Nasir el-Rufai: 2023 presidential election -the hysteria of zoning

By Emmanuel Ado

“In war, you can only be killed once,but in politics many times.” – Winston Churchill 

Were it a war,  Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State would long have been history, but would most certainly be remembered for his great exploits in the several battles he would have gallantly led his men in. Unfortunately in politics, not just Nigerian politics where El- Rufai by “accident” has found himself a major player, he has been murdered, assassinated and summarily executed several times over,but he lives to be killed again and again. Though El-Rufai lives, the worst is definitely   yet to come considering that supporters of Bola Ahmed Tinubu have erroneously concluded that he is  the “stumbling” block to the presidential ambitions of their godfather. 

To the average supporter of Bola Tinubu , El-Rufai is “supposedly” opposed to zoning of the presidency to the South-West,solely because of him and they are ready to bet their life on what is a “conspired falsehood”, pushed by forces that think El-Rufai can be intimidated into silence. Never mind that of late, in what clearly is an after- thought “sophisticated political strategy” , the narrative has shifted  from what truly speaking is a South-West project – a Bola Tinubu presidential ambition- to being described as an entire South project,following the dawning reality that it lacks the muscle to go it alone. But the strategy that can’t fly,as Tinubu has committed so many political sins that would be difficult to explain away. The problem when a man has been around for so long and has been behaving like the Lord of the Manor- there will always be many toes that he would have trampled upon. 

In the coming days,weeks and months as Nigeria delicately heads towards 2023, there would be an intensification of the “Demonize El -Rufai” project. By 2021 going by the work plan of his political “opposites” ,the demonization and demoralization phase should have been completed and El-Rufai mortally wounded, that he wouldn’t be in any position to run,that’s in the event that he had the intention  to. What makes the intensification of the concerted attack funny, is that it’s in spite of El-Rufai’s vehement denial , that he harbours no presidential ambitions,and that he is very contented with his present  assignment as governor of the third biggest state, which he is also combining with a doctorate degree programmme. 

There is absolutely no doubt that Nasir El-Rufai’s political “problems” are politically engineered by some powerful forces and they have to do with his rather blunt position on issues of National development and integration, borne out of deep nationalism that can’t ever be questioned. Unfortunately some of those opposed to El-Rufai predictably resort to a campaign of vilification, rather than challenge him with facts. The tragedy is that  due to lack of political knowledge, in spite of supposedly “rising level” of education and increased availability of information, the public lacks the capacity to properly evaluate “misinformation” spurn almost on daily basis about El-Rufai by mischief makers who perceive him as a deadly threat to be crushed and so twist his statements as they assiduously work  to annihilate him politically. The ways of politicians are confounding,because having consistently tried in the last few years to politically destroy him and failed,common sense dictates that they  give up.

Following the public presentation by Comrade Salihu Mohammed Lukman,the Director- General of the All Progressives Congress(APC) Governors Forum of his book “Power of Possibility and Politics of Change in Nigeria”, an insider account of how some legacy parties – the Action Congress of Nigeria(ANC),a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA), the All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change(CPC) against all odds merged into the APC and defeated what El- Rufai describes as a “determined incumbent” – President Goodluck Jonathan, there has been a mass hysteria that a visitor would think Nigeria is  in a state of war. 

It’s a credit to the power of El-Rufai’s thoughts and convictions that his contribution Prologue 11 “Defeating A Determined Incumbent -The Nigerian Experience” – to the seminal work that contains many other critical issues like Party Funding and Scope for Internal Democracy, The Nigerian Public Service: A Paradoxical Reality, The Challenges of Ethno-Religious Divide and APC Initiatives and APC Roadmap and The Future of Democracy in Nigeria “, that it’s his contribution that has provoked wide discourse, even though more for what it didn’t contain, than what it actually contains – a confirmation of the deep political ignorance and that information most often is evaluated with bias. 

Femi Makinde of The Punch newspaper who definitely hasn’t read the book,but who nevertheless out of “Rational Ignorance” devoted an entire page in the 17th August,2019 edition to “inform” the world that  “El-Rufai’s savaged call for zoning triggers break-up fears.” The determination of Makinde to crucify El-Rufai is beyond any iota of  doubt, especially the great length he went to make his tale by moonlight believable by alluding to the image of El-Rufai as that of a controversial figure,a tag that some section of the media and vested interests have tried and failed to weave around him.Makinde’s tale is built on a foundation of falsehood that “the governor is not new to controversy” and building on this fallacy embarked upon the demolition of El- Rufai,towards a determined end. 

There is no doubt that the issue of zoning of political offices especially the presidency,  is emotional and would any day, and any time generate heated debate. But the debate about zoning can be provoked by the media without attributing to Nasir Ahmad El- Rufai what he didn’t canvass in his contribution to the “Power of Possibility and Politics of Change in Nigeria.” Makinde outrightly lied and peddled falsehood against the person of El-Rufai,when he asserted that “The suggestion of Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el -Rufai, that zoning of the presidency and other key political offices should be de-emphasised in future elections especially that of 2023 has elicited some reactions”, because El-Rufai never mentioned zoning and the 2023 elections. 

