Caged: Inside the power tussle that consumed El-Rufai
Nasir El-Rufai, former governor of Kaduna State


Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the immediate past Kaduna state governor, has found himself outside the power loop after spearheading the push by the North West zone for Bola Tinubu presidency, perhaps, in furtherance of his own personal agenda and ambition.

After being nominated and screened by the Senate, he is one of the three nominees the senate did not approve citing adverse security reports. For a man like El- Rufai it was a political humiliation of incalculable proportion.

In 2006, El-Rufai, then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, alongside Nuhu Ribadu, then chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), allegedly penned a 24-year plan on how to achieve presidential power, allegedly using State Security Service (SSS), EFCC, manipulation of census figures to ensure that the objective is realised.

Their then principal, Olusegun Obasanjo, was billed to hand over power in 2007, and it was no secret that the duo, young and ambitious at 46, had eyes on the presidency, even though Obasanjo snubbed them. But while Ribadu tried his hands under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011, El-Rufai kept his ambition close to his chest, apparently waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Today, however, 16 long years on, and eight years to the set target, the ambition has pitted the two actors against each other, with Ribadu seemingly getting the upper hand, and El-Rufai exiled from the corridors of power, in the most humiliating manner; what Business Hallmark gathered was a high level conspiracy involving Ribadu, now National Security Advisor to President Bola Tinubu; Femi Gbajabiamila, chief of staff to the President, and strangely, too, some have said, Senator Uba Sani, his anointed successor in Kaduna.

El-Rufai was instrumental to the emergence of Tinubu as president, leading a rebellion against plots by Muhammadu Buhari, the immediate past president, among few others, to retain power in the North – even if some analysts argue that he initially favoured Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers State governor, as Buhari’s successor.

“He stood up to Buhari’s cabal on Tinubu’s behalf at a time when few people within the circles of power were willing to stick out their necks for a presidential wannabe,” notes Farooq Kperogi, U.S based professor of journalism and columnist.

But in what was perhaps the first sign of what was to come, Tinubu, despite personally visiting the former Kaduna governor in the lead up to the February presidential election to beg him to shelve his planned doctoral studies abroad and work with him – during which he infamously said he had the capacity to “turn a rotten situation into a bad one,” – first overlooked him in his appointment of secretary to government and chief of staff.

El-Rufai had, perhaps, as a way of communicating to the president that he wanted a more prominent role in his government, argued that he wouldn’t want another ministerial role more than a decade after serving as one. To this extent, some observers, particularly Shehu Sani, former Kaduna Central senator and a sworn political enemy of the former governor, were quick to point out that the appointment of George Akume as SGF, and Gbajabiamila as CoS, was a message to El-Rufai.

Regardless, Tinubu eventually nominated him as a minister, but on that call too, the rest is already history. Of the 48 ministerial nominees of Tinubu, only El-Rufai, Stella Okotete from Delta and Senator Abubakar Danladi from Taraba State, did not pass senate screening, and of the three, the former governor’s fate is one subject to much controversy.

“Sure, El-Rufai is a detestable, self-important, unfeeling, overweening, and divisive political villain whom I once called the most dangerous Nigerian politician alive, but he is more central to Tinubu’s emergence as president than the people on whose behalf Tinubu has thrown him under the bus,” wrote Kperogi in a piece last week.

A highly controversial figure, the seeming obvious reason for El-Rufai’s disqualification by the senate, even after initially getting security clearance, is an alleged security report by the DSS, and Ribadu, the NSA, urging the lawmakers not to confirm him.

The former governor obviously carries a lot of baggage, with many miffed by his handling of ethnic and sectarian clashes that overshadowed most of his tenure as a two-term governor, while others also warned Tinubu of his propensity for corruption and betrayal of allies, but sources say the security report was a mere smoke screen, as the real reason for his humiliation is power tussle, which has seen Gbajabiamila and Ribadu reportedly team up with a view to running a joint ticket either in 2027 or 2031.

