Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, has said that he has convinced the former Head of State, General Mohammed Buhari (rtd) to contest for the All Progressive Congress (APC) 2015 presidential ticket when the time comes.
Speaking on a radio programme, “Face the Nation,” broadcast on Rockcity 101.9 FM, Abeokuta, yesterday, which was monitored in Lagos, Mallam El-Rufai, who served in the administration of Obasanjo from 2003 to 2007, first as Director General Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and later as Minister of FCT, said that he is almost one hundred per cent certain that Gen. Buhari will contest the next election but it is up to the APC members to make that decision.
“I am one of those who have spent the last few years, trying to convince him, asking him to contest again and I think I have almost convinced him. My hope is that he will throw his hat in the ring as soon as possible. You know he is my candidate and I have not hidden that from anyone,” he said.
Are you satisfied with the quality of opposition that your party is offering, considering the fact that your party has not been able to manage its success and existence?
You see, a political party is not a perfect organisation. It is not a church or a mosque; so don’t look at a political party and expect everyone in the party to be a saint; okay? A political party is a collection of people, which reflects on how society is, but I am confident, without any doubt, that the APC is a much better political party for Nigeria than PDP. We have our problems and challenges. APC is a new party that is a conglomeration of three or four different parties; so there will be issues of how to reconcile all the various interests, but if you look at the quality of governance that is being provided by APC governments, you’ll see that the difference is quite clear.
PDP can only boast of maybe one or two performing governors. On the other hand, APC can boast of 10 or 12 really performing governors. So, the difference is really clear for me and in politics, as it is in most things in life, the issue is not choosing between good or bad or between the perfect and imperfect, but choosing between which is better. In my opinion, by every measure the APC is a much better party that has a much better plan for Nigeria and its future than the PDP of today.
What would you tell those who are saying APC is a conglomerate of strange bedfellows, who are just there with the sole aim of wresting power from PDP?
Yes, at this stage of our political development, every political party is a collection of strange bedfellows with the sole objective of getting powers; okay? The PDP is like that. APC could be said to be like that as well as any political party in Nigeria but the question is: Look at that collection of strange bird fellows and see whether they will make your life better. Go to Lagos and ask the people of Lagos: Has Fashola made their life better? That is the issue, not ideology; not just people sit in their living-rooms and offer opinions. Go to Ogun State and ask whether Governor Amosun has not performed in bringing in infrastructure that Abeokuta (and Ogun State in general) has not seen in 40 years. Go to Ibadan and see what Governor Ajimobi is doing there. Go to Nasarawa and see what Governor Al-Makura is doing. Go to Kano and see how Governor Kwankwaso is transforming the state or go to Rivers. I can go on and on. Go to Imo State, where Rochas Okorocha is doing great things; okay?
This is the point for me. When people pontificate about ideologies, I don’t take them seriously because what Nigeria needs is not ideological leaders at this stage but pragmatic leaders that will deliver on social services, that will give us good, free and qualitative education, health care, build our roads and provide infrastructure and create jobs for our youth. This is what we need. APC governors have proved that they have done these in their states to a reasonable degree. I went to Osun State to conduct the primaries and I was shocked at the amount of work Governor Aregbesola is doing. What he is doing in education and social welfare and health is just amazing. I think this is what Nigerians should look at and not say: Oh! APC is a collection of strange bedfellows.
Every Nigerians are a collection of strange bedfellows, but for those that may want to know the difference between the APC and the PDP, go and look at our road map that we published in March 2014 and look at our leaders. I throw this challenge: Is there anyone in the PDP that can boast of the integrity credentials of General Buhari? There is none. We have people in the APC of such quality. There’s no one in the PDP that can claim to be as competent as Gov. Raji Fashola. There’s none. I can go on and on and give you examples, to show that we are not only different from the PDP but we are better and bigger and we have people of competence and integrity, people that have shown the competence to solve problems, not to sit and loot public funds, which is what the PDP is good at.
People are waiting for the first major test for the APC, the presidential primaries in particular. Permutations are on about who will get it and all sort. What should Nigeria expect?
