Revisiting el-Rufai’s Accidental Public Servant
When little men with modest imagination, originality and creative depth are transposed to high public offices they generally assume their idiosyncrasies to be existential social reality and consequently invade the public space with beguiled vanity and mediocrity. Malam Nasir el-Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory has just published a volume of largely egomaniac treatise, feeding from the country’s fractured political life in the past thirteen years. Had he invented characters and appropriately label his book a fiction; it would have been a blockbuster thriller. The vaunting ego out of Mr. el-Rufai tiny frame was present in every page of the book and what emerged at the end of it all is the indispensable el-Rufai, in such audacious manner that former U.S Secretary of State Ms. Madeleine Albright could her country “the indispensable nation”.
El-Rufai’s book reeks of not only malicious slander against most of the living but a banal and reckless insensitivity for the dead. Every line is dotted with ingratiating and fawning massage for his new friends in the opposition, but what I learnt early in life which is instructive even in politics is that those who tell you terrible things about others would tell other people terrible things about you. I do not hold forth for any of el-Rufai adversaries that he recklessly traduced, but every decent person should be assailed by the incongruent incoherence’s and inchoate narrative that Mr. el-Rufai spurned as a masterpiece.
For the massive disconnect that would run through the 489 pages of the book, excluding end notes, appendix etc, I would examine few that are outstanding for its gross deficit of logic, coherence and common sense. According to the author, after the America company, Motorola lost the bid for the supply of equipment for the NITEL GSM, the U.S firm whom the author noted had “its annual sales well into the tens of billions of dollars, and doubted if a measly $38 million contract would be so important to any Motorola shareholder.” Yet after losing the measly sum, the company was so concerned to hire a consultant to find out the reason for the loss, in addition to a diplomatic offensive launched by the U.S ambassador to Nigeria then, Mr. Howard Jeter.
According to el-Rufai’s tales, the American consultant for Motorola after seeing former President Obasanjo, confronted him with the facts of what led to the loss of the contract to the European rival, Ericson. Among the reasons in the author’s tale, the one that would have consequence for this short review is that the then vice president Abubakar Atiku has gossiped to the then president that el-Rufai’s brother had 10% of the common stock of Motorola in U.S and therefore the Ericson win of the contract was a consequence of Atiku’s witch hunt of the el-Rufai’s family. The author who met Obasanjo over Atiku’s alleged treachery and had it confirmed from the President wondered the reasons “Atiku was spreading falsehoods about me”.
What would shock common sense and assail the most simplistic of logics in the author’s narrative in the next chapter. Notwithstanding that he threatened to resign instead of working with Atiku, the former vice president who has seen el-Rufai as enough threat as to gossip him with the president played the crucial role in getting the author to become the minister of the F.C.T. According to el-Rufai, Obasanjo has nominated him to the post to ostensibly do what he cannot find any other person to do, including checkmating the vice president, yet Obasanjo did nothing to help him through the cesspool of corruption that was the senate clearance for ministerial nominees.
After a spell of encounter with former senate deputy president Ibrahim Mantu and Senate leader Jonathan Zwingina who demanded gratification of 54 million naira, Atiku intervened and got him cleared for the ministerial job after an alleged payment of 50 million naira as he was later told by a senior bank manager who was close to the former vice president.
According to el-Rufai, Atiku has earlier told him that Ibrahim Mantu is too greedy that he could go for a mere 1,000 naira in a lion mouth in spite of the obvious danger of been devoured, yet the same Atiku who was chummy enough to el-Rufai to narrate Mantu’s legendry greed was not forth coming in telling him that he has paid off the duo of Mantu and Zwingina to get him cleared but rather told him that 50 million naira paid Zwingina was part payment for party work in the North East zone. Yet the saintly el-Rufai who did not believe the former vice president went ahead to sit in the office that was allegedly secured with illicit money. Yet this is the former vice president, who mortally feared the larger than life image of el-Rufia that he needed to gossip to Obasanjo about el-Rufai and his family connection to the American Motorola that led to the short-changing of the U.S firm in favour of European Ericson. It does not fit into common sense that the former vice president who was so perturbed by el- Rufai as mere director general of Bureau for Public Enterprise to the back biting him to the then president would play the key in elevating to federal minister. It does appear that mallam el Rufai did mean his memoir for any serious mind.
The most bizarre tale of el-Rufai in his book is the marabout story. According to him, the former vice president has told him of a Cameroun marabout whose predictions about his political trajectory has been true all along and has then predicted that Obasanjo would not complete his tenure and that the vice president would be soon be shooed-in into the presidency. I have absolutely no connection with former vice president to know his attitude to marabouts. But it seem obviously implausible that a man who is well known to groom, built and nurture the most thriving political structure across the country to which he ostensibly spends to much to maintain, have sufficient faith in the magic words of a marabout as confide in el-Rufai. As everyone knows after every election, politicians disband their campaign and political outfit. Only Atiku and probably a few others are known to maintain a permanent political and organisational structure, including a vigorous media office at a non-election season. A man as beholden to marabout as el-Rufai cleverly insinuates about the former vice president would not have seen the need for maintaining a costly campaign outfit. As a fairly young reporter, about twelve years ago, I had queried a friend of mine who was running for the chairman of Abuja Municipal Council why he had no campaign structure or bothered to open an office.
His answer was that he had assembled ten marabouts that were working on the option that every vote cast for his rivals would magically turn to his. I predicted right there that he would win only one vote, which would be his, and it turned out exactly so. Without providing any connect from when the former vice president who was his back-biter-in-chief turned a confidant, el-Rufia narrated how the vice president summoned him Dr. Usman Bugaje and publisher of ThisDay Newspaper, Nduka obaigbena to a meeting at a guest house in Aso Drive, Abuja. At the meeting Atiku narrated how he has been meeting two groups of politicians who have nudged him on, to contest presidency and shove Obasanjo aside. According to el-Rufai, General Babaginda played the role of a political pimp, ensuring every detail of the meeting which he has held with Atiku and others was instantly relayed back to the then president Obasanjo.
It is very strange and rather callously imprudent that the author would choose such an open forum to lampoon the leaders of his region for stories that are, at best, conjectural and flow from his obsession to look different from others and be the only northern star. El-Rufai took the pursuit of ego and vaunting ambition to a new level. To launder and massage his ego, he wrote that the meeting of the trio with Atiku decided to send him to the U.S “because of my contacts with the U.S government and in Washington- friends in the U.S congress and Clinton administration, The World Bank and IMF”. The same el-Rufai who was to write in later chapter how he was told of a Nigerian lady, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who was a director at the World Bank by one senator Ama Iwuagwu has prior to then, had numerous friends in the World Bank, IMF, U.S government and Congress and yet was later to be introduced to a high profile Nigerian in one the major organisation where he has circle of friends. The author seems, to me, an unabashed imposter and a name-dropper. In any case what does Atiku’s presidential bid had to do with consultation with the U.S government, British government, German Chancellor Kohl and French president Mitterrand after the former vice president have had chances to secure the nod of his party through the national convention. If the meeting reported by the author allegedly convened by the vice president was not convened to work out a coup d’etat or other forms of illegitimate seizure of power, why would there be a need for international consultation.
Charles Onunaiju is a journalist based in Abuja.