By Adagbo Onoja
I was with a senior citizen the moment he was reading the last lines of The Accidental Public Servant, Nasir el-Rufai’s interim memoir, (because it is feared he would soon bolt away from Buhari and write another one) and he said he wished Nasir gave the manuscript to someone else like Alison Ayida or Babagana Kingibe to help him edit it to taste. It was the second time I would be hearing such a critique of Nasir bordering on incompleteness of his faculty. The first was from a noted Sociologist of northern extraction. He is late now. I went to interview him that evening and he doubted whether he was not too horrified to grant an interview after what he saw on the airport road on his way back into Abuja. That was the day one of the settlements along the airport road was devastated into a complex emergency by the super minister called el-Rufai. My host asked if I knew who ordered the demolition. I said it could be no other than the then FCT Minister whereupon he said the education of whoever ordered that particular demolition was incomplete. We did have a fantastic interview afterwards because Malam Adamu Adamu had obviously spoken to him about me and he trusted me outrightly to tell me so many other things off records, making the interview to turn out to be an extraordinary session.
So, when el-Rufai started advertising his book recently, I was sure candour, humility and dignified treatment of his themes and issues were on the slaughter slab. I do not think anybody has been disappointed. But his book is very welcome as an addition to the growing literature on how the subjective factor keeps subverting Nigeria’s march to greatness, beginning with Segun Adeniyi’s, Peter Odili’s and el-Rufai’s. Subjective factor, of course, refers to scarcity of transformative leadership, informed by the most progressive, humane stream of consciousness. That has not been the case in Nigeria with only one or two exceptions.
Nobody can deny el Rufai the status and stature of the one who wants to be different even if the difference is in suicidal enthusiasm. The interesting thing here is the way nemesis is catching up with the system from within. El-Rufai is not one of the communists or socialists around. In fact, he sees himself as the gifted individual and a rightful member of the establishment. Surprisingly, he ends up writing what reads very much like the testament of a guinea pig that was well fed in readiness for the sacrifice for which he was earmarked. That has left him in severe pain and bitterness as to resort to a revenge mission aimed at bringing down the entire temple. Hence, no concessions to statecraft, confidentiality and trust in his narrative targeted at godfathers of power syndicates in the country.
Marxists call what is happening now as the dialectical process, the religious establishment calls it nemesis. Within the scope of a newspaper analysis, both the dialectical process and nemesis can be said to mean the same thing. Nasir’s book is the anti-thesis of what the book is attacking and both will produce a synthesis which could consume both protagonists and antagonists and set this society free.
But it is all so funny that a single, cogent shot from the Atiku media establishment, for example, has made the book simply look like an exercise in childish brilliance because the difference between what he told the Senate and what came out in his book is damn too substantial to be ignored. It suggests starkly a problem with the thought process and the motif for writing the book.
Now, if the Atikus and IBB were the type who will go to court over such issues, what will stop them from claiming millions as damages? What also stops Atiku and OBJ, for example, from re-negotiating their relationship, knowing how ambitious young people who crashed into the engine room of power put spanners into work here and there?
Nasir el-Rufai is a classic case of a man living in a glass house but throwing stones carelessly. Our man who celebrated privatisation would be the one to write a book claiming the privatisation and personalization of the process. How can you accept a principle but complain against the practice even when you have the history of the practice. In most places, privatisation is cronyism. From defunct USSR to Poland to much of Africa.
The definitive issue in contemporary Nigerian History has been the struggle against SAP/privatisation. It is a struggle in which many student activists, market women, the urban poor and members of professional associations such as academics under ASUU, lawyers under NBA or doctors under the NMA have suffered. Many students were killed in the course of anti-SAP protests, many were expelled, spent months under detention.
All these because they knew what SAP means. They heard what Henry Kissinger, in a flight of independent mindedness of the scholar diplomat said SAP would do to Africa. And they chose to wage a struggle against SAP, calling it second slavery.
