By: Asaju Tunde.
It is evident that death is a saviour. Most of the people we call heroes today were saved by death. The chances are high, that if they had lived to their full age, they could have demystified themselves to unrecognizable level they would hardly be worth the value of their own shadows.
Years ago, my late cousin, Professor Pius Adesanmi did not need to convince me to for a party that would have welcomed Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai’ presentation of his book, Accidental Civil Servant to the Canadian audience. In life, I have never sat one on one with the Lilliputian giant nicknamed the bulldozer or Mai Rusau.
In the early 90s, I was hired as a compere for an Afri-Projects Consortium, function. The consortium was formed by the trio of el-Rufai, Hajiya Amina Mohammed and the late Salihijo Ahmed. The event went well and I was paid N50,000 in crisp N5 notes. It was, at that time, the most expensive gig I ever did.
My Newswatch salary was about N3,500 per month. Prior to that event, I had compered for ministries, some parastatals as well as individuals. In most official circles, the unspoken rule was that you gave between five and ten percent of your fee to the PRO.
I did not want to embarrass the guy Afri-Projects instructed to pay me, so I went back home and packaged N5, 000 for him. I brought the money in an envelope to his office a day after I was paid. His secretary, an amiable lady; regretted that her boss was not, but she pulled out his drawer and dropped the envelope there. In it, I had thanked him and said this was my token of appreciation.
Weeks turned to months and I had forgotten about it until I returned to my Area 3 office to find a DHL parcel waiting. Curious, I tore it open and out popped my envelope with the same amount I gave, in the same currency staring at me. A small note I’ll ever regret not saving said something to the effect that Afriprojects was on the road to building a new Nigeria and that kickbacks, bribe and appreciation would not form part of that evolution.
I was totally shocked and humbled. Up till then, no official has refused my offer of appreciation. Former NTA prodigy, Soji Oye would latter feature on the reformed Nigeria list. It was the first candle of hope in a firmament that was getting dampened by sleaze packaged in the toga of culture, including the infamous brown envelope syndrome.
Salihidjo Ahmed would later cross paths with me again when he invited me to his suite at the Sheraton Hotels and gave me a $50 note he said was to encourage my honesty as a reporter. Prof Auwalu Yadudu was at that meeting, along with the late Ismaila Isa Funtua. That money was used to open my first ever-foreign domiciliary account.
That was the closest I got to know the Afriprojects evangelists with the exception of Hajiya Mohammed. I kept an eye on the big team members and I am still pained at Salihijo’s untimely death.
Since then, I have never stopped watching el-Rufai. You could imagine why I believed him when he accused senators of demanding bribe to clear him for his FCT ministerial nomination. I’ve been an el-Rufai disciple until lately as one of those few of my northern siblings on who one could pine the hope for the building of a new Nigerian. A lot has happened of late to chip at the foundation of that trust.
Listed on these are several utterances and actions since becoming a governor. Before then, when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was uprooted from the Finance Ministry to the Foreign Affairs after earning Nigeria a debt forgiveness, I wrote a piece on it. El-Rufai was a minister, yet he found the audacity to commend the article that the see no evil, say no evil pro-Obasanjo groups condemned.
From his many incisive statements under the Jonathan administration to his election as Governor of Kaduna State, I have kept tab on Nasir. He is not a saint and none of us is. But I was a little queasy about his treatment of one of the senators from Kaduna whose home he demolished; his treatment of Shehu Sani whom he nicknamed afro-puffs. His attitude to the crisis in Southern Kaduna and his unflinching support for everything Buhari. In my books, most of these and other events did not add up.
The hounding of Audu Maikori, my bosom friend and Chocolate City boss truly troubled me. I made a public appeal for Audu to be left alone especially after apologizing. Nasir’s response to criticism sometimes shocked me because he was never afraid of speaking his mind. I took solace in the aphorism that every man should leave a large grave in which to bury the faults of his friends.
