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Opinion: El-Rufai And His 2019 Presidential Ambition

Former Minister of FCT and APC chieftain Nasir El'Rufai

By Akinola Johnson  – When one thinks about James Freeman Clarke’s observation that “Politicians all too often think about the next election; statesmen think about the next generation”, one would really have thought he had Nigeria in mind.

With the 2015 presidential election concluded, politicians are now setting their sights on the next election which comes up in 2019. With the All Progressives Congress (APC) still trying to establish itself in power, the permutations, intrigues and behind-the-scenes negotiations have started going on within the ruling party as to the person that would replace President Muhammadu Buhari who appears not to be interested in seeking a second term. Noticing this potential vacuum, “smart” politicians have started jostling for the exalted position. Leading the pack is Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State.

The idea of El-Rufai’s presidential ambition should not come to any keen political observer as a surprise. As one of the leading figures in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, he tried unsuccessfully to lobby his colleagues to prevail on the Otta farmer to endorse his presidential ambition.

He came up against a brickwall as Chief Obasanjo went over him and handpicked Musa Yar’adua to succeed him. Little wonder then that he constituted himself as a staunch opposition to the presidency of Yar’adua. During the period of Yar’adua’s presidency, Nasir was the consummate voice of opposition. He was not ashamed to get into the gutter and throw mud at the presidency in order to make Nigerians realise that Obasanjo made an error in anointing Yar’adua.

El-Rufai even lent credence to this fact in his book, The Accidental Public Servant, where he shamelessly confessed and admitted that there was no cabal anywhere when Yar’adua was incapacitated. He revealed that the groundswell of belief and opinion about the cabal was deliberately planted in the media by him and his ilk.

Not discouraged, he was touted at some points in 2012 to have been the “anointed” candidate to replace Buhari after the General made the public statement to the effect that he would not be contesting elections for the presidency after 2011. In fact, the leadership of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) seriously considered the el-Rufai “option” before Buhari made an unusual U-turn to contest again in 2015.

No one should be misled by the fact that el-Rufai was arm-twisted to drop his main political ambition to contest for the governorship of Kaduna State. Indeed, this writer has it on good authority that, for el-Rufai to achieve this notorious ambition, he lobbied profusely for the post of Chief of Staff to Buhari in the event that the latter would win the presidential election. My authoritative source, a top member of the APC, confirmed that el-Rufai’s legendary hatred for the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was the only thing that stood in his way. It is likely that Nasir had a hard time convincing Asiwaju of his sincerity and loyalty. This may account for why he ended up as a governor rather than as Chief of Staff to President Buhari.

He is presently using General Buhari as a stepping stone to achieve his selfish objective.

Nasir does have a history of treacheries and betrayals. We have seen how he turned against his friends, including Madam Okonjo Iweala. Presently, he is hiding behind Gov. Oshiomole to taint the image of the former minister through unsubstantiated allegations concerning expense from the Excess Crude Account (ECA).

He turned against his benefactor, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, as soon as he wrongly felt that Obasanjo would hand over to him.  He stabbed his friend, Nuhu Ribadu, in the back as soon as Tinubu picked him as the candidate of choice in Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.

Before I go any further, let me intimate you with one important fact about our Kaduna State governor: El-Rufai is a patient man. He knows when to strike and when to keep quiet. His survival in the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who trusted him to a fault, says something about his level of smartness. He is at it again – winning the trust of those who matter. He, like any other right thinking politician, knows that in order to realise his presidential bid in 2019, he must leave no stone unturned. His strategies are clear and he appears to be ticking the right boxes.

After being a vociferous critic of Buhari in the past, he seemed to have realised the futility of antagonising the man destined to succeed Goodluck Johathan. So, he changed tactics and has now aligned himself with President Buhari; whose platform he intends to use to achieve his ambition. As the president’s “anointed” man, he is not expected to make too much noise like others may appear to do. The present crises in the ruling party may not be unconnected to this. The President’s men (el-Rufai and others) leading a faction, Tinubu and his loyalists forming another faction; and a third unidentifiable group now led by Bukola Saraki are all potential challengers to el-Rufai’s ambition. El-Rufai is expected to pitch his tent with Buhari’s camp no matter what. This appears to be the only way to actualise his “dream”.

At this point, let us bring in Jimi Lawal, who was recently appointed el-Rufai’s Special Assistant on Investment. Those who know this man’s antecedents will appreciate his notoriety, having served virtually all governments since the Ibrahim Babangida administration. Those who have lived long enough must be aware of his ignoble role in the Alpha Merchant Bank saga which ultimately led to his fleeing the country in 1996 rather than facing trial. For the sake of those who do not know the man, Jimi, let us consider Sowore’s of Sahara Reporters feature on him and his historic relationship with the Governor:

“Nasir el-rufai did not only pay him, he also ensured that he got all sorts of commissions from budding privatization deals at the time by imposing him as “Adviser” on prospective bidders. One of such impositions saw him promised $2 million by the ill-prepared Investors International (London) Limited led by Chief Bode Akindele in their bid to take over NITEL. He was also collecting commissions for government advertising in international newspapers such as the International Herald Tribune.”

“In short, el-Rufai and his friends in Nigeria made sure he continued to live off the Nigerian state while on the run. So, in Atlanta, when he led the Muslim prayers at the NIDO formation session presided over by Obasanjo, people knew the NIDO experiment wasn’t actually about Nigerians abroad, but one of those convoluted schemes dreamt up by Lawal and his backers to work his way back to Nigeria. All they needed was for the right moment to strike.”

Sowore was commenting in his article: Jimi Lawal: A Cat On His Ninth Life (published in Nigerian Village Square).

It is through this man (Jimi Lawal), El-Rufai intends to gather the funds to oil his political engine. If Jimi could do this hatchet job for Obasanjo during the failed third term ambition, he is definitely the man el-Rufai needs to carry out his mission! He is slowly assembling his team for his 2019 run.  Jimi Lawal, a known crook extraordinary, will be responsible for fund raising. One wonders how he can claim to be against corruption, but is always in the company of some of the most crooked and vile people like Jimi Lawal who has a long track record as a crook/criminal.

Mallam el-Rufai is not oblivious of the fact that he will be coming up against stiff opposition from not only his arch enemies in the camp of Tinubu, but also Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (former Governor of Kano), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (former Vice President) and present Senate President, Bukola Saraki. He is not leaving anything to chance at all as he has begun a serious social media campaign about his achievements as Kaduna State Governor to properly position him for 2019. He has also invested heavily in media patronage to put him in a good stead. The present Sahara Reporters reportage against Tinubu and all the supposed enemies of el-Rufai is not unconnected with this man’s ambition.

He uses Social Media to launder his image daily and to cleverly contrast himself from President Buhari to show that he is a performer while the President is a dullard. He was the mastermind behind the social media sensation of Bring Back our Girls and now that it has accomplished its aim, the BBOG has lost its voice. His two stooges – Hadiza Bala Usman, has just been appointed his Chief of Staff and Oby Ezekwesili is desperately angling for a Ministerial position.

El-Rufai is a master of using proxies to fight his battles while he pretends to the Nigerian public to be a serious minded reformer.

Though his camp is yet to go public due to fear of public reprisal or the Electoral Act, El-Rufai has an ambition which he is secretly nursing to become Nigeria’s President in 2019. We must watch out for this shrewd man with a not too altruistic motive. How can we ever forget the monumental damage he wrought as Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during those better-forgotten years of Obasanjo?

Akinola Johnson writes from Abuja where he resides and works.


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