Look, the APC is just conducting it congress to select its leader for its state and national offices. All these speculations about candidates are neither here nor there. It is a design by the PDP to distract us. The first time this story of Tinubu and Buhari thing came out was in THISDAY newspaper, which is known to be sympathetic to the PDP and Jonathan government. So, I will like to appeal to people to stop believing all this rumours. The truth is that today, there is no one in the APC that has declared for any office. Okay? General Buhari has not said he is running. Asiwaju Tinubu has not said he is running. None of the other names being mentioned has said he is running for any office in 2015. It is all PDP-driven speculations to distract us and create crisis in the party.
As far as I am concerned, I want to see two people, one for presidency and another for vice presidency that would move Nigeria forward. If they are both Christians or Muslims or Buddhist, Hindus or Jews, I don’t care how they worship God. I believe in one God. I worship God in my own way. I don’t ask other people to worship God the way I worship God. I think religion is a private matter; it has nothing to do with one’s performance in public office.
Once upon a time, specifically from 1979, in the South-west, Alhaji Lateef Jakande was governor of Lagos Sate, his deputy was Alhaji Jafojo. Both of them were Muslims. In Oyo State. there was Governor Bola Ige. His deputy was S.M Afolabi and both of them were Christians. It was the same story all over the South-west. In Sokoto State, it was a Muslim-Muslim ticket and so also was in Kaduna State, even with its high Christian population, no one raised any eye-brow then but today, the situation is different. How did we get to this point?
I can even give you more examples. Throughout the years of the civil war, Gen. Gowon, the head of state, was a Christian and his deputy, Akinwale Wey, was a Christian; nobody noticed. In the administration of Gen. Buhari, Buhari and Idiagbon, his deputy, were both Muslims; nobody commented. In 1979, Chief Obafemi Awolowo picked his running mate, Chief Phillip Umeadi from the South-east; both were Christians and nobody complained. In 1993, Chief Moshood Abiola picked Alaji Babagana Kingibe, another Muslim-Muslim ticket, and that’s the ticket that actually won the election. So, if you ask me where and how Nigeria got to this point, I will blame it pure and square on Goodluck Jonathan. It is Goodluck Jonathan more than anybody.
But Goodluck Jonathan has only ruled this country for about four years?
Yes, he started it! He started using religion, as an instrument of political division. It is in the Goodluck Jonathan administration that the president of Nigeria goes to churches and makes policy announcements. He is the only president of Nigeria that goes to religious gatherings and makes public policy announcements. It is deliberate and they are spending a lot of money in churches to bring division, to give the impression that PDP is the party for Christians, with the hope that he can buy Muslim political leaders in the North and they have a large amount of money to do that. All this religious divisions are contrived for political gains and it is unfortunate that leaders who have responsibility to protect and project the constitution are doing this, as a matter of deliberate tactics.
We have documents; we have proofs to show that. That is the strategy of Jonathan’s administration, but they will fail because Nigerians are too smart for that. Nigerians know those that steal their public funds and claim to be religious on Sundays and Fridays. They know they (Nigerians) can no longer be fooled. Nigerians need jobs and whoever provides these jobs, whether he’s Christian or Muslim, they will take the job. Nigerians need good schools, good hospitals and good roads. They are looking for those that give them these things, whatever the religion. They (Nigerians) are going to defeat the bigots that promote these divisions in the next election by God’s grace.
You are known to be very close to Gen. Buhari. Please, tell us: Is he contesting for the APC primaries for 2015 presidential race?
I am almost one hundred per cent certain that Gen. Buhari will contest the next election but it is up to the APC members to make that decision. I am one of those who have spent the last few years, trying to convince him, asking him to contest again and I think I have almost convinced him. My hope is that he will throw his hat in the ring as soon as possible. You know he is my candidate and I have not hidden that from anyone.
Let’s look at Obasanjo’s tenure. Some people believed that he worked with good hands, like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu, Oby Ezekweseli and you. Now, you blamed Jonathan for some problems, yet Okonjo-Iweala is still the same person, managing the economy. What do you say?
Ngozi did not manage the economy then. It was an economic team and we are all members, we jointly contributed in managing the economy. It wasn’t one person and I think that’s one of the things now missing. The fact that now, there is no strong team; there is no team in the cabinet of Jonathan. We jointly contributed to manage the economy. Now, there is no strong team. They are not working together. Ngozi called herself coordinating minister; she is not coordinating anything. She has no control over what is going on in the NNPC and the petroleum ministry, the source of 80 per cent of what comes into the economy. If you call yourself the coordinating minister and you cannot control that sector, what are you then coordinating?
