Nasir El-Rufai Speaks On His Problem With Obasanjo, Atiku…Says Jonathan’s Govt A Total Failure
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has refuted the allegation that he bit the fingers that fed him by criticizing former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, in his book, The Accidental Public Servant.
The former director general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), who spoke with Saturday Sun in Abuja, questioned the rationale behind such notion, saying that Atiku didn’t make him the person he is.
The chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said he was already a self-made man before he came into government, saying the insinuation that Atiku made him is utter nonsense.
In this interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS in Abuja, the former minister also gave reasons he has persistently criticized President Goodluck Jonathan, even as he spoke on the prospects of the newly registered APC, former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari as his best presidential candidate for 2015, while also taking a swipe at the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, whom he said, is the propaganda chief of the PDP. Excerpts…
Your book, the Accidental Public Servant, has continued to generate controversy. How do you feel each time any heat comes out of it, like in the case of Professor Soludo who fumed over the book?
When you write a book that is 700 pages long and most of the dramatis personae are still around and alive, you would expect some of them to disagree with your version of events. That is normal. You will expect some of them that have political aspirations to get angry because they have been represented as being less than perfect. That is understandable. What I say to all these people is, write your own book, write your own version of what happened and let Nigerians read both and judge. I don’t think that was unexpected at all.
Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, felt indicted in the book. Did you set out to smear his name or you wrote exactly what took place?
I tried to write exactly what took place because I think that Nigerians are entitled to an inner picture of their leaders and how ordinary they are, with their flaws, as well as their strengths. But I can understand if the former vice president does not like it because some of the things in the book are not things that most people know about him that are negative. But there are many other things about him in the book that are positive that also came out. But of course, he didn’t see that. As I said, people with political ambitions don’t like to be portrayed accurately because it brings them out as human. They have flaws, as well as strengths and they don’t like to present themselves as part or devoid of any flaws because they are looking for your votes. But what I wrote in the book is what happened when I was in government and I felt that it was a duty to Nigerians to have a picture of how their government runs so that we can all learn and improve it in the future.
Some said your account of Atiku in the book was like attacking the man that made you. What is your take on that?
Those that said that because Atiku played some role in getting me appointed in the BPE, are wrong. I was bound by my oath of office which pledged allegiance not to any human, not to even the President, but to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, when he is wrong, I disagreed with him. And it was so when I was in government and it will be so for the rest of my life.
So, you disagreed with him while in government?
Oh yeah! Even with Obasanjo. If you read the book, you will see many areas we disagreed. Those of us that were in government then knew the position that some of us took on many issues. We disagreed with even the President. The perception that because you are in government you can’t disagree with your boss is flawed. We disagreed vehemently on many issues with our leaders and we told them so.
Prior to reading the book, there was this issue that it was through Atiku that you met Obasanjo. It was after reading the book that I discovered that you were even part of the team that briefed Obasanjo before he was sworn into office.
(Cuts in) Look, the Atiku Media Team, is very good at repeatedly, repeating a lie so that it becomes the truth. How I met Obasanjo, how I met Atiku, is all in the book and whatever people write that departs from that narrative is false. That is it. Part of the reason I wrote the book is to correct some of these stories. But the most important reason really, is for Nigerians to know how their government runs.
But some are of the opinion that because of the role he played in your life, you ought not to have criticized him in the book.
That is a wrong conception. First, what role did he play in my life? Did he educate me? Did he give me my skills and my abilities? It is utter nonsense. All right? I was already a self-made man when I came into government. So, nobody can start boasting that he played a dominant role in my life. We all get to where we are with the intervention of others. So, I am not denying that Atiku played a role, but what role? And does that mean that I am his slave for life? Does that mean that when he does something that is unlawful, I will not complain? Or does that mean that when he does something against the overall interest of Nigeria, I should accept it? That is utter nonsense and it is that kind of sycophancy that draws Nigeria to where it is.
When a leader is wrong, you tell him and if he doesn’t like it, let him fire you. But none of them fired me even though consistently, I told them where I disagreed with them and where I felt they were wrong. So, all those people that are making noise don’t even know what happened. Those that were in government with me at the time, know who I am. Those that were ministers at the time we were in government, they know who we are and they know what we stood for.
So, those who are trying to dismiss the book are just mere jokers?
They are side kicks in the whole arena. They were not there. There is no one who sat at the table with us when we were making these decisions and advancing these arguments that have come out to say that what I wrote there is not true. None! Only hired hands of politically, ambitious people. That is all.
