Remember the saying: show me your friends and I will tell you who you are! There is a wide chasm between Buhari and Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State and presently, the enfant terrible of Nigerian politics. While Buhari is taciturn and insular, el-Rufai is showy and tempestuous; while Buhari is ascetic and self-abnegating, el-Rufai appears to be ostentatious and boastful.
Right from his first emergence on the national scene as head of state, Buhari has cut the image of a straight-talking, straight-forward, highly disciplined, ascetic leader with zero tolerance for corruption. Though there are those who will insist that he is a tribal champion, some even suggest that he is a religious bigot; politics aside, not many would doubt his integrity. In this regard, you may want to leave out the little matter of the distance between his pledge to be president for all and the curious lopsidedness of his initial appointments!
But even at that, we do not need to look too far into his kitchen cabinet in establishing why the President was carrying on as if his moral obligation started and ended with those who voted for him. El-Rufai’s utterances during a town hall meeting taunting those who felt side-lined in appointments to go hang or jump off the cliff, show the kind of advice that the President could have been receiving from political associates of el Rufai’s ilk. It is left to be imagined what el-Rufai’s advice will be on the agitation of the Igbo Peoples of Biafra: go send them into the Bight of Biafra, sorry, Bight of Benin or better still, the Lagos Lagoon?
Why is el-Rufai the subject of this discourse? The answer is simple. He is regarded as one of those closest to the President. He has a very strong personality and has demonstrated over the years that he can be very influential. And that is the danger; his influence would have been positive but for the fact that he leaves you with the impression that he is totally inured to any sense of compassion and balance, qualities that leaders need in large doses in these difficult times. With his closeness to the President, if not checked, el Rufai is capable of doing incalculable damage to national unity, peace and stability.
This danger assumes a frightening dimension against the background that el-Rufai seems to have a penchant for misleading people or being misled.
Although it is common knowledge that his erstwhile boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had accused him of being a liar, one cannot say for sure whether el Rufai actually goes out of his way to lie or that his mercurial and hyperactive nature predispose him towards talking before he gets all his facts or before he sits down to analyze the facts at his disposal. But no matter how we see it, Obasanjo’s characterization of el-Rufai remains an indelible blot on the former minister’s integrity.
Now, juxtapose Obasanjo’s reference to him as a liar and the recent rebuttal of el Rufai’s claim that President Goodluck Jonathan spent N64 billion Naira on Nigeria’s Independence Day (October 1) celebrations between 2010 and
2015, what emerges is a disquieting trail of how a rather brilliant technocrat can find himself in a highly compromised position because of politics. But for the Freedom of Information Act which was signed by President Jonathan, the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, in all probability, would not have released the correct figures: only N2.03 billion was spent in the corresponding period. That leaves a difference of nearly N62 billion!
So, what happened? Where did el Rufai get his figures? If not for the obvious attempt to comprehensively rubbish Jonathan’s legacy and portray the former president as a scoundrel, why would a governor with access to all the facts make such an unfounded allegation against a man who, defying all convention, disappointing his most loyal friends and ignoring his primordial constituency, elected to eat humble pie and literally abdicated power so that peace can reign in his fatherland?
It is rather worrisome that el Rufai has chosen to continue to thrive in controversy and stoke the embers of disunity and instability. From all the evidence before us, what emerges is a man who relishes in always grabbing the media spotlight and in the absence of one he goes out of his way to create it without consideration for its impact on people or social relations.
Unfortunately, those who elected him have started harvesting his huge appetite for demolishing buildings, with many lamenting that that wasn’t the change they voted for. That is the danger in keeping quiet when evil prowls
on the land in the delusory comfort that we are not the immediate victims of evil. For, if the now traumatized indigenes of Kaduna State had contemplated the mindless spectacle of ongoing demolitions in the state, chances are that they would have spoken out when their governor, as minister of the federal capital territory, FCT, under Olusegun Obasanjo, went haywire inflicting extreme psychological violence on people in the name of restoring the Abuja master plan. But they kept quiet. Today, that silence has turned into a loud explosion, unfortunately, not in their favour.
Matters arising: never again should we keep quiet in the face of evil, even if all of us have to be hounded into jail. After all, the only two persons who have served as heads of state twice, Obasanjo and now Buhari are both alumni of Nigerian prisons. So what the heck if we all go to jail?
By the way,the other matter arising from the SGF’s disclosure is the moral burden on leaders to do the needful when they are in power. Let’s look at it this way: if President Jonathan had not signed the media bill into law, I can bet that the office of the SGF would not have been in a hurry to respond to media enquiry on the actual amount spent on the October 1 anniversary.
But of greater importance is the need for Buhari to be wary of el-Rufai’s counsel, information or prodding. The difference between N64 billion and N2.03 billion is so staggering that for el-Rufai to have spurn such a yarn smacks of either byzantine falsehood or callous mischief. And if the office of the SGF had not released the correct figure, members of the public would have swallowed the falsehood without asking questions. To some extent, therein lies the peril of the present moment: that goaded on by mass
hysteria, the public has assumed the posture of the crowd in Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser where Cina the poet was mistakenly killed for being the namesake of Cina the conspirator. With the way allegations and counter allegations of corruption are flying all over the place, we face the mortal danger of not just collateral damage but even friendly fire. With people like el-Rufai prowling unleashed, who will bell the cat?
By the way, without prejudice to his right to comment on any or every matter of interest to him, is it not yet time for el-Rufai to spare the nation this pervasive intrusion into every facet of her life? Isn’t administering
Kaduna State challenging enough to engage him and obviate the gadfly posture of this governor who has disrupted the psychological, economic and socio-political equilibriums in the state?
As things stand, Buhari will be making a fatal mistake if he continues to trust in the judgement of el-Rufai. The governor’s penchant for assuming the toga of an omniscient technocrat does not suggest that he has much respect for
President Buhari. Nor do his misleading utterances, mindless insensitivity and incendiary remarks, after a rather acrimonious election, portray him as a patriot who desires to foster genuine reconciliation and afford President Buhari the atmosphere to govern effectively. While in the final analysis, the onus rests on Buhari to choose his friends, this is one freedom that he should not exercise lightly, conscious of the fact that Nigeria is perching perilously on the edge of a cliff. If truth must be told, he cannot pull the nation back from the brink if el-Rufai and his ilk are among his advisers.
Agu, publisher of Zest Traveller magazine, is a fellow of both the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)