THE EL-RUFAI-en-GEJ MENT   Leave a comment

By Ochereome Nnanna
Abuja, July 7, 2011

Those who thought it was a one-off thing were soon mistaken. Former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Nasir el Rufai, not only took up the Friday slot of the back page of THISDAY Newspapers to write a regular column but also pointedly undertook the mission of “holding government accountable”.

From the tone and content of his two outings so far, he is directly pitched against the policies of President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he had audaciously, in his first article, pronounced as doomed to failure as a leader.

El Rufai’s new mission has been received with mixed feelings. While some think he went into opposition because he failed to get a job under Jonathan, others say he should be judged by his message, not the alleged motives behind it. At first I was sceptical about el Rufai as a newspaper columnist.

But on second thoughts, my new attitude is, why not? It is often true that being exposed to “how government works” in Nigeria leaves a social commentator or journalist with one (or both) of his balls missing when he returns to the beat. It needs not be so if one comes out of that onerous adventure without soiling his fingers. Being exposed to the workings of government puts one in a position of great advantage to inform the reading public better (that is, if it does not end up shutting one up forever or compromising one permanently as a beholden partisan who can no longer deal with issues objectively).

The challenge before el-Rufai and my returnee colleagues like Pini Jason, Olusegun Adeniyi and Chuks Iloegbunam is to prove they are still above board in terms of objectivity.

It is probably wrong to even put el Rufai in the class of the three journalists. El Rufai is a technocrat-turned government operative. His exposure to media work is likely to be temporary. Unlike the journalists who will be bound by ethical demands to be as objective as possible, El-Rufai has made it clear that he is in the business to prove his prophecy that GEJ does not possess what it takes to lead a nation like Nigeria successfully.

That obviously put the Presidency on edge and forced it to make what I consider a blunder in arresting him over his second article entitled: “What Nigerians Pay Government”, published last Friday.

The article itself (save for, perhaps the disagreement in figures between the writer and Marilyn Ogar, the State Security Services, SSS, spokesperson over the amount voted for the National Security Adviser) was, to me, fair enough comment. It did not have the doom-saying, dismissive bile of the first outing.
Through that piece, el Rufai demonstrated the rigour of a person exposed to the complexities of public expenditure and why he thought they were being wastefully deployed.

The President’s team should realise they have in el Rufai an elevated mind who will lean on his keen knowledge of governance to manipulate public opinion to prove his point that Jonathan is not good enough to lead. The arrest and detention was an ill-advised reflex action of government not suited for the challenge that el Rufai poses to the GEJ administration.

El Rufai craftily devised a “Tom and Jerry” game of wits with the Presidency, but the latter was unable to read the game plan and therefore plunged headlong into a blunder from which the former minister came out holding the higher ground. That arrest is guaranteed to make even more people look forward to el Rufai’s next outing against GEJ.

The sooner the Presidency understands that the el Rufai challenge is more of a mind game than anything else, they sooner they will also see the need to meet – and overcome – him at his own frequency. It is an intellectual running battle.

The man says you are incapable of stiff-arming established cabals and cliques to make the changes required to “transform Nigeria”.

In spite of his terminal illness, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s toughness was so evident to el Rufai that he fled into self-exile. Then, when Yar’Adua died, el Rufai returned to Nigeria and has become emboldened enough to poke his finger in the President’s eye to tell him: “No, you can’t”. GEJ needs to prove to Nigerians: “Yes, I can”.

Arresting and detaining the gadfly was not the appropriate way of demonstrating this. The arrest and detention yielded nothing for the government, but it paid el Rufai, who is now on his way to becoming some people’s overnight hero.

Does GEJ have the people who will be able to meet the former minister fire for fire intellectually? Does he have the people who can pick up the pen and put el Rufai’s provocative “facts and figures” in the doghouse? Attempts at answering back to el Rufai have been pitifully amateurish, half-literate and hackneyed. If a president cannot hire the best hands and minds in the land, then perhaps el Rufai has a point.

I shudder at what would have happened if anyone had posed a similar challenge to General Ibrahim Babangida at the height of his reign in Dodan Barracks between 1987 and 1991 when he coated himself with a battery of “A” class intellectuals and specialists in almost every field. It is positively down-whelming for a private Nigerian to put the question mark on the Presidency’s executive and intellectual capacities – and make it stick!

GEJ must understand the mentality of the world out there. People like Obama will not understand the point in arresting el Rufai for raising issues in an attempt to hold government to account. Neither do I. However, we have to keep our eyes peeled and make sure that no Nigerian, no matter how disgruntled, is able to carry out the threat of making the nation ungovernable through seditious rabble-rousing.



Posted September 28, 2011 by Raymond Eyo in Politics

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