What is your present relationship with Atiku? Do you still talk?
It is in the book. The last time I saw him was in November 2009, in Dubai.
Way back 2009?
Yes. I mind my own business. Look, I do my things, I mind my own business. I don’t go round peoples’ houses because I have a lot of things on my plate.
Is there any hope that both of you will still come together?
Did we ever fall apart? There was no…
(Cuts in) Because the gap is wide now.
No. I don’t know. Did he tell you that? Look, Atiku is minding his own business and I am minding my own business. He is a politician, I have a profession. I am in politics as a vocation. So, it is not surprising that we don’t meet often. The last time we met, I went to his home in Dubai to visit him and greet him.
Another issue of great concern is your persistent criticism of President Goodluck Jonathan. People are wondering that apart from politics, if both of you have any hidden agenda?
No, no, no. Jonathan was actually a good friend of mine at the time he was deputy governor. To me, when a friend of mine is destroying Nigeria, I have to speak. And I believe strongly that Jonathan has been systematically destroying the fabric of unity in this country. He has been promoting divisions and corruption and impunity at the highest level. Even if we were from the same mother, I would criticize him if he does that. I don’t care! I think Nigeria is more important than any relationship, personal or familiar. And if my own brother was the one running Nigeria the way Jonathan is ruining it, I will criticize him.
Don’t you think your criticism will be better channelled if you participate in his government?
No! I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that the devil will repent. I don’t believe that when you see something and you know how devilish it is, you will improve. There is a limit to how much you can change what is technically bad. I believe that the Jonathan government is completely and totally bad and anyone that joins will only come back spoilt. So, I don’t believe that. I have never for a moment even considered having anything to with the Jonathan government. Not even for a moment.
People believe he listens more than former President Obasanjo whom you worked with and that you were one of the arrowheads that made that government succeed. Those advancing this argument also believe that being part of this government, you would also make it succeed. What is your take on this?
Nothing can make Jonathan succeed. He is grossly incompetent, he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t even understand the issues. I am sorry! I know the man more than those that are shouting with Jonathan because when he was my friend, none of them even knew him. I knew Jonathan as a deputy governor in 2002. That was when I first met him and we have been relating. So, all these new found Jonathan lovers should just shut up. I know him and I know what he can do and what he cannot do. So, please, they should just leave me alone. Those that want jobs can go and take jobs. I don’t want.
You worked so hard to ensure the merger arrangement between your party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), including the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Now that the merger has been sealed, registered as APC, how do you feel? And how is your mood like?
I feel good. I feel happy that for the first time in Nigeria’s history, major political parties are coming together to provide a credible alternative platform for Nigerians. So, I feel quite gratified that our amount of efforts along with others, have come to fruition. So, we are grateful to God for His mercies.
Some believed that the party was dead on arrival. Can your party deliver Nigeria from its present political state?
Some said we will never merge, some said it will never be registered, some said that when we come to form the national executive committee, we will scatter. Some said this, some said that. They are hoping. These are all Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) agents that will not wish the country well. The APC has come to stay, we have merged, we have been registered, the national executives committee has been constituted, we are forming state harmonization committees, we are making progress, we are coming together, while even the PDP is falling apart. What more do I need to say?
A chieftain of the CPC once said General Muhammadu Buhari is the essence of the whole merger arrangement, that they want gatekeepers for him during election. How true is that?
I think Buhari is an essential element in the merger but he is not the only one. And that is because in the history of politics in Nigeria, there has never been a political leader with the kind of following that Buhari has. It is only a party backed by General Buhari that can garner 12 million votes without money, without organisation and only five months to an election. So, Buhari is a political phenomenon. Clearly, he is a major leg in the merger, but he is not the only one. There are leaders in ACN and ANPP that were equally part of it. Leaders like Audu Ogbeh, Chief Tom Ikimi, Chief Segun Osoba in the ACN. In the ANPP, Ali Modu Sheriff, Ibrahim Shekarau and Senator Kabiru Gaya. All these are important legs in the merger. So, to try to make the merger something just around Buhari, is not quite correct. He is a major issue, of course, in the merger and anyone that thinks Buhari is not a major issue in Nigerian politics, must be living somewhere else. And those of us from the CPC stock, are very proud that he has made the sacrifice needed to create a national party that will challenge and kick out the PDP.
