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Between Yesterday’s men and Today’s Lords of the Manor

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
REUBEN ABATI was at his most combative last Sunday, with his withering attack on “The Hypocrisy of Yesterday’s Men”.

It was obviously a riposte to recent attacks on the Jonathan administration.  Reuben reflected the angst within the administration, which first surfaced in the inept press conference addressed by Information Minister, Labaran Maku, to the challenge one of the most visible elements of Abati’s “yesterday’s men and women”, who seem “to be on an offensive against the Jonathan administration”, in the person of Oby Ezekwesili.

It was Oby that threw the challenge in the first place, saying that Obasanjo’s administration left $45B in foreign reserves and $22B in the Excess Crude Account. These huge sums, Oby claimed, were frittered away by the Jonathan administration.

An angry Reuben Abati described the Obasanjo group (that is actually what they are at a time when relations have gone sour between Obasanjo and Jonathan!), as “a navel-gazing, narcissistic group…” and “a bunch of hypocrites” who “mask self interest as public causes”, while “they are perpetually hanging around, lobbying and hustling for undeserved privileges”.

And to make the point even clearer Reuben Abati said of this group: They “are in different sizes and shapes: small, big; Godfathers, agents, proxies. The tactics of the big figures on this rung of opportunism may be slightly different.

They parade themselves as a Godfather or kingmaker or the better man who should have been king”. Abati rubbed it in naming the affliction: “They suffer of course, from messianic delusions”! PHEW!! The gloves are off in Nigeria’s political society and the scorpions are truly stinging themselves to death.

The Obasanjo group has truly become a nuisance as far as Jonathan can see. And the reason seems clear from evidence coming out of Nasir El-Rufai’s new book, being launched today.

When Nigerian’s defeated Third Term, Obasanjo’s fallback option was to install Yar’adua and Jonathan, hoping that he would rule by proxy from Otta.

El-Rufai said the old despot assured that the economic team and other members of the Obasanjo inner circle was still going to remain in place. 2007-2011, he assured, was merely a transition period, that will see no change. Third Term is dead; long live Third Term.

Those who believed they were the best things to ever happen to Nigeria,were deluded that change was never going to come.

They would continue to strut the platforms of policy, selling their MADE-IN-WASHINGTON madness, which saw some of the most criminal transfers of national assets to dubious private groups, in African history.

In truth, I share the Jonathan administration’s disdain for the “men and women of yesterday” who think Nigeria is an experimental laboratory for discredited doctrines around the world. ObyEzekwesili’s claim to fame, was having been vice president of the imperialist institution, World Bank.

But we remember her arrogant know-it-all posture, especially when she ran our education, and the disdain with which she treated national intellectuals!

The fact that Jonathan has not moved things decisively forward in the national interest (and who will contest that the present administration is a product of an incestuous political liaison of theObasanjo group?), has emboldened yesterday’s men and women to grandstand on the national policy stages.

In truth, neither group can be credited with processes of a patriotic content and that is the tragedy of the Nigerian situation. Between yesterday’s men and today’s lords of the manor, the choice Nigeria faces is that between six and half a dozen; between tweedledum and tweedledee! “TWO FIGHTING” as the popular parlance goes, yes; but it is a lot of hot air and posturing for position to serve narrow interests!

Nasir El-Rufai’s Accidental Public Servant

NASIR EL-RUFAI’S ACCIDENTAL PUBLIC SERVANT is being presented to the public this morning at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre in Abuja.

The snippets newspapers have published from the book give an insight into the frightening candour the author has become known for. When I read the excerpt DAILY TRUST published last Monday, I spoke with Nasir who was on the road between Kano and Abuja and I did say that he had let lose a cat amongst the pigeons of Nigeria’s political society. It was a description that made him laugh very heartily!

It can safely be assumed that we will get a far more compelling and truthful account of the Nigerian public space from Nasir’s book, than a lot of the hagiographical pieces we have been inundated with in recent years.

If there is one thing people can agree about Nasir El-Rufai, it is that he is a man of strong convictions and we do not have to agree with his political choices or even his decisons, to respect his standpoint and the genuineness of his conviction.

