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There is something puzzling about the character of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai that will confound even the most veteran of personality profiler. Who is the man, el-Rufai–a patriotic Nigerian or a rabble-rouser? From being a top apparatchik in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to a self-styled social crusader and an unrelenting critic of the Jonathan administration, the man whose aliases range from the “Giant”, to “Demolition man” and “Mr Controversy” has defied all explanations. His fierce and merciless criticisms of President Goodluck Jonathan have made him the most “hated” Nigerian alive by the Jonathan’s Presidency. Not that the President has been blameless though; his style of administration and a catalogue of embarrassing gaffes by his team have often exposed them to derisive shellacking by detractors. But el-Rufai seems to be in a class of his own. Something tells me we have yet to see the best or worst of the “certified ruffler of feathers” (his own words)
How has el-Rufai metamorphosed from his position at the commanding heights of decision making to the murky waters of being a government critic? Those who know the political trajectory of el-Rufai know that he has always treaded the minefield of controversy. Indeed, he was the enfant terrible of the Obasanjo administration. Now, it appears he has found his calling; for no single individual has rattled the President than Nasir el-Rufai. Since he began his “one man riot-squad” against the Jonathan administration, his vicious criticism of the President and his policies has been unmatched. In spite of personal attacks, el-Rufai has refused to back down on his frequent stinging jibes at the administration. Really, I get the impression that el- Rufai is a nocturnal and daytime stalker. He seems to constantly watch the government to slip up. Like the hungry crocodile that lies in wait at the riverbank, he pounces once his prey strays out of line. His social media pages are his weapons of attack.
But his criticisms of Jonathan have also come at a great personal discomfort. The personal attacks seem to be a fulfilment of the Yoruba proverb that, “a child who keeps his mother awake crying at night will also not experience any sleep”. For his critics, the line between destructive and constructive criticisms is often blurred. He has been attacked for having a personal vendetta to settle with the “Jonathanians”, a contemptuous term he coined to describe the President and his team. He is constantly under attack by the supporters of the President. When his daughter and son died recently, the losses were said to be “punishment” for his criticisms of Jonathan! It was that bad. While these attacks often cross the lines of decency, they however mirror the level criticisms and public discourses have descended to in our country today. Really, opinions are divided as to the motive of el-Rufai.
This has prompted the question: What does el-Rufai want? Are his criticisms borne out of love for country or is he just a nuisance? While it may be hard to isolate el-Rufai’s criticism of the Jonathan Presidency in the general context of widespread disenchantments with this administration, some have accused him of sometimes being overboard in his criticism. Recently, it was el-Rufai who brought to the attention of Nigerians how the findings of the Australian negotiator, Dr. Stephen Davis, had indicted a former Chief of Army Staff and, a former Governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, as the sponsors of Boko Haram. The revelation, which was first made known on Arise TV almost went unnoticed until el-Rufai posted it on his Facebook page. Then, like a wild bush fire, the report went viral. The former Army chief in retaliation labelled el-Rufai “a commander of Boko Haram”. Curiously, as el-Rufai took the beating, the author of the report walked away unscathed. But el-Rufai has swum in more troubled waters. Once, he risked the ire of some Christian leaders with a tweet about Jesus Christ. A Fatwa was declared on him.
El-rufai also once retweeted a tweet deemed abusive of the President which carried an image of Jonathan kneeling down and praying to God to put an end to all Nigeria’s problems. In the image, the President was dubbed as incompetent and clueless for seemingly “outsourcing” his responsibilities to God. But one interesting feature of el-Rufai criticism of Jonathan is that he is not always the author of the tweets and updates that target the President. But once they appear on his social media pages, they soon assume new meanings and a life of their own. At those times his critics who are often self-appointed supporters of the President will reach for his jugular. It is what the Afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, called, “roforofo fight”. The protagonists often fight dirty, using unprintable words-until the next episode.
Having broken into national limelight as one of the top enforcers of the Obasanjo’s government, el-Rufai seems to have had his future role cut out for him. He has stayed in our national consciousness since the years he held top government positions first as the powerful czar of the Bureau for Public Enterprises, an agency responsible for privatising moribund and big government conglomerates, and later as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory where his exploits in enforcing the Abuja Masterplan earned him more enemies than friends. He also became an influential member of Obasanjo economic management team. After the collapse of the Third Term agenda, he was so powerful that he was briefly touted to succeed Obasanjo. After Obasanjo left power, his detractors sought to take their pound of flesh. He was hounded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He faced a barrage of probes from federal legislators. He recently went underground after being sought by the State Security.
In his controversial book, “The Accidental Public Servant”, which chronicles his tempestuous years in the government of Obasanjo, he told the story of his opposition to his principal’s Third Term agenda. In the book, el-Rufai narrated his opposition to the plan and how he made both covert and overt moves to scuttle an agenda he considered as morally wrong. While it has been widely acknowledged that the Jonathan administration has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians in many areas, many have asked if el-Rufai has the moral high ground to criticise a party he was a part of for eight years. Just like el-Rufai, Nigerians have continued to criticise the President’s handling of corruption, insecurity and lack of leadership at critical moments. But does el-Rufai’s criticisms personify this widespread anger and discontent with the Jonathan’s Presidency? Is he the right person to oppose this government?
Certainly, el-Rufai is unravelling before our eyes. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president is morally treasonable to the American public.Is el-Rufai taking his own version of criticism too far or did Jonathan ask for it?
This opinion piece written by Bayo Olupohunda was culled from The Punch
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