There is a clear difference that there is no team now. The team is not together. Secondly, in our time, we had the advantage of strong leadership. President Obasanjo understood the issues. He provided strong leadership. He provided strong leadership in economic matters and gave us, the technocrats, a free hand to do the brainstorming and policy formulations and once we sell the idea to him, he moves on with you for the implementation. He protected us from politics and politicians; this is non-existent now. Jonathan neither understood the issues nor capable of providing that strong leadership to support the economic managers. This is the problem. Look at what happened to Sanusi Lamido, the former Central Bank Governor (now Emir of Kano). He was one important leg in economic management but just because he complained that revenues were leaking and going where they shouldn’t go, he was removed. Sanusi was probably the most credible person in that government but look at what happened to him.
You cannot have even a functioning economy when you do not have a solid team and those that are trying hard to get things done get threatened and intimidated out of office while those that are presiding over the looting of the treasury are the ones that are celebrated. In the president’s live media chat, he spent minutes defending the petroleum minister. One tree cannot make a forest. It is the whole content, the teamwork and quality of the leadership that goes in to provide the result. All these do not exist in this government under Jonathan; it is zero.
Sanusi Lamido is believed to be close to some of you in APC leadership and sympathetic to the party. He was accused of leaking documents and information about government to your party?
That is absolutely nonsense; those that say that about Sanusi Lamido do not know him. I have known him since we were teenagers. He is a fiercely loyal and dedicated public servant. He is a grandson of an Emir, so he is brought up to understand the dynamics of power and the meaning of loyalty. He is not a member of APC; he’s never sympathetic. I do not want to go into details but those that are accusing him of that know what he has done to help them. The problem with this government is that anytime you look at them and tell them the truth or what they do not want to hear, they will tag you, they smear you; they will give you names. The easiest one is that he is APC sympathiser, he is an opposition, and they will say he is Boko Haram’s sympathiser. They have all kinds of tags; they blame everyone, except themselves; yet, they are the most incompetent, most incapable, most corrupt administration we have ever had in Nigeria’s history.
I am as old and even older than Nigeria. I have never seen anybody that is so incapable of doing anything to further the public interest like this kind of collection of people that constitute this government; yet, they are quick to blame others and tag them and frame them instead of facing the reality that the business requires you to spend sleepless night working for the people. Instead, they spend nights sleeping and stealing and the moment anybody says: ‘you are not doing well’, they are quick to give you names and use anonymous people on the internet to attack you as if that will change the fact.
Shortly after leaving office in 2010, people like you, including Nuhu Ribadu, began to have problems with the Yar’Adua administration up till now. What do you think happened and did you feel you stepped on toes?
Look, it is the nature of public service in Nigeria; once you go in and you want to do the right thing, you will step on toes because there are vested interests that do not want Nigeria to make progress and if you want to make Nigeria to progress, you have to confront those vested interests. Certainly, I am sure we stepped on toes. I don’t care which toes. I don’t remember which but we had all kinds of problems when we left office. I have had more problems than Ribadu, who has worked with this government. I have never had anything to do with this government because I think it is just a toxic, corrupt and non-performing government. I choose to go for the opposition. I was not expelled from the PDP. I looked at the party and realised that their interest was to destroy this country; so, I left. It is in the nature of political life in Africa that if you are in the opposition, you are harassed, threatened and tagged but I have made that conscious choice and I stick by it.
Whether we step on toes or not, every Nigerian that knows what we did when we were in government knows that we tried to do what was in the best interest of Nigeria. Yes, some people will not be happy and that’s their business. I will do it again and again if given the chance.
How can former President Obasanjo be absolved of the present situation Nigeria finds itself?
No, he can’t be absolved. The fact that he is the president that handed over to Yar’Adua and Jonathan, he cannot be fully absolved. Of course, he may have his reasons. Some people attribute bad motives; some think he made a big mistake. I think the truth is somewhere in-between, but what Nigeria is going through right now is a direct result of decisions and actions, omission or commission by President Obasanjo; no doubt about it and I think he is aware of this and that is why he wrote that long letter to try to begin to distance himself from the administration. He is consciously aware of this. I don’t think at this point, Nigeria needs blaming him because at this point, we have a serious problem. I think we should move away from finger-pointing, but ask ourselves: ‘how do we solve this problem?’
