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Mallam El-Rufai day of reckoning arrives?

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Mallam El-Rufai day of reckoning arrives?

When Mallam Nasir El-Rufai hosted Bola Tinubu on the occasion of the seventh Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit (KADInvest) in October 2022, and two months later, was at Chatham House, London to answer questions on behalf of the then-presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), not even his biggest adversary could have imagined that two years down the road, with Tinubu as president, he would be out of the power loop and in a political wilderness.

Yet, for the immediate past governor of Kaduna State, things have only gotten worse since he was snubbed by the Tinubu administration in the most humiliating manner last year. He’s now facing a probe over his alleged financial recklessness by the state assembly. Again, not an outcome he would have anticipated from the government of Senator Uba Sani, his handpicked successor whom he worked tirelessly to ensure his emergence in the controversial governorship election of March 18, 2023.

But, perhaps, no politician in the contemporary political history of Nigeria have played the game of loyalty and betrayal like the ex-Kaduna governor, who wasted no time to throw former vice President, Atiku Abubakar and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, both of whom were instrumental to his emergence in the public service scene, under the bus, when it served his interest to do so.

Today, the game of political betrayal appears to have come full circle for the Mallam, in what close Aso Rock sources told Business Hallmark, is part of a ploy by certain political interest in Abuja to keep him in check in the interest of their own political ambitions post Tinubu presidency.

“What is happening to El-Rufai is just power play,” said a source, who craved anonymity. “Remember when he was screened out by the senate after being nominated as a minister by Tinubu. It was the office of the national security adviser headed by Nuhu Ribadu that wrote to say he was a security threat, and convinced Tinubu to drop him. It’s about 2027 or 2031, depending. Ribadu is interested and so is the vice president, Shettima. Both are from Northeast and reason is that El-Rufai from Northwest, who despite his baggage, is popular with the extremist elements in the North, is a huge threat.”

El-Rufai was to be an influential figure in the Tinubu government; part of the inner circle many had expected, but the first sign that things had gone amiss was when he was snubbed by the new president in the appointment of secretary to government and chief of staff. Several onlookers had penciled him down for either of the two roles, thus, when they went to Senator George Akume and Femi Gbajabiamila, respectively, a red flag had effectively been raised and that was when Shehu Sani, former Kaduna Central Senator began to taunt the man, who had crippled him politically.

Senator Sani and El-Rufai fell deeply apart over the former refusal, along with his then Kaduna North and Kaduna South counterparts in the 8th senate, Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi and Danjuma La’ah, to grant the latter’s request for senate approval to obtain $350m loan from the World Bank in 2018.

Senator Sani, who was the chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Domestic Loans, had argued that the loan, if approved, would erode economic viability of the already heavily indebted state, a position supported by Hunkuyi and La’ah, which compelled the senate to decline its approval for the loan; a development that made El-Rufai furious.

He cursed the senators to no end, dismissing them as as ”enemies of the state, the people and the All Progressive Congress.” And using his influence as governor, he made sure that neither Hunkuyi or Sani returned to the senate in 2019, with only La’ah in the PDP, who is from the South, a zone the then governor had the least influence, returning to complete eight years in the Red Chamber before bowing out in 2023 for Senator Sunday Marshall Katung.

El-Rufai did, however, later obtain the loan after ensuring the ouster of Hunkuyi and Sani and their replacement by more loyal Suleiman Abdu Kwari and Uba Sani, now governor of the state, respectively. But in a manner now termed illegal by the State House of Assembly, which has begun probing his administration.

On April 15, the assembly constituted a committee to probe the finances of the state under El-Rufai, two weeks after Governor Sani, lamented that his administration inherited a debt of $587 million, N85 billion, and 115 contractual liabilities from the El-Rufai administration, signalling the commencement of a political rift between the two, one observers say is part of a larger push by interest group at Aso Rock to cripple the former governor politically.

“Gov. Sani is genuinely frustrated by the finances of the state and debts he inherited,” said the Aso Rock source. “But he won’t have been that frontal against El-Rufai under normal circumstances, that’s my take. However, El-Rufai began making moves to position himself to challenge Tinubu, and that’s why he was given the greenlight to begin the probe his administration is doing now.”

The assembly committee was tasked with looking at loans, grants, and project implementation from 2015 to 2023, and has since began its work.

A fortnight ago, it said it will thoroughly examine transactions spanning from May 29, 2015, to May 29, 2023, as it wrote to the state ministry of finance to provide information “on all financial activities during the tenure of the ex-governor Nasir El-Rufai, who led Kaduna from 2015 to 2023.”

Sakinatu Idris, the Assembly Clerk, sent the formal request to the Finance Commissioner for the provision of all necessary memos and documents concerning financial activities spanning from May 2015 to May 2023.

In the correspondence, the House instructed the ministry to send all transaction specifics to the investigative committee established to scrutinize the financial activities, loans, and contract undertakings approved during El-Rufai’s tenure.

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“I am directed to request that you forward to the Ad-Hoc Committee Memorandum the under-listed documents and all other documents you consider relevant to the assignment of the Committee:

“Total Loans from May 2015 to May 2023 with the approvals of the Kaduna State House of Assembly, the Accounts into which the loans were lodged and drawn as recorded by Project Finance Management Unit (PFMU) & Debt Management Office (DMO).

“Relevant State Executive Council Minutes of meetings, Council’s Extracts and Resolutions with regards to the LOANS. (c) Payments and Outstanding Liabilities to Contractors from May, 2015-May, 2023.

