PART 1 Interview: Why Obasanjo Is Attacking Buhari – El-Rufai

The Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, has given insights into why he thinks President Muhammadu Buhari is having a political row with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

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Mr Obasanjo supported the election of Mr Buhari in 2015. They however, fell apart over some political differences and have been attacking each other publicly.

Mr El-Rufai, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview in his office in Kaduna, also spoke about why Nigerians should not vote for the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

He also gave hints the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, may face more troubles if the anti-graft agencies beam their searchlight on his submissione to the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Below is the first part of the interview:

Q: The presidential election is just about a week away, looking at the permutations compared to the last election and all the things that are happening, do you think your party stands a chance?

A: Of course, not only stand a chance, I think our party is going to win this election. I say this on the basis of the track record of performance of the federal government and the various state governments of the APC under very difficult circumstances. People are quick to point out that APC could have done better in this area or that area but they forget the alternative scenario where the country could have been had PDP under Jonathan continued.

This is the basis for comparison. In addition we are scientific, we conduct polls very regularly both at the state level here in Kaduna and at the national level so we know our position, we know where we are strong and where we are weak and we are reasonably confident that we are going to win the election. President Muhammadu Buhari will be reelected and I am confident about that. It is not a question of standing a chance, I am quite confident that we will win the election.

Q: But there are claims by some Nigerian, and there are many of them out there who believe that you haven’t actually delivered on your electoral promises to the Nigerian. People cite unemployment, poor infrastructure and people even still talk about corruption still thriving as much as when you came. Why should Nigerians reelect your party again?

A: I think some Nigerians think that decades of neglect of infrastructure can be resolved in four years, which is not fair. Some are pushing the narrative that systemic corruption can be eliminated in four years; that is not possible. To say that the levels of corruption and impunity that was visible during the Jonathan administration is still existing in Nigeria is not being fair. At least people are now being afraid of insisting on being paid before they offer government services and so on. There is still corruption in Nigeria, no doubt about it; there will be corruption not only in Nigeria but many other societies to some degree, but has it reduced? Has the impunity come down? I think it has and the Transparency International has recognised that when you look at our ranking in the Transparency International index.

With regards to infrastructure, as I said, there has been years of neglect. There has been a build up in infrastructure deficit which this government in very difficult circumstances, without resources, with a quarter of the resources which previous government were getting is trying hard, borrowing from China and everywhere to build infrastructure. Electricity generation has increased, the number of kilometres of rail has increased, and we are reviving the narrow gauge system to contract it out to an operator from South Africa that will be used mostly for freight of petroleum products which will take burden off our roads. So I think a lot has been done in very difficult circumstances. Are we where we should be? No! I think we still have a long way to go but if you do an alternative scenario and say if Jonathan had won the 2015 election where will the country be in terms of corruption today? Just look at what they were doing and how they were doing it and then project and give him four years. Where will the country be in terms of infrastructure? Where will the country be in terms of diversification of the economy? Agriculture is booming, farmers are making money. Here in Kaduna state our economy has moved to rural areas. 82% of our pilgrims are not from the urban areas as was the case in 2015 when we came in but from the rural areas which means farmers are making money and they are getting rich and the economy is moving to rural areas and rural-urban migration has reduced. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that the government has not fulfilled its promises. I think the government has made an attempt to fulfill its promises under very difficult circumstances at the federal level. Here at the state level, it’s the same struggle we have made promises to revamp human capital, to revamp infrastructure and so on, but we are limited not by our ambitions or vision or capacity but financial resources because of what is going on. We came into office in very difficult circumstances, the opportunity we had to use our windfall from the sale of oil, when oil peaked up to $140 per barrel was frittered away by the previous government and we inherited not only a near empty treasury, not savings account but huge debt level, yet this government had to borrow even more just to keep certain things going.

Q: What do you make of the state of Abuja, the capital, today in terms of infrastructure, in terms of maintenance and all of that?

A: It is not my practice to comment on the performance of my successors. I was Minister of Abuja (FCT), I have left, I do not make comments.

Q: I am asking because some people belief that nothing has happened since 12 years ago when you ran the city?

A: I don’t believe that nothing has happened. I went to NTA a couple of nights ago for an interview and I got lost because express roads have been built around that area that I was not aware of, so it is not quite correct to say that nothing has happened. But having said that, as I said I am reluctant to comment. I was head of BPE, I never comment on what happens in BPE, I ran the FCT for four years, I have had my time, I never comment on my successor’s performance or gaps because as a matter of principle I think once you do a job and you should let others do their own job and if they need to talk to you and get advice privately is a different matter but I never comment publicly on FCT or BPE and when I leave Kaduna state I will never comment on any activity of the governor of Kaduna state, that’s a principle that I have adopted in my public service.

