Nasir El-Rufai – The Obituary of a Political Neophyte

by Banjo Odutola

The back pages of quality newspapers in England carry a page or two of obituaries, often of achievers and sometime of others who achieved notoriety. The notices are not paid for, like the money wasting advertisements and gauche displays in our newspapers. They are written to celebrate achievements. Brief histories and description of achievements of the deceased compete for space with tchotchke. Where the deceased was a minister in the British Government, the services rendered to the nation define the deceased. If the minister recorded spectacular failures, history is rehashed.

Newspapers employ writers of these Obituaries and it is safe to state the deceased may not have influenced the short biographies or footnotes written on them. The position to write on the life and times of Mr. Nasir El-Rufai – the boyish looking minister of the Federal Capital Territory, formerly Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, will one day fall on one of these gazetteers. The record on this minister will be inadequate, if perchance, it misses out his political novitiate and caricature of his attempt for sainthood in a political space.

Mr. El-Rufai may soon appreciate what Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 -1527), the Florentine Statesman and political philosopher in History of Florence (1521-4) described as: Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please. The minister needs the senate and senators, of whom he brought a weak allegation against their compeers. He cannot expect the senate to sheath its sword at its victory. Would this neophyte be able to count on assistance of the senate to pass laws, the way his department proposes? Would the senate not task his department for revenge? Can this minister be effective, anymore? Anyone who goes into politics must realise: “it is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it is important” (Eugene McCarthy – America Democratic politician). The boyish looking minister may be dumb enough to consider his position is important; clearly, he is not astute to understand politics.

Many analysts sympathise with his display of evidence before the Senate in the accusation of the demand by the Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Senate Leader, Jonathan Zwingina for the bribe of N54 Million to clear his ministerial nomination. The spectacle of swearing on the Qur’an was enough proof to find against the accused senators, who chose to affirm their evidence.

So, is the burden of proof in this country is now reduced to swearing on the Holy Books or affirmation of evidence? If this is the level at which circumstantial evidence is to swing sympathy in favour of the minister, the fickleness of public opinion can never be a barometer to determine truth. In this matter, the minister deserves our gratitude for the distraction and the comedy so far provided.

This matter is irritatingly simple. The minister like his superior evoked the name of Allah instead of providing concrete evidence in a highly sensitive matter of State. Where he could have informed his sponsors, to whom he unashamedly ensured public display of fawning with his gratitude to keep the senators on the watch, he claimed Allah was the only one watching over him, when he was asked for a bribe. He made sure his public expression of gratitude was not lost on Messrs Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar – remember his funny “thank-you” for the opportunity to serve? What is the need for a baseless gratitude in the midst of a weak allegation? Why bring the president and his vice into the arena? How does the name-dropping prove the allegation?

This minister came blazingly with chronology of his movements and meetings. Informing of the advice to “see” senators to smooth his nomination; and when asked to pay the amount alleged, he did not consider it fit at that relevant time to expose the two senators. He ensured his nomination was approved and on resumption of office, possibly, it dawned on him that the nomination is not worth the amount required. So, he brings out a sword of truth and the Qur’an in the other. He charged out without the thoughtfulness of an educated mind or the sincerity of a good statesman. This comedy is nothing but a titivation of the minister’s career and a display of youthful aficionado and clumsiness of a political neophyte.

Did the Minister seek legal advice from his ministry before agreeing to continue the allegation? Was the minister able to establish which of his colleagues had paid or from whom senators demanded money? If the minister was advised to pursue the allegation, there must be other facts not yet made public. Aside from legal advice, it is difficult to fathom that Mr. El-Rufai was singled out of all the nominees. So, was the screening process a money making process for the senators who piously interrogated Miss Funke Adedoyin, of moral decadence?

Well, the obituary of the minister will be less than true, if it does not state that the Mamora Committee investigated his allegation and proved the same baseless. Arguably, the committee is not independent of the senate. Did the minister not envisage such a turn? However, to disparage senator Mamora would be a travesty.

It is not in the allegation of bribery that the minister has been prominent. He has courted publicity in his acts as Don Diego de la Vega in the early 19th century California. The legacies of Diego, who at night time turned into Zorro are worth Mr. El-Rufai emulating as a fighter of evils and a righter of wrongs. This minister has taken on land speculators in Abuja and where he found edifices erected in breach of the master blue print for the Federal Capital Territory – he ordered them pulled down. He is on the side of what is right, or so it seems. Somewhat, his actions defy logic and due process.

His decision to pull down those buildings at Abuja seems to have the imprimatur of the presidency. Mr. Obsanjo’s presence and backing must have provided a sense of security, which emboldened the minister. But, is it the presence of a president, who has little patience with the course of due process that matters? Was Mr. Obasanjo’s presence not a dangerous precedent? A minister’s position is not to gallivant around like modern day Zorro. He must make equitable decisions.

Therefore, enforcing the Federal Capital Territory master plan should not involve tearing down properties for which planning permissions were procured and granted by his ministry. It is a basic provision in law that a future decision maker has to abide by previous decisions of his predecessors. The minister should investigate his officers and reasons why his ministry decided to grant permissions for the construction of the properties. He should sack those officers and compensate those whose properties have been destroyed. If the minister was not a neophyte, he would engage those property owners in his decision to resolve the matter in a better way.

In closing, this minister is a young man in a hurry to make an impact. He is keen to show that he is efficient and not as corrupt as those before him. In contrast to Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Useni, who is one of his predecessors – Mr. El-Rufai must be a very decent man. Right now, his conduct is comparable to the conduct of Randolph Churchill and his son – Winston, the former great statesman and conservative prime minister of Britain, who were once regarded as “terrible burdens for any government because they were the type of men, who would like to be the bride at a wedding, and the corpse at the funeral.” (Cuthbert Morley Headlam (1876-1964), British Conservative politician in his diary entry of 20 July 1927. This minister has the combined benefits of time and youth to retract his political steps; change direction from being a bull in a china shop and appreciate that in politics, you never step out to fight your enemy, unless you are guaranteed the demise of his political career. It is hoped that in spite of all his exuberances, the epithet on the headstone of the tomb of his political career shall not read: Nasir El-Rufai – “Here lies the career of a political neophyte.”

The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.

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