The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, has been dressed in different garbs for electing to thrive in controversies. Of all that has been ascribed to him, one outstanding takeaway is that he is a man, though not gifted with height, but with tremendous courage to stir controversies.
He has been tagged as the small man with big wahala.
El-Rufai is not new to controversies as he seems to stroll from one to the other. Never known to back down easily, he clings on to what he believes in and holds tenaciously to it.
Sometimes he has returned to his vomit, leaving his aides with the onerous task of coming up with convincing explanations to worried publics.
Often, he has incurred public wrath for pursuing and executing policies perceived as anti-people but El-Rufai has continued with actions that put him at direct loggerheads with many.
Born into controversy?
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is reportedly originally from Katsina State but grew up in Kaduna State. He was born on February 16, 1960, in Daudawa, Faskari local government area in Katsina State, but after he lost his father at the age of eight, he got sponsored to school by an uncle based in Kaduna and has claimed the State ever since.
As a Minister in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between 2003 and 2007, El-Rufai demolished hundreds of houses, evicting close to 800,000 people from their homes. This, according to him, was in a bid to restore the nation’s capital’s ‘master plan’ and bring sanity to the ‘chaos’ that was the capital at the time.
Among the houses demolished was that of Senator Ahmadu Ali, the chairman of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), brushing aside court suits, criticism and threats to his life, while carrying out his bulldozing adventures.
As an elected governor of Kaduna State from 2015 to date, he has also demolished several houses, including a hotel belonging to the wife of a PDP chieftain on the allegation that the facility was being used for a sex party.
Perhaps, the most audacious of decisions was when El-Rufai disengaged over 21,000 school teachers after they failed a competency test by his government.
During the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, El-Rufai became a staunch critic, making many unguarded utterances and blaming him for every action and inactions.
In his book, ‘My Watch,’ Obasanjo said of El-Rufai:
“Nasir’s penchant for reputation savaging is almost pathological. Why does he do it? He is brilliant and smart. I grant him that also. Very early in my interaction with him, I appreciated his talent and brilliance. At the same time, I recognised his weaknesses; the worst being 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 against his colleagues and so-called friends. I have heard of how he ruthlessly savaged the reputation of his uncle, a man who was like, in the African setting, his foster father. I shuddered when I heard the story of what he did to his half-brother in the Air Force who is senior to him in age.”
But is El-Rufai a truly concerned Nigerian or just a trouble maker? Are his criticisms borne out of love for country or is he just being a cold-blooded politician constantly scheming and warm his way into power?
From being a top member in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to a self-styled social crusader, the man whose aliases range from the “Giant”, to “Demolition Man” and “Mr Controversy” has defied all explanations.
No doubt, the trajectory of El-Rufai’s political life has seen a litany of controversies. Documented here is a list of some of the hottest issues that swirled around the diminutive governor.
1, In March 2021, when 29 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, were abducted from their school, El-Rufai took a stance not to pay any ransom or negotiate with the bandits.
He had said, “Several states sought to negotiate their way out of the problems by talking to bandits, paying them money or offering them amnesty. This has not worked and has only encouraged the criminals to press ahead for a surrender of the public treasury to them. That is clearly not in the public interest.”
But after 57 days in captivity, the students were released and the governor lashed out saying his government had planned to bomb the location of the bandits even if it meant losing some of the students in the process.
“Two days after the abduction of the Afaka young people, I was assured by the air force and the army that they knew where the kidnappers were with the students and they had encircled them.
“We were going to attack them. We would lose a few students but we would kill all the bandits and we would recover some of the students.
“That was our plan. That was the plan of the air force and the army… But they slipped through the cordon of the army. That is why they were not attacked.
“We know it is risky. We know in the process we may lose some of the abductees but it is a price we have to pay.
“This is war, there will always be collateral damage in war and we will rather do that than pay money because paying money has not solved the problem anywhere in the world.”
2, In 2012, El-Rufai, himself a Fulani man, had made a tweet to the effect that members of his tribe do not forgive or forget any hurt as they would always come back for vengeance.
In the tweet, he wrote:
“Anyone, soldier or not, that kills the Fulani man, takes a loan repayable one day, no matter how long it takes.”
3, In a webinar organized by the Africa Leadership Group with the theme, ‘Developing a Viable Nation 2’ hosted by Pastor of Trinity House church Ituah Ighodalo, on May 6, 2021, the governor m, however, seemed to have recanted on the tweet which had drawn a lot of criticism from Nigerians when he said the tweet was taken out of context.
“If a Fulani man dies in war, it is different. If a Fulani man is arrested by the authorities and convicted, it is not an issue. What the Fulani never forgets is when he is innocently targeted and killed and the authorities do nothing. He will never forget and he will come back for revenge. This is it.
“So, it is better to understand the context given of what I tweeted which had to do with an issue in Plateau State in 2012. I hope you get the context. So, it is not that Fulani will never forget. Anyone that goes through pain and sorrow either forgets or doesn’t forget but when it is extrajudicial, when it is extra-official, the attitude is completely different.
“This is the context in which Fulani never forgets. It is not in every context.”
4, In 2013, El-Rufai got into the skin of Jonathan when he accused the then sitting president of playing ethnic and religious politics.
While appearing on a radio program in Kaduna, he said Jonathan had a penchant for stirring religious and ethnic consciousness whenever faced with a serious national issue.
“It is the political strategy of Jonathan to always use ethnicity and religion whenever there is a problem.
“Whenever there is a big issue about excess crude account or subsidy issue, they bring this issue of ethnicity and religion. But I have not lost hope because I know that Nigerians can see through their pranks and their game and will vote them out in the next election. The challenge for the next president is to build trust among the various ethnic groups so that Nigeria can walk towards one direction,” he said.
5, In 2015, El-Rufai implored the President to negotiate with Boko Haram to secure the release of the abducted female students of the Government Girls’ Science Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State.
In a video message which became viral back then, the governor had said:
“If I were Jonathan, I would negotiate to secure Chibok girls’ release. The government has the solution to this problem. Several committees have given them recommendations. They should just implement the recommendations in their drawer, okay?
“As for rescuing the girls, we have seen examples of what countries do when this situation happens, you should have military action, on the one hand; the negotiation on the other. You should not foreclose anything because the lives of your citizens are at risk and you don’t want to lose one life. You don’t want to lose the life of one person.
“I’m in support of every option. When you have the lives of your citizens at risk, you should not take any option off the table. You should be flexible. You should listen. You should negotiate and look at the price. You have to be and get those girls out.”
But seven years after he made the statement, El-Rufai seems to have forgotten his mantra when he insisted that his government would never negotiate with bandits over the release of abducted students in Kaduna.
6, “Our position on Kaduna State has been clear and consistent: bandits, cattle rustlers and armed militia must be degraded and decimated to a state of unconditional submission to constituted authority.”
When asked why the sudden change of mind on negotiations with bandits, El-Rufai said in an interview:
“The years since 2014 may have led some people to forget the denial and doubt that defined the FG’s response to the Chibok abductions, especially the initial refusal to acknowledge that it happened. That was the context under which civic pressures were brought on the government.
“Nigeria’s journey since the 2014 Chibok tragedy has proven that the solution to violent crimes, including terrorism and banditry, is a robust response from the state and its coercive agencies. The quantum of money paid as ransom following many negotiations with bandits have not stopped kidnappings, reduced their frequency or deterred the criminals.
“Mass abduction was like a novelty in 2014. But the facts have changed since then. Negotiations and ransoms have been undertaken, but these have not stopped the criminals. It has only encouraged them.”
7, In 2016, El-Rufai took the nation by storm when he announced that he had paid huge amounts of money to some foreign Fulani herders to stop killings and the destruction of communities in Southern Kaduna.
Fielding questions from journalists in his office, Mallam El-Rufai said:
“For Southern Kaduna, we didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) to find out what was going on there.
“What was established was that the root of the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post-election violence.
“Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria.
Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them.
“Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge.
“So a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died, the whole thing stopped.
“That is what we inherited. But the Agwai committee established that. We took certain steps. We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger Republic and so on, to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging them to stop killing.
“In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they have forgiven. There are one or two that asked for monetary compensation. They said they have forgiven the death of human beings, but want compensation for cattle. We said no problem, and we paid some. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger Republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me.”
8, Prior to the 2015 general elections, El-Rufai, a strong supporter and believer in President Muhammadu Buhari, sparked off another round of controversy when he warned foreign election observers that if they intervened in the Nigerian elections, they would be returned to their various countries in body bags.
Speaking in an interview on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on February 5, 2015, he made a statement that drew criticisms from Nigerians, opposition parties and the international community when he said:
“This is my appeal. Now, intervention is the higher form of interference where countries intervene militarily. We have done that in Sierra Leone and Liberia and we only did so because we had the international community actually appealing to Nigeria to go in and restore order. It cost us a lot of money and lives and we never got anything from it.
“Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person to come and intervene. They would go back in body bags because nobody would come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country. We have got that independence.”
The ‘body bag’ threat was a big issue that had a frightening security implication, especially at a time the searchlight of the international community was intensely beamed on Nigeria on account of the general elections.
9, In 2018, El-Rufai stirred the hornet’s nest when he caused an uproar in Kaduna with the sacking of 22,000 teachers in one fell swoop. His reason was that those affected failed competency test based on questions meant for primary four pupils.
In the same year, he sent a Bill to the state House of Assembly for enactment into law to curb public religious preaching and as expected, the move received knocks from several quarters, particularly religious bodies, who viewed it as a violation of their human right.
The bill, titled “A Bill for a Law to Substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984,” was said to be a replication of the 1984 law enacted by the military, with some slight additions. The military government at the time had enacted the law to check the activities of preachers following religious riots, particularly, the Maitatsine riots, in Kano in the 1980s.
It proposed the establishment of two committees, one from the Jama’atu Nasir Islam for the Muslims, and the other from CAN for the Christians. It also proposed the establishment of an Inter-faith ministerial committee, with the powers to exercise supervisory control over the JNI and CAN committees.
Explaining the rationale for the Bill, El-Rufai said in an interview:
“Honestly, we do not have any ulterior motive other than to put a framework that will ensure Kaduna State citizens live in peace with every one practising his religion, but disallowing every Dick, Tom and Harry to come and say he can preach.
“Many of the people that are talking about the law have never even read it. If you read that law, it is very short, it is 16 sections. Read it; tell me what you don’t like. Don’t say you don’t like the entire law because we know we have a problem and I am the governor and I need a solution. So don’t say the solution is not to have the law, tell me what you don’t like, we can discuss it.
“We want to find a solution that will bring peace; we are not fixed in our position. What we are fixed about is that Kaduna state people must live in peace. Everyone must be allowed to practise his religion without let or hindrance.
“There is nothing in that law that prevents or infringes on the practice on religion. It seeks to ensure that those that preach religion are qualified, trained and certified by their peers to do it.
“The way some sections of the media had made it appear is as if the law was drafted against Christianity is most irresponsible! For people like that, I have nothing to say except to leave the matter to God. God knows our hearts, God knows what we want to achieve. That is all I have to say.”
10, In 2017, two years after Jonathan had been out of office, El-Rufai challenged the ex-president to explain how N2bn of ecological funds were disbursed only to states controlled by the PDP.
Speaking at a press conference in Kaduna, El-Rufai responded to Jonathan’s claims that the funds were equally distributed to all states in the country and challenged the former president to provide a rationale for presiding over the distribution of federal funds in a discriminatory manner.
“Former President Goodluck Jonathan is not a man that can take responsibility for anything. No one should be surprised that he is denying presiding over the skewed distribution of ecological funds. His denial begs the question.
“What special circumstances ensured that only states that were controlled by the PDP and its allied parties qualified for N2 billion each? Is it not curious that not only were his allies the only ones who got the funds, but that the various ecological problems in all 17 states required the same N2 billion across the states?
“Almighty God made it possible for the sun to shine on all. But Jonathan exercised his powers as President as if he governed for only his party or his family. The Jonathan government was so conscious that there was something untoward with sharing public funds in that manner that they did not publicise the payments to their preferred states.”
The El-Rufai we know
One thing that stands him out is his brilliance and intelligence. He attended Barewa College, Zaria, where he graduated as the best student in 1976, winning the Barewa Old Boys’ Association Academic Achievement Trophy.
El-Rufai proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained a Bachelor degree (First Class Honors) in Quantity Surveying.
He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and Georgetown University. He also has an LL.B degree from the University of London, from where he graduated in August 2008.
He holds a Masters degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, which he earned in June, 2009.
He became General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s economic adviser in 1998, later heading the Bureau of Public Enterprises in 1999, and moving on to becoming the Secretary of the National Council on Privatization.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo made him the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and he became a critical member of a 5-man economic team between 2003 and 2007.
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