Nasir El-Rufai’s Gift by Sonala Olumhense

Six weeks ago, in this column, I diagnosed the Muhammadu Buhari government as having fallen.

With the leaking to the press last week of an explosive memo sent to him by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, it might be said that the Nigeria leader has a lifeline.

But the very courageous and incisive memo was not written last week, or even this year.  It was written in September 2016, five months before I adjudged Buhari’s government to have collapsed.

The governor’s intervention, it turns out, followed a similar strategic reading of the tea leaves and excellent recommendations he sent to the president in April 2015, even before Mr. Buhari took office.

Clearly, that first memo was ignored, perhaps not even read. Seventeen months later, and after observing President Buhari in office for a little over one year, he decided to approach the Big Man again, even at the risk of being misunderstood.

“This is an honest, frank and objective view of an admirer, a mentee, and a loyalist,” Mr. El-Rufai explained. “I hope it helps, and I apologise if it displeases you. My duty to you is to tell you the truth as I see it. I have no interest other than the progress of our party, our president, our government and our country.”

To be sure, the governor is guilty of some errors of judgement in Kaduna State for which he bears responsibility.  But in his two memos to President Buhari, he demonstrates the kind of excellent strategic and patriotic thinking that should have had the president retaining him in the federal setup in the first place.

Instead, Buhari sent him sideways to a governorship, perhaps deliberately, to his, the party’s and the nation’s loss.

In my opinion, Mr. Buhari did not read either of the memos addressed to him.  Otherwise, he would have to be questioned from the inside out.

Here are excerpts:

  • It is 1984 for you all over again— only far worse…You must therefore put forward some organizing principles around which your administration would be designed that will enable Nigerians identify and adopt as a unifying vision for the next decade or so.
  • [These principles] should be national unity, social discipline, personal sacrifice and the constant signaling of hope for a better tomorrow.
  • You must through your words, your personal example and the selection of the team around you, unite our nation by creating a sense of inclusion that gives people of proven honesty, competence and commitment, roles in your government. The mistake of the outgoing regime of creating a strong appearance of an Ijaw enclave, or the Katsina-Kano cabal of Yar’adua, must be deliberately avoided.
  • A key requirement of setting the right tone and direction of your government is to choose the right people early to constitute your core team that will work in the State House…The quality and caliber of the personal staff you appoint, along with a handful of key executive positions will either reinforce the tone and direction of your government or contradict it…It is important that these persons are carefully selected with emphasis on integrity, competence, capacity and chemistry to work well with the President.
  • It is not difficult to reverse these negative trends and change the narrative to one of a nation with a growing, efficient and well-managed national infrastructure. All the plans and strategies are there. What is needed is political will, technocratic capacity and focus, which you, Mr. President must ensure are present here and now.
  • …We must therefore take advantage of our large internal market, natural endowments and comparative advantages in agriculture, minerals and human resources to be self-sufficient in food and fuels within your first term of office. It is neither impossible nor unduly difficult to achieve both goals.
  • The danger of this current state of affairs is that we are inadvertently creating successive generations of poorer, barely educated, unskilled, hopeless and angry children of the poor, side by side with increasingly richer, privately educated, skilled and optimistic children of the privileged. It is a demographic and social time bomb waiting to explode as the poor and hopeless youths are easy recruits of insurgents, violent politicians and criminals. Only you, Mr. President will appreciate this danger and do something about it with the urgency it deserves.
  • Government performance depends on political legitimacy and administrative capacity. It results from sound political vision, courage and the will of the President and other appointed and elected officials, supported by the administrative capacity of the public service…You have the vision, courage and will, Mr. President. The jury is still out whether your most senior appointed officials share these qualities, and this must change for the better, Sir.
  • Our public service today is too expensive, aging, outdated and inadequately skilled to discharge its mandate of providing administrative support to the political leadership. The nearly 600 MDAs at the federal level (and smaller number of counterparts at subnational levels) consume nearly 90% of our national revenues. This is why the FGN borrows over 100% of its capital budget! This is neither fair nor just.
  • There is a perception that your ministers, some of whom are competent and willing to make real contributions, have no clear mandate, instructions and access to you. Ministers are constitutional creations Mr. President and it is an aberration that they are expected to report to the Chief of Staff on policy matters.
  • Mr. President, there is an emerging view in the media that you are neither leading the party nor the administration and those neither elected nor accountable appear to be in charge, and therefore the country is adrift.
  • It is the view of many informed citizens that while you are actively fighting corruption, the institutional weaknesses that enabled it to thrive under Jonathan, and the persons that participated in it, and oiled the system are still very much in charge, and many are around you.

Mr. El-Rufai backed up his expression of agony in the second memo with a “Draft Decision and Implementation Matrix” containing 23 direct, strong and specific recommendations, including suggested operational deadlines, to simplify consideration and implementation.

The core of his intervention, it must be clear, was that the time had come for the Buhari government to stop blaming its predecessor (and get to work), and that Buhari summon the political will to take advantage of available plans and strategies.

Coincidentally, the El-Rufai memo leaked in the same week that Buhari’s nominee for chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, was humiliatingly rejected for the second time at the Senate by another appointee of Buhari’s, indicating turmoil in his government.

And two former leaders told Premium Times in response days later it is evident Buhari has lost control of his own government.

Governor El-Rufai has done Buhari and Nigeria a patriotic and historic favour.  Is Buhari man enough to respond in the same currency?

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