This is an excellent interview with the controversial former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai. He defends his stewardship, and decisions he took in government, and appraises the Yar’Adua government.
For those who do not have the patience to read the whole interview, the most telling statements he made were:
“I do not think President Yar’Adua is doing enough to even keep Nigeria at the level he found it. From what I read and hear, things are a bit worse than in May 2007. But you live in Nigeria, you reflect and get your readers to reflect as well, is your life better now than it was two years ago?”
“James Ibori had boasted that since he cannot go to London, he would ensure that my passport is seized when I come, and this was communicated to me.”
“if Ibori was actively prosecuted, then the new administration is serious about fighting corruption. I added that if Ribadu were promoted out of his EFCC job, it would be a clear sign that the intentions are suspect. This was in mid-2007. I rest my case.”
‘Yar’Adua Not Doing Enough To Even Keep Nigeria At The Level He Found It’
Former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister, Mallam Nasir El-rufai in this online interview with GODWIN IJEDIOGOR speaks on his tenure, persecution, the Pentascope deal and President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Some people say you are only suffering a bit of what some people suffered due to the demolition exercises under your tenure as Federal Capital Territory minister?
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but I am not suffering. For two years I have pursued my life’s interests and I live in relative comfort. I have been contacted and complimented by many people, including some that lost property to the corrective actions we took in Abuja.
On Facebook, I have reached the limit of 5,000 friends, with over 1,200 standing by to be my friends. Some are critical, most of them compliment and commend the work I did, and that is the next generation.
The tragicomedy in Nigeria, whether it takes place in the Villa, the Senate or the FCT, does not bother me at all. I thought through all I did and as I said, we did what had to be done, which others are now copying.
To some Nigerians, your tenure is credited with restoring Abuja to viability as the federal capital. What could be responsible for your achievements in that regard?
I think my education and training as a chartered quantity surveyor, knowledge of Abuja and being in the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) and therefore familiar with how the federal government functioned all helped a lot.
Secondly and by far the most important success factor was the political will of then President Olusegun Obasanjo to see that Abuja reverted to the vision he and Gen. Murtala Mohammed had in 1976.
Thirdly, unlike most ministers, I knew my portfolio was FCT at least a month in advance and began visioning, planning and prioritising with my aides while in BPE. So from day one, we knew where we wanted to go and it was not easy to lead us in another direction.
Finally, we gave our staff the freedom and wherewithal to do what was right, no matter whose ox was gored and they knew I would stand by them, take the heat and the responsibility for their actions.
But critics say some of these achievements came at huge social and personal costs to victims, who lost a lot?
All public policies have cost and benefits, winners and losers. What should guide public action is the overall collective good. Our actions in FCT hurt a few people, who by the way mostly broke the law. The benefits are an organised, orderly city, with high quality of social services.
The reality is that most state governors are now copying our courageous examples in Abuja, several years after we did what had to be done. Abuja is there for all to see.
There have been complaints that your administration acted illegally in demolitions and land allocations, including disobedience of court orders?
The claims are false, even the highly biased Senate Committee could not produce a single case in which I disobeyed any court order. All the people that came with allegations disappeared before I appeared before the Senate Committee.
Regarding demolitions and revocations, only a court can decide whether we acted illegally or not. The Senate Committee can make no such pronouncement and we have challenged every single one of their resolutions in the Federal High Court. All those that challenged our revocations in the courts have lost; the most recent one was Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State.
So the Senate is wrong and the courts will prove this in time.
You are alleged to own several properties, especially in Abuja, acquired during your tenure as minister, sometimes using cronies?
That is untrue. I have no property in Abuja, except the so-called Atiku Guest House, which I bought under the sale of government houses program. I had a terraced house in Stallion Estate, which I sold to facilitate my movement to the United States (US) for my degree program and fellowship at Harvard.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made several allegations of houses that I won, these will be subject of future litigation in some jurisdictions, but they are all false. I have said this and I will say it again; if you find any property that belongs to me that is not in my asset declaration, seize it.
The weird belief that any property owned by any friend of mine, however close or remote, must be mine is not only unfair, unjust and unreasonable, but also quite dangerous. I am not a venal person and do not care for material accumulation.
I am also not a pretentious hypocrite, who will allocate land to his wife under another name. If I wanted to allocate land to myself, I will do it in my name. I am not the coward and hypocrite that some people are. The owners of the properties will meet them in domestic courts…and I will meet them somewhere, somehow, soon.
Some of your policies as FCT minister are either being reversed or reviewed?