“What is playing out is that Ribadu and Gbajabiamila want to succeed Tinubu,” a close source, who craved anonymity said.

“You know Ribadu is from the northeast, which would certainly be demanding a shot after Tinubu. The idea is that if Tinubu is unfit to run for second term, Gbajabiamila will take the ticket with Ribadu as his running mate. On the other hand, if Tinubu stays in office for eight years, Ribadu will be candidate and Gbajabiamila as running mate.

“They see El-Rufai, who is also ambitious, as a threat to their quest, hence the plot against him. The idea is to push him out of the equation, but my take is that it may backfire because El-Rufai may end up being the rallying figure in the north, as Tinubu’s governments inevitably becomes unpopular, that is, should the court spare him.”

Indeed, while many within the APC had tried to intervene with a view to brokering peace between him and Ribadu, he opted out of the ministerial role, perhaps knowing what is at stake, and has since returned to his usual social media tantrums, which may be a pointer to what his pastime would be for the duration of Tinubu’s presidency.

In a apparent reference to the events that played out in Aso Rock, El-Rufai, who has since departed Nigeria for Egypt, from where he was expected to visit Europe on a study trip, on Sunday last week, dropped what he described as ‘nuggets’ on his Twitter handle, reminding his over 2.3 million followers of his love for Bob Marley’s 1976 hit, ‘Who the Cap Fit’, and urged his followers to “enjoy your Sunday with the song and lyrics that are timeless.”

He posted the full lyrics of the songs and the YouTube links:

“Man to man is so unjust, children

Ya don’t know who to trust

Your worst enemy could be your best friend

And your best friend, your worse enemy

Some will eat and drink with you

(Some will eat and drink with you)

Then behind them su-su ‘pon you

Then behind them su-su ‘pon you)

Only your friend know your secrets

So only he could reveal it

And who the cap fit, let them wear it!

Who the cap fit, let them wear it!”

His political foe, Senator Sani, who has been at the forefront of warning Tinubu against giving him a role in his government, quickly took credit for what has become his fate, boasting that he had turned him into a reggae musician.

Yet, the following day, Monday, El-Rufai dropped another song, which he called ‘Monday Melody,’ Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time, which he said was the official opening track of the Los Angeles Olympics, and “remains a classic and one of my favorites. Enjoy this Monday morning the inspiring lyrics.”

Still, on Tuesday, he also intervened in the Niger Republic impasse, warning that ECOWAS’s impending military intervention in Niger will be a civil war between brothers.

He said, “TUESDAY THOUGHT: As ECOWAS beats the drums of war, I recall the 1970s rock classic by Dire Straits – ‘Brothers in Arms’ because a war within our subregion is a war between brothers.

“Indeed, the people of Niger Republic are one and the same with those living in Northern Nigeria. Let us bend, therefore, over backwards to avoid this civil war between brothers.”

El-Rufai’s comeuppance?

The former Kaduna governor has the sympathy of few neutral observers, as many argue that he got what he deserved, given his history of alleged betrayal of benefactors.

For instance, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar brought him to the national limelight by giving him a job as the DG of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, but he turned against Atiku and publicly denied any debt to him for his rise to political prominence.

This was after he found a new benefactor in Obasanjo, who fell out with Atiku. El-Rufai, allegedly met with the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and the UK High Commissioner on September 21 2006 “under instruction” from President Obasanjo to inform them of and seek their blessing to deny Atiku Abubakar the chance to succeed Obasanjo.

But he equally subsequently betrayed Obasanjo, who in an article in 2017, described him as a worse than a malicious liar.

“I should bring up my comments on Nasir el-Rufai here because of the greatest insult he piled on me by the comment he ascribed to me in his book, The Accidental Public Servant, on the issue of third term,” Obasanjo wrote in the 2017 article, in response to the uncomplimentary remarks made by El-Rufai in his book.

“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 recognized his weaknesses; the worst being his inability to be loyal to anybody or any issue consistently for long, but only to Nasir el-Rufai.

