Friday, 6 June 2008


I first met Mallam Nasir el-Rufai in 2002 when I was posted to the Bureau of Public Enterprises as a youth corper. Eager to make an impression, I’d come to work before 8am, and leave at well past 9pm. This stand-out strategy was largely unsuccessful because everyone else (full-time staff and corpers) was doing it, and I never arrived before, or left after Mallam el-Rufai. At the time his energy was infectious and his vision turned us all into his followers, zealots of the man and HIS privatisation. He would lead Nigeria to glory, and we would follow in his footsteps.

In 2003 he was made Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and he began the transformation of the Ministry into a model of efficiency, stepping on toes in the process but not giving a damn. He would pursue his vision of Abuja, would transform the city into an oasis of progress, would drag Abuja kicking and screaming into the 21st century and God save anyone who dared stand in his way.

So what went wrong? Most Abuja residents agree that Mallam el-Rufai was a godsend to the city; their grouses arise mainly from opinions that his administration lacked a human face. I’d hazard a guess that his waterloo, like his friend Ribadu came when hats were thrown into political arenas.

Personally, I’d have voted for the man simply because he has the cajones to wield the broom we need to sweep our country clean. I tell you, people would have emigrated from Nigeria had el-Rufai been sworn in. And that ladies and gentlemen, was why he was dumped.

You see, people need to know you are open to…negotiation and compromise, two words which seemed alien to Mallam el Rufai. How comfortable would Obasanjo have been with the idea of el-Rufai astride aso rock while he was tucked away in Ota? One also wonders about Yaradua’s decision to relieve el-rufai of his ministerial portfolio. Maybe our fragile President was unwilling to deal with hurricane El-Rufai; it might have been the death of him. And what of powerful allies who could have pleaded his case to the Presidency – old and new? El-Rufai didn’t have any because he’d spared no one.

I am a fan of El-rufai – I want to get that statement of fact out of the way, because I’m about to get a bit nasty. I watched the Senate Committee on FCT question el-Rufai on TV and it made me so angry. I was angry at the Senate Committee for their ineffective handling of the opportunity to take the ex-minister to task, I was disappointed that the rich and powerful turned the focus of the panel from the poor into an opportunity for them to seek redress for imagined slights. I was especially surprised that el-Rufai - dare I say – FAILED to understand that while he may have had judicial and executive backing to demolish illegal ‘dwelling units’, he owed the poor a duty of care which was greater or at worst equal to any duty bestowed upon him when he became a Federal Minister.

My first gripe about how the committee wasted its opportunity to string my idol up is illustrated by the following question asked by the illustrious Senator Smart Adeyemi towards the end of the ‘el-Rufai show’:

“Demolition of houses violates human rights…how best do you think you are going to address those who suffered damages?”

Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s curt response?

“I do not know anywhere in the principles of international law or any convention that says that when a person violates the law sanctions should not be applied on him because of human rights. You do not have the human right to break the law – I am sorry.”


When Senator Smart Adeyemi tried to save face by conjecturing that people lost their lives because of stress and frustration resulting from the demolitions, el-Rufai angrily interjected:

“There is nothing like that sir, you cannot prove it! You are not a doctor; no autopsy has been taken; there is no pathology, these kinds of statements have no basis!”

His censure of the Senator raised laughter and cheers from a room full of people with petitions against him. That was when I knew that el-Rufai had managed to clear his name.

Secondly, I was unhappy that the Committee unwittingly let itself be hijacked by the personal agendas of the rich and powerful. Among this group of issues put on the front burner were the demolition of properties belonging to the former PDP Chairman Ahmadu Ali and the former Senate President Pius Anyim. Senator Anyim actually made a personal appearance, coming forward to exchange pleasantries with the members of the committee WHILE el-Rufai was being quizzed. Conflict of interest, anyone? Yes the rich and powerful are Nigerians and yes they also have the right to submit petitions to the committee, but cherry-picking their petitions for whatever reason weakens the locus standi of the committee in the eyes of the public.

Finally, and this is truly hard for me to say, I felt el-Rufai could have done a bit more to appease disgruntled Nigerians, rich and poor. he was undoubtably an excellent minister; I believe he was above board and most Abuja residents feel they owe him a debt of gratitude for the way he transformed the City. The fact is however, that people suffered as a result of his drive to improve the City. All he needed to do was acknowledge the fact that people suffered because of his various development drives, express his sorrow at the suffering he caused, but explain that not only was it unavoidable but in the short and long term his actions were in the best interests of the populace. And as for arguments that his friends and relatives are entitled to land in Abuja because they are Nigerians? The less said about that the better, I feel.

No one, like they say, is perfect after all.

Kudos to Senator Henshaw for managing to tie down the articulate and well informed ex-minister on one issue, in the process ensuring that the day was not a total waste of tax payers money. His incisive line of questioning on the true definition of ‘land development’ elicted a reluctant and qualified apology from el-Rufai who had demolished some properties using the FCT Land Act’s inadequate definition instead of the Federal Land Use Act’s. I hope he won’t think I’m damning him with faint praise, but like Mallam el-Rufai, Senator Henshaw is one of those people who make me proud to be Nigerian.
June 3, 2008

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