No government can bind a future government, so they are free to reverse whatever they want to reverse. They will bear the consequences and history will judge us all. What we did led to results that even our enemies grudgingly admit. What our successors do is their business, not ours.
Do you think President Umaru Yar’Adua is doing enough to uplift Nigeria?
I do not think President Yar’Adua is doing enough to even keep Nigeria at the level he found it. From what I read and hear, things are a bit worse than in May 2007. But you live in Nigeria, you reflect and get your readers to reflect as well, is your life better now than it was two years ago?
So do you think he merits a second term?
That is up to Nigerians to decide, if their votes are allowed to matter. I will certainly not vote for him, but I am sure his family would not agree with my view.
What is your relationship with Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar now?
I am in contact with President Obasanjo. In fact, I spoke to him earlier in the week when he was on his way to South Africa, I think. My relationship with Obasanjo remains that of a caring father and a favoured son.
I have not spoken to Atiku Abubakar since we left office. I hear he is doing well and planning to run for President in 2011. I wish him luck.
What is your regret as FCT minister and given another opportunity to serve, what would you do differently?
I am writing my memoirs, where I will document my regrets and all the areas I think I screwed up. Since I need you to buy the book, I will not answer this question fully.
Human beings are not perfect, so we make mistakes. But I do not think about what I would do differently, as I have never repeated a class; I never do any job twice. Once is enough.
After school, what next for you?
A short vacation and then back home to Nigeria. If the government does not seize my passport, I will rest a bit, then go to China to start my Mandarin learning program. If they keep me within Nigeria, I will spend my time and resources organising young people to go into public service.
Do you consider it safe enough for you to return after your studies?
I have been told that when I return to Nigeria, I will be arrested and detained long enough to be injected with HIV and Hepatitis, so that I die very quickly from natural causes.
This, I understand, is necessary because I am a threat to the Yar’Adua government. I do not understand how a government I played a pivotal role in bringing about will become an overnight enemy. But I believe in God and my destiny.
I will have my medical test results showing I do not have any incurable disease filed with my lawyers in Canada, US and United Kingdom (UK), so that if anything happens to me, my survivors can initiate legal action.
There is nothing more that I can do. Nigeria is my home and I cannot live anywhere else; I would rather die in Nigeria. So I am coming home soon.
There is a lot yet about the Pentascope deal during you tenure at BPE. Do you still insist that you did the best for Nigeria at that time?
We did what was right and what has happened since then confirm the correctness of our decisions. The people that fought tooth and nail to cancel the deal have now been revealed as bribe-takers in the Siemens scandal, and NITEL, as a viable investment proposition had declined, destroyed by greed, selfishness and narrow mindedness.
Pentascope paid salaries and kept the place going. What has happened since then?
The Senate has deliberated on and approved the report of its committee on the FCT, but you are reported to be dissatisfied with the committee’s proceedings and report. What are your reservations?
My attorney, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, has articulated our case better than I ever can and The Guardian carried this. Everything about that Senate Committee from its constitution, non-declaration of pecuniary interest, contrary to Senate’s own rules and disregarding pendency of a court case and so on are being challenged at the Federal High Court.
More than that is the outright falsehood and malice that oozes through each paragraph of the report. Sodangi, Obiorah and Smart Adeyemi all lost plots, hotels and sources of easy money during my tenure in FCT. So it was time to settle scores and that is what they tried to do.
What is sad is that instead of facing me like men, they bastardised a national institution and misled their colleagues in the process. It is sad.
It is alleged that about N32 billion is missing from the proceeds of the sale of federal government houses in the FCT and you are being held accountable for it, a reason the EFCC said it declared you wanted. What happened to the funds?
This is one of the allegations that the Senate Committee made in its several ‘interim reports,’ which were leaked to the media, but was quietly omitted, from the ‘Final Report’ to the Senate. The reason is simple: They lied again.
First, my tenure ended in May 2007 and an audit of the proceeds of sale of government houses was undertaken jointly by Akintola Williams, Deloitte and Aminu Ibrahim & Co. The report was submitted in July 2007, two months after I left office, and not a penny was alleged to be missing then.
This report was made available to the Committee, yet they went ahead to make headlines with their allegation.
I later learnt there was a deal between my immediate successor and the Committee that if they could pin the disappearance of N32 billion on me, there will be some money to share between the two conspirators.
Shortly after the deal was struck, the cabinet was reshuffled and Mr. Remi Babalola, the Minister of State for Finance, recovered N46 billion from 15 bank accounts of the FCT. It turned out that the money was placed on deposit and someone was collecting what they called brokerage. The funds (N46 billion) were transferred to federal government’s account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
So how can N32 billion be missing today and you find N46 billion the next day? It is all falsehood propagated to tarnish my reputation and create a situation to enable those in office divert the entire amount.