I commended his attempt to make Kaduna another Lagos, hiring the most competent and creating national entente by hiring people of every ethnic and religious hue in his cabinet. I believed that as stated in our constitution, every citizen should claim residency where they were born or reside. Having Yoruba, Igbo and others as cabinet members truly slot into my vision of one united Nigeria.
But then, el-Rufai was known to have threatened anyone who threatened the Fulani from generation to generations. I still felt absolutely uneasy about such a statement from a nationalist. Humiliating your Christian deputy in a state seeking religious harmony is not the exhibition of wisdom. But being pro-feminism, the choice of a woman as deputy especially in Northern Nigeria is not something I would attack.
A Muslim-Muslim ticket in Kaduna may not appeal to inter-religious sentiments or be glue to inter-religious harmony in a volatile, but if it worked without rancour, I intuned; could demonstrate that Nigerians are not ruled by their tribe, region or religion but by service excellence. The last time we exhibited that was during the annulled MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe ticket of yore. Futuristic Nigerians should buy the concept that competence, and not ethnicity, region or religion truly mattered in effective public service.
Lately, I have read very disconcerting reports from Kaduna. Nasir, who was on record to have travelled as far as Niger Republic to negotiate and pay ransom to terrorists announced that he has changed views! In the face of the high level of insecurity and abductions in Kaduna, he swore he wouldn’t negotiate even if his children were involved in a kidnapping. This was beautiful logic in an ideal world, but tactically wrong in today’s Nigeria.
Of course, the spate of kidnappings have increased in Kaduna, from the incessant bloodbath in Southern Kaduna to the kidnapping of students of the School of Forestry. Then the unforgiveable incursion into Greenfield University, the abduction and execution of the kidnapped students, el-Rufai has become el-shiru!
In 2014 or thereabout, SaharaTV broadcast an interview in which el-Rufai pilloried the Jonathan administration on security especially the abduction of the Chibok girls. He explained his attitude to negotiations: “You should have military action on the one hand and negotiation on the other. You should not foreclose anything because the lives of your citizens are at risk and you do not want to lose the life of one person. You do not want to lose the lives of 250 girls, so whatever it takes to rescue those girls, should be done.
“If one of these girls was Jonathan’s daughter, the story would be different. The reason why these girls are still in captivity is because these girls are not the daughters of any important man in Nigeria and we know it, and if you say we are politicizing terrorism, go and rescue the girls so that I don’t have a basis to politicize it.”
He concluded that when citizens’ lives are at risk, “you should listen, you should negotiate and look at the price you’ll have to pay and get those girls out, you should not say you won’t do this, you won’t do that.”
Several lives of young schoolgirls, citizens of Kaduna State and Nigeria and others are today at stake. El-Shiru is totally silent either on strategy or on hope. I personally feel betrayed by my ‘friend’. Nigerians should feel scandalized at the transformation of the el-Rufai of the opposition (the hut) and el-Shiru in governance (the palace).
Of course we could imagine the amount of blood that would flow before any of el-Rufai’s young children could be abducted. We also know that if the children of any of Nigeria’s big men had been among those picked up either from the school of forestry or from Greenfield University, the stick and carrot approach he suggested would have been used to maximum effect.
To worsen matters, the Kaduna State government, under Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai now charges ‘non-indigenes’ 500% extra school fees in Kaduna state-run institutions. The same el-Rufai that appointed a Yoruba and Igbo people into cabinet positions on the basis that Kaduna belongs to all who lives there has borrowed the divisive wandering leave of a one-time governor of Niger State on indigeneship and settlership.
Except something positive happens to redeem the flagging reputation of el-Rufai, I would be classifying him among the political hypocrites using subterfuge to hoodwink the polity. This is a sad position to take on a ‘friend’, but to do otherwise would be to bury conscience and the interest of public good.
As they say in some circles, may Nigeria succeed!