In defence of an accidental godson

In defence of an accidental godson

Gbenga Omotoso


EVEN before descending from the podium after making his β€œgodfather can be defeated” statement in Lagos, Nasir El-Rufai had come under attack.

Now, the governor of Kaduna State is being called names, scorned and derided like a drunken motor park tout. To his traducers, His Excellency’s right to free speech means nothing. Hence, he must be pilloried and spanked like a common Lagos pickpocket.

First, a flashback. El-Rufai was in Lagos last weekend to deliver a speech at a forum organised by the Bridge Club, a group of eminent businessmen. Muiz Banire (you remember him; the Lagos lawyer not many would shy away from describing as noteless before being vaulted to commissioner and later legal adviser of the APC?) had remarked that β€œgodfathership” was hindering professionals and businessmen from going into politics. El-Rufai replied with characteristic gusto. He dismissed such fears and went on to tender a proof – he had retired four godfathers in Kaduna, he boasted.

β€œWith about N2bn; if you start, you see, these guys in black ties, they will give you the N2bn. Many of the godfathers are either on paper or in the minds of people in politics. They are defeatable. We retired four of them in Kaduna State within a four-year time and they are gone. One of them boasted that he put me in the government house and he would take me out,” the governor said.

The social media was on fire. Many thought His Excellency was actually attacking Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the frontline politician and one of the key midwives of the ruling APC on whichΒ  platform El-Rufai became governor. Tinubu has been described as the β€œgodfather of Lagos politics”.Β  Could El-Rufai have been referring to him? Doubtful. Tinubu is not in the league of β€œchop and quench” godfathers who have grown fat by milking their states dry. The former Lagos governor has bred worthy leaders whose impact is verifiable. They are some of our leading lights.

To many, who claim to be ardent observers of progressive politics and its focus on service delivery, El-Rufai’s comment was at best a blow below the belt and at worst an unnecessary incitement. They pounced on him.

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They challenged El-Rufai to name the godfathers he had defeated and asserted that he rode to power on President Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity, not on account of his antecedents either as head of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) where, according to them, public companies were sold to friends and cronies of those in power or as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where, according to the critics, he was immersed in nauseating land scandals.

Those, it is to be noted, however, are the charitable critics who spared a thought for objectivity. The unsparing ones tongue lashed El-Rufai like a pupil who soiled his new uniform. They tried to draw a parallel between what they called his petit stature and his proclivity for sudden anger and outbursts. They said (without any scientific proof whatsoever) that short people –among whom I number – are prone to sudden anger and rambunctious tendencies that get them noticed in a crowd. Are these comments fair?

They said Hell (a slip there; I take it back) El-Rufai has always been a godson to benevolent godfathers. Atiku Abubakar, the former vice-president on whose back he rode to government; former President Olusegun Obasanjo who gave him prominent roles and unfettered access in his administration and now PresidentΒ  Buhari before whom he grovels, kneeling down subserviently and disgustingly in public. β€œIt’s all deceit,” they said.

If they had stopped at that, many would not have paid much attention to them, but El-Rufai’s traducers went on to describe him as a traitor who, they claimed, never showed loyalty to anybody or any cause, no matter how noble. Instead, whatever he would not dominate he would either bring to disrepute or destroy.

They, the critics aforementioned, averred that El- RufaiΒ  betrayed Atiku, calling him names after their parting of ways . He, they alleged, betrayed Obasanjo. His Excellency, according to them, betrayed his colleagues in the APC with whom he fought to snatch Kaduna State from the PDP’s firm grip. He is as treacherous as Judas, they alleged.

For proof, the critics referred to Obasanjo’s description of El-Rufai in his trilogy, β€œMy Watch”. Wrote the former President:”Nasir’s penchant for reputation savaging is almost pathological. Why does he do it? He is brilliant and smart. I grant him that also. Very early in my interaction with him, I appreciated his talent and brilliance. At the same time, I recognised his weaknesses, the worst being his inability to be loyal to anybody or any issue consistently for long but only to El-Rufai. He barefacedly lied, which he did to me against his colleagues and so-called friends. I have heard of how he ruthlessly savaged the reputation of his uncle, a man who was like, in the African setting, his foster father. I shuddered when I heard the story of what he did to his half- brother in the Air Force who is senior to him in age.”

He went on to say that β€œcharacter wise, Nasir has nothing much going for him”, adding that when Osita Chijoka suggested El-Rufai as his (Obasanjo’s) successor, β€œI did not hesitate to point to Nasir’s naivety and immaturity, talk less of his inability to give honour to whom honour is due.”

Obasanjo, it is to be noted, was reacting to El-Rufai’s claims in his controversial book, β€œThe Accidental Public Servant”. β€œI read the book and it confirmed my impression of him as a man of first-class brain but arrogant, full of himself, immature and nauseating, trying to make up for his diminutive stature in what is called β€˜the small man syndrome’.”

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To the curtain-twitching busybodies, El-Rufai’s glowing achievements in Kaduna should be discountenanced. However, to His Excellency’s credit is the peace that has become the lot of the hitherto troubled residents. Gone are the days when gunmen would storm a village in the dead of the night when men and women and children were asleep, shooting indiscriminately, killing residents and setting homes on fire. Now, just scores are killed. How did the governor do it? He inadvertently let out the secret the other day- he paid the herdsmen- gunmen to hold their fire.

Instead of praising his ingenuity, his critics lampooned the idea and said El-Rufai was culpable in the killings. The governor, never a timid man who would be easily intimidated, challenged them to provide proof of their allegation. Nobody did. The matter ended, but the media would not let a sleeping dog lie; they continue to report killings in the state. They say blood continues to flow even as His Excellency remains on the lecture circuit.

Talk of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.

To El-Rufai’s credit is also the conquest of the political space in a way no governor has ever done. His style is as simple as it is inventive. When he had a disagreement with some politicians, including Senators Shehu Sani and Suleiman Hunkuyi, and all attempts to settle the matter failed, the governor pulled up a joker. When residents were still snoring in bed, he led at dawn a demolition squad to Hunkunyi’s property and rumbled the bulldozer through the edifice. The property was subsequently acquired for public use.

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It should be noted, however, that some men, such as Sani, aforementioned, kicked against El-Rufai’s unique formula which, I am told, other governors are signing up to copy. Sani, riled by the governor’s style, railed in the Senate: β€œEl-Rufai is an affliction on Kaduna State. He is a curse to us. We want to call on Buhari to caution his son…We in Kaduna State cannot accommodate somebody who has the tendencies of Adolf Hitler, Mobutu Sese Seko and Nebuchadnezzar.”

Another governor, unsure of what to do with such pesky and pesty comments, would have ordered the senator’s arrest. Not El-Rufai. His Excellency took it all on the chin. Instead of praising his reticence, his critics started talking about El-Rufai’s β€œhuge capacity for mischief, his unbridled ambition, and his tempestuous and abrasive mannerism”.

It has also been asserted that el-Rufai was, by his comments in Lagos, setting the stage for a big fight over the presidency in 2023. Some people, who have remained nameless, are beating the drum to which the governor is dancing, the critics said. That is neither here nor there.Β  Again, El-Rufai has remained unmoved. Does the governor not deserve some praise for his stoicism?

-The Nation


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