“Reports of Salaries paid to Staff from 2016-2022. (e) Dloyd Reports on KADRIS from 2015 to 2023. (ii) Terms, Purpose and Conditions on those LOANS. (iii) Appropriation items related to the LOANS. (iv) All Records of payments made to all Contractors engaged by the State Government and relevant documents from May 2015 to May 2023 including Bank Statements.

“(v)Modalities for payments of contracts. (vi) Documents of all payments made to the contractors. (vii) Sales of Government Houses/Properties and Accounts the proceeds were lodged and how the money was expended.

“Thirty (30) copies of the Memo/documents should reach the office of the Clerk to the Legislature on or before Thursday, 25th April 2024 by 10:00 am, please. 4. Accept the highest regards of my office, please.”

For Senator Sani, who maintains that the $350 million World Bank loan was sourced through fraud because the 8th National Assembly did not approve of it, the assembly probe is a vindication and couldn’t have come at a better time.

“There should be full-scale investigation on how the state got that $350 million. Another issue is how the money was expended,” he told journalists on the sidelines of Prince Emeka Obasi Inaugural Memorial Lecture held in Lagos on Thursday. “The entire project they said they used the money for in Kaduna State is less than $50 million. But they collected $350 million. What did they do with the money?”

Sani recalled that his refusal to approve the loan cost him his senate seat, but maintained that he’s happy he fought a good course to save Kaduna State from the claws of looters.

“Because of that loan I was denied a return to the Senate. Because of that loan, I was framed in a murder case, and because of that loan, my office and my house was attacked. Because of that loan, a riot was organised. Even protest marches were organised against me.

“Because of that loan, I was vilified in Kaduna State. This is a governor, who openly called on the people of Kaduna State to attack me and my colleagues in the Senate. Because we refused to allow them to collect money from World Bank.”

Sani explained that, “We refused to approve the loan since 2018. But to our surprise, a month after we left office, money started dropping in the coffers of the Kaduna State government. This shows that there was a deal between the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank. They were simply waiting for us to leave office. So, Kaduna State’s $350 million loan was fraudulently obtained from the World Bank.”

The former lawmaker insisted that due processes were not followed in sourcing for the fund and that the 9th Assembly approved the money after it was secretly sourced, a position now supported by Yusuf Zailani, the speaker of the 9th Kaduna Assembly, who earlier denied approving the said $350m World Bank.

Defending allegations that the house under his leadership, approved the loan, Zailani, in a video posted on X on Wednesday April 17, by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Strategic Communications to the Speaker, Kaduna State House of Assembly, Mal. Suraj Bamalli, the former Speaker, said:

“I have been waiting for this day, and the day is today. My fight was not to give approvals of loans. Some of my colleagues were around, and six are still members of this hallowed chamber, including Isaac Auta Zankhai, the former deputy speaker. They said I should approve the loans. I said no, we need to know how many loans we have.”

Eyes on power

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The probe of El-Rufai’s administration began on the heels of his visits to high profile figures in the country, including former leaders, such as Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar. The former governor also visited the national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), fuelling speculations that he intends to run for president on the party’s platform in 2027.

Although the SDP national chairman, Shehu Musa Gabam, denied discussing such topic with El-Rufai, Business Hallmark gathered that the former governor, backed by a strand of stakeholders in the north, who are unhappy with Tinubu, is preparing the grounds for a potential contest.

The stakeholders, it was learnt, are presently searching for a popular figure from the South to pair with El-Rufai, but haven’t quite succeeded.

Meanwhile, despite having poor reputation in much of the South and the Middle Belt, the former Kaduna governor, who maintained a hard line pro-Islam posturing in the way he related with the largely Christian Southern Kaduna people, is vastly popular in the core Muslim North.

Like former president Muhammadu Buhari, who became something of a cult hero in the region after lending his support for the Sharia movement under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency in the early 2000s, El-Rufai, who introduced Muslim-Muslim ticket in Kaduna for the first time, and is largely seen to have ‘kept the Kaduna Christians in their place,’ is emerging as a rallying figure in the core north, particularly, in the Northwest.

For instance, in 2023, a viral video had captured El-Rufai telling some Islamic clerics on the eve of his final day in office, in Hausa language that, “Why did I pick Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe to be my deputy in 2019? First, I did a thorough calculation that most of those that are not Muslims don’t vote for our party (APC). Most of them. So, why should I give them the deputy position?

“I did my calculation and I knew we could win the election without giving them. That’s first. That’s a purely political issue. It’s politics. You want to win an election, you’re looking for people that will vote for you. We have observed that since we started practicing the democracy, we know places we used to win elections and those places we don’t. We’ve done that calculation politically. That’s the political point of it.”

While the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, in Kaduna State, Rev. John Hayab, during an interview on Arise TV, flayed El-Rufai over the comment, the Sharia Council, in a statement by its Secretary, AbdurRahman Hassan, defended El-Rufai, while describing CAN’s stance as hypocritical.

The council had said, “For the past one week, the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kaduna State Chapter has been wagging tongues, accusing the former governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasiru Ahmad El-Rufai, of making some inciting statements as far as CAN is concerned, simply because he aired his view on the political realities of Muslim-Muslim ticket.

“During the campaigns for the just concluded elections in this country, where was CAN when majority of pastors were making unguarded utterances, which if not for the help of Allah (SWT), Nigeria would have been history.

“The Muslim Ummah have been tolerant enough, if not, there is no way a Muslim-dominated state like Taraba will be governed by a Christian. If Plateau State, with a population of over 35 per cent Muslims, were denied the deputy governor slot, why should Kaduna State, with Muslim population of close to 75 per cent, not have Muslim-Muslim ticket?

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