Why should Mallam Nasir el Rufai reveal so much confidential information, behind the scene deals and political melodrama in his “Accidental Public Servant” book? The book is not only accidental as the former Director General of Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) wants the readers to believe. It is acidic to image of some public figures he so mentioned. The book is probably influenced by journalistic instinct of fearlessness, bluntness and damning the consequence of a journalist. It seemingly lacks the finesse of public relations, which he could have deployed to convey the same messages without resorting to the publish-and-be-damned style and still become a best-seller.
This writer, like most Abuja dwellers was a beneficiary as well as victim of Nasir el Rufai’s policies when he was Minister of FCT. While I bought one of the monetized houses, my family lost legally acquired business premises to El Rufai’s demolition squad. Everyone was affected in one way or the other: the powerful politicians and the poor civilians have different adjectives to fittingly qualify his style of administration.
Before the publication, he has always been as controversial as his physique and high positions he held. His enigmatic disposition is reflective in his outbursts and battles at various stages of his life.
In over 20 years of syndicated opinion writings, this writer had causes to write to, and on el-Rufai, as an arrow-head of the government in attempts to question some of his controversial policies and decisions. Some of the articles where his name appeared in the titles include: “el Rufai: From Privatization to Demolition,” “Memo to el-Rufai on Monetisation of Government Houses,” “Six el-Rufai in Mummy’s Shop,” and “Between el Rufai, Ribadu and Yar’Adua.”
It was obvious that, to some extent he was tolerant to some of the constructive criticisms going subsequent actions he took and occasional responses. His Special Assistant, Dr. Abdu Mukhtar once issued a lengthy rejoinder to my criticism of the Monetisation policy, clearly stating government position and how it could benefit the civil servants at the end.
My close contact with him came when I was nominated by his office to be the Chief Rapporteur and Leader of the Rapportorial Team of the International Conference on Abuja @30 Celebration in 2006. At a close range, el Rufai is a jolly fellow. He related seamlessly with all officials at the weeklong event. Though his style as an administrator could defer from what would be expected from typical Nigerian politicians and top civil servants, he was focused on the assigned targets, especially on the restoration of Abuja Master plan, the monetization policy concerning government houses, the initial public service reform among others would remain indelible hallmarks of el Rufai’s time in government.
From the PR practitioner’s perspective, Nasir el Rufai is a difficult brand to manage. He strongly believes in the power of his voice no matter what others would say. He admitted this in his book when he wrote that “certain people hold the opinion that I am feisty, argumentative and antagonistic- ….I just believe in being honest with myself and with others and in speaking my mind frankly..”
While it was difficult to recall his open criticism or opinion on the ‘Third Term’ agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo as clearly demonstrated then by Vice President Atiku Abubakar, el Rufai narrated his behind the scene campaigns against the project in association with other members of the then Economic Management Team, which included Nuhu Ribadu, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Oby Ezekwesili. One of his direct confrontations angered President Obasanjo who retorted: “I am looking forward to May 29, 2007 to go back to my farm.” At another instance Obasanjo had to refer to el Rufai as “coup plotter” for secretly leading others against the Third Term Agenda after a consultation with Gen. Abdullahi Mohammed, the Chief of Staff.
Although it is difficult to determine from the book if el Rufai nursed the ambition to replace Obj/Atiku after their second term in 2007, it is clear that he was very bitter over the failure of Obasanjo to groom a successor. He said in the book: “The fact that Obasanjo did not even explore the idea of grooming a suitable successor speaks of the depths of his delusion… he deprived the ordinary Nigerian of that luxury of making a real choice.”
While he publicly supported the emergence of Umar Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as presidential and Vice presidential candidates of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), he nevertheless writes in his book: “Yar’Adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan emerged for no other discernible reasons than being weak governors sympathetic to the Third Term project and therefore, handpicked as paypack.”
Notwithstanding his scathing criticisms of his boss, it is obvious from the book that el Rufai retains some kind impressions about Obasanjo when he said “In spite of all these deficits, President Obasanjo is an intelligent, hardworking, dedicated and competent leader. I consider my experiences working with him, one of the pinnacles of my public service career.”
Dwelling on his sojourn at the BPE, el Rufai justifies his recruitment policy of favouring friends, associate and first class graduates on the ground that he knew their capabilities. While debunking the allegations of paying a youth corps member, Aishetu Fatima Kolo N2 million per month, he justifies his realistic salaries for staff in BPE as means of fighting corruption due to temptation of office with supports from some multilateral institutions like World Bank and DFID.
The book unveils a lot of financial scandals and corrupt practices involving individuals in high places from the public and private sectors, especially during the privatisation process. El Rufai narrates how one Nessim Gaon, a Swiss-Jew who was awarded $320million contract to build Nicon-Noga Hilton in Abuja manoeuvred himself to become a shareholder in the hotel. The project, according to el Rufai should not have cost $120million in the estimation of a quantity surveying firm, yet the same contractor without injecting any fund into the hotel claimed to be a 25% shareholder in the ownership under a very questionable management contract executed with NICON Insurance. El Rufai ensured the man lost the controversial shareholding after consulting Vice President Atiku Abubakar as Chairman of National Privatisation Council who approved that Hilton became a 100%- owned asset of the Government.
Another hanky-panky he exposed was his alleged rejection of N25,000,000 and $100,000 cash as a ‘thank you’ gift from Mike Adenuga after the sale of the National Oil (Nolchem) to his (Adenuga’s) Conpetro. When the courier of the bribery, a named staff of BPE was reprimanded by Elrufai with a threat to report him to NCP, the staff replied that the Chairman of the Council (VP Atiku) had been informed by Adenuga on the ‘Naira-Dollars’ gift.
El Rufai writes that he immediately went to Atiku to accuse him of complicity. A surprised Atiku immediately put a speaker phone call to Adenuga and asked: “Did we ever discuss Nasir Elrufai with you and what did I say?” Adenuga replied: “Yes sir. You told me he is a straightforward person and that I should not try to give him any money or try to thank him in any way.”
This book review by Yushau A. Shuaib has been published in the print edition of Economic Confidential, Thisday, Guardian, Punch, Vanguard, National Mirror, Nigerian Tribune, People’s Daily, Blueprint, Daily Trust and the Sun in April 2013
To be continued in PartII