*I worked with Buhari when everyone had given up on him
Undoubtedly one of the most impactful men of his generation, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, has had great bearing on the pace and pattern of the nation’s political economy in the last 17 years. From his role in opening up the nation’s privatisation programme, through his lasting reforms of operations of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, to his most recent role in reengineering the political opposition, El-Rufai has made a phenomenal impact on the nation.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
As governor of Kaduna State, a state that mirrors the ethno religious dissonance that continues to reverberate against the foundations of a calm polity, El-Rufai may have had his job well cut out for him. It was a job he dived into with great aplomb, maybe without great consideration of the resilence of the demons that have made Kaduna a hotbed for an ethno-religious crisis.
Despite his efforts, the state has lately been in the news with reports of ethno-religious conflicts mainly between indigenous communities in Southern Kaduna and the transhumance Fulani. Governor El-Rufai in a series of meetings with editors last week opened up on the issues noting how the crises in the state have been helped by the failure of previous administrations to take action towards stemming them. The governor who has since turned from an accidental public servant into a politician in this session also spoke on his face off with some political rivals affirming that he was no guerrilla fighter, saying he would give notice to his political adversaries before a contest. He spoke in reference to his recent brushes with Senator Shehu Sani and the All Progressives Congress, APC national vice-chairman, Northwest, Barrister Inuwa Abdulkadir. Excerpts
WHAT is it that is about the crisis in Southern Kaduna?
The crisis would start with a dispute between two people; as long as those two people are from different ethnic groups, different religious persuasions, they don’t get resolved by community leaders or law enforcement agencies, they get escalated into a group conflict between one ethnic group against another or one religious group against another.
People reduce to Fulani versus this…no, in at least two cases out of the 11 we have had, it was a clash between indigenous ethnic groups that are mostly Christians. So, I want people to understand this; this has been a pattern; 11 times it has happened and not necessarily religious, and it is mostly ethnic.
It was only once in 1992 after the Zangon Kataf crisis that the Federal Government under Babangida established a judicial tribunal which tried Zamani Lekwot and others for killings, and they were sentenced to death, but Babangida politically commuted their sentences to life imprisonment, and thereafter, they were released. It was the Federal Government that did it, not the state government. The state government has never prosecuted anyone.
And this is the pattern, and then we wait for another conflict. In 37 years we have had 11, and if you do the maths, you will see that it happens almost every three years. So when we came into office, I asked for all the reports of the commissions of inquiry and I read all of them; the only one that I have not been able to find is that of the first one, the Kasuwa Magani crisis.
I read all of the White Papers because I knew sooner or later that in our four years that we might have one. So we were ready for this. But we took steps to ensure that it did not at all happen.
The first thing we did was to try to understand ‘why were communities in Southern Kaduna attacked?’ We set up a committee under Gen. Martins Agwai to study the problem and tell us what is the problem. The committee was inaugurated, submitted a report in August (2015).
They had some findings and recommendations that were very, very interesting. They found that there were three kinds of Fulani – the settled Fulani that don’t have cattle; the semi-settled who have cattle but don’t go very far, maybe within the confines of the state and then the transhumance Fulani who come from West African countries.
There is an ECOWAS protocol that allows them to move across these countries and it appears there are international stalk routes that had been marked in pre-colonial times to enable them to move their cattle up and down. What has happened is that over the years, expansion of population, urban development, need for farmlands have encroached on these international stalk routes. So as these Fulani mostly from outside Nigeria come, they get on farms that in their minds were part of the international stalk routes but have now been overtaken by need for agricultural land.
This is where the conflicts come. The conflicts according to the Agwai Committee arise from the semi-settled Fulani who move cattle within Nigeria and the transhumance Fulani who come from outside Nigeria.
The second finding and recommendation of the committee was that under Governor Patrick Yakowa, this dichotomy was understood by him and that when the attacks on Southern Kaduna communities persisted, he figured that it had to do with the 2011 post-election violence and he began to send delegations to reach out to the transhumance Fulani and offer them compensation to stop coming to kill. To some extent, Yakowa was successful until he died; because at some point, the attacks stopped. But when he died, the successor government did not continue, and the attacks resumed.