Again, on this matter, we have gone to court, seeking declaratory judgment and presenting all our facts. We sued the EFCC and have joined the CBN, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Joint Auditors to contradict the facts, as we know them.
The EFCC threatened to declare me wanted because I refused to abandon my studies to come to Nigeria to further explain what they called ‘PHCN and NIPOST lands.’ When they realised that they had weak legal basis to challenge my authority to revoke and allocate land under both FCT Act and the Land Use Act, they adopted the Senate allegation of ‘missing N32 billion.”
When even the Senate Committee could not sustain that allegation in its Final Report, the EFCC declared me wanted for ‘jumping bail.’
The EFCC has also invited you over the allocation of plots of land that used to belong to NEPA and NIPOST?
The EFCC wrote to me on these matters in June last year and came to my house and I submitted lengthy explanations, with over 100 pages of documents. Then they wrote in October last year inviting me on the same matter, knowing that I am abroad for studies.
I requested them to send any additional question through my lawyer, but they refused, saying that I must appear. Why must I? Are they paying for my ticket? Are we not conducting this interview by email now? Have they never heard of teleconferencing? No, they wanted me to come so that they could seize my passport and frustrate my studies.
James Ibori had boasted that since he cannot go to London, he would ensure that my passport is seized when I come, and this was communicated to me.
That is the problem of PHCN and NIPOST, which are both matters that I have filed two lawsuits. These are just the excuses to enable EFCC please its masters- President Yar’Adua and James Ibori. But what are the real facts?
The so-called NEPA or PHCN plot was a plot owned by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) for the purpose of building a 330KV substation to connect Abuja to the national grid through Nasarawa State to the East. PHCN changed its plans and decided they needed only a smaller 132kV substation there.
So the plot was redesigned and land set aside for the smaller substation, while 10 or 11 plots were carved out and allocated. Everything was done properly with the input of all land-related departments.
As minister, I had the power to approve the allocations and I did. That is the story of the NEPA/PHCN plot.
The NIPOST plot was allocated to NIPOST over 15 years before I approved its revocation. NIPOST had illegally gone into a sublease agreement with Suleyman Yahyah of Rosehill to build a block of flats or hotel on the plot. I approved its revocation on several grounds, including failure to develop, violation of terms of grant (illegal sublease), and violation of land use. What Rosehill and NIPOST did was criminal to our efforts of restoring sanity in Abuja.
Yet, they had the audacity to petition the government and because we are targets of political persecution, it is given capital.
I have filed another suit against Suleyman Yahyah and Rosehill for libel, because their petition contained tendentious allegations, which I consider actionable. Again, we intend to prosecute this to its logical conclusion and await the judgment of the High Court.
Will you return to Nigeria to answer these charges, and when?
Well, there are still no charges against me, though I have learned that President Yar’Adua has insisted I must be charged even for a traffic violation to convict me as soon as possible. If and when the charges are filed, I will vigorously defend myself. I will return to Nigeria soon.
I hope to be done with my Masters’ program and the Mason Fellowship in June 2009, and then I will go on a short vacation and then come back to Nigeria.
Do you think there is a plan to tarnish the reputation of some of those that served in the Obasanjo cabinet?
No, I do not feel there is a plan. I am certain there is a program to demonise Obasanjo and his high -profile ministers and heads of agencies. It is a major program of the federal government under Yar’Adua. I feel it is of greater priority and importance above the Seven-Point Agenda.
It is alleged that you have difficult relations with President Yar’Adua and his inner circle?
I first met and got to know Umaru Yar’Adua through Sani Maikudi, his cousin and my guardian at Barewa College back in 1972. I considered him my elder brother. The last time I spoke with him was in September 2007 at the inaugural meeting of the National Energy Council.
I resigned from that Council in June last year, as I was coming to Harvard. I do not know the members of his ‘inner circle,’ but Tanimu Yakubu, his Economic Adviser has always been close to me and I still exchange emails with him from time to time.
You are alleged to have initially dismissed Yar’Adua as a presidential material and worked with others to get the courts to reverse his election?
That is untrue. The day President Yar’Adua came to Abuja to pick up his nomination form, he sent Tanimu Yakubu to seek audience with me. I found that strange because usually, when he visits Abuja and we needed to meet, I went to the Katsina State Governor’s Lodge to meet with him, out of the respect I have had for him. But Tanimu was insistent.