“He bare-facedly 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.”

“A leader must know the character and ability of his subordinates. Character wise, Nasir has not much going for him. But he is a talented young man, who can always deliver under close supervision. So, when Osita Chijoka approached me, among others, propping Nasir as my possible successor, believing that whoever I supported would make it, which was a false belief; I did not hesitate to point to Nasir’s naivety and immaturity, talk less of his inability to give honour to whom honour is due.”

“My vivid recollection of him is penchant for lying, for unfair embellishment of stories and his inability to sustain loyalty for long. Two years after I had left office, Osita came to me to confirm how right I was on my assessment and judgment of Nasir. I knew what I could make him to achieve and he achieved it for my administration and for the country.

“I believe that he can still be used in public service but under guidance and sufficient oversight, making allowance for the psychology of ‘his petit size and his elephantine brain’. He was described as a malicious liar. He was more than that; he is a pathological purveyor of untruths and half-truths with little or no regard for integrity. In all of this, he unwittingly does more harm than good to himself. Of all his claims and what he credited against me in his book, referred to above, only one is partially true.”

Indeed, while the former Kaduna governor was part of Buhari’s core loyalists while he was president, he would last year, lead a rebellion against the former president’s quest to anoint his successor, which paved the way for Tinubu.

A cat with nine lives?

El-Rufai may have since accepted what many say is his deserved faith – even as there are indications that Muhammadu Sanusi II, the 14th Emir of Kano is presently intervening to bring him back as minister – but this will not be the first time he will be fought over his would-be presidential ambition, but he has overtime proved to be a cat with nine lives.

In 2006, Obasanjo, having seen his alleged third term dream fade away, and the idea of power remaining in the south with Peter Odili, then Rivers State governor as would be front-runner, fought spiritedly by the same duo of Ribadu and El-Rufai, had opted for a more malleable Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, then governor of Katsina State and younger brother of his late friend, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, as his successor.

Upon taking power, Yar’Adua, considering him as a threat, it was gathered, turned against him. But as faith would have it, he eventually died and Goodluck Jonathan, then vice president, took power.

Jonathan, El-Rufai would allege in a recent interview, also fought him because he was advised that he constituted a threat to his presidency.

In the 2021 interview with The Point, El-Rufai said while Yar’Adua humiliated him because he felt ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was considering him as his successor, Jonathan persecuted him because he believed he was a threat to his second term.

“Jonathan was convinced by his own circle too that I was a threat and that if he was going for a second term of office, he had to take me out of the race. And so, Jonathan continued the persecution that Yar’adua started,” he had said.

“I have been associated with running for President, as I said, since 2005, 2006, about 15 years. I’ve suffered for this, I’ve even been exiled for it and Jonathan tried to put me in prison for it.

“My name being mentioned with regard to presidential aspiration has been on since 2006, when I was running the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. People were speculating that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo was preparing to hand over to me. It was part of the reasons I was exiled. Late President Yar’adua was told, according to those around him, that Obasanjo shortlisted two names to succeed him – Yar’Adua’s name and mine. It was totally false.

“But Yar’adua believed that, and he thought that I was a threat, and all the hullabaloo, lies and persecution that got me exiled for 23 months were as a result of that.”

But after suffering what he described as persecution in the hands of Yar’Adua and Jonathan, El-Rufai returned to prominence, becoming governor of Kaduna in 2015, on the back of Buhari’s popularity in the North, and the following he built by taunting Jonathan on Twitter.

Boasting about how he overcame Yar’Adua and Jonathan during an APC stakeholders meeting in Kaduna in 2017, amid a rift between him on one hand, with then senators Shehu Sani and Sulaiman Hunkuyi, he warned his political opponents not to fight him, saying when Yar’Adua fought him, he died.

“I had fought with two presidents,” he had said. “Umaru Yar’Adua ended in his grave, while President Goodluck Jonathan ended in Otueke.”

He has returned to the social media platform, now known as X, and appear set to return to his old taunting game ahead of next round of elections.


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