This Day – 17th October 2009.
Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s interview
The Yar’Adua administration has accused you and Nuhu Ribadu of mounting a campaign against the government abroad. What exactly is your agenda, what have you set out to achieve by mounting opposition against the government from overseas?
Secondly, there are three arms of government. And equating Umaru to the government is doing disservice to the judiciary and the legislature. I have greater confidence in our judges than officials of the executive branch headed by Umaru. Even within the executive, some people are working quietly and tirelessly for Nigeria. For instance, I have nothing but commendation for the head of Federal Inland Revenue Service, new CBN Governor and the Head of Civil Service – they are islands of excellence in an ocean of incompetence and self-seeking conduct.
Finally, and most importantly, I believe that the duty every Nigerian owes to Nigeria is patriotism, which is love and fidelity to one’s country. Where there is a clash of interest between Nigeria and any one, the interests of Nigeria must prevail. In this instance, I am acting with the utmost good faith established in my heart that the interest of Nigeria and the interests being pursued by Umar Yar’Adua are at variance and I consider it my patriotic duty to speak up about this. This is what I am doing. Now you will agree with me that actions have consequences and my stance has caused me some discomfort at the instance of the administration and I consider this as the price I must pay.
I have no agenda other than a desire to see my country governed better and standards of living improved for a majority of our people. Nigeria and Nigerians deserve better than what we have seen in the last two and half years. It is wrong to state that I am mounting opposition overseas. When I was in government, I was vocal with my views within and outside the Federal Executive Council. Before I went abroad, I responded to every attack on my reputation and tenure. I have always been this way. The fact that I am abroad was due to my studies.
What is the response you get from institutions and individuals you talk to about Nigeria and the way it is governed at the moment?
Won’t your objective have had greater impact if you had to oppose and critique the government from home?
Being a prominent member of the PDP and a member of the last administration right in the thick of policy formulation, to what extent has continuity been sustained in the present PDP government?
Which major policies or programmes do you believe should have been brought to fruition in a timely and efficient manner?
The Niger Delta Master Plan had been prepared and subjected to extensive consultations within the region. Its implementation would have provided the enabling environment for enhancing employment opportunities, internal security and growth of the economy. Several key infrastructure projects had been commenced and would have been completed if there was the will and commitment. That was put on hold and the Ledum Mittee Technical Committee report was produced and never implemented either. The new buzzword is amnesty and we hope that when the hype is over, the real work of infrastructure development, governance and security improvements will be addressed.
Are there things you feel that could have been handled differently either as a minister or as the director general of the BPE?
No human being is perfect and one is learning all the time as one gets older and more knowledgeable. But as I have said before, I have never repeated a class in my life, so I never look back. I tried to execute any assignment given to me by getting smart people to work with me, empowering them and driving execution. I leave the judgment on what we did in both BPE and FCT to posterity.
How would you react to the notion that your seminar presentation while at Harvard on the state of governance in Nigeria was driven by vendetta?
I do not understand the vendetta you are referring to. How can an individual standing up in protection of his reputation, life and property against an insecure, lawless and vicious president be accused of vendetta? I do not have the wherewithal of a person in control of the coercive powers and unlimited treasury of the state to pursue a vindictive agenda.
Then he decided that some of us are threats to him. A campaign of character assassination, false allegations and charges, and threats to my life and property then ensued. What am I to do when the whole machinery of the government goes in a persecution-mania against me – an ordinary citizen? And the president keeps denying that he is the architect of it all?
Now that you’ve finished your academic studies at Harvard, what are doing to pre-occupy yourself these days and where exactly are you resident?
Since graduation from Harvard in June, I have gone on a long holiday – something I have not had for over 10 years. I have been writing what will be an interim memoir, and reconnecting with my children. Many of my children grew up while I was busy being a public servant. I am now catching up and rebuilding my relationship with them. I have been spending most of my time in the USA, the UK, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
Are there any international job offers that have come your way or are coming your that you are considering?
I have had offers but my preoccupation has always been Nigeria. I have worked abroad twice for short spells before and did not quite enjoy it. I was a Teaching Assistant at Harvard which I enjoyed very much, persuading me that my true calling is teaