What is left when honor is lost?— Publilius Syrus
THE general impression about Nasir El-Rufai of being a “perpetual schemer”, an utter falsehood, was religiously promoted by a section of the Nigerian media and unfortunately bought hook, line and sinker by some Nigerians. Lies repeated often become the truth. Thankfully, that erroneous impression has been roundly debunked. Before the presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the rumour was that Nasir El- Rufai desperately wanted to be president. It gained renewed fresh currency with the sale of presidential forms, but as usual, he hugely disappointed them. Even though El-Rufai is eminently qualified for the job, he had long killed the ambition for the greater interest of Nigerian unity. The attacks on El-Rufai, from the sponsored disinvite by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to concerted exaggerations of the security challenges confronting Kaduna state, were all politically orchestrated to demonise him and kill that his opponents assumed was a definite presidential ambition.
Hopefully, the media attacks propelled largely by the 2023 presidential elections will for now become quiet, until after the general election when jostling for positions will become more intensified. Not even his unequivocal and principled support of power shift to the South from 2019 to date after eight years of Muhammadu Buhari changed the narrative about El-Rufai. Only time, the faithful friend of the innocent, has absolved him of the falsehoods. No doubt, El-Rufai’s principled stance on the 2023 elections permutations, refusal to contest, and strong support for power shift confounded his demonizers, most of whom had over the years chosen to believe the very worse about him. Poor victims of a sustained campaign of mischief, of unscrupulous opponents, who tragically, are the ones lacking in principles. El-Rufai is highly principled. He is a man of integrity and deep conviction, qualities that were once again startlingly displayed when, without any hesitation, he vehemently resisted the overture by the Villa forces (generals without troops) for him to join the presidential race. Some desperadoes would have jumped at the “opportunity” with both hands, coming as it were on a “platter of gold”, but El-Rufai outrightly rejected the offer.
Up till Saturday 4th June 2022, the same “Villa forces” that convinced Ahmed Lawan, the Senate President, into throwing himself into the presidential race maintained their pressure on El-Rufai to join the race. At least the Villa forces, known for lacking in strategic thinking, were for once right in their assessment that El- Rufai was a more formidable candidate than Lawan. Was it vaunting ambition that made Lawan fall so easily for the offer that has exposed him to political ridicule? In the North, it is common knowledge that the “Villa forces” are highly unpopular, and lack the political capacity to get even a councilor elected. The misadventure by Lawan will definitely make for an interesting research topic. Was he aware of the overtures to El-Rufai to equally join the race? Why couldn’t Lawan resist the pressure like El-Rufai did, especially as he had repeatedly assured Bola Tinubu of the support of the Senate? To resist the persistent pressure El-Rufai, at some point fled to Dubai, UAE, until the completion of the screening exercise. Even though Kashim Shettima was forced to apologise to the Senate President, the several political mistakes of Lawan showed a worrying lack of capacity by a man that wanted to govern a country like Nigeria. Lawan had in an unforced error led the Senate to exclude members of the National Assembly from taking part in the primaries as statutory delegates. He crowned his infantile errors by entering the race with no advantage, but several disadvantages.
Though the Villa forces belatedly realised that Lawan was a weak candidate, they however banked on Buhari, forcing him on the governors, the total “controllers” of the delegates. But being a man of high integrity, the president refused to. And worse still for the largely Daura provincial crowd was the absence of an enforcer. Behind the scenes, the Daura crowd are lions, but in public they are shy, because their schemes are unholy. Since 1999, the governors have emerged as dominant power brokers, and there are no indications they are ready to surrender their advantage to dictate political directions. So rather than weaken the governors, the shenanigans of the Villa forces further united them. Life is a test. And El-Rufai has distinctly passed the litmus test, and in flying colours. It takes principles, an uncommon commodity in our clime, not to be compromised by the allure of power. Had El- Rufai fallen, it would have been a tragedy.
El-Rufai has also shown that life is not all about personal ambition but the overall interest of the people. While the “pressure” is undoubtedly a mark of confidence and an acknowledgment of El-Rufai’s capacity, to provide purposeful leadership, which Chinua Achebe identified as the main problem hindering Nigeria’s development, it is heartwarming that El-Rufai didn’t succumb to the Greek gift in the greater interest of Nigeria.
Especially from March to June 2022, El-Rufai came to the rescue of Nigeria by helping to stabilise the polity. Since 2015, every time Nigeria’s unity has been threatened, he has always intervened decisively. When it seemed the APC was on the verge of imploding due to the failure to hold its National Convention, El-Rufai mobilised his colleagues and other stakeholders to frustrate the agenda geared towards retaining power in the North, without regard to the consequences of their actions on the fragile unity of the country. But for El-Rufai, there would have been no APC as a platform for the candidates that have emerged to actualise their aspirations, even though he got castigated for his genuine efforts and was literally got thrown under the bus. Even though he was mandated by the APC governors to marshal its position to Nigerians, only Rotimi Akeredolu, the Ondo State governor, rose in stout defense of El-Rufai.
It is impossible to measure the instant relief brought about by the decision of the northern governors, which reaffirmed their unqualified commitment to the presidency shifting to the South, which El-Rufai vigorously worked for, to every peace-loving Nigerian. The APC governors doused what was a gathering storm of agitations by the mostly Christian South, which would have invariably led to a counter by the predominantly Muslim North. For most southerners, Atiku Abubakar picking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket, was sufficient proof of a domination plot and enough reason for the country to break up. The governors denied them the reason to strike the matches. Though the Igbo are still seething with anger that they have become inconsequential in the scheme of things, it is nothing compared to the resistance the Yoruba would have shown had they been out muscled by the North. Without a doubt, the North is more politically sophisticated than the South, with a proven capacity to close ranks and force a consensus, but the inherent message by the northern governors is an awareness of the danger to the continued existence of the country, had it gone for it. They also made an eloquent statement on northerners, being people of principles; that their word will always be their bond.
Lastly, unless there is elite consensus, the fundamental issues that have held Nigeria down will remain unaddressed, with the country floundering to our collective shame. El-Rufai has proven to be a man faithful to his convictions, a man of his word, and that the “ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” according to Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Ado is a public affairs analyst