Will you support Buhari in 2015 if he decides to contest for the presidency?
Absolutely! Absolutely! In fact, I am one of those that have been working on General Buhari since September 2011, to convince him to change his mind about never contesting again.
Because I think that where Nigeria is today, only someone like Buhari, with the experience of having run the country before, and having run it along certain principles of discipline, integrity and accountability, that Nigeria needs. Nigeria is suffering from the highest level of corruption in its history, from a culture of impunity and indiscipline and deliberately created divisions among the people. You will need a strong leader like Buhari who will unite everyone. You will need a leader like Buhari who has experience in war and peace, to deal with the insurgency that is cropping up all over the place. You need a leader that has been governor, minister, head of state without ever being accused of corruption, to face the issue of corruption and impunity in this country. There is no one like him. So, he is my candidate and I will be very, very happy to support him if he chooses to contest.
Some believe that the Nigeria Buhari ruled between 1993 and 1985 is different from the Nigeria of today…
(Cuts in) Of course!
That if General Buhari rules Nigeria today, corruption is going to happen under him because he is not going to be everywhere. Some have even said there was corruption under him while in Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
Of course! There will always be corruption. There is no society without corruption, but how much corruption? When you have a president who has ministers and all of them are actively engaged day and night in corruption, then you can’t stop it. But when you have a president who lives by example, who does not accept or participate in corruption and frowns at any kind of misconduct, then there is improvement. Yeah, under Buhari, there will be corruption. There is no where in the world where there won’t be any corruption. But how much corruption? This is the point. The issue is, under a Buhari presidency, you will know if you are corrupt and you are caught, you will be dealt with. Under a Jonathan presidency, you will get national honour or a pardon. That is the difference.
Some are also talking about the deification of General Buhari, that he is not the only clean man in Nigeria, that why Buhari? So, why Buhari?
I don’t know whether Buhari is the only clean man. No, we never said that. We never said Buhari is the only clean man. I am sure there are many clean men and women all over Nigeria but they have not offered themselves in the political space to run for president. Among those that are offering themselves, we believe that Buhari is one of those that are clean. Even the others, I am not saying that they are not clean. I know that Jonathan is not clean for sure. Ok? Because what has happened under his government clearly proves it. So, we are not saying he is the only one. We all make our personal choices. I have made the choice that for Nigeria of today, Buhari is the best candidate I see.
To govern Nigeria?
Yes! Of today! He is ideal for addressing our problems in Nigeria today and I intend to support him. Everyone of us can make his own choices and I am not imposing my own choice on anyone. Let us look at all the candidates and look at where Nigeria is and choose which one is the best for Nigeria no matter what his age, tribe and religion is. We want to save Nigeria oooooo! Ok? It is not age that will save Nigeria, it is not one’s religion and it is not one’s ethnicity. It is one’s capacity to identify problems and solve them and I think Buhari is the best qualified at this point in time.
CAN led by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, had twice, called for his arrest since the 2011 election. Is there any problem between General Buhari and CAN?
Look, Pastor Oritsejafor is the propaganda chief of the PDP. He lacks credibility…
(Cuts in) As a religious leader?
He is not a religious leader. He is a religious pretender. From his statements, he is a bigot, he is an ethnic irredentist and no one should take him seriously. It is sad that such a person is the head of CAN. So, he can say whatever he wants to say but we know who he is working for, we know who gave him his private jet. So, why should we worry about someone like that? He has zero credibility.
What do you make of the crisis in the ruling PDP of which you were once a member?
Well, I left the PDP long ago, so I don’t know what is happening there. But we read in the papers what is going on and it was bound to happen. The way and manner the PDP is being run, it was bound to happen.
Did you ever imagine that?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! It was a matter of time. It was bound to happen. But those of us in the opposition, are focused at building our own young party and deepening it within the Nigerian political space.
Do you believe the crisis is about 2015 elections?
I don’t know what it is about. As I said, we are focused on our own party building. We really do not care about the PDP and what is going on there.
Do you think the president should drop his presidential ambition if he nurses any?
I think the president as a Nigerian, is entitled to run for any office if the constitution does not ban him. And those of us in opposition really think he is a better candidate because he will be easier to defeat. He has no track record to run on and we will defeat him.
What are your plans for 2015?
I am going to continue to work on building our party at every level and hope that we will present an excellent presidential candidate that will ensure that Jonathan goes back to Otuoke. That is my plan.
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