The definition of a politician as “an individual involved in influencing public policy and decision making in government” or as a “person engaged or interested in politics” and sees politics as “science and art of government”, more aptly describes Nasir el-Rufai , the highly cerebral governor of Kaduna state, even though he prefers to describe himself as an “Accidental Public Servant”. The point must be made from the outset, that el-Rufai is in every respect very much unlike the average Nigerian politician, most of whom are lacking in vision and stand for nothing beyond the crude acquisition of raw power for the sake of power, which explains why Nigeria in spite of her resources – human and material – has remained underdeveloped.
Thankfully, in the Sahara desert of leadership there is a consensus that el-Rufai, who is undoubtedly engaging and equipped with an amazing knowledge that covers virtually every walk of life, represents an oasis of hope which has continuously played out in his overwhelming choice to handle critical and challenging assignments that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and colleague governors have continuously saddled him with since 2015, after the resounding defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). El-Rufai to date, given the overwhelming confidence reposed in him, due to his good grasp of issues, has been drafted into several ad-hoc committees either as chairman or as member, the latest being the committee that reviewed the ownership structure of the privatised electricity distribution companies and on how Nigeria can leverage on the accumulated pension funds for infrastructural development, a testimony of his indispensability when solutions are needed to critical problems.
The other committees that el-Rufai has been part of are: the Management of Excess Crude Account Proceeds and Accruals into Federation Account, which investigated how proceeds into the federation account were managed. The forensic audit was to ascertain how much was earned and remitted. In 2011, General Muhammadu Buhari had also saddled him with the responsibility of “renewing” the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
In the near future, Nigerians would definitely give el-Rufai the credit that he more than deserves, for the many tough decisions he painstakingly forced Nigeria, especially under Olusegun Obasanjo, to take, like they now appreciate his days at the FCT with nostalgia long after he had left, to the bemusement of his traducers. Gratefully, his political opponents who for clearly political reasons had demonised him, reluctantly admit that after him Abuja lost vibrancy and is more or less a city that has fallen apart. For example, but for el-Rufai’s reform of the chaotic defined pension scheme, which eventually led to the introduction of the more realistic contributory pension scheme, Nigeria which by 2007 was beginning to find payment of salaries and its other obligations difficult, would have been in a more terrible mess, than presently- a case of “double wahala” for dead body, like the late Fela would say. The other programme that also has el-Rufai imprint is the reform of the federal public service, which needed the injection of fresh blood. It’s not surprising that in his second term he has created several councils to forge synergy which hitherto hampered policy initiation and implementation.
So when either the APC, the National Economic Council or the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) saddle el-Rufai with the onerous responsibility of chairing the Committee on True Federalism, that would produce the working document that will guide the party in designing its policy on the issue, or NEC in determining what has happened to the Excess Crude fund, it’s because they are rest assured that he would over deliver on the responsibilities, which it must be noted, is in addition to his duty as a governor and his numerous other engagements – delivering lectures. It’s a testimony to the power of el-Rufai’s convictions and political will to act and to act decisively, that has continued to make him a hot cake and extremely high in demand….he is certainly not a man that can be ignored!
For the record, it’s not only Nigeria that has tremendously benefited from el-Rufai’s wealth of experience, Kaduna state is equally benefiting in a manner that’s going to make the governorship shoes larger than size for whoever succeeds him in 2023. There are several policy thrusts that Kaduna state has profited from as a result of his days at either the Bureau or Public Enterprises (BPE) or FCT minister. Unknown to many Nigerians, is that the reform of the pension scheme was triggered by the enormous challenges that the BPE under el-Rufai encountered during the privatisation of public enterprises. And that it’s the reform that led to the passage of the Pension Reform Act (2004) and the creation of the National Pension Commission to implement the PRA of 2004.With the benefit of hindsight as governor, the Kaduna State Pension Law of 2007 was subjected to drastic amendment that cured it of the several flaws that frustrated the realisation of its objectives , the most notorious being the lack of a coordinating agency, which the creation of the Kaduna State Pension Bureau, an amalgam of the defunct Bureau of State Pension and Bureau of Local Government Pension, has resolved. Before then, pension administration was Fuji House of Commotion, as responsibilities were not defined.
El-Rufai’s solid education and deep knowledge is no doubt largely responsible for his reform mindedness, which is part of what makes him tick. The essential el-Rufai, truly speaking, is not about “projects”, because any idiot can award contract for the construction of roads or bridges or the construction of hospitals like we have seen in many states. For instance, there is a governor, who built a multi-million hospital, only to discover that the state lacked nurses to run it. Under el-Rufai, the State Statistics Bureau would have alerted him to that fact. El-Rufai is not a project for the sake of project man, so as to convince the people that he is “working”. He is much more than that, because he is perspective and methodological. For instance, the multi-billion urban renewal project is aimed at enhancing security, improving the quality of life, it is an integral part of the Kaduna State Development Plan that has the objective of making the state, the business and tourism destination of the 19 northern states and Abuja.
It’s to the credit of those who in spite of “differences”, do acknowledge that El-Rufai has the capacity to deliver on any assignment. And this explains why he has once again been tapped to provide a road map for the sick power sector. And as expected El-Rufai has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the assignment and true to nature he hasn’t minced words that the power supply industry is totally broken down and that only a concerted emergency action will address the power scandal. He said: “I think there is the will on the part of all the members to really get to the root of the problems and to have an honest national conversation that will help find a way to fix this sector because Nigeria will never make progress, will never create jobs or industrialise without a functioning electricity industry which is the assignment NEC has given us beyond just establishing the status of ownership of the distribution companies.”
Expect the El-Rufai Committee to chart a path, which if the federal government and other stakeholders adhere to, will help resolve the power crisis. The committee to ensure that a thorough job is done and the objectives achieved, hasn’t shied away from recommending that critical stakeholders like the Association of the Electricity Distribution Companies in Nigeria and the Association of Electricity Generating Companies in Nigeria be co-opted into the committee, which the National Economic Council readily approved. The power sector, which was privatised in 2013 resulting in the creation of six generation companies and 11 distribution companies, has clearly continued to underperform, with the Nigerian electricity distribution sub-sector considered the weakest link. El-Rufai, being very rational, has recommended for a comprehensive review and resisted calls for the outright cancellation of the agreement, even though the committee could have cashed in on the fact that the final review of the five-year performance agreement had expired.
Clearly, if Nigeria is to resolve its huge infrastructure deficit, it must source for long term funds to fix the existing highways, and construct new ones, which the paltry N200 billion yearly allocation cannot address. Statistics indicates that the pension fund, presently over one trillion naira, can be leveraged to drive the development of critical sectors. And it’s very commendable that in making that decision, NEC saw the wisdom in saddling el-Rufai who midwifed the pension reform that has raked in the huge fund, to head the committee. Brazil is a convincing example of a country that has leveraged on pension funds to facilitate infrastructure development. At the end of the day, if the necessary amendments are effected to the pension law, borrowing from the pension funds for infrastructure development will be a better option than external borrowing.
Contrary to some political opponents, el-Rufai is a confirmed democrat, and an embodiment of democratic principles, which is why he could gladly take a back stage for his deputy Hadiza Balarabe, the then acting governor, to prepare and present the 2020 budget. Acknowledging that the power sector is critical and the compelling need for Nigerians to contribute to the conversation on the way forward is a further testimony to his credible democratic credentials, which has informed the decision of his committee to call for memoranda from Nigerians. “Everyone in Nigeria is affected by electricity and we want to hear the views of Nigerians, what do you think is wrong with the power sector, what are your experiences dealing with the distribution companies, what you think are the solutions to the power problem. Sometimes solutions are not technical, but commonsensical. So while we have all the technical experts on the table, we also want to hear from Nigerian public,” he said.
But does el-Rufai go out of his way to seek these responsibilities, so as to be “relevant”, like his opponents allege? The obvious and categorical answer is a resounding no! In his reply to the matter, he said “If you look at my record in public service, I have never had personal ambitions or lobbied for a job. I have always been called and given difficult assignments to carry out and I carry them out to the best of my ability.” For instance, when the APC asked him to lead the Kogi Governorship Campaign Council for the re-election of the embattled Yahaya Bello of Kogi state, many analysts not only saw the assignment as mission impossible, but an albatross that would negatively impact on his impressive electoral credentials. But as a true party man he accepted the assignment and gave it the el-Rufai touch and like they say, the rest is history.
Whether in or out of office, Nasir el-Rufai would always be in great demand, due to the sheer power of his ideas, which most times are ahead of its time and are unpalatable truth that some people hate to hear. For instance, el-Rufai pushed for the computerisation of APC membership register, it was fiercely opposed, but it came back to hunt the party during the 2019 elections. Like the ideas man that he is, he has equally been canvassing the need for party members to fund the parties by paying membership dues, which will help guide against the hijack of the party by power desperados. He said: “Parties should be funded by the members, and not from the treasury, it is criminal. It is unconstitutional and it is wrong.” On the issue of zoning, which hasn’t really thrown up quality candidates, his views are very well documented. These are the kind of views that el-Rufai canvasses, which are clearly lacking in many other politicians that have earned him the title of “controversial”. El-Rufai like the good student that he is, has internalised and imbibed the words of Louis L’Amor that “Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and hopefully, in value.” By engaging in these assignments, el-Rufai definitely increases in knowledge and invariably in demand.
Ado writes from Kaduna