For some time now, former FCT Minister, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai has been critical of the leadership of the country. So far, he has been able to point out the many flaws of the current administration as well as the many sectors where the flaws have been noticed.
Another shocker is set to be revealed in El-Rufai’s latest effort, his new book, in which he also exposed some of the hitherto unheard of secrets. In his memoir, titled “The Accidental Civil Servant”, which would be launched in February, the former FCT Minister made some revelations, for instance, in the book, he recounted how the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo ensured that he was succeeded in office by a more or less self-installed puppet, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, with the intention of administering the country from his farm in Ota. He stated in the memoir that when he called on Obsanjo to inform him that he would be taking a two-year break from government business, the former President said “well I just thought I should call you and explain to you that the next four years is just a transition period. The real change in government will happen in 2011. Not now.”
On page 151 of the book, el-Rufai also gave an account of how Obasanjo begged his Vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. “Obasanjo had no problem going down on his knees to beg for what he thought was impossible to obtain any other way. Upon arriving at his deputy’s residence, he reportedly knelt before Atiku and begged the vice-president to remain onside, thus guaranteeing the support of the 17 PDP governors. In return, Obasanjo had to agree to retain Atiku as his running mate (he was rumoured at the time to be considering an alternative)”, he recounted in the book.
Malam El-Rufai made observations about the nation’s recruitment processes, which he noted were the roots of the country’s problems. He described the choosing of Umar Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as the President and Vice President respectively as the final nail on the coffin of mediocrity or track record of governance in Nigeria.
According to el-Rufai, “President Obasanjo chose Umaru Yar’Adua whose ill-health, among other challenges, was known already constituted a serious impediment to the possibility of any inspired and energetic leadership. The view of many well-informed Nigerians is that Yar’Adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, emerged for no other discernible reasons than being ‘weak’ governors sympathetic to the ‘Third Term’ project and therefore handpicked as payback.
The subsequent electoral imposition of Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2011 via military occupation and rigging has been unhelpful in raising leadership quality. Jonathan went into a presidential contest without a campaign manifesto, boasting of no experience, merit and any track record of previous performance other than wearing no shoes to school and his ‘good luck.”
Though el-Rufai has metamorphosed from the Minister many people loved to hate into one of the most vocal critics of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Many Nigerians have the opinion that given the same conditions, he would not have fared better than either Yar’Adua or Jonathan as Nigeria’s President. Moreover, it is widely believed that criticizing Obasanjo’s choices is not something Malam El-Rufai has any moral justification to do since he was one of those choices.
The power he wielded then was as a result of the fact that he was picked and given a chance to serve in the Obasanjo administration.
Those of the opinion that El Rufai would not have fared better have based their criticism on his methods of administration in his time as DG of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and also as FCT Minister.
One of the examples given was the revelations that came out when el-Rufai’s stewardship as the DG of BPE was reviewed. Surprisingly, he told the House of Representatives that he was aware of the incompetence of the Dutch company, Pentascope, yet he was one of those who ensured that the company was awarded a lucrative management contract. The main justification put forward by Malam El-Rufai was that a Nigerian would not be capable of managing NITEL.
“I have no regrets whatsoever and I owe no one any apology over the Pentascope management contract agreement. I did my best and took the best decisions among all available options then. We took risks hoping for the best and mind you, we did not have a choice between black and white but between shades of grey. It was based on trial and error”, he said. Many read his testimony before the House of Reps as a direct admission of his own incompetence, though he remained unremorseful.
Back then in 2005, the House of Reps opined that he should be barred from holding public office. The House committee that conducted the probe stated then that “the act of subterfuge and executive rascality perpetrated by the former DG of BPE, Mallam el-Rufai in positioning Pentascope to squander over N100 billion of taxpayers’ money should not be left unpunished. The committee recommends that he should be banned from holding any public office and made to face the relevant laws”
And when his tenure as Minister was probed by the Senate Committee on the FCT which took him through a grueling question time in 2008, the situation was somewhat similar. Many wondered why he took some of the decisions he took while in charge in FCT.
Under el-Rufai’s watch, Obasanjo took over a plot of land seized from the Universal Basic Education Board in the Central Business District for his business. The ownership transfer took place in May, 2007, the same month Obasanjo handed over as President. Findings revealed that the land was allocated to the Primary Education Commission which later became Universal Basic Education in 1993.
When he was asked by the Senate Committee investigating the FCT Administration between 1999 and 2007, he stated that “the plot was allocated to the UBE about 15 years ago but it failed to develop it. So when the plot was revoked in May 2007, former President Obasanjo approached me for land to build an office where he will be selling his chickens. I obliged him the land.”
In the course of the Senate Committee hearing, it was discovered that a 4-year-old was one of the 19 allotees whose papers were processed, signed and delivered within 2 days. The land mass was previously allocated to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), but was later revoked. Interestingly, the papers for one of the allotees whose name simply appeared as “Binta” was discovered to have been signed and approved a day before the application was filed. Checks revealed that she filed her application for the plot on December 4, 2004; meanwhile, her application was approved on December 3, 2004.
The Senate Committee also found it strange that all the 19 allotees who came from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds as well as various age grades jointly built a 45-unit housing estate on the land. Investigations revealed that a certain Malam Idris Uthman handled the contract.
When he was asked how so much land was allocated within two days and how 19 people, many of who did not have anything in common came together to build an estate, the former Minister took time to go into how land is allocated. “Allocation can be done in 15 minutes. The process can take a long or a short time. I only get involved at the point of ministerial approval. It is the officials who handled the file that were responsible for the lapses, not me. It is unfair for this committee to ask me why a clerk did not do his job”, el-Rufai said.
Again, Malam el-Rufai was asked whether the owners of the 45 buildings applied for a merger, his response was that “it was recommended by the Director of Development Control and I approved them.” And to the direct question, “did you allocate plots to your family and members, friends, aides and associates?” He simply replied “yes, I allocated plots to my family members, aides, friends and associates. They are Nigerians and so they are entitled to plots. I have been fair to all Nigerians.” Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai disclosed that he signed 655 plot allocations two days before the end of the Obasanjo administration’s tenure wound up. He said he did it to clear the backlog of applications.
Though to an extent, he is right in faulting the former President’s choices and of course his sense of judgment because he as one of Obasanjo’s choices acted in error a couple of times.
– Akanni Giwa