Last week, Kaduna Sate governor Mallam Nasir el-Rufai made a strange incursion into Lagos politics. After a rather forgettable, anodyne presentation before the Bridge Club in posh Ikoyi Island, the Kaduna governor was fed a question from one of his newest lackeys, Muiz Banire. The question centered on godfatherism in Lagos politics. El-Rufai pontificated that he had the formula to end godfatherism in Lagos. If Lagosians would follow his advice, presumably they would be rewarded with a governor just like him.
Too narcissistic to understand the irony of what he was proposing, El-Rufai left Lagos quite full on himself, not realising Lagosians would consider a governor like him to be a most unjust punishment. If El-Rufai were to ever present himself in Lagos for any elective office, Lagosians would resoundingly reject the offer, sending the self-absorbed El-Rufai quickly packing.
Here two observations must be stated. One is clearly implied by el-Rufai’s statement; his was an attack on Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the acknowledged national leader of the APC and architect of the APC’s Lagos political structure. The other is less clear but equally pertinent. This scene was contrived. Both the question from Banire and the answer from el-Rufai were premeditated. This was not an organic, spontaneous exchange. The whole thing bears the taint of orchestrated mischief.
The question then becomes why would el-Rufai break the norms of political conduct by coming into the state of a loyal leader of his own party for the sole purpose of criticising that leader who just weeks earlier had supported his hotly contested re-election in Kaduna? The true answer has little to do with the presence or absence of godfatherism in Lagos politics. El-Rufai barely cares for the people of Kaduna let alone for the well-being of Lagos. Something else which el-Rufai would rather not name was stirring his bile. We shall identify it for him. Half of the true answer has to do with the short memory of a political ingrate. He remembers nothing done for him which means he owes no political debts. The other half of that answer deals with the unbridled presidential ambitions of that political ingrate.
el-Rufai wakes every morning and probably several times during the restless night with the taste of the presidency on his mouth; he probably chants it in his sleep. For him, being governor of Kaduna has always been nothing more than a place holder. He took the position because it was the best available platform from which to launch his future presidential aspirations. This is why he does not devote himself to dealing with the nuanced and hard problems affecting his state. He adopts a cavalier attitude to everything except his presidential ambitions which he nurses like a tender flower.
Because his heart is not there and his devotion is to himself and not his people, he takes harsh, rash decisions that convenience him as they belittle and batter the people he claims to lead. Thus, he functions more as a mean overlord than a compassionate governor and servant of the people. The book that he wrote “Accidental Civil Servant” is a misnomer by two thirds. While we will give him the benefit of the doubt on being accidental, there is nothing civil or of a selfless servant to the man. He is a furnace of burning personal ambition and self-aggrandizement. This makes him a most ruthless and dangerous man regarding the progress of a nation such as ours.
Although we are not yet finished with 2019, el-Rufai is positioning himself for 2023. He sees Asiwaju as the lead contender for 2023 and thus the major obstacle to realising his ambition. Because of this, his prior envy for Tinubu’s political feats has transformed into bristling hatred. He thus sails into Lagos to insult Asiwaju and by extension all Lagosians because he cannot contain his anger. That his public attack against a fellow party member contravenes the morals of political conduct and may serve to alienate him from the people of Lagos means nothing to el-Rufai.
Although a man well into maturity in terms of age and formal education, he has never been able to contain his rage and anger. Age and education can little compensate for character. El-Rufai must plunge and start a fight where none exists. Restraint is alien to him. He must ignite his own switch. If Asiwaju had owned property in Kaduna, el-Rufai would have bulldozed it. It was rumoured that el-Rufai threatened to drive a bulldozer to Lagos himself but was restrained by frightened advisors. Instead, he had to satisfy himself with hurling words at Tinubu.
That el-Rufai is captive to such wild paroxysms is a warning. Tinubu has not made known any future ambitions he may have. It is equally conceivable that Tinubu will not seek the 2023 party nomination as it is that he will. Yet, el-Rufai has cast Tinubu as a mortal enemy simply because the latter may one day exercise his constitutional right to seek office. el-Rufai thus is not looking at the 2023 as an exercise of democratic expression. He sees it as some sort of birthright that at all others should recognize and concede to him as if by the force of some immutable if unnamed ordinance.