With his years of experience, intelligence and contacts, how can people like him be deployed to solve this problem, to get us out of the ditch Jonathan has dragged us into? I think this is a more relevant question than to say: ‘Oh! President Obasanjo has imposed Yar’Adua and Jonathan and so he is responsible for what is happening.’ He may have been the instrument but the decisions and actions taken while they are in office is theirs and they have to be held responsible. You can give a person power but you can’t teach him how to use the power. I think we should focus on how we can get out of the grand-mess Jonathan has put this country into.
Is it also right for President Obasanjo to distance himself from the PDP and Jonathan administration?
It is his choice. No matter how close you are to a person, no matter how friendly, even if he is your blood relation, if you advise him once, twice, three times, 10 times and he refuses to take your advice, it is your prerogative to say: ‘I have given up, you don’t take my advice, you don’t listen to me, you want to do things your own way and we are being seen together, people will think we are doing this things together and you decide, it’s time to put a distance between us.’ I think that is what President Obasanjo is doing. It is legitimate because his letter clearly showed that he has given President Jonathan advice on many fronts – political and otherwise, and Jonathan has ignored that. So, are you just going to stick around and be considered to be part of the problem, I think President Obasanjo is doing the right thing by washing his hands off Jonathan.
Nigeria is said to be at the brink of collapse, as the Boko Haram crisis is threatening the country and some people have blamed the Northern elite for this. You are one of the elite; what do you think?
It is absolute nonsense, absolute nonsense, whether you are looking at the root of Boko Haram, which we believe is as a result of poverty, unemployment and lack of education. The current situation is that government has failed to provide security. There is no way you can blame Northern elite for this; rather it is military and the Nigerian elite that are culpable for this situation. The current situation emerged because this government of Jonathan refused to address the issue of Boko Haram early enough before it became a serious problem. They refused to do so intentionally because they believe that it’s okay for Northerners to kill Northerners. They believe it is a Northern problem. There is no way you can blame Northern elite; every Nigerian elite is culpable in this case.
So, the current situation emerged, as I said, because this government refused to address the issue early enough before it becomes this serious and they refused to do so intentionally because they believe that it is okay for northerners to kill northerners. They believe it is a northern problem, which will not affect them. In fact, an adviser to the President said this in June 2011, that if northerners want to kill themselves, the government will do everything to help them. So, there is a deliberate effort to allow this thing to go out of control because Jonathan government thought this is a northern problem. They don’t know that if your neighbour is hungry and he cannot sleep well at night, the fallout of his hunger and sleeplessness will affect your own peace. Since we are one country, these things have a way of affecting everybody.
When a Boko Haram bomber explodes a bomb in Kano or Yanyan or Maiduguri, it is not only northerners that get killed. It is anybody that happens to be there that get killed. This is what the Jonathan administration did not realise in good time. Boko Haram has been around for a long time. They never attacked. They didn’t fight anyone until the Yar’Adua administration killed their leader Mohammed Yussuf. They were a fringe Islamic group with an interpretation of Islam that is weird to many of us Muslims but they were doing their own thing and were never a threat to anyone, but when government confronted them, instead of arresting and putting them in court and properly convicting him (Yussuf); they decided to extra-judicially execute him, along with his in-laws and two others. Of course, the Boko Haram remnants decided that since the government cannot even obey its own laws, they would take the laws into our own hands. That was the beginning of the whole problem.
The Jonathan government refused to do anything and now they are turning round to blame northern elites. Anytime anyone of us suggest to government: ‘address the problem this way,’ you are tagged a Boko Haram sympathiser. What do you expect us to do? We folded our arms, left them to solve the problem their own way and now it has got to a point whereby it is clear that they are incapable of solving it. They are disgracing this country by inviting foreigners. I think it is a shame that Nigeria, the biggest country in Africa with one of the most potent armies that went to other countries to established peace, from Sierra Leone to Liberia, Rwanda, Congo and so on, cannot defend itself against a ragtag collection of untrained people called Boko Haram. It is a disgrace.
Can the Boko Haram we have now still be called a local insurgence when other known established terrorist groups have joined them?
Perhaps! Perhaps!! But this was not the situation three or four years ago when it should have been nipped in the bud. It was the incompetence of this government that allowed it to grow and fester.