Q: You are an advocate of the rule of law, now your government. Your party stands accused of serial disobedience of court orders…

A: Which court orders?

Q: The one on Dasuki for instance, because several courts have ruled that he should be released on bail. El-Zakzaky, Onnoghen.

A: I am not in a position to respond because I don’t have all the details. The Dasuki case, it is only what I read in the papers. Honestly I did not discuss it with anyone and I don’t know the details. I don’t understand why the court will order the release of Dasuki and he is not released unless there is an appeal against that order; and I do not see any problem with the federal government going to the court of appeal and saying this court has given an order and I want a stay, I am appealing the order. But, I don’t know, I am not familiar with the facts to comment on that.

On ElZakzaky, I want to say the Elzakzaky is not being unlawfully held. He is in Kaduna, he is on our custody as Kaduna state government, we brought him here and he is on trial. He has been remanded to prison custody by the high court of Kaduna state. So, he is being properly held. There is no subsisting court order to release Elzakzaky anywhere in Nigeria today. He is undergoing trial, a series of offences that are not bail-able, that’s why he is in custody. We have the option of taking him to prison, we decided that it is safer and better and because he may need continuous medical attention so it may be better to have him in DSS custody. He is in DSS custody but on the order of court. So there is no violation of any rule of law regarding El-Zakzaky.

Now on Onnoghen, I am not aware of any order of court that the federal government has violated because I am familiar with that one even though it’s a federal matter but I am not aware of any order.

Onnoghen was properly charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It was the proper court to charge him for the violation of the code of conduct. Onnoghen himself in a case, Ahmed Vs Ahmed, gave a ruling saying that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is the only tribunal recognised by the constitution to try offences relating to the violation of code of conduct for public officials, that is what he is charged for.

There may be other charges regarding money laundering but that is a separate matter…

Q: So those ones are coming up?

A: If you look at the payments into his accounts, there are legitimate basis to also charge him for money laundering. That is not before the Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct is only concerned about asset declaration and the code of conduct for public officers and it’s the proper court. Onnoghen himself knows that because he was part of a panel that gave a judgment in a case from Kano on this same subject.

He is properly charged before the Code of Conduct but what happens? Instead of coming out and defending himself in court; federal high court, Industrial Court were issuing orders. You cannot order a court of the same level to do or not to do something because the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Industrial Court and the federal high court are all courts of coordinate jurisdiction. They are all at the same level, so they can’t order each other and they knew that their orders were in vain. Saraki tried that when he was before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and it didn’t go anywhere.

The second thing that happened was when the Code of Conduct Tribunal said no, you cannot order me because we are courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, something was filed in the Court of Appeal. I don’t know, appealing against what? But the court of appeal has finally said we cannot stay criminal proceedings. This is clear in section 306 of the Administration of Criminal and Justice Act, you cannot in a criminal trial say stop under any circumstance, that’s the law in Nigeria and it is in plain English. So, the trial is supposed to go but he still has not appeared in court. So I don’t know which court order that the federal government has violated in this instance.

Q: So you are suggesting that there may be more trouble for the suspended Chief Justice?

A: I am not saying anything. I am just saying that based on what I have read which Justice Onnoghen has admitted there are two issues; he has admitted that there are some assets or bank accounts that he had not declared, he said he has forgotten, so that is for the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

If you also look at the details of his admission, he has admitted to bank accounts in which payments of $10,000 five times in a day was being done in order to evade the transactional levels for banks to report to financial intelligence unit. There are grounds to think this is a case for money laundering, that is what I am saying. If any public officer, if any of us does that EFCC can ask him question about money laundering.

So I am not suggesting there is any more trouble for the Chief Justice, I am just saying that based on what I have read and my limited knowledge of law there are enough grounds to ask questions along those lines.

Q: To charge him?

A: I don’t know about charge, but ask questions along those lines. Because the statements he wrote before the Code of Conduct Tribunal did not go to the issue of payments into his bank accounts. It only related to the fact that bank accounts existed that were not declared.

Q: Can’t he be forgiven?

A: He can be forgiven but it is not for me to forgive. But even if he is forgiven, the question to ask is, can he then remain a judge? Can he now judge others that engage in such violations? This is the issue. This for me is the reason why I felt very strongly that Justice Onnoghen should step aside. I must add here that I am one of his admirers and advocates. I admire him for one thing, he was one of the three judges that gave a dissenting judgment in favour of President Buhari in 2007 along with Oguntade and Aloma Mukhtar.

