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Gov el Rufai

…Day Kaduna stood still for the Mallam

By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor

For those who live and work in Kaduna, they did not need to be told that something very serious was taking place at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, the official name of the Government House in the historic town, which once served as the rallying point for Northern Nigerian.

As it was in the early days of its creation, Kaduna still serves and retains some modicum of a home for many Nigerians. It harbours the largest number of military institutions and apparatus than any other Nigerian city in modern history.

On that bright Monday morning, streams of siren-blaring avant-garde vehicles began to rove into the architectural masterpiece, which had been tastefully decorated to meet the expectations of the guests expected from far and near.

And, it was not difficult to see and feel that something spectacular was about to take place as the guests began to roll into the massive compound which had been filled to the brim as early as 9 am for the event slated for 11am. Starting from the heavy security vigilance and sheer size of men and equipment deployed by the security agents to the style of décor used in and outside the marquee that housed the guests, it was clear that a big event was in the offing.

The band was streaming some head-turning local and foreign music from its heavy speakers while some young ladies clad in splendid white dresses dutifully directed all to the neatly arranged seats and oval tables with water and non-alcoholic beverages.

As the hordes of guests arrived, they spirited towards one direction on the ‘high table’ just to greet a short and wiry man who sat at the centre with his wife beaming with broad smiles as they slapped his hands and genuflected in obeisance.   It was a star-studded audience drawn from all parts of Nigeria but largely dominated by the political echelon of Nigeria, where Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, Kaduna State Governor, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria bestrides as a colossus. The list of the guests was as long as the exotic cars that brought them.

Just as the state he governs – Kaduna – serves as a ‘mini-Nigeria’, the make-up of the guests who thronged El-Rufai’s 60th  Birthday, represented the spirit and composition of Nigeria: All the tribes were present in large number and colours just to honour and celebrate one of Nigeria’s most cerebral, dynamic and fearless leaders, whose contributions to national development are already recorded on the right side of the nation’s history. Right by El-Rufai’s back were two of Nigeria’s most senior traditional rulers – the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi and the Ooni of Ife,   Adeyeye   Enitan Ogunwusi, two outstanding royal fathers whose presence in any event means a lot to the celebrants.

From the way they came, Nigeria assembled that morning in honour of Mallam El-Rufai: John Oyegun, former National Chairman of the APC, Rotimi Amaechi, Transport Minister, Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of Nigeria’s powerful Governors’ Forum, Adams Oshiomhole, current APC National Chairman, his successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, Governor Muhammad Badaru of Jigawa State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and Abdulazeez Yari, former governor of Zamfara State were there with other top Nigerians outside the political class of Nigeria.

Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who was the chairman of the event, sent in a representative just as business leader, Tony Elumelu, who was slated as the one to present a book: These Times written by Mallam El-Rufai, sent in a representatives from the United Bank for Africa, one of his businesses.

And then, the speeches began to roar in as torrents in adulation of the man of the day. Some of the speeches crafted in poetic rhetoric and laced with powerful innuendos, could propel a man to take unintended political decisions and move him into actions. They were powerful orations and the speakers made no pretensions about what they wanted to convey directly to Mallam El-Rufai and how they wanted Nigerians to know.

In a tone laden with passion,   the Ooni of Ife, set the ball rolling with unquenchable acclamation for the governor and went ahead to do something very special and symbolic to drive home his message to the man and Nigerians. Oba Ogunwusi, an investor in real estate where El-Rufai remains an enigma in quantity surveying, presented an emblematic talking drum to the governor with strong words: “We want leaders like you who will continue to work for Nigeria. You’re a drummer and we want you to continue to beat the positive rhythm for Nigeria. We want to hear you loud and clear.

“We know that you are a man of the moment who is small in size but a mighty engine of ideas. It is very obvious that you stand out when it comes to preaching outstanding ideas in the north. We therefore want you to continue to be relevant because you are still active.” That was the Ife royal father to El-Rufai.

Then came another royal voice from the North, the Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi: “As we are celebrating Mallam El-Rufai’s 60th  birthday, we are celebrating a man who is doing what is good for the North by embracing all Nigerians in Kaduna irrespective of tribe, religion or party and promoting education in all ramifications,” the Sarkin Kano said.

At a time in Nigeria when politicians stab each other at the back in order to gain some mileage over their opponents, Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, rather praised the Kaduna Governor for his good work. Lawan, said El-Rufai had distinguished himself as a consummate public servant and political leader, who has been able to redeem the image of Northern politicians through responsible and selfless leadership since coming to the post.

“You are an asset to Nigeria and humanity and everyone admits that you have changed the political space in Kaduna State and by so doing, redeemed the image of politicians in Nigeria,” the Senate President said of the governor.

“Mallam El-Rufai has intellect and is one who believes strongly on superior argument in arriving at any decision,” said Kayode Fayemi, the governor of Ekiti State and chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum when he took his turn to speak on behalf of all his colleagues.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented at the event by the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Mahmoud, recalled El-Rufai’s major contributions to Nigeria through diligent and selfless public service to the country and commended him for always standing on the side of the people in any capacity he serves.

“Your service to Nigeria and mankind marks you out as an outstanding public servant and we are very proud of you and what you stand for,” the president told the governor.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who described Kaduna as his home, said El-Rufai had succeeded in making every Nigerian living and working in the state to have a sense of belonging, describing the governor as blunt, fearless and courageous.

Of all the speeches, the one rendered by the former APC National Chairman, John Odiegie-Oyegun, became very touchy and loaded with political meanings, that left many in the hall thinking deep and wide as to where El-Rufai is going next after his eight-year stint at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House.

Oyegun’s speech had a line like this: “Mallam El-Rufai, at 60, you’ve achieved more than what great men achieve in their entire life time. You are a special gift to Nigeria and the world.   God knows that you mean well for this country.

“You have a mission for Nigeria and we pray God to give you good health to do bigger things for Nigeria and to continue to speak truth to power. You’re working honestly for Nigeria and creating a name that will go down in the annals of Nigeria and we pray that God helps you to achieve all the things you have put down to do for Nigeria,” the former APC chairman said.

But perhaps the brightest of all lines dropped at the epic event came from the Deputy Governor of the state, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, who likened El-Rufai’s 60th  birthday to a piece of diamond that is sharp, precious and is used for cutting and polishing, explaining that the governor has used his position to do unusual things that have changed the face and landscape of Kaduna for the better of all Nigerians.

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In trying to respond to the encomiums lavishly showered on him, Mallam El-Rufai broke down in tears of joy but managed to wade off the emotions and said in a subdued voice: “I’m really thrilled by your presence here and the kind words said about me and my public service and family.”

“A lot has been said about my daring decisions wherever I serve and I want to place on record that taking a female Muslim from Southern Kaduna as my running mate in the 2019 election was one of the most   daring and courageous decisions I have ever taken in my life.

“I have been blessed with a lot of good people to work with me wherever I find myself and I really want to thank them for standing by me in all those places and making me to succeed,” the governor said.

It was indeed a good day out for a Mallam who did not betray his audience in any way. There was enough to eat and drink as the music continued to thrill the guests to old and modern rhythms that made some to dose off and kept others taping their toes as the sun began to overwhelm the air conditioning system,.

As Mallam El-Rufai moves into his 61st  year on earth, it is not clear where next he wants to play his trade and what role he hopes to play in Nigeria’s political terrain but as the speakers have indicated, there may still be some places they have in mind for him but still kept in wraps by those who should know. But as he grows older and as the political scenario for 2023 begins to unfold, the truth behind the innuendos and prayer points made at the birthday bash, would become clearer. Happy Birthday Mallam!


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