By Chris Gyang
Few political leaders in present-day Nigeria have had the privilege of influencing and benefitting from the Buhari dispensation the way Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai has done. Not until recently, though.
In most of the last eight years that he has been governor with his kinsman, Buhari, as president, El-Rufai has carried on in the true tradition of those core northern political elite who sufficiently believe they own Nigeria.
No wonder, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (the infamous Emi lekan exponent), has conscripted him to serve as one of the key hatchet men in leading the campaign towards his emergence as president on Saturday.
What are El-Rufai’s true colours? What are some of his antecedents and why is he now bellyaching about a sinister plot from within the APC to deny him his heart’s desire of making Tinubu president?
Perhaps by gaining little insights into the temperament and character of this man, we may be able to get a greater understanding of the individual he is so tenaciously rooting for – Tinubu. Is there any possibility that they could be birds of the same feather?
On February 5, 2019, El-Rufai went on national television to issue a rather morbid threat to foreigners who may want to ‘meddle’ in that year’s general elections. The United States, European Union and the United Kingdom had expressed doubts about the credibility of the polls. President Buhari had just sacked the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onoghen, under very murky circumstances.
The US, EU and the UK saw that as an affront on the independence of the judiciary. So did local rights groups, other political parties and organisations which drew the attention of the international community to this arrant disregard for the separation of powers and due process.
But El-Rufai fumed: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags.”
Yet, it is this same El-Rufai that is today threatening brimstone and fire because of what he and their supporters perceive as President Buhari’s disobedience of a Supreme Court order regarding the currency swap.
PM NEWS reported on February 17, 2023: “Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai has attacked President Muhammadu Buhari for flagrantly violating the Supreme Court’s order that the old notes should remain legal tender pending the determination of the case before it.”
Buhari had in a nationwide broadcast directed that only the N200 notes would continue to be legal tender till April 10 while the old N500 and N1,000 would no longer be accepted in accordance with an earlier order by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
But El-Rufai gave this counter order in a statewide broadcast: “For the avoidance of doubt, all the old and new notes shall remain in use as legal tender in Kaduna State until the Supreme Court of Nigeria decides otherwise. I therefore appeal to all residents of Kaduna State to continue to use the old and new notes side by side without any fear.”
Only a month or two ago, Rufai had been one of the closest allies of the president. Their bond was extraordinarily unique because it was strengthened by the shared primeval impulses of tribe and religion. How duplicitous politicians can be!
On July 15, 2012, at precisely 7.51 PM, El-Rufai tweeted this insidious threat in response to the crisis in Plateau State between his Fulani kinsmen and indigenous communities: “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not, that kills the Fulani, takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.”
Once again, that disturbing warning rattled Nigerians, even his own Fulani tribesmen on whose behalf he thought he was writing as it portrayed them as an unforgiving and violent people. Which was why, on May 6, 2021, he was still pressured to clarify that potentially inflammable statement during a webinar organised by the Africa Leadership Group.
He was unrepentant: “If a Fulani man dies in war, it is different. If a Fulani man is arrested by the authorities and convicted, it is not an issue. What the Fulani never forgets is when he is innocently targeted and killed and the authorities do nothing. He will never forget and he will come back for revenge. This is it.”
It is this extremist posturing by political leaders and elite such as El-Rufai that the fiery Bishop Hassan Kukah was referring to when he said: “Today, in Nigeria, the noble religion of Islam has convulsed. It has become associated with some of the worst fears among our people….
“This is because, in all of this, neither Islam nor the north can identify any real benefits from these years that have been consumed by the locusts that this government has unleashed on our country. The Fulani, his innocent kinsmen, have become the subject of opprobrium, ridicule, calumny and obloquy.”
Notwithstanding, the governor had made a final declaration on retributive justice. But from whose perspective and in whose interest? Pray, does retaliation for continously and deliberately grazing your cattle on a poor subsistence farmer’s mature crops constitute an injustice to you?
And are the wanton killings, destroying the possessions of indigenous peoples, sacking them and occupying their ancestral lands proportionate to the supposed injustice done the Fulani? Those who have lost countless loved ones, the wounded and dispossessed all over the country who have tasted, and are still experiencing, that raw and brutal brand of justice still seek answers to these questions.
However, Mr. El-Rufai once again resorted to this ruse of an eye for an eye to justify and make light some of the most horrendous acts of brigandage visited on citizens in recent times. He explained away the Fulani aggression against the indigenous peoples of Southern Kaduna as retaliation for crimes committed against them.
In December 2016, he claimed, “Many of these [Fulani] people were killed, cattle lost and they organised and came back to revenge. We got a group of people that were going round, trying to trace some of these people from Cameroon, Niger Republic and so on to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging you to stop the killing.”