And when his nomination as Chief Justice was delayed, I am one of those that advocated that “what’s going on? This man should be nominated Chief Justice” and he knows that. But I didn’t know some of these things that are coming out I would not have supported it. I will not.

Q: Like people say he has also been hobnobbing with the opposition. Did you also hear that?

A. Look these kinds of stories will always be there okay, I don’t know about hobnobbing with opposition because I don’t have any evidence or fact to support.

I don’t know about hobnobbing with the opposition and I don’t care about that, once you are a public officer you will be accused about these things and it is up to whoever accuses to prove it.

As a matter of principle, anyone that does not declare his assets properly should not have been sworn in in the first place. I remember the case of President Umaru Yar’adua because the night before he was sworn in, Justice Kutigi, of blessed memory, who was the Chief Justice at the time sent a message that he will not appear at Eagle Square unless he sees evidence that Yar’adua has declared his asset. We were running helter skelter 2am-3am that night to get President Yar’adua’s asset declared because Justice Kutigi said “the constitution is clear, I will not go there; I will not swear anyone in unless I see evidence that he has filed his asset with the code of conduct bureau. I don’t have to see the asset declaration, but the Code of Conduct bureau must give me evidence that he has filed”.

Now in the case of Justice Onnoghen, he had two asset declarations made on the same day, one for 2014 and one for 2016. So he ought not to have even been sworn in as Chief Justice if there was a systemic diligence but the mistake has been made, he has been there, but the lease we expect is that once you get there, the right thing should be done. Justice should be upheld.

Q: The opposition believes and is supported by the president’s wife that the president is not in charge; that there is indeed a cabal that is governing the country. You are very close to the president and this is what a lot of people worry about. Will you say this president is in charge?

A: (Laughter) Of course he is in charge. Of course he is in charge. Let me say three things, first, every leader at the level of president, at the level of governor has a cabal, okay. What is cabal? A cabal is three or four people that are the inner circle of any leadership/government in every parlance, everywhere you go. There are people that exercise more influence than others even if they are on the same official level, this is normal. The question is whether the cabal is for good or for bad.

Secondly, you should also understand that in any leadership situation, there are contending cabals; there are groups that are always trying to exercise influence. Sometimes the rivalry between these two groups can be so vicious that it can be worse than even the opposition. That is possible and we know that there are circles of influence in the villa that don’t get along, that happens and that’s what may be happening in this case.

But thirdly, to answer your question is the president in charge, yes, the president signs off on everything. Nobody makes decisions for the president, I know that I am close to him. I go to him and I know he is in charge. Now does he rely on people to write to him, to make recommendations to him? Yes, every leader does, but who has the final say, it’s the president and I have no doubt in my mind that he is in charge. We all have different leadership styles. I served under two presidents. I worked for one year, very short, with General Abdulsalami Abubakar. His style of running the country was completely different from that of Obasanjo. Obasanjo style is also completely different from that of President Buhari. Every leaders has his style, there are some that are micro managers like Obasanjo. Obasanjo likes to know the details; he will call me at 3am to ask me about a memo I will be presenting to the council in a few day because he has just read the memo and there are some details about a street in Abuja that he wanted explanation about. That’s Obasanjo, he reads a lot, and he was a micro manager. He was a control freak. He wanted to know everything, he wanted to control everything. That’s one style.

General Abdulsalami was a little bit laissez faire. He appointed you to a position, he left you to do your job. He hardly ever interfered unless there is a report to him that you are doing something wrong.

President Buhari is very much like that. His belief is that once he appoints you to a position, once you go through the vetting of being qualified for the position, he allows you to do your job. Whereas Obasanjo’s maxim is trust but verify, President Buhari’s maxim is more like “I trust you absolutely”. Once you pass screening and gets to a position he trust you to do the right thing because he is like that. In any position you give him, he will try to do the right thing 100% of the time and he beliefs that others are like that, of course others are not like that. Some will let him down, some will live up to expectation, but to reduce his leadership style to say that he is not in charge is being most unfair.

Q: You know the wife started it?

A: I will not comment on what a wife says about her husband because I have wives and they make fair comment about me right or wrong but I am just saying that I have interacted with the man now nearly getting to 10 years and I think I have a fair understanding of how he operates and I don’t think people are being fair to him.

Q: You mentioned Obasanjo so that naturally brings the question. You were very close to him while you were in office, perhaps even now. And you are now close to Buhari, how come you are not able to reconcile the two men?

