Since his arrival on the public stage as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency (1999-2007), Kaduna State governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, has established a deserved reputation as someone who shoots from the hip. In an age of political correctness whereby the average politician has perfected the art of utterance without substance, Governor el-Rufai’s refusal to hide behind empty rhetoric can be refreshing. As a matter of fact, it is a personal quality that has endeared him to millions across the length and breadth of the Nigerian society who have applauded him for typically not mincing words. Yet, for all his directness, and perhaps because of it, the awkward truth is that Governor el-Rufai can come across as having not given sufficient thought to his statements before making them public. It is the Achilles’ heel of the straight shooter and an affliction that, alas, the otherwise respected governor also suffers from. Two recent examples illustrate this particular weakness in his constitution.
Speaking during a live interview on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on Wednesday February 6, Governor el-Rufai, perhaps agitated by previous supplications by opposition parties led by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to western countries to ensure the integrity of the forthcoming elections, commented: “Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags.” Pressed to clarify his statement, he doubled down: “Nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country. We have got our independence and we are trying to run our country as decently as possible and we know the history of those countries that are trying to teach us. We know their history, we also know their own stages of development and they went through these challenges. So, please, let us work together, let us challenge one another, but don’t lecture us.”
While Governor el-Rufai’s crash course in the political history of the advanced democracies is deeply appreciated, no one needs an advanced degree to realise that he had spoken carelessly, or even, some might argue, dangerously. It is one thing to assert the sovereignty of Nigeria as a country, a fact that the presence of foreign election monitors does not change; it is another thing to needlessly threaten those same foreign monitors with violence, as the allusion to body bags pointedly does. Is Governor el-Rufai saying that the presence of Nigerians as monitors in the elections of sister African countries amounts to a challenge to their respective sovereignties?
As the European Union Election Observation Mission noted in a statement by its Press and Public Outreach Officer, Sarah Fradgley, the EU is in Nigeria at the behest of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and has played the role of election monitor in five previous elections in the country. Besides, weren’t these the same observers that Governor el-Rufai had welcome with open arms while he was in the opposition? Our extrapolation from this episode is that Governor el-Rufai sadly allowed his loyalty to the Buhari administration to becloud his judgment. The presidency’s knee jerk and spurious defence of the governor that he had spoken “in the national interest” borders on the ridiculous.
If Governor el-Rufai put loyalty before judgment on Wednesday, he did not cover himself in glory the following day, Thursday February 7, when he appeared as a guest on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily programme. Addressing the kerfuffle over his choice of Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, a Muslim woman, as his running mate in place of incumbent deputy governor Yusuf, Barnabas Bala, a Christian who has opted to challenge for the Kaduna South Senatorial seat, Governor el-Rufai said: “What if I tell you that no matter who I choose as my running mate, even if I choose the Pope, 67 per cent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna have made up their minds that they will never vote for me. This is what the polls show.”
The problem with this statement is not just that it appears to dismiss the concerns of “67 per cent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna.” As a matter of fact, it does. The real problem is that it flagrantly contradicts the governor’s insistence that the choice of Dr. Hadiza Balarabe had been motivated by the “need for competence to be given priority over religion and ethnicity.” The legitimate inference from the governor’s statement is that his choice would have been different had the polls not shown that that “67 per cent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna have made up their minds.” If the selection of Dr. Hadiza Balarabe was dictated by respect for the the polls, then it could not have been dictated by considerations of competence or merit as the governor has been saying. Besides, who says you cannot select a Southern Christian based on considerations of competence and merit?
We are not against a Muslim-Muslim ticket. What we are against is Governor el-Rufai’s diabolical and insincere defence of it. That, and the governor’s nascent proclivity for calling it as it is only when it aligns with his political preference.