By Ikechukwu Amaechi
The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, loves being seen as a tough guy who does not concede an inch in any battle. Petite in size, he has an ego as big as an elephant, which he feeds with the sanctimonious adulation of his lick spittles.
El-Rufai has little or no respect for others. He loves picking unnecessary fights if only to prove his machismo. He loves dominating his environment. And give it to him, he has won most, if not all his battles since he happened on the political stage, first as the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE, and later as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Even as the governor of Kaduna State since May 29, 2015, el-Rufai has remained pugnacious. If he is not pulling down the houses of his political opponents, he is talking down on Southern Kaduna leaders and insulting religious authorities. He is manipulative and authoritarian and does not take prisoners. Conceited and immodest, el-Rufai relishes conflicts and abhors harmony.
Why is el-Rufai, a brilliant man by all standards, the way he is? His former boss, Obasanjo, gave an insight in his 2015 memoir, My Watch.
“Nasir el-Rufai’s penchant for reputation savaging is almost pathological. Why does he do that? He is brilliant and smart. I grant him that too. Very early in my interaction with him, I appreciated his talent and brilliance. At the same time, I recognised his weakness,” Obasanjo wrote.
“The worst is his inability to be loyal to anybody or any issue consistently for long, but only to Nasir el-Rufai. He barefacedly lied which he did to me severally about his colleagues and so-called friends … My vivid recollection of el-Rufai is his penchant for lying, for unfair embellishment of stories and his inability to sustain loyalty for long.”
Obasanjo insisted that describing el-Rufai as a “malicious liar,” will not only be a gross understatement but, in fact, demean fibbers. “He is more than that,” the former president wrote before landing the sucker punch. “He is a pathological purveyor of half-truths with little and no regard for integrity.”
That is a harsh characterisation of any individual no matter how villainous, not to talk of a public officer of el-Rufai’s status. But truth be told, the Kaduna State governor has not done anything to disprove Obasanjo. Never mind that they have since made up with Obasanjo paying el-Rufai a surprise visit in Kaduna on December 11, 2019, where he praised him as one of the best persons to work with and also a near-genius.
But el-Rufai is at it again. This time, he is fighting the entire Kaduna State workforce with the purported retrenchment of 45,000 workers.
Organised labour expectedly kicked against the move, particularly at a time like this when poverty walks on all fours. But the Emperor would not listen. The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, declared industrial dispute, and on Monday, state workers, with the backing of the central labour union, began a five-day warning strike.
The first day was a runaway success. The state was paralysed as aggrieved civil servants, aviation and rail workers joined the industrial action.
The enraged Emperor of Kaduna State went berserk, literally. As the workers turned out on Tuesday in their numbers not only to continue with the strike but to march to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, the seat of Kaduna State government on Polytechnic Road Badiko, to peacefully express their grievances, all hell was let loose.
A more diplomatic leader would have personally received the peaceful protesters and explain to them the constraints of the government. Who knows? They may have seen reason with him or even where there are differences, meet him halfway.
But to the el-Rufais of this country, compromise is a weakness and dialogue is seen as an act of betrayal.
So, he did what he knows how best to – deployed thugs to confront the peaceful protesters. Of course, that sounds familiar. It was the same tactics the government deployed last year in dealing with youths who were protesting police brutality. Thugs armed to the teeth were deployed by the agents of the deep state against peaceful protesters which they in turn used as a pretext to violently crack down on the youths.
But the tactic failed spectacularly in Kaduna on Tuesday as the brave workers led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, outnumbered the thugs and chased them away.
Trying to save the Emperor from his self-inflicted predicament, governors of the All Progressives Congress, APC, advised el-Rufai to tread softly by exploring the option of dialogue in dealing with the striking workers rather than issuing threats. The governors, under the aegis of the Progressive Governors Forum, PGF, urged him to negotiate with the NLC in the interest of the people who would be the most affected by the crippling impact of the strike on the state’s economy.
El-Rufai spurned the advice and bared his fangs. Resorting to his notorious playbook, he declared NLC President, Wabba, wanted for ‘economic sabotage’ and branded the entire Labour leaders bandits, who are not different from those terrorising Kaduna State.
He fumed that they will be prosecuted on the charges of ‘wanton destruction of public properties and disruption of peace’, ordered the Ministry of Justice to initiate the prosecution of all the nurses in the state involved in the strike and immediate sack of any of them below Grade Level 14. Lecturers of the Kaduna State University, KASU, were not spared. They were also sacked for joining the five-day warning strike.
Declaring Wabba and other NLC officials wanted on Tuesday, el-Rufai tweeted: “Ayuba Wabba & others of @NLCHeadquarters declared wanted for economic sabotage and attacks on public infrastructure under Miscellaneous Offences Act. Anyone that knows where he is hiding should send a message to @MOJKaduna KDSG. There will be a handsome reward!”
Claiming that the union officials were liable, the governor said: “They have attacked facilities. They have engaged in economic sabotage. That’s an offence under the miscellaneous act and we want him (NLC President). We will bring him to justice. We are looking for him. He should report to the nearest police station or report to us. He will be prosecuted for economic sabotage.”
But he was just making a mockery of himself because as at the time he was tweeting, the NLC President was at the rally at the NEPA roundabout, which the state-sponsored thugs interrupted and el-Rufai knew his whereabouts.
When asked if the two parties – labour and government – had found a middle ground in the industrial dispute, el-Rufai said: “There are no grounds for compromise. They have used their last ultimate weapon. It will not change anything. It will not change our position and that’s it.”
But what crime have the workers committed? Peaceful protest is constitutional. It is their human right. It is not a crime. What is illegal is the crackdown. Allowing thugs to disrupt peaceful protest by workers is not only unlawful and unconstitutional, it is repugnant and barbarian. Declaring NLC leaders ‘wanted’ for peacefully exercising their right runs contrary to the dictates of the 1999 Constitution and it is antithetical to all international treaties and obligations that Nigeria freely signed.
But this is Nigeria where governors see themselves as bigger than the states they govern and are not accountable to anyone.
Nigerian governors behave like emperors. They are dictatorial, tyrannical, overbearing and arrogant. El-Rufai exemplifies all that is wrong with the Fourth Republic democracy. And to imagine that, just like the other emperor in Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, he is also eyeing the presidency of the country post-Buhari, our nightmare is still at the infancy stage.