to clear the air on this matter and other sundry issues except for the security report by the DSS stepping down his nomination for further investigation. For a proper perspective, even Muslim sects with different views got a taste of the claws of the Nasir El Rufai.

Most Nigerians careless about Muslim-Muslim tickets. If that will turn the fortunes of this nation for good, who gives a hoot when everyman can fight for his fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the secular provision of the constitution, but the manner the APC went about as if no competent non-Muslim existed in the North smacks of tact and all reasonability.

Fair enough, El Rufai speared us grief by voluntarily stepping down the ministerial offer and nominating somebody in his stead, but another drama was thrown at us when the new governor he recently instituted rejected his choice because they cannot just trust Mr. El Rufai, who may keep the Minister under his belt. So, who trusts Mallam El Rufai?

The iconic Mallam Shehu Sani, has been on the mountain top crying to whoever cared to listen that Nasir El Rufai will be a bad omen to Mr. Tinubu’s government. From Atiku to Obasanjo and then Buhari, the Kaduna enfant terrible, has greatly brushed their egos, not necessarily for genuine causes but simply for self-preservation in pretentious guises. Buhari may still be in shocks as to what hit him after Mr. El Rufai’s onslaught about the ill-fated naira redesign policy.

In conclusion, a look into the crystal ball, El Rufai is not done with Nigeria yet. We have not heard the last of him. After four years of a doctorate from the Netherlands, he will stage a come-back and mesmerize Nigerians with a new certificate empowering him with a messianic key to rework a great future for Nigeria but the truth remains, the nation can move faster without the likes and hues of the Kaduna flitting strongman.

…Published in the Independent Newspaper, of Aug 19, 2023.

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