The Agwai Committee recommended that we should try to reach out to these transhumance Fulani because they are the main cause of the attacks. The committee established that it is not the Nigerian Fulani that are doing most of the attacks and that the bulk of it was coming from abroad. We said to them, ‘look, we offer you compensation for deaths, for livestock lost provided you agree that these reprisals stop. Leave our people alone; this has happened, it happened in 2011.’
We were very successful because from August 2015 when we started the outreach following Agwai Committee report till May 2016, there were no attacks in Southern Kaduna. There was silence. We thought that we had dealt with more than one-half of the problem – the transhumance Fulani. Once we started sending delegations, even those who were planning to attack heard that the government is going round apologising, offering compensation, so they waited because the Fulani have their informal ways of communication and we thought that we had solved that problem.
The relationship between Kaduna State Government and the three senators
One of the things that I initiated was a monthly meeting with members of the National Assembly from Kaduna State across party lines. Because I believe that their job is to advocate for Kaduna State’s interest at the federal level and that we should all work together. I hosted them to a dinner immediately after inauguration, but the senator from Southern Kaduna did not come, the two APC senators came, and most of the members of the House of Representatives came. I told them that we need to work together to influence budgetary provisions for Kaduna, to influence projects and so on.
I was doing that monthly until the Governors’ Forum started fixing monthly meetings the same time I was having dinner with the members of the National Assembly. That disrupted it, and I have not met with them now for about four months, but we have now agreed to a monthly late lunch meeting.
Governor of everyone
The senator from Southern Kaduna maybe considered himself a PDP senator and maybe thought we would not be fair to him; so he has never attended these meetings. I think that once elections are over, you are governor of everyone and you should try to bring everyone along. That does not mean that I don’t have separate meetings with APC House of Representatives members or House of Assembly members; we do when we have to meet over party issues, and I meet monthly with State House of Assembly members across party lines. They come, and I host them to dinner, they ask what we are doing, and we explain. We are on one page, and I think this is why our State House of Assembly I think is the most prolific in Nigeria. It has passed something like 25 laws in two years.
On the issue with Shehu Sani?
Shehu Sani’s history is that he is an activist, of some type and it is up to you to determine the adjective. He contested the APC primaries and defeated the candidate that I supported (General Sani Saleh), and after the primaries, I brought everyone together and said we have to win this election. I got Saleh to support him, and we supported him fully.
I think the problem is that because Shehu Sani’s mind is that of an activist, he thinks that the way to position himself…he thinks politics is being in the media all the time. Activism is different from politics. Sometimes in politics, you don’t want your name in the media, but activists’ oxygen is the media, and he thinks that the way to remain visible and prepare him for running for governor of Kaduna State in 2019 is to criticise everything I do. Even if I breathe air, he will criticise it.
I told my media team not to respond to him; we are a government of everybody including Shehu Sani. Let the party apparatchik respond to him, let people in the streets respond to him, and I also told them to let’s work, let’s produce results because we will get to the point that nobody can come and criticise us because the boys will beat him up.
Because of the things he has been doing, criticising the president, saying all sorts of things about me, the party disciplinary process was initiated against him, but he blames it on me. He thinks I engineered it…but frankly, I don’t care about Shehu Sani. I don’t think he is a threat to me politically or in any way. In 2018 when the whistle is blown we will see on the ground who has support on the ground in Kaduna. It is not an issue that I bother about.
It is claimed that you empowered General Saleh’s supporters at the expense of his supporters.
I can choose who to empower. I am the governor of the state, and I have to make appointments, and in making the appointments, I have to balance merit, loyalty and paying off other debts. I don’t owe Shehu Sani anything; he owes me. I asked all of them including Shehu Sani to give me names of people that I will appoint to positions, they gave me, and I looked at them, and none of the people from Shehu’s list is good enough to be a commissioner in my cabinet.
The list of commissioners
Shehu Sani’s first anger was that the list of commissioners came out and none from his list. In a state where there are about 10,000 PhDs that I have in my data base; I am not going to take a diploma holder and make him a commissioner just because he is Shehu Sani’s man. I don’t operate like that. When President Obasanjo called me and said he was going to make me a minister, I gave him a condition that ‘you don’t appoint members of my team, I will appoint my team,’ and that is the person that appointed me. If you have a difficult job, you have to appoint your own team.
One of the commissioners we appointed has a Ph.D in Physics; he was a director in the Federal Civil Service, I never saw him until the day that I swore him in. We just looked at his CV, somebody brought it, and we appointed him based on his CV because there is a job to be done. Do I do this all the time? No! When we were appointing local government chairmen, I didn’t get involved. I said let us go and look at those who worked for us at the grassroots and appoint them local government chairmen and councillors. There are 225 councillors in Kaduna State, 23 local government chairmen; I did not appoint one!
I left it to the party and our leaders, I said go and do it. I looked, and there was no woman, I said it is not possible, 23 chairmen and no woman? So, I looked I saw one woman councillor in one local government, and I made her chairman! That was the only thing I did. I got two women to be local government chairmen! That was what I did. I did not appoint one person because they are not working directly with me. But the people that work directly with me, I must have confidence that they can deliver.
Many politicians don’t like this because the PDP system of distribution has become so engrained that people feel entitled that once they help you win an election, you must give them commissioners or so. Even Obasanjo that made me minister of FCT did not send me one person to work with me!
On his membership of the Abuja Cabal
It is not correct. Am I very close to Buhari? Yes. I worked very closely with him in the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) when everyone had given up on him. I know him, I know how he thinks and he trusts me.
He knows that I am driven by public interest. Do I participate in federal decision making? I don’t. I am too busy addressing Kaduna problems to be part of it. When I am called for an opinion or when I happen to be around, and I have an input or if I see something going seriously wrong; I drive and go and see Mr. President I have heard A, B, C, D. I don’t think it is right, you should consider doing C, D, E. I do that and I drive back to Kaduna. My primary assignment is Kaduna. I am not involved in the Federal Government. People like to say and attribute so much to me, and sometimes it is good for me, it gives me a larger than life image!
Is there a cabal? There is always a cabal. Even in your own newspaper, there is a cabal. Nobody can run an institution without a coterie of two, three, four trusted people. There is always a cabal; the issue is whether it is a positive or a disruptive cabal. Am I a member of the cabal? No, I am governor of Kaduna State, I work for Kaduna State 24/7.
Why have you not transmitted some good things you did in Kaduna like the attachment of portfolios to commissioners-designate to the president?
Every leader has his leadership style, and every governor has his own culture. The culture in the Federal Government is to send names without portfolios.
But that was the culture in Kaduna before you came?
But I have decided to change it. I am not the president. If I am the president, I probably may do things differently, but if I am the president, also, I may get information and briefings by officials and security agents that may help me do things differently. You don’t know how much briefing or information he has.
Matter of procedures and duties
Every leader has his own style, information that guides how he decides, so I can’t say that what I have done in Kaduna is necessarily relevant to the Federal Government.
The marking of Inuwa Abdulkadir’s house?
I don’t know that. I didn’t even know Inuwa Abdulkadir had land or house in Kaduna. I know that he has a wife that lives in Kaduna, I would assume that like most northern elite that he has a house in Kaduna, but I really didn’t know. I don’t know about this. These things are done as a matter of procedures and duties, and if he has his title and approved building plans, nobody would touch his house.
Of course, there is a problem between us because he is trying to mess up our party in Kaduna State in pursuit of an agenda and I have told him that if he doesn’t stop doing that, that I will deal with him and I got three witnesses to that. I am not a guerrilla warrior, if I am going to fight you, I will give you notice so that you will prepare. If Inuwa Abdulkadir has a house in Kaduna and he built without title or permission, I will not ask KASUPDA not to demolish just because he will blame me for it; I don’t care about that.
On the other hand, if he has his title and approved building plans, you better ask him to produce them to KASUPDA because this KASUPDA is three or so levels below me and I don’t get to know what they are doing.