After reading Nasir El-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant, I anticipated that many people would have something to say about the book. Those people who have implicated in the book have started voicing their dismay.
I have reserved any judgment on El-Rufai until more memoirs are published. Mr. Soludo is one of those implicated in the book. He has characterized El-Rufai (and the book) as “an intellectual fraud.” He believes that El-Rufai’s pretentiousness, ambitiousness, and self-importance are all charades that amounted to someone with designed master plan to fool and mislead people. Mr. Soludo offered a dictionary definition of fraud: “fraud as course of deception, an intentional concealment, omission, or perversion of truth,” or “an intentional deception made for personal gain or damage another individual.”
For the past 20 years, I have been following political, social, and economic developments in Nigeria. In March 2013 on a short trip to Nigeria, a friend gave me the Accidental Public Servant, written by Nasir El-Rufai to read. Up until that point, El-Rufai was not on my consciousness, although we grew up in Kawo, Kaduna together. El-Rufai was the director-general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in 1999 and the minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 2003.
The El-Rufai Factor: The Accidental Public Servant remains a fascinating book to read, but Mr. Soludo believes that it is “grossly dishonest.” In 2009, Robert Amsterdam, El-Rufai’s lawyer wrote in Reform vs. Status Quo: The Campaign against Nasir El-Rufai and the Degeneration of Progress in Nigeria. His main thesis of the report is that “the accusation against El-Rufai cannot be taken on face value.” He made it very clear that the persecution of El-Rufai began when the Umaru Yar’Adua administration deviated from the Obasanjo administration’s reforms and anti-corruption efforts. But El-Rufai’s fight with the legislative and judiciary branches of government can be better understood in the following comments: “the legislature has deployed to ruthless pursue El-Rufai to appear time and time again before politically packed committees of corrupt politicians who hold grievances against him for having enforced the law and revoked their illegality held properties.”
El-Rufai has produced a memoir that will be considered an important landmark in the political lexicon in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. The book’s fidelity to the history and ideology of Nigerian public service, the evidence and facts presented are both its strength and weaknesses. However, the book fails to analyze the psychology of those he interacted with and to give the reader his assessment of the behavior and why they behaved in that matter.
Perhaps another drawback of the book is that despite claims and allegations leveled against Obasanjo, Atiku, and Justice Bashir, it largely failed to explain the other factors such as the political pressure from the outside. In other words, the book does not directly deal with the complexities of governance and cultural factors. El-Rufai may have presented a pessimistic and negative view of his bosses and of those who do not share his leadership principles during his tenure at BPE and FCT. He gave three reasons for writing the book. The first is to make the case that public service is desirable and important. The second reason is that anyone interested in a career in public service should be prepared to be tested in ways that are impossible to comprehend. The third reason is, for those of us in the Diaspora, who have “opted out or given up” on Nigeria, should reconsider and come home to serve. He writes that “the Nigerian public service needs you, but you can only succeed under certain conditions.”
El-Rufai brings different, divergent, and convergent views into the discussion of what politics and public service should look like, suggesting that there is the need to re-examine all the processes of government and governance. El-Rufai seems to argue that while at BPE and FCT, good governance and good leadership were the mantra and this mantra must be adhere to. He argued that good leadership and good governance require that political, social, cultural, and economic priorities be based on sound legal judgment, decision-making, rule of law, consensus-building, and democratic principles.
El-Rufai may have expressed a vision that is not popular for this time. But, Lai Labode of The News Nest has concluded that “while Mallam El-Rufai may hope that more people would believe he was telling the “whole truth” to primarily document events that can provide a resource base for aspiring administrators in terms of the possible challenges of public service, he also unconsciously opened a new window for better examination of his character as an administrator and as politician vis-à-vis his interactions with other key players in the Obasanjo years.”.
El-Rufai has observed that “embarking on a project such as writing about my experiences in government is risky.” Nuhu Ribadu, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Dele Olojede, Pastor Tunder Bakare, Charles Soludo and others have been implicated in his story. How well El-Rufai navigates the political and social terrains in the years ahead will greatly depend on the willingness of his friends and enemies to look beyond the perceived character flaws and look deep into the content in the book
Conclusion: Soludo and El-Rufai may well be positioning themselves for the future. Both of them are bright and ready to serve. This is a classic northern and southern intellectualism at play. Soludo will represent the ruling party while El-Rufai will play the opposition. Both may be the benchmark for excellence and the yardstick for measuring good governance. Both may transform the political system. The future of Nigerian politics may rest on how well they engage themselves on the issues and how well the sensitize Nigerians in Diaspora.