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By Emeka Alex Duru, Features Editor
Even out of office, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, Nasir el-Rufai, has not ceased to stir controversies. Some say he derives joy in such engagements, given, as they suspect, the encounters help him remain in public domain and attract to him a certain level of relevance, at least, among casual observers. To these commentators, the former minister, may after all be stoking the controversies so as to remain in the news. His admirers however differ, insisting that the first class quantity surveyor does not crave for attention but only attempts to elevate public discourse to acceptable standard.
His numerous essays and incisive write-ups easily come handy in supporting this view. In his “Nigeria: Rich country, poor people”, for instance, he made a profound analysis of the contradictions of the Nigerian nation, describing it as a country that is enormously endowed with resources but with greater percentage of its citizenry wallowing in abject poverty.
“While our economy grew, the incomes of the poor have not, even with the new minimum wage. This is especially true of the rural and urban poor who together account for much of Nigerian poverty”, he had argued.
He estimated that going by contemporary trends, by 2015, Nigeria would have more poor people than India and China who have more than one billion people each. In contrast, he said, China and India have lifted more than 600 million out of poverty in the last 20 years of economic growth.
His hypothesis did not go down well with officials of the government. But, El-Rufai had made his point and had engineered controversy that lasted for some time.
He is set to throw up another debate, in alleging that the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo lived in fear of arrest under the era of late President Umaru Yar’Adua. This was part of the disclosures by the former minister in his book; “The Accidental Public Servant”. He had alleged that Obasanjo’s agenda of foisting Yar’Adua on Nigerians with the aim of controlling the late President, did not work as he had planned. According to him, Obasanjo later realised that Yar’Adua had become a man of his own, hence he remained in mortal fear of arrest there after.
He said; “If I am just naïve that the ticket that ended up succeeding Obasanjo was meant to be a third term revenge, it did not work exactly out. Yar’Adua revolted against him, reversed virtually everything he did and even began investigating him. Obasanjo recently admitted to a close friend of ours that through out the years Yar’Adua was in power, he was constantly in fear of being arrested because it was clear to that at some point, Yar’Adua was after him”.
Some would be tempted to take the ex-minister’s words, particularly given his celebrated closeness to the former President while they called the shots. What however remains the snag is that El-Rufai did not name the so-called close friend to whom Obasanjo allegedly made the confession.
Critics thus, see in the development the normal trend of the former FCT helmsman embarking on an engagement he may not follow to the end.
Shortly after his nomination for ministerial job, El-Rufai, who was then exiting as Director-General, of the Bureau for Public Enterprises, had accused some senators of demanding bribe from him to ease his clearance.
When he raised the alarm, the then Obasanjo administration that was laying bogus claims of fighting corruption, literally went wild in celebration. But by the time the senators put El-Rufai on the spot to prove his allegation, it became apparent that he did not have his facts. To worsen matters, he ate his words, fell from his high horse and tendered apologies to the senior lawmakers.
Though he was confirmed, the development spoke volume on the public perception of the diminutive surveyor. When he was later accused of hiring inexperienced female aides, whose salaries were paid in dollars, it was damning on his image, especially as he had carried on as the poster boy of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade.
Further allegation that his last days as FCT Minister witnessed land allocation bazaar to some friends and relations, including under-aged family members, was all that his critics needed to strengthen their argument that he was not the angel many had thought him to be.
Dr. Tunji Abayomi, Constitutional lawyer, acknowledged that certain people within the Yar’Adua administration were not favourably disposed to Obasanjo but would not argue if they went to the extent of plotting against him. Perhaps, Obasanjo may have his own angle to the story. The former minister was born on February 16, 1960.