Then from nowhere, (in the sense that in all these struggles, nobody heard any name called Nasiru el-Rufai), the Nasir el-Rufais of this world surfaced in the post conflict regime in 1999 to say that SAP was the way forward. And that anybody who wanted to debate SAP should go and form his own party because the PDP was not where such would be tolerated. He, in particular, was put in charge of the great auctioning as DG of the Bureau of Public Enterprise and he did it without compunctions, including selling a behemoth like NITEL to a company that wasn’t an expert in telecommunications. It was a tear inducing sale because the government of Muhammadu Buhari under whose canopy el-Rufai is trying to re-invent himself now had said that “in the absence of a twin proposal that the would-be beneficiaries of the “privatization” of NET (as NITEL was then known) should also start a telephone company and build their own earth stations, the extent to which “privatizing” NET would defraud the Federal Government on a permanent, continuing basis, is too scandalous and mind-boggling to be contemplated”. The logic of this position was that it was the private sector, in collaboration with management of NET, that duped the organization and selling NET would amount to “rewarding open theft”. This was what Study Group on Privatization of State Owned Enterprises, (SOEs), set up by the government said and we must never forget it.
Today, the fellow who presided over the sale is shedding crocodile tears how some other people shared Nigeria. But he never stormed out. Instead, his expectations built up to the crescendo, to become the president because of his extreme brilliance and all that superstition about himself only for the godfathers to dump him and he cannot be consoled. This is the only context in which his tears can make sense. Otherwise, everyone knows that privatisation everywhere is racketeering, graft, embezzlement, mendacity and violence in the intra class competition for control. To endorse a theory but hate its practice is worse than anything else because it is hypocrisy at its best.
So, there is a sense in which the utility of el Rufai’s book is the attack on himself as a leading apostle of privatisation. He is not full of apologies only because it is not in his character even as he has merely confirmed that SAP and its privatisation is all about predatory capitalism captured in the concept of banditocracy. The question of who was involved in the actual roguery is a matter of very little consequence. Privileging that is akin to asking what happened to the lunatic’s long beards when it was reported that the lunatic was burnt in a fire outbreak.
There is the very important question whether el-Rufai would have written his sour grapes if he had been endorsed as the presidential candidate in 2007 and he is in power today? He was happy doing the jobs of the Vice-President when he knew he was not the Vice-President or when he ought to have been an influence and a force for reconciliation. He had no problems with that. He was friend of a wanted man. He was comfortable with that. He demolished settlements recklessly in a class warfare he baptized as an attack on impunity and bastardization of Abuja Master Plan. That fascistic inclination he celebrated as Mister Brilliance at work. He pays corpers higher than the estacode of the president of Nigeria on a duty tour in a country of 40 million unemployed youths and he saw nothing wrong with that. Yet, he projects himself as a paragon in all spheres. Haba!
It has been said times without number that the road to greatness must itself be great. You do accept food or political appointment from just any government simply because you are hungry for power. Or something will give way. Something gave way in Nasir el-Rufai’s mechanical thinking about greatness. He was never a member of the PDP, becoming a member only by virtue of being a political appointee, yet he saw nothing wrong in that enterism. He saw nothing wrong in smuggling privatisation in there when the original PDP didn’t profess market economy. And he would have accepted being imposed as presidential candidate. In his difficult search for a response to such damages he inflicted on himself in public office, he has resorted to passing off elite gossips in power. The fleeting enjoyment of disclosure will be his but the days after will not be his unless by another accident. Leaders at all levels of government are entitled to their idiosyncrasies and nakedness because they are human beings. Putting what they whispered to someone whom the appointed and who was that trusted in a memoir in a pre-industrial society like Nigeria cannot count as courage but abuse of trust and confidentiality which only a self-righteous person would justify. It may not be punishable in law but it is a bad example for others. It is only a Nasir buried in the contradictions of his excesses in cruelty and lawlessness in public office that might not be in the mood to appreciate this.
The point is that Nigeria is in a dire situation. All men of goodwill should work on rehabilitation of the Nigerian state which is now completely overwhelmed by internal and external pressures. There is no room for blame games now because the country could slip into a hole and getting out of it could take years. Concrete proposals on the grand strategy as well as specific plans by which Nigeria can get out is what is called for. The past may illuminate the future but it is counter productive to absolutise the past. The country itself, even from a purely academic perspective is already too complex for easy solutions. Those who have had the privileges that el Rufai has had need to bring out more qualitative, problem solving insights rather than smoking in petrol stations.
All said and done, his interim memoir is most welcome because there is nothing that exists that is entirely bad. To that extent, he may not be charged for waste of paper.