Yar’adua: Why el-Rufai is Bitter - By Aminu Sa’ad Beli
Sometime in 2001 there was a storm in the National Assembly. Senators were up in arms against President Olusegun Obasanjo because one of his ministers had dismissed the hallowed chamber as habouring bribe-collectors. In a characteristically unguarded moment during a conversation with a journalist that he probably did not realise was being taped, the Minister had alleged that some Senators demanded for N50million bribe before his nomination could be confirmed by the Senate. While the media controversy lasted, the Minister said he had strong evidence to prove his claim. When eventually he was forced to appear before the legislature the only witness he had to corroborate his allegation was God! The nation was bewildered and at the end, all the Senate could do was to dismiss the accuser as a wanton liar, unfit for his high office.
The person so described is Nasir el-Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory , whose penchant for high profile mischief would be confirmed seven years later in 2008 when he had to account for his stewardship again at the Senate. At the close of proceedings, it was found that he had helped himself, his wives, children, close relatives and cronies to federal government houses and choice plots of land in highbrow areas of the federal capital that was under his watch. An impending Senate sanction on him has only been restrained by a court action he filed to stop the legislature from acting on the report of its committee that x-rayed his years of locust in Abuja .
Ironically, this fellow with such a huge moral baggage has stepped forward to join the rank of political opponents whose stock in trade is to portray President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and his administration in bad light. In his recent widely publicized diatribe, 'Umaru Yar'Adua: Great Expectation, Disappointing Outcome' el-Rufai took Yar'Adua to the cleaners in an alleged assessment of the President's two year rule.
Since el-Rufai is now a “researcher” with a penchant for quoting materials from opponents of President Yar'Adua, we may also remind him of what he said about this same man just two years ago. At a forum organised by the School of Advanced International Studies , John Hopkins University , United States and published in Nigerian newspapers on March 15, 2007, this was what el-Rufai said of the man he is now vilifying: “Yar'Adua comes from a tradition of high reverence for public service. I knew him more than three decades ago. While I was entering Barewa College , he was in the final year. Then, he was our House Captain, a leader right from his school days. I put my name and credibility on the line to say that Yar'Adua is the most honest governor in Nigeria . This can be judged by his achievements. People have to review what Governor Yar'Adua has done in the last eight years. Then, they will discover he has done excellently well unlike most of the state governors we have in the country today.”
Now that el-Rufai would want the world to believe something else about Yar'adua, is it that his name and credibility no longer mean anything to him or are readers simply to assume there was no name and integrity to put on the line in the first place? Even from the pathetic piece, one would imagine el-Rufai was the President of Nigeria for eight years since he described himself as the “de facto leader of the economic team” as well as the person running the political show. Typical of el-Rufai, he had to ascribe everything to himself! Yet he would not take responsibility for the 2007 elections fiasco which arose principally because of the extra-legal methods he and Ribadu adopted to ban some people from seeking political offices.
While President Yar'Adua may choose to ignore el-Rufai's diatribes, his media managers and associates would be doing him a great disservice if they don't respond to questions about his achievements in office as well as trivial details in el-Rufai's piece about what nickname he was called in school, the kind of cigarette he smoked and the state of his health which is perhaps the only weapon opposition politicians now use to flog him.
With el-Rufai's background as a “super minister” in the Obasanjo administration, a wayward reputation that he flaunts without shame even in the self-promoting treatise which his agents have been hawking around media houses and the internet, one cannot but agree with respected columnist, Mohammed Haruna, that the former FCT minister's analysis of the Yar'Adua administration is mere sour grapes. Indeed, two of the issues el-Rufai raised would bear out this conclusion: He complained about the reversal of certain policies of the Obasanjo government; and the tempo of the war on corruption.
On the eve of its departure from office, the Obasanjo administration announced three controversial policies: upward review of price of petroleum products; mark up of the Value Added Tax from 5% to 10%; and the privatization of the Kaduna and Port Harcourt Refineries. These three policies attracted instant mass action from the people, with labour embarking on a nationwide strike. What was the new government that inherited this problem supposed to do? Obviously, the appropriate action is to lower tension by resolving the problem at the negotiating table with stakeholders. That was exactly what the Yar'Adua administration did. Of course there have been other less-than-tidy transactions like Ajaokuta, Transcorp etc that could not stand the test of public good and corrective measures had to be adopted.
