Re: Nasir El-Rufai, The Godfather Slayer, By Festus Eriye – A Rejoinder

By Emmanuel Ado

#TrackNigeria – I start off by acknowledging my relationship with Festus Eriye, Editor of The Nation on Sunday who was my former boss and over the years we have become friends while maintaining our professional relationship. I equally enjoy similar relationships with the one and only Victor Ifijeh, Managing Director of the same paper as well as Babajide Kolade- Otitoju  of TVC, which like The Nation newspaper is wholly owned by Bola Tinubu.

In Nigeria, the history of most newspapers are tied to advancing political or economic interests. His adventure into politics aside, it is doubtful whether  Alhaji Tinubu, an Accountant, would have invested in a newspaper and a television station – both of which are money guzzlers. But for practical purposes investments in the media – print and electronic – in times like this serve their purpose. My professional and personal relationships aside, the overriding greater interest of public discourse makes it imperative that I write this rejoinder. 

The title and the first paragraph of the article is an encapsulation of the total picture Festus Eriye wanted the reader to go away with , hence the rather unflattering characterization of Nasir as a ‘slayer’ described in the Oxford dictionary as “someone who kills a person or animal in a violent way” with a good illustration found in the story of David and Goliath. The other picture he wanted engrained in the impressionable minds of some his readers was one of as a ‘loose cannon’ again described in the Oxford dictionary as someone that is ”unpredictable or uncontrolled”, ”liable to cause unintentional damage”. The choice of these words were deliberately used to a vicious end. However they do not by any stretch of the English language a reflection of the person of whose empirical nature has predictability, bluntness and strategic thinking as the supporting pillars.

We all know that Nasiru El Rufai was invited to be a guest speaker at ‘A Night with Nasir ’ – an event organised by the Bridge Club, that had the objective of facilitating the cross fertilization of ideas on governance and the murky world of politics in our beloved country. The ensuing question and answer session and the sensational reporting was what brought to the fore the role of the godfathers and has thankfully caused Nigerians to begin to have the long overdue conversation on the ‘godfather syndrome’ considering its effects. Nasir and Muiz Banire – a three time Commissioner in State – who asked the question deserve credit,just as for his unambiguous and lucid answer for provoking the conversation.

The question that the defenders of the godfather have refused to answer is the reason why Alhaji Bola Tinubu should be treated differently from other notorious godfathers like the late Lamidi Adedibu, late Tony Anenih or Chris Uba who were condemned as undesirable and a menace to the political development of Nigeria for that very reason. Do they not owe Nigerians explanations as to why Bola Tinubu should be tolerated as a godfather? Do they infer that his actions unlike that of the others do not pose a direct threat to democracy? Perhaps, it is the difference in style and methods deployed in getting his ‘godsons and daughters’ elected that makes this one single godfather ‘tolerable’ and the other condemned? What do they say to Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country who watched the blatant resort to the ‘Adedibu strategy’ during the 2019 General elections in State when the chips were down? Is this not a confirmation that no matter the pretensions to refinement,that all ‘godfathers’ by their actions are fingers of the same despicable hand? 

Taming or dislodging Bola Tinubu has never been a project for the future – it has always been an ongoing project that dates back to 2015 and Tinubu is more than aware of this simple fact. Why was Babatunde Fashola made not just a Minister but a ‘super’ Minister despite the protestations of Tinubu his erstwhile godfather or the fact that the candidates Tinubu supported in the governorship primaries in Ekiti and Ondo States were roundly floored? How many states does he control and knowing how politics plays out in Nigeria, will some of them except for maybe Rauf Aregeshola and the new ‘godson in the block’ Sanwo-Olu not turn coat in attempt to assert their own thinking and leadership? 

What is looking like the most likely scenario to play out in the months to come is the intensification of the stop Tinubu project and for different reasons depending naturally on perspective and interest of those behind it. It is rather surprising that commentators haven’t focused on Banire, his former political associate, Banire’s was question triggered this whole storm. Is the pointed question an indication or a confirmation of the efforts to trim his influence? 

It’s obvious many people want to see an end to the reign of Tinubu the widely acclaimed godfather of Lagos State politics whose democratic credentials are suspect. As governor he  had three deputy governors which many say is an indication of his dictatorial tendencies. In 2015, Fashola survived the onslaught of the godfather, but his deputy Princess Sarah Sosan was sacrificed for daring to stand in support of her principal. Ambode handpicked by Tinubu the godfather and his co-traveler the Oba of Lagos wasn’t as fortunate as Fashola. He was humiliated and eventually defeated. John Oyegun, his brother-at-arms during the NADECO days, was equally given the standard Tinubu treatment for failure to do his bidding on the Kogi State Governorship issue. 

If Tinubu fails in his quest to be President he only has himself to blame because he has made people to be distrustful of him and very wary of what he will do with enormous constitutional powers vested in the office of the President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The joke up north is that he would be another Olusegun Obasanjo,who will determine everything and like Obasanjo Nigeria might have a senate president every other month. 

