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EL-RUFAI: MY SUPPORT FOR YAR'ADUA A MISTAKE

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t style="color: black;">From Constance Ikokwu in Washington, D.C., 06.11.2009

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-rufai, has acknowledged it was a huge mistake on his part to have helped in the election of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua even as he said that former President Olusegun Obasanjo only accepted reforms out of necessity.

El-rufai also said the creation of the new Niger Delta ministry is a 'political gesture' and unecessary bureaucracy that will fail to solve the problems facing the troubled region. Instead, he advocated the deployment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the implementation of an aggressive development plan similar to that of Abuja.

The former minister made these remarks at the Center for Strategic  and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., while delivering a speech titled 'Nigeria: Political Dynamics and Prospects for Reform.'

El-rufai moaned what he said was the unwillingness of President Yar'adua to accept the economic reform agenda when he became president.

Asked if he does not partially bear a responsibility for supporting the president during the campaign, El-rufai replied in the positive.

'I played a role to get him elected because I thought he could run Nigeria. He was  not a bad guy, so we thought he could do it and we worked to help him get elected.

'After two years, I have reviewed everything and think we made a mistake. That does not mean we should not acknowledge it. People made decisions based on information then,' he explained.

Although, President Obasanjo personally selected Yar'adua, El-rufai says the former governor enjoyed goodwill among the power players because he performed relatively well in his native Katsina State.El-rufai accused the Yar'Adua administration of paying lip service to the fight against corruption, embarking on what he described as a 'disingenuous' campaign against the oppositon and dragging its feet on the approval of the report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee submitted in November 2008.

He argued that Obasanjo bought into the reform agenda that proved highly successful only because he was compeled by circumstances to do so. To back his argument, he stated that Obasanjo wanted the write-off of the $30 billion Paris Club debt he inherited as his economic legacy, hence his willingness to toe the line.He further explained that the EFCC under the Obasanjo government was established as a token step to satisfy one of the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to remove Nigeria from the list of non-cooperating countries in international financial transactions.The agency thus 'got a new lease of life not with the establishment of EFCC but the accidental appointment of the passionate and committed Nuh Ribadu as Chairman,' he claimed.

To butress his point, El-rufai cited the case of the former military President Abdulsalami Abubakar, who he says also agreed to reform only because there was need to engage with multilateral agencies at the time when oil priced collapsed to about $10 per barrel in 1998.

'That situation of near-bankruptcy of the Federal Government enabled us to get the Staff-Monitored Programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) signed and the Privatisation Decree enacted in record time by the military junta,' he argued.

While not questioning President Obasannjo's love and genuine intentions for the country, El-rufai maintained that reform was not his goal when elected in 1999. Obasanjo was however 'courageous' to accept the reform agenda in the midst of competing political interests by politicians determined to sustain the status quo, El-rufai explained.

Regarding the Niger Delta Ministry, the former minister said there is enough bureacuracy already and creating a ministry was the wrong approach to development challenges. He suggested the NDDC should to operate like the Federal Capital Development Authority at the inception of Abuja.

The president could appoint someone with a good reputation and integrity as the CEO, preferably from outside the region. It should be run professionally to reduce the political pressure from different states and experts hired from various fields to get the job done.

Giving an example on why parastatals run more efficienctly than ministries, El-rufai said he was compelled to shut down the Ministry of Abuja when he came into office because it was not functional.

'Because the problems of the Niger Delta require a regional solution and not a state-based solution, not distributing contracts, not buying buses, that will not solve the problem. You need to implement an infrastructure development programme, an economic strategy similar to what was designed for Abuja,' he stated.

The former minister stressed the importance of political and electoral reforms. He admitted that one of the mistakes of the economic team during the Obasanjo government was their failure to realise that politics 'trumps everything everyday.'

That mindset caused the team, mostly technocrats, to avoid getting deeply involved in the political process, thereby suffering marginalisation and the reversal of policy directions, he claimed.

Nigeria requires what he described as a revolutionary political movement without violence in order to progress, he noted.

Another speaker at the event, Mr. Carl Le Van concurred when he said that a domestic movement is needed in the country. This movement, accordign to Van could include former politicans with genuine intentions and expertise who are currently unemployed.

Politics at the state level can also be strenghtened as a buffer against weakness at the federal level, he added.

El-rufai who recently graduated with an MA in Public Policy and Management from Havard University Kennedy School of Government said President Barack Obama chose to ignore Nigeria and travel to Ghana in order to support good governance in that country.

That move indicates that Nigeria's quality of governance has deteriorated, he added.