Against this backdrop, el-Rufai’s supposed opposition to godfatherism is another point of irony. el-Rufai is nothing but the by-product of political miseducation by his two godfathers, Atiku Abubakar and former president Olusegun Obasanjo. From them, he learned the traits that would characterise his political career. He learned adherence to regressive, elitist politics and policies, disloyalty, greed and the placement of personal ambition above collective well-being. The sad thing is that e-Rufai learned from this terrible twosome all too well.
To be loyal to the wicked craft into which they had baptized him, el-Rufai had to be disloyal to his former masters. After ingratiating himself to Atiku to get a choice federal appointment, el-Rufai later backstabbed Atiku so that he could jump into the bosom of Obasanjo. When Obasanjo did not anoint him in 2007, el-Rufai turned to savage Obasanjo by writing that tattletale book of his. el-Rufai tried to angle close to the late President Yar‘Adua who was smart enough to rebuff him. Before then, el-Rufai had been one of the PDP’s most vocal cheerleaders. It was Yar’Adua’s rebuff that led him out of the PDP, into the CPC and now into the APC.
In all his political travels, el-Rufai has been unencumbered by the principle or ideology. The thirst for power is what fuels him. A man who flirts with many parties, is a man who is nothing but a party of one. el-Rufai is no more of the APC than he was of the PDP. He is of and for himself only. When the time comes, he will prove no better than Saraki, Tambuwal and Dogara. This explains why he can publicly attack a leader of the party when that leader has done nothing to him. Thus, he seeks to be the flag bearer of the party by starting fights within the party. And from such a warped mind, the mercenary Banire seeks advice on how to improve politics in Lagos?
El-Rufai is the last person to coach Lagosians on state governance and how to mobilise the electorate. In the 2015 election, e-Rufai won 1.1 million votes. His opponent gained little over 400,000. He won by roughly 700,000, a landslide. That was before people came to know him. In 2019, after four years of seeing the true character of their governor, the people did not engulf him in a tidal wave of adulation. El-Rufai did not gain more supporters. He lost some of what he had. Meanwhile, the vote for his opposition roughly doubled to over 800,000. Nearly 400,000 more people voted in Kaduna in 2019 than in 2015. All of the new votes were cast against El-Rufai. Equipped with the full arsenal of incumbency, he won Kaduna by only 200,000 votes.
el-Rufai’s track record and imperious demeanour actually did mobilise people. The problem was that they mobilised new voters against him. He managed to provoke many who did not vote in 2015 to come out against him this year. The more the Kaduna electorate sees of el-Rufai, the more they dislike him. By this trend, he garners 100,000 new opponents per year. By any measure, if El-Rufai is a political magician, he is that rare breed that invokes magic against his very self.
el-Rufai’s stock has fallen as a natural result of his treatment of his citizens. He has not spurred much development. But he has encouraged division and disunity in his state. Kaduna is a strategically important, demographically diverse state. However, el-Rufai has ignored its many complexities. He has played rough with his people, bulldozing everything and everyone not paying obeisance to him. Under el- Rufai, religious and ethnic tensions have mounted in the state. He brought the state APC chapter to tatters.
His mean, acidic style of governance has contributed to turmoil and tension. Along with Lagos and a few other states, Kaduna should be leading the way regarding peace and harmony. Instead it is stricken with violence. But el-Rufai continues with his crude utterances that inflame rather than moderate the tension and violence.
In reality, el-Rufai is the worst person to ask question about political godfathers. He has learned politics from two of Nigeria’s worst. Theirs was an education where the elder eats its young or vice versa; in any event, a devouring must take place. el- Rufai has mastered this game but his mastery of it should not be mistaken for knowledge of democratic good governance. What he has learned are but the pathologies of a medieval court not the enlightenment of modern democracy.
•Nasheed, a Public Affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.