What the governor was trying to tell the world was that, first, the Fulani attacking the indigenous communities were also on revenge missions which, as we have seen above, was justified; two, they were mainly from neighbouring West African countries known to El-Rufai and his government; three, the government was now begging them to stop the mayhem because one of them, a Fulani man, had become governor; and four, they were paid monetary reparations for the wrongs done them and their cattle.
The Senator representing Southern Kaduna, Danjuma La’ah, picked holes in the governor’s position. He maintained that at no time were the Fulani and their cattle from Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Senegal killed in Southern Kaduna.
He said: “This is silly and an absurd lie. Southern Kaduna is not a junction of these countries. So how could they have all converged on Southern Kaduna on their usual migration back home? The governor just invented this lie to make excuse for his imported murderous Fulani kindred to continue their extermination of our people and the occupation of our lands.”
As a result, Southern Kaduna today remains a simmering cauldron of violence, with the indigenous communities largely at the receiving end. In fact, due to what was seen as the governor’s failure to equitably address the Southern Kaduna massacres, the national body of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the umbrella organisation of all lawyers in the country, withdrew an invitation to him as one of its key speakers at its 2020 annual general conference.
VANGUARD (August 20, 2020) reported that some lawyers on social media had condemned the inclusion of El-Rufai as one of the key speakers while human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, in a letter to the chair of the planning committee, called for his name to be struck off the list of speakers over the Southern Kaduna crisis.
“He [Falana] had also pleaded with the committee not to give its platform to someone who has a penchant for promoting impunity,” VANGUARD added.
Writing in TODAY’S CHALLENGE magazine (November 2022), J.M. Ade-Zaky, a Southern Kaduna man who was school mate with El-Rufai at Barewa College, Zaria, in 1974, disclosed that majority of their people deliberately refused to vote for El-Rufai in 2019.
“They voted the opposition party, probably due to the uncanny intuition that both he and his principal in Aso Rock would not be fair to them judging from antecedents,” he explained.
So, the governor took exception to this mass revolt that he assumed office “with a vengeance against [the people of] Southern Kaduna.” Here we go again, talking about vengeance. But it appears that we cannot avoid repeatedly coming back to this theme. Mr. Ade-Zaky dug up an incident that may explain this dark streak in the governor’s nature.
“In his autobiographical narrative, The Accidental Public Servant,” Ade-Zaky wrote, “Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai… tells an intriguing incident that unwittingly betrays his vindictive and unforgiving character, even as a youngster in primary school.”
In the book, he narrated how he tormented a bully called Sunday into total submission. Sunday had the misfortune of beating the diminutive boy on his first day at the LEA Primary School, Kawo, Kaduna.
He subjected Sunday to vicious and systematic physical and psychological violence and torture, even after he had apologized following the separate interventions of the class and head teachers, for more than three months. “Peace finally came when Sunday’s father met with El-Rufai’s uncle and pleaded a cease fire,” Ade-Zaky said.
He quoted an exultant El-Rufai explaining how that childhood victory enriched his adult life: “If I can give the bully a hard enough time, he would not do it again. Permanent peace comes about as a result of a resolute and uncompromising effort to define your position on a matter – and that is the way things are.” Once again, you can detect that incredible finality in his belief about the total efficacy and efficiency of such extreme measures.
This ploy later came in handy when he had problems with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the people he described as “ his cowardly gang” in the autobiography.
He explained: “To me, THE BEST WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM … WAS TO ATTACK SOMEONE HIGHER UP IN THE HEIRARCHY SUCH THAT EVEN IF I LOST, I STOOD A CHANCE WITH AN ATTACK WHERE HE IS MOST VULNERABLE…. But despite my natural instinct to attack Yar’Adua, I deferred to the wishes of my friends as I did not want to jeopardise whatever they had at stake…. I know this strikes some people as arrogance, but I AM REALLY NOT SENSITIVE TO PEOPLE NOT LIKING ME” (emphasis mine).
The germ of this particular approach is to viciously strike the leader in order to instil fear in his followers – “his cowardly gang.” Despite the fact that the risks may be enormous, the repercussions for likely failure do not matter as long as you succeed in creating the impression that you are bold and fearless. But, most significantly, you would have exposed the weaknesses of the leader.
See any resemblance between the above style of confronting your adversary and the way Tinubu has been challenging Buhari and his men since he got the impression that they may not be backing his presidential ambition?
Are there any similarities between the above tactic and the manner El-Rufai has also carried out his diatribe against President Buhari, his supporters and aides regarding the naira swap and the consequent brouhaha about that Supreme Court order on the legality or otherwise of the new and old currencies? Your guess is as good as mine.
According to Ade-Zaky, in furtherance of El-Rufai’s exclusionist agenda against the Southern Kaduna people, “he initiated certain measures inimical to their interests and well-being which would promote Islam and the welfare of Muslims in the state.” These included the 1984 plan to ban public preaching, which ultimately backfired because it became clear that it would likewise affect Muslims.
Also, in 2017 and 2018, he merged many districts in Southern Kaduna and changed the names and titles of some indigenous chiefdoms to emirates and some tribal chiefs to emirs. “It came to light that the governor asked the Muslim communities in the areas to demand for emirates, which they did,” Ade-Zaky noted.
“El-Rufai did not stop there,” he continued. “He moved to ‘restructure’ the political equation in the state by picking a fellow Muslim as his deputy in the 2019 election.” The Muslim-Muslim ticket that is one of the most contentious hallmarks of the Tinubu/Shettima presidential run was first tested during this Fourth Republic by El-Rufai in Kaduna State.
His rabid obsession with his racial and religious superiority had pushed him to upset, for the first time, the familiar and longstanding political apple cart of that racially and religiously diverse state where Christians and Muslims had hitherto shared power equitably and seamlessly.
To further push home the point that he had no qualms and that he had made up his mind to irrevocably and firmly institute Muslim dominance in the state’s political power structure, he proceeded to mastermind the emergence of a Muslim-Muslim ticket for his APC for the March 11 gubernatorial election.
Ade-Zaky also bemoaned El-Rufai’s imposition of Muslims as heads of the other two arms of government – the legislature and judiciary – and other key government ministries, departments and agencies as well as major government institutions.
“Similarly,” he revealed, “for the first time since the return of democratic governance in 1999, no minister was appointed from Southern Kaduna. All ministers representing the state in the federal cabinet have been Muslims….He has since declared Friday as public holiday in the state so that all government offices are closed to business.”
Considering Tinubu’s slavish subservience to the core north, for political capital and expediency, could El-Rufai have suggested the Muslim-Muslim pairing to him or could he (Tinubu) have adopted it to please extreme elements such as El-Rufai who see politics and leadership mainly as a tool for religious expansionism?
If Tinubu thought that the Muslim-Muslim ticket would work in Nigeria, he should take another look at the dark clouds of division and mutual suspicion hanging over Kaduna State today. El-Rufai has pushed large segments of the citizenry to the fringes of society as a whole through his eggregious realignment of the power relations.
Nigeria cannot be turned into a theocracy the way El-Rufai has virtually done to Kaduna. The prospects are frightening, unethical and totally repugnant. Herein lies the fears of majority of Nigerian Christians and, indeed, liberal Muslims about the APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket.
They are apprehensive that, should Tinubu win, there is a huge possibility that he will attempt to institute the kinds of horrors El-Rufai has unleashed on Kaduna State as national policy. And the likelihood of this is extremely high because El-Rufai will most certainly form part of Tinubu’s innermost kitchen cabinet.
And with Tinubu’s penchant for outsourcing his power, leadership and responsibilities (some say due to his frail health), the way he did at Chatham House, there is no doubt that extreme elements such as El-Rufai will hijack his government. The consequences, as we have seen in Kaduna State, will be catastrophic, most especially for the much larger and extremely complex Nigeria.
These thought-provoking words of Bishop Kukah, though spoken in 2020, may shed more light on some of the issues at stake: “On our part, I believe that this is the defining moment for Christians and Christianity in Nigeria…. We accepted President Buhari when he came with General Idiagbon, two Muslims and two northerners. We accepted Abiola and Kingibe, thinking that we had crossed the path of religion, but we were grossly mistaken….”
“Today,” he added, ominously, “we are living with a Senate whose entire leadership is in the hands of Muslims. Christians have continued to support them. For how long shall we continue of this road with different ambitions?”
The other spectre, as it has become clear from this narrative, is the similarities in the political modus operandi and thought patterns of El-Rufai and Tinubu. This may account for the duo’s dangerous fascination with using attack and subterfuge as a means of conflict resolution and self-preservation and, of course, their fixation with the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
On July 30, 2022, one JOm, still miffed by El-Rufai’s tweet of July 15, 2012, referenced above, tweeted this angry, but extraordinarily perceptive, reply: “How did an extremist like this become a governor in Nigeria [?].” Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the man (d)marketing Tinubu to Nigerians today.
As citizens go to the polls to elect a president on Saturday, they must avoid hardliners like El-Rufai and all the people and ideals they represent. Like a plague, such bigots portend great danger for our country’s religious and ethnic plurality which has come under severe attack in the last eight years of the Buhari administration.
We must chart a new course, if we must survive.
(GYANG is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Our website: https://jccri-online.org. Emails: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org)