A: (Laughter) Look, the relationship between President Buhari and Obasanjo predates me. They were in the Supreme Military council together in 75. He was his Petroleum minister 76-78. It is very presumptuous for anyone to say that he knows what is between the two of them and can reconcile them. So, its not up to me to reconcile anyone, I am not even sure there is anything to reconcile. I know both very well, I worked very closely with President Obasanjo. I was one of his favourite ministers, I must admit. We quarreled a lot. Even now we quarrel once in a while. I don’t even know now whether we are quarrelling or we are on good terms. That’s the relationship we have with President Obasanjo, we both enjoy it. We quarrel, we make up, we quarrel, and we make up. He understands me to some degree and I understand him, I know what makes him tick and our relation was a working relationship and he got the best out of me and I got the best out of him. The same thing with President Buhari, but I think that the issue between the two of them is best known between the two of them. So, it is very difficult for anyone to reconcile and they are not likely to open up to you and tell you what the issue is.

What I can say based on my knowledge of the two is that the problem between them may have to do with what Obasanjo expects vs what Buhari is willing to do. So, unless if the two of them open up as to what the issues are, you will not be able to even…

Q: You know Obasanjo very well, what do you think are likely to be his expectations?

A: You are asking me to speculate, I don’t do that, I will not do that to someone who was my boss and leader but I can give you a generic framework and I have given. That I think the problem is a disconnect between expectations and what is possible within the framework of the principle of public governance that President Buhari believs in, that is all I can say.

Q: Now you are in APC, and the man who gave you your first federal job as chief executive is on the other side, the PDP, which is Atiku. In your book, you remained grateful to him for that opportunity, now you are here, he is on the other side, how does that make you feel?

A: I feel nothing. Because first of all, in the course of human interaction, you can have principle differences with anyone. As long as these difference do no degenerate into being disagreeable I think it is fine.

Secondly, the fact that Atiku played a role in getting me to head BPE does not mean that I am permanently enslaved to him. I am an adult, I am responsible for my actions and I can decide when to disagree with Atiku. I can decide that something is below my life principle and I will not do it.

Thirdly, we were engaged in public service, we still are. The overriding principle in public service is public interest. Wherever this conflict with anyone, I will always go on the side of public interest.

Q: Was there any such experience while you headed the BPE and he was the chairman of the National Council on Privatization?

A: There were a couple and I outlined them in my book.

Q: Do you want to remind our readers?

A: I will rather you get your readers to buy my book so that I can make a little money.

No No No! In brief let me tell you, as far as privatization transactions were concerned, Atiku never once called me and said this company to A or B. He mentioned one company to me when we were selling National Oil, he mentioned Mike Adenugu and clearly said he the request came from the Awujale of Ijebuland, that I should look at it. This is normal in government, people make request of you and you say “I will look at it” and you do what is possible. So I will not count that against him, Awujale of Ijebuland is very close to me, he is like a father and I know that to be true, Atiku did not lie in that instance.

I will not say that during my time in BPE, that Atiku tried to influence the sale of any enterprise to anyone directly. I will say that for the record; while I was there, after I left other things happened but you have to ask those that came after me.

Where I had problems with Atiku was in procurement, when contracts are involved. He was willing to destroy my reputation if his friends did not get contracts that he wanted them to get, this was the problem I had with him and two examples were detailed in my book.

Q: Like Obasanjo said, he is perhaps a changed man? You think Nigerians should not trust him with the Presidency of the country? Both Obasanjo and the PDP believe he has changed?

A: Obasanjo is entitled to his opinion, but I don’t believe people change much after the age of 18. That’s my opinion and I want to assure you, I will not vote for Atiku. That’s all I can say. I mean, every Nigerian is free to make his choice whether to believe Obasanjo and trust Atiku or not. I will not vote for him. I think I can make that statement very clearly on my own account.

Q: But some people are planning to vote for him, can you say why they should not vote for him?

A: They shouldn’t because he has no track record of transparency and accountability. They shouldn’t because he does not understand the burdens of public service. They shouldn’t because he thinks private interest and public interest are one and the same. They shouldn’t because he does not care about people’s reputation, he can destroy you unless he gets what he wants. This is my experience with him. That is my decision. It is up to Nigerians to decide. There are Nigerians like Peter Obi who think private interest and public interest are one and the same. If you think that way you can go ahead and do it. If a person comes out and says I am going to enrich my friends, there is nothing wrong with enriching my friends and you want to vote for him go ahead, but just be sure you are one of his friends. For me these are the decisions that we all take individually. There is no collective, we all have different standards of morality and perception of public interest vs private interest. My own standards may be higher than that of others, other people’s standard may be lower, but I will not even ask my wife whether she is going to vote for Atiku or not because it is her right to decide who to vote for. I have said very clearly I am not going to vote for him and these are my reasons.