By Farooq A. Kperogi
Former Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai’s rumored withdrawal from consideration as a minister in President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s government because high-tensile inter-elite intrigues torpedoed his senate confirmation and caused the president to sour on him is the bluntest, crudest, most double-dyed political treachery I’ve seen in a long time.
Sure, El-Rufai is a detestable, self-important, unfeeling, overweening, and divisive political villain whom I once called the most dangerous Nigerian politician alive, but he is more central to Tinubu’s emergence as president than the people on whose behalf Tinubu has thrown him under the bus.
El-Rufai left everything aside to galvanize support for Tinubu among northern governors, which was crucial to Tinubu’s win in APC’s primary election. He stood up to Muhammadu Buhari’s cabal on Tinubu’s behalf at a time when few people within the circles of power were willing to stick out their necks for a presidential wannabe.
When the Central Bank of Nigeria rolled out its damagingly birdbrained naira recoloring policy to stymie Tinubu’s chances at the polls, El-Rufai launched an all-out, scorched-earth, no-holds-barred rhetorical blitzkrieg against the CBN and honchos of the Buhari regime. Tinubu got tremendous sympathy and persuasive mileage from the knowledge that the hurt Nigerians were undergoing in the days leading up to the election was engineered to get at him, and no one enabled this awareness more than El-Rufai.
Additionally, Tinubu himself visited Kaduna and publicly implored El-Rufai to shelve his planned doctoral studies abroad and work with him. During his public appeal, Tinubu infamously said El-Rufai had the uncanny competence to turn “a rotten situation into a bad one.” At the time I wondered if it was a Freudian slip (which means he unintentionally let out what was in his mind), a targeted missile, or an innocent verbal mishap.
Now, that description of El-Rufai has assumed a whole new meaning, especially if you recall that Bayo Onanuga, celebrated journalist and former spokesman for the Tinubu presidential campaign, had said that Tinubu’s unflattering characterization of El-Rufai was “a mere Freudian slip.” Given his level of education and exposure, it’s unlikely that Onanuga doesn’t know what a Freudian slip is.
A Freudian slip, as I pointed out earlier, is a mistake that unintentionally reveals an uncomfortable truth that we wish to suppress. In other words, Onanuga said Tinubu actually secretly thought El-Rufai had a special knack for transforming rotten situations into bad ones but only unconsciously revealed this unpleasant truth in an unguarded moment.
Maybe Onanuga’s revelation that Tinubu’s statement was a “mere Freudian slip” was itself a Freudian slip. That means even Onanuga believed Tinubu’s horrid character portrait of El-Rufai, and inadvertently betrayed it in his statement defending his boss.
Anyway, because I cherish the virtues of honor and integrity, betrayal even to a scoundrel activates vicarious unease in me. Public humiliation isn’t a just reward for the efforts El-Rufai invested in contributing to Tinubu’s ascendancy to the presidency.
Nonetheless, truth be told, as a person, El-Rufai doesn’t deserve anyone’s pity. What he is going through now is mere karmic payback. Treachery is the currency of his politics.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar brought El-Rufai from obscurity to the national limelight by giving him a job as the DG of the Bureau of Public Enterprises. But he turned against Atiku and publicly denied any debt to him for his political rise.
But in cables WikiLeaks exposed, he confessed to American embassy officials that Atiku indeed gave him his first public service job. In a 2006 cable, Ambassador John Campbell quoted El-Rufai as telling him that “he had entered government service by working for the Vice President.”
On December 31, 2002, according to U.S. Embassy in Nigeria cables published by WikiLeaks, El-Rufai ran to US officials to give them foreknowledge of his plan to resign as DG of BPE in early 2003. He spoke approvingly of Atiku and was severely censorious of Obasanjo during the meeting.
“El-Rufai said the VP (chair of the National Council on Privatization, the policy-making body that oversees BPE) had pressed for further information on why he wanted to return to the private sector. El-Rufai responded that President Obasanjo’s commitment to privatization and greater transparency had collapsed under the pressures of politics,” Ambassador John Cambell wrote. “Trying too hard to please those who could never be placated, Obasanjo was sacrificing the precepts of a sensible economic agenda in the interest of getting re- elected.”
El-Rufai later betrayed Atiku about whom he spoke glowingly in meetings with U.S. officials. He found a new benefactor in Obasanjo whose unethical practices he’d said compelled his resignation as DG of BPE.
On September 21, 2006, for instance, El-Rufai went to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and the UK High Commissioner “under instruction” from President Obasanjo to inform them of and seek their blessing to deny Atiku Abubakar the chance to succeed his Obasanjo. That’s a wild change of loyalties.
“After opening pleasantries in which el-Rufai noted that one of his children is an American citizen, the Minister emphasized that his call was at the explicit instruction of the President; he would also be seeing the British High Commissioner, similarly on instruction,” Campbell wrote. “The President’s purpose is to brief the representatives of Nigeria’s ‘closest allies’ on his strategy for ensuring that the Vice President may not run for the presidency in 2007. Rather than seeking the Vice President’s impeachment for corruption by the National Assembly, El-Rufai continued, the President had appointed an administrative panel of his close political allies (El-Rufai was a member, as was Minister of Education Obi Ezekwesili, Attorney General Bayo Ojo and Minister of Finance Nenadi Usman) to investigate charges of corruption against Atiku.”
Of course, El-Rufai later betrayed Obasanjo—and everybody else that has propelled his career or extended favors to him. Obasanjo himself would later write about El-Rufai’s compulsive treachery and duplicity. Given his history, there is no question that El-Rufai would have been treacherous to Tinubu, too, in due course. He would have made Tinubu’s “a rotten situation into a bad one.”
El-Rufai seems congenitally incapable of being loyal to people who feather his aspirations.
What’s happening to El-Rufai now actually pales in comparison to the depth of his serial betrayal of his benefactors. It’s a case of live by the sword, die by the sword.