So I went home early and Yar’Adua and Tanimu came to inform me of Obasanjo’s invitation to Yar’Adua to file his nomination papers. He asked me to rally the Economic Team behind his candidacy and I did that. I believed strongly in his candidacy and went out of my way to canvass support for it in the Nigerian media and other friends of Nigeria. As I said, Allah will judge between us.
It is not true that I worked with anyone to reverse any election. First, as a public servant and student of Law, I appreciate how difficult the work of judges is. I have never solicited any judge to influence any judgment throughout my life, public or private.
Second, I did not share the view that getting the elections cancelled will lead to any different outcome than we have. And even if the elections are re-run, with (Prof Maurice) Iwu and (Mr. Mike) Okiro in office, Yar’Adua will win again and get a fresh four year term. So why waste the resources?
It is all circulated to justify our persecution… It is sad and disappointing.
What is your opinion on his Seven-Point Agenda?
It is a great shopping list of desirables that is enlightening more by what it does not include in the seven points. For instance, fighting corruption is not on the seven point agenda.
Secondly, the agenda needs to be converted into a clear plan, with priorities and implementation strategies. All the documents I have on the Seven Point Agenda indicate that these are yet to be developed. I hope they get developed soon.
What would be your advice to friends regarding accepting appointment with the present government?
I think every individual should be free to take decisions on whether to serve this government or not, and I believe public service is important and if good people do not do it, bad people will. I will therefore encourage every good and honest person to consider going into public service.
I can answer your question quite categorically in respect of my person. I have observed the government for two years and know the key actors very well. This is not a reforming government. This is a government that lacks courage.
This is a government of double-speak and continuous promises with no foreseeable results or outcomes. This is a government that has little tolerance for mavericks that want to make a difference.
I will never ever serve this kind of government, but I hope others better than me can and will, because Nigeria needs a functioning government utilising the best possible hands. Nigeria is my only country, so I care.
What is your view on corruption, its impact and the war being wagged against it in Nigeria?
Corruption is an evil that has contributed to distorting the incentive structure in Nigeria and has negatively affected our political, economic and social development. It must be fought and brought to a predictable and manageable standstill.
Some countries, like Indonesia, have made progress with significant levels of corruption but its distortion of incentive structures destroys whatever is good in a society in the long run.
The highest point in the anti-corruption war history of Nigeria is still the Mallam Nuhu Ribadu era. Under his courageous leadership, the EFCC was successfully prosecuting at least 100 cases per annum.
This administration is not serious about fighting corruption. It thinks that Nigerians are stupid people who will believe lies when everyone in government repeats them, such as rule of law, anti-corruption with due process, etc. But how many convictions have they secured?
I remember attending a dinner with the British High Commissioner before I left Nigeria, with Babalola and Dr. Faruk Lawan in attendance. He asked us what would signal whether the Yar’Adua government would continue the anti-corruption war so ably started by the Obasanjo administration.
I replied then that if Ibori was actively prosecuted, then the new administration is serious about fighting corruption. I added that if Ribadu were promoted out of his EFCC job, it would be a clear sign that the intentions are suspect. This was in mid-2007. I rest my case.
Do you have any presidential ambition or do you link your current travails to suspicions that you have an interest in the highest office?
No, I do not have any ambitions for political office. I have been there and seen most of it and I feel I have done my bit. About 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population is below the age of 40, so people like me (I will be 50 next year) need to step aside and encourage the emergence of a new generation of public leaders. That is my passion, not holding any office. I am too old.
I want to see everyone older than me retire to their villages to be local government chairmen and allow Obama’s age mates to run the country.
Perhaps I am being suspected of an interest in what you call ‘higher office.’ But if a Nigerian aspires to be President, is that an offense? I have read in newspapers that any political meeting of a few serious politicians is now interpreted as a plot to bring down the Yar’Adua government. What kind of insecure government do we have now?
I reiterate that my passion is to see a young person below the age 49 elected Nigeria’s President in 2011 and beyond. The old people have failed; we need to give things up to the younger ones.
What is your vision of Nigeria?
Nigeria is a country of great resources and capacities suffering from a leadership deficit. We need enlightened and exposed leaders that are bold, courageous and inclusive. We need a national vision that will bring our public leaders and our people together in a broad consensus to move our nation forward, in a way that incentives are placed to reward talent and hardwork, to sanction indolence and deviance, encouraging the strong and protecting the weak, beyond religious or ethnic groupings, states and regions.
I thought Obasanjo laid a good foundation for this to be built upon. It is a disappointment that it has not happened, but we will never give up. This is a burden placed on us by God, as the most populous Black nation on earth.