It is easy to understand the reaction of the supporters and beneficiaries of Tinubu especially as it appears to them that their leader and provider has been dared in his lair by . But this shouldn’t really worry them, because Tinubu has equally been making incursive forays into the political territories of others. It’s a known fact that he sponsored James Faleke’s Governorship ambition in Kogi State as part of the 2023 strategy and that his rift with John Oyegun the erstwhile  National Chairman of the APC had to do with what Tinubu perceived as an attempt to frustrate the extension of his foothold into the north. Rather sacrilegiously (for those of us in Kaduna State), were Tinubu allowed to have his way, Isa Ashiru would have been the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress in 2015, Suleiman Hunkuyi would have been the gubernatorial candidate in 2019 and Shehu Sani, the very definition and personification of scatterbrain as well as  recalcitrance – given the trajectory of his precedence as a party member – would have returned to the Senate under the dubious ‘automatic ticket’ deal that Tinubu and Adams Oshiomhole almost bullied the APC into adopting as policy,just because they wanted to checkmate

Tinubu has clearly showed his hand – by his words and deeds – and very early in the day that he desires the job. Simple logic dictates that those opposed him would be exhibiting crass stupidity not to take steps to halt, or defeat him. We really must be very clear about the fact that the succession race has always been an ongoing one.

Festus Eriye went to great length to rubbish the electoral victory of El-Rufai. He wrote “He was one of scores of politicians who were swept into office across the north clinging to the coattails of Buhari. Indeed, such was the force of the bandwagon back then that in many places in the region a dog would have been elected into office simply because of his association with the then APC presidential candidate.” First, El-Rufai has always made it clear that Buhari is his political leader. But if like Eriye asserted that in many places “even a dog” would have been elected, the question is why didn’t the Bauchi State Governor win or the Kano State Governor survive by the narrowest of margins,escaping defeat by whiskers? 

El-Rufai definitely earned some bragging rights considering that he was written off due to what many commentators described as the many excess baggages  – the sacking of the teachers who failed the competency tests , the public service revitalization programme and the Southern Kaduna issue he was carrying. He has earned unparalleled respect by his political sagacity which helped him thread in his first term where angels dared not in even in their second terms couldn’t and overcome the (typically self-serving) furore that accompanied such decisions. 

Eriye seems to have fallen into the hallucinogenic vortex about El-Rufai being a haughty person. No one who knows El-Rufai even tangentially regards him as arrogant or a braggart even when he is expected to be considering his many accomplishments. This vortex of bad press is the creation of the now permanently retired leeches that were displaced by his policies and who took to town with empty boasts of how they made him and would remove him. We all know for certain that some people were funded to destabilize Kaduna State so as to cause the defeat of El-Rufai ,whose only crime is his larger than life image that attracts all manners of attacks on even issues that he stays clear of. 

There is no debating the soundness of his advice on the scourge of the godfather syndrome and eradicating it from Nigerian politics. First, it must be stated clearly that the El-Rufai prescribed template has universal applicability and not for Lagos State only. It is applicable – lock, stock and barrel – to every State and Local Government across the country,including Kaduna State where due to lack of strategy Tinubu’s woefully failed in their assignment. As the defeat of the godfathers and pretender godfathers has unequivocally and unambiguously demonstrated, the society would be the better off without these irritants. As his own man El-Rufai was able to take many decisions which the pretender Kaduna godfathers would never have supported because of the fear of losing  elections. So any serious candidate working with the Nasir El-Rufai template can actually retire not just the ultimate godfather,but any one. 

The people of Lagos State must ask themselves serious and far reaching questions- why is it that a state with six million voters, constantly doing less than a million votes? Does that not indicate an underlying problem? In the governorship elections Sanwo-Olu polled a mere 739,445 votes to defeat Jimi Agbaje of the PDP who secured just 206,141 votes. As El -Rufai observed “Here in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters, only about a million voted (in 2019 general elections). Five million did not vote! If I want to run for governor of Lagos, I will start now. I will commission a study to know why those five million registered voters did not vote. Where do they go on Election Day?”

This definitely is worrying and first confirmation that there would be consequences is the refusal of the North Central Zone to concede the Speakership to the South West. The question they are asking is the overall contribution of the South -West to the victory of the party. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons according to Eriye why people stayed away from voting was the fear that their votes won’t count “during the governorship contest that followed, so they didn’t bother to come out”. The question of who unleashed thugs on the opposition strongholds is left hanging and unaddressed though obvious for all to see what the answer is.

One thing though that Eriye and I are in agreement, albeit from the perspective of varying sincerity, is that all Nigerians who are eligible for public office should be free to aspire as long as they meet the legal requirements. It should not the privilege of an El-Rufai or a Bola Tinubu to pick, choose and dictate  to the electorate. However as Nigerians themselves they can support and market any candidate that suits their fancy.