Certainly the most absurd of El-Rufai's claim is the assertion that the war against corruption was terminated with the exit of Nuhu Ribadu from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Unfortunately, he and his fellow travelers have so successfully sold this lie to an unwary public that otherwise respected bodies like Human Rights Watch now parrot the same line in their reports. Hear him: “Since the firing of Ribadu, all the case files on the so-called 31 governors have disappeared or declared non-existent …the cases already in court have been withdrawn, delayed or settled in what many consider dodgy plea-bargains…”
He also claimed that the Yar'Adua administration had failed to deal with culprits of the high profile international scandals involving Siemens and Halliburton/KBR. This is vintage El-Rufai since he likes to turn facts on their heads to make his dubious point. Because Nigerians are well aware these were scandals that happened under the very nose of Ribadu who conveniently chose to look the other way for reasons that are now becoming quite clear!
Now to the issue of the former Governors which el-Rufai and Ribadu have been using to blackmail Yar'Adua, let us examine the facts. Sometime in September 2006, Ribadu appeared before the Senate and reported that of the 36 state governors only five of them were not under investigation. Incidentally, a certain Governor Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of Katsina State was one of the five then considered clean. Out of the 31 being investigated, Ribadu said he had concluded investigations on 21 and that he could not proceed to prosecution because of the immunity granted the suspects under the 1999 Constitution. It is of public record that none of these alleged 21 concluded cases was brought to court by Ribadu until October 2007; six clear months after the suspects had lost their immunity from prosecution. Even then only two of the said 21 cases were filed. And the two are still being prosecuted.
It is noteworthy that upon assumption of office in 2008, Ribadu's successor, Mrs. Farida Waziri, discovered some irregularities, including lack of record of the case files that Ribadu said he had compiled. She did the logical thing by inviting her predecessor to come and locate the files or clarify the situation. Ribadu, however, filibustered. First he claimed he was in school and could not leave his studies, next he went to court to restrain the commission from holding him to account for his claims in office. Yet this is the same Ribadu whose disregard for due process was as legendary as his contempt for the court, which at the height of his power he labelled an ally of the corrupt.
Since the duo of el-Rufai and Ribadu have taken up a new career in massaging the ego of each other in the public arena, is it not curious to discerning observers that Ribadu, in his much publicized appearance at a United States Congress sub-committee hearing, would give credit to el-Rufai for his stewardship at EFCC rather than to President Obasanjo who appointed him? If el-Rufai as FCT Minister provided the N100 million take-off fund for EFCC, where did the money that was not appropriated by the National Assembly come from given the mandate of the FCT ministry which was basically to provide infrastructure in Abuja ? In a civilized society, would that not be a monumental act of corruption; that a public official could spend public money anyway he wanted regardless of the extant law?
We should even not worry too much about the penchant for subverting due process by these two former powerful men. Ribadu had in several public fora argued strenuously that his extra-legal methods were the only panacea for exterminating corruption. Although his point that the rule of law delays the day of justice for high profile criminals may be true, the benefit of hindsight has shown that his method was more in tune with the need to take advantage of genuine sentiment of the public against corruption to selectively deal with the political opponents of the government of the day.
There is no better testimony to this fact than el-Rufai's spurious claim: “Nuhu Ribadu said Umaru's name was initially on the list (of corrupt governors) but he was persuaded to remove it by Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (not Obasanjo) because 'Umaru's corruption was not personal, and was productive' relative to other venal Governors!”
Pray, what does that mean? Besides, we must wonder how Gusau who was replaced as National Security Adviser by Major General Sarki Muktah early in 2006 was still able to influence proceedings in October 2006. It must also agitate perceptive minds why el-Rufai's friend, despite his international fame as the only competent anti-corruption war lord in Nigeria , would allow the removal of the name of a “corrupt Governor” who would later become President just because somebody allegedly asked him to? Assuming this were true, there could not have been a more corrupt way to fight corruption!
At any event, was Ribadu a court of law that would convict anybody of corruption? How come that despite public knowledge of the massive bribery of some legislators to approve the third term agenda of Obasanjo the EFCC under Ribadu's watch saw no evil? Or was there nothing wrong with Ribadu's presence at the fundraising for the private library project of a sitting president where billions of Naira was realized, including donations from governors and federal government institutions? Where was Ribadu when the Obasanjo administration publicly gave N1 billion to the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee (because of Third Term agenda); money that was not appropriated by the National Assembly and whose source remains a mystery till today?
What kind of corruption war was going on under Ribadu when people publicly denounced in a national television network broadcast as corrupt by President Obasanjo went on to become governors and senators despite the existence of Ribadu's corruption watch list? Or does el-Rufai not remember that Chief Adolphus Wabara, then President of the Senate; Mr. Osita Izunaso and Mr. Gabriel Suswam of the House of Representatives were in that broadcast by Obasanjo denounced as bribe-for-budget lawmakers? Is Izunaso not in the Senate and Suswam governor of Benue State today?
Were Suswan and Izunaso allowed to contest at a time Ribadu and el-Rufai held the power of life and death over the political fortunes of any Nigerian simply because, as it turned out, the N10 million bribe each was accused of collecting from the Ministry of Education which necessitated a state-of-the-nation broadcast by the then President was another unsubstantiated claim by Ribadu? And to think they destroyed the reputation and career of the respected Professor Fabian Osuji in the process!
There are many questions that are not being asked of Ribadu and el-Rufai who, to gain cheap attention, have suddenly allied themselves with members of the human rights community at home while serving the interest of foreign security agencies abroad. Unfortunately, some of our respected global citizens cannot see that they are hobnobbing with desperate men who failed in their bid to con their way to the highest echelon of leadership in Nigeria . Ribadu wanted to be Inspector General of Police, from the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police; while el-Rufai wanted to be President. And if President Obasanjo had not seen through their political pyramid schemes, they probably would have cooked up a sinister “corruption” report to knock off Yar'Adua before he could get the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket like they did with others. But it is too late for them now!
It is indeed illogical for el-Rufai to equate the slow but steady lawful prosecution of the war against graft with inaction. This is because, as we have seen, the loud and extra-legal war of the past has been just sound and fury. If el-Rufai was mindful of facts rather than sentiments, he would have appreciated that the anti-corruption efforts of the Yar'Adua administration is yielding more steady results. If he had kept abreast of developments from his base abroad, he would have learnt that the new anti corruption policy requires that all wars be conducted within the rules of engagement which emphasise strict adherence to the provisions of the law. This has yielded 55 convictions in 11 months, which represents a third of the total convictions in the entire life of the commission.
Interestingly, el-Rufai and his captive friends in the media--most of whom he described as unreliable in his infantile article--are largely blind to the underpinning philosophy guiding the Yar'Adua government's anti corruption policy: corruption prevention rather than management. The e-payment policy as well as a stricter regime of public procurement is making life difficult for criminally minded government officials. The war is also now being refocused to bring within its net federal agencies which by virtue of their larger access to the national purse are more susceptible to corruption than the states that were the main target of Ribadu's selective anti-graft war.
Any objective person can easily see through el-Rufai's myopic assessment of Yar'Adua. It is an assessment that could only have emanated from a mind skewed by a deep sense of disappointment over unfulfilled political expectations. Otherwise how could el-Rufai have known Yar'Adua since 1972 and yet failed to bring forth all “these personal flaws” of the President before now even when he claimed he was part of the process that threw him up?
Indeed, El-Rufai who in his own words “supervised many other assignments in addition to Abuja ; like the Civil Service Reform, Sale of Government Real Estate in Abuja , National ID Card System, the National Census, etc” is a man used to power and attention. That explains why after his Presidential bid could not fly, Ribadu arrogantly told Nigerians that he (el-Rufai) was going to be the Minister of Power under a newly-elected President Yar'Adua. They must have imagined Yar'Adua would also be the object of their blackmail and manipulation the way the duo effectively used the “Halliburton weapon” in the past. And with a terrible disappointment arising out of that unfulfilled expectation, el-Rufai wants to pull down the government of President Yar'Adua.
He will not succeed.
Beli was News Manager, Radio Kano