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Exploding the el-Rufai paradox


Malam Nasir El-Rufai

A recurring theme in governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s 2013 memoir The Accidental Civil Servant is, “we (Nigerians) are pretty much the same everywhere.” This statement from an important book that comes from a highflier like el-Rufai is however loaded with ambivalence. Is the ‘sameness’ of ‘Nigerians everywhere’ he refers to for ‘good’ or ‘bad’? If it is for ‘good’, as one would hope he meant it to mean, then at what point did he start changing his perception about Nigerians to narrow it down to one ethnic stock among the lot – his own?

As a brilliant young man, he attended the famous Barewa College before proceeding to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he studied and also excelled in Quantity Surveying and came out with First Class degree. He has since gone on to acquire other degrees and certificates in American universities, including Harvard. He set up a quantity surveying consultancy firm with others and started a profitable business in building.

Relatively unknown during his time as member of Programme Implementation and Monitoring Committee during Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s nine-month transition to civil rule regime, el-Rufai burst into Nigeria’s popular imagination when he was appointed Director-General of Bureau of Public Enterprise and more forcefully as Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) when he caused major stir with strict compliance with the FCT masterplan that had been abused with the erection of illegal structures that he had cause to pull down.


Although he makes up for what he lacks in stature with a keen intellect, e-Rufai is a man who courts controversy easily with the smug assurance that he would come out of it unscathed. He perhaps understands the general amnesia that is the second nature of his countrymen and women and believes he is untouchable in his utterances and actions that are sometimes at variance with popular expectation and often drips with unprovoked malice. These outbursts make many to wonder how he ever got into public service in the first place.

Indeed, he got the nuance right when he bemoaned in his book that in Nigeria, “governance outcomes really depend on a series of accidents rather than any meritocratic or rigorous process,” as the origin of his book’s title. One wonders, is he guided by this elevated ethos in his many contradictory actions and thoughts as a public servant especially as governor of Kaduna State?

While reviewing The Accidental Civil Servant, el-Rufai’s friend, who he would later fall out with on account of the alleged ‘66 Fulani’ he (el-Rufai) claimed were killed in Kajuru part of Kaduna State a few days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, said, “In terms of its message, The Accidental Public Servant is also a passionate advocacy for firm, equal and non-discriminatory application of rules to everyone irrespective of status or other irrelevancies. It makes a solid case for the normalization of processes in governance.”

el-Rafai’s running battle with the Christian community in Kaduna State becomes a direct indictment of his avowed position on ‘equal and non-discriminatory application of rules to everyone’ and it is largely the reason why normalcy of relationships would not happen in the state for as long as he continues to display such dangerous religious bigotry and clannish disposition. He had himself admitted to paying money to some ‘Fulani bandits’ to stop killings in his state. For many, it is like rewarding criminals for their nefarious activities, with the likely tendency that they would commit more evil to get more monetary reward. For a man who is close to President Muhammadu Buhari, this sounds reckless. That the bandits haven’t stopped their atrocities because of el-Rufai’s tactics or lack of it are tacit endorsement of their heinous crimes and fillip to continue in the path of evil.

While Kaduna had turned a killing field under his watch, he had cause to change his deputy governor so he could have a Muslim-Muslim ticket to run the affairs of the state in total negation of the plural society the state is. In spite of the obvious division his action stoked, he went ahead as though daring everyone to a contest of will and wits. Of course, he succeeded in his quest given the porous electoral system that could be so easily rigged by those in power. But what is the implication of his action for the future of his volatile state? Does his action point to a man who will leave a legacy of peace, inclusiveness, and togetherness that the state badly craves? Are his actions an assertion of the superiority of his Fulani stock as leaders who are born to rule, but which abhor the work and rigour needed for profitable ‘governance outcomes’? The sprawling poverty in the North bears amply testimony to an indolent ruling class that cannot apply its brains to solve simple problems.

If the type of Fulani born-to-rule philosophy or lack of it that el-Rufai tends to embody is what moderates his actions, then the future of Nigeria appears hopeless for as long a time it takes to purge it of such clannishness as el-Rufai epitomises. And while casting his vote on election-day, el-Rufai gave Nigerians a foretaste of what to expect in his tribe’s domination of Nigerian politics when he said that even if he were to lose the election, there was a job waiting for him at the Presidential Villa.

el-Rufai is a man you dismiss to your ruin. Harmless as that confession may seem, there is more to it than meets the eye. There are even insinuations, flowing from it, that he may vacate Kashim Ibrahim Government House for Aso Rock to take up a strategic role that would ensure the presidency remains in the North from 2023. By so doing, he would have left a Muslim Fulani as his fitting replacement in Kaduna State so as to prevent a Christian from occupying that office. It was the reason he opted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket for his second term in office. These may just be conjectures, but el-Rufai is a very smart man, although mostly clearly by half, given that the country currently sits on shifting grounds that may throw up the most probable scenario, especially with the fears of Islamisation and Fulanisation gaining momentum. el-Rufai, even in his best of intentions to the contrary, epitomizes these perhaps unfounded domination fears that are spreading across the southern part of the country like wildfire.

With just a few months older than Nigeria, el-Rufai, with his track record in making Abuja residents conform to Abuja city’s masterplan, is just about the man who ought to spearhead Nigeria’s healing and not exacerbate the wounds with infuriating ethnic jingoism. He has a knack for outspokenness that should serve greater pan-Nigerian purposes than narrow ethnic ones. That would be the hallmark of a man aspiring to statesmanship. Except perhaps he is bent on pandering to statesmanship that evinces the narrowness of tribe, his tribe. What is surprising is that placed against the quality education he has received from Ivy League universities in civilized climes, the el-Rufai persona as currently on display starkly negates all those lofty acquisitions. And like the duck, the elevating water of western civilization poured on his back, may just have been wasted, or like the spotted leopard’s skin that the rain cannot wash off no matter how intense.

His ‘body bag’ outbursts during the general election directed at ‘foreign election observers’ simply negate his high education and wide exposure. What is worse, it was America and Europe that became safe havens for him when he went on exile; this was at a time when the political heat at home seemed too uncomfortable for him. Indeed, el-Rufai has become the quintessential face and voice of the North. By presiding over the North’s foremost capital city that espouses the so-called ‘Arewa domination agenda,’ he is the best book from which the mind of the North could be read. el-Rufai therefore embodies the so-called ‘Utman Dan Fodiyo’s’ charge of aggressive Fulani expansionism from the desert down south to dip the Koran in the sea; perhaps, it is time he tamed that insidious tendency and embrace a pan-Nigeria that is home to all.

His recent lecture in Lagos about godfatherism is lesson enough even for him to also heed. The obvious reason for insisting on a Muslim deputy in the last election would be so he could install, in this case, a ‘goddaughter’ in office when he leaves office four years later. While it is true that godfatherism is one of the banes of Nigerian governance system and should be eschewed, el-Rufai is not innocent in the matter and is not in a position to point accusing fingers.

All told, el-Rufai has made some modest development strides in Kaduna State as governor. But are these strides enough to catapult him to the national stage with his baggage of ethnic jingoist hanging heavy around his neck? In any case, he could make a fresh start and begin to redeem himself in the next four years by making Kaduna State safe and home for all – Christians, Muslims, and animists alike!


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