Before I reproduce the key submissions of Nasir El- Rufai,it’s absolutely important to address two issues; one is the nature of the man named Nasir Ahmad  El-Rufai, but popularly known as Nasir El –  Rufai and the truly amazing nature of Nigerians. El-Rufai has variously been described as “controversial”, for not beating about the bush,”foul mouthed” for jibes at his political opponents and “heartless” for the bold decision to restore the Abuja master plan. It’s good to note that after him,Abuja has deteriorated because those after him for fear of being tagged controversial have refused to do the needful. For certain El- Rufai will speak his mind on any issue, no matter whose ox is gored and doesn’t colour things – in one word he as constant as the northern star.And there are abundant evidences that confirm that he speaks the truth. For instance in the “The Accidental Public Servant”,he named names and the “games” they played during the Olusegun Obasanjo years , but to date not one libel suit has been instituted against him speaks volume. 

Nigeria is a paradox,just as Nigerians are truly amazing. The average Nigerian wants to eat his cake and have it and he sees absolutely nothing wrong in that. The other astonishing fact is that most times the position of an average Nigerian are defined by sheer expediencies – what he/she stands to personally gain or his “people”- no long term strategic thinking,nor thoughts about common good. On the political front, same Nigerians who clamour that zoning of political offices should be entrenched in the constitution, are vehemently opposed to quota system,an affirmative action that seeks to establish fair access to employment opportunities to all constituent parts of the federation. We must be clear about what we want- a united,just and prosperous country – otherwise every section should hold onto its advantage. 

El-Rufai’s three (3) key submissions as contained in his contribution “Prologue 11 – Defeating A Determined Incumbent -The Nigerian Experience”,reproduced here for the benefit of Nigerians who Makinde had set out to mislead are; “Even with our  success in the 2015 elections, there is room for improvement. Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be deemphasized and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character.” El – Rufai’s thoughts which are perceptive,clearly argued,insightful and unambiguous didn’t in anyway mention the 2023 Elections,nor indicate in anyway that in 2023 the presidency shouldn’t be zoned to the South. The key words are “deemphasized” and “ultimately abandoned”. But Makinde falsely attributed to El-Rufai “alien thoughts”, to achieve determined political objectives. He certainly owes not just El-Rufai, but his readers an apology for misleading them,because the implications when the Makindes’ of this world concoct lies against politicians are dire, especially the lasting damage to the trust of people in politics and politicians. 

Considering the attendant problems that political  parties face in Nigeria, due to the problem of funding and which has provided godfathers,especially governors the leeway to control the parties, one would have thought that the suggestion by El-Rufai on the funding of parties would have generated interest considering that it will help put the parties on a solid foundation. Hear El-Rufai “The financing of political parties, candidates and campaigns remains opaque and by various oligarchs and so-called political godfathers. Many African countries are marked by savage inequalities, and a handful of individuals have the wherewhithal to hold the process hostage. We must work towards funding political parties via capped and fully disclosed donations and annual dues payable by every registered party member.” A governor providing the template of how their hold on the parties can be checked,in what can be termed class suicide is unheard of,but this didn’t catch fancy of hack writers because it’s not in the interest of their paymasters,  to ensure that the parties belong to the people like the African National Congress(ANC). If the ANC where to be funded by former Presidents Mbeki and Zuma,there is no way the party would have forced them out of office. It’s matter of facts like this that that make some people tag El-Rufai controversial. 

Finally, El-Rufai canvassed for the entrenchment of the rule of law,as opposed to the rule of power. The rule of law is clearly the ideal,because stands for the supremacy of law over the supremacy of the will of an individual. Advancement of the rule of law is central to his submission,which again is reproduced for be benefit of the readers; “In addition, improved processes and promotion of the rule of law are an imperative if politicians are to stop resorting to self-help–instigating violence and engaging in ethnic and religious mobilisation.” Again those who have formed their opinion about El-Rufai from the likes of Makinde, an enthusiastically blind hatchet writer will find  it difficult to believe he would articulate such views. But the truth is that El-Rufai is a democrat.

The likes of Shehu Sani who is reportedly working for Tinubu’s presidential ambition have latched onto the big fat lies of Makinde for mischief purposes. Shehu Sani it must be noted, would jump at any opportunity to demonize El-Rufai who ensured his resounding defeat in the march 2019 elections. So when Shehu Sani declares that power must rotate to the South-West and not the South-East, it’s important that Nigerians take his statements with a pinch of the salt, because he is working for an interest – that of his friend- Bola Ahmed Tinubu despite his denials. 

Like I argued earlier , Nigerians are confused about what they want.And Nasir El – Rufai is absolutely right that after 20 years of zoning, that there is a compelling need to deemphasis zoning and enthrone merit. It’s  conversation that Nigerians must have,if not today certainly tomorrow,whether some interests in mortal fear of El-Rufai orchestrate outrages that are “contained” to a particular class. 

If the South- West is honest that zoning of the presidency is between the North and South,the question that  it must answer -one way or another-  is why is it not throwing support behind the the South- East,the only zone in the South that hasn’t produced a president? The South-West needs to convince the South-South,and most especially the South -East that it’s not guilty of the same crime of political “domination” , it’s alleging against the North. He who goes to equity must go with clean hands- and on this issue is it going to equity with clean hands? This is an  albatross the South-West must in sincere honesty and good conscience deal with. 

The former Minister of Works Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe,is absolutely right that the north “may” still retain the presidency. But what he didn’t add, is that it will largely be due to the political miscalculation of the South-West,especially its astounding political shortsightedness,its winner- takes- all stance that played out in 2019, like adding the Speaker House of Representatives, to a portfolio that already has the Vice President – that’s certainly a huge blunder and should be a source of worry. Another strategic blunder is the vicious  media war it has unleashed against El-Rufai, whose State in terms of voting strength can’t  be ignored. It’s difficult to understand what the Tinubu camp hopes to achieve with its scorched – earth strategy of demonizing El-Rufai, which confirms persistent political ignorance. 

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