As Minister of the FCT, I wrote several critical pieces against him, these were especially against his rightwing ideological positions and his total acceptance of the neoliberal capitalist paradigm.

But even in doing those regular critiques, I always acknowledged his ability to get his job done; his devotion to whatever assignment he needs to carry out and his ability to build teams to achieve his objectives.

These were uncommon attitudes in a Nigerian public space ridden with incompetence, time-serving, sycophancy and outright corruption. Nasir El-Rufai’s tenure at the FCT was particularly controversial from different directions, but he was the first minister that confronted head-on the multi-faceted problems of the FCT, using the tools of modernity and intellect and we all saw what the FCT became under him.

Abuja became a truly modern city where people were obliged to obey basic rules.

El-Rufai out of power, has engaged with the public space using his remarkable intellectual ability to enlighten us about public policy, often proffering radical solutions that, if implemented, will see Nigeria advancing faster along the route of capitalist modernity.

And as a socialist, I can accept that it is better to rapidly build our nation’s productive forces as fast as such ideologists of capitalist modernity like Nasir want, than to remain in the rot which envelopes us today.

Nasir El-Rufai is one of the emblematic representatives of my generation; a generation which got a lot from Nigeria, in those early decades of independence: good education; welfare state packages and a lot of hope about life.

He has given to his country as best he can, and his new book is a product of that engagement with our public space. It should make compelling reading, allowing us an aperture into the workings of the mind of a brilliant, diminutive man, who his friends fondly call GIANT!

Governor Kashim Shettima and Borno’s renaissance

WHEN Vice President Namadi Sambo visited Maiduguri a few days ago, it was the first official visit to Borno, by any of the leading members of the federal administration, since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency.

The only federal presence which Borno felt over the past two years, was the activity of JTF troops, who were doing a very difficult counter-insurgency work, but whose scorched earth tactics increasingly alienated the mass of the people and turned the JTF, unwittingly, into recruiting sergeants for the insurgency.

As the insurgency deepened and life became nastier and brutish in Borno, Kashim Shettima’s leadership acumen underwent severe stress and strain. And because I kept in touch with him  regularly, I knew that he went through very difficult moments.

But what was incredible was his incurable optimism that Borno like the phoenix, would rise from the torment of the insurgency.

Despite everything, he continued to dream lofty thoughts about agricultural development as a basis of employment for the teeming youth and an income generating possibility and to translate ideas into reality, he built a formidable team of Nigerian patriots who have helped to work an engaging agricultural turn around in Borno.

His constant refrain was that the insurgency had a root in poverty, underdevelopment and years of neglect of a very young population that became embittered and sought a way out in Boko Haram’s radical Islam and insurgency.

It is no wonder that youth empowerment projects are very central to development and the reconciliation processes in Borno, just as much as there are efforts in education, urban renewal and infrastructure. For me, the welcome aspect of the turn around we are beginning to witness in Borno, is the modesty of the governor himself.

Kashim Shettima will disarm you with his modesty and yet can be engaging with a most refreshing intellect about his views of Borno and its future in the context of national and international developments.

The last time we spoke, he was effusive that the insurgency had reached a tipping point and  Borno was gradually moving towards reconciliation that can open the route of development.

It was within that context that a faction of Boko Haram allegedly accepted to ceasefire and find a way forward from bloodshed.

There is still too much that is hazy about the ceasefire offer and no one can tell precisely if Imam  Shekau has anything to do with the offer.

But all Nigerians must hope that Borno eventually arrives at peace sooner than later, so that that historically very rich corner of Nigeria can re-connect with its antecedents as a highway of civilization dating back to over 1000 years.

I once told Governor Kashim Shettima that he had a date with history; he needed to study the work of one of the greatest rulers of Kanem-Borno, Mai Idris Alooma, to find inspiration on governance and state building, even in a context of crisis.

I don’t know if he heeded my advice, but there are significant green shoots of growth that Borno’s embattled people must carefully nurture along with all other Nigerians. In recent weeks, hope has become a central motif of existence in Borno and it is really most welcome.

Namadi Sambo’s visit was a grudging acceptance in Abuja of the guilt of having neglected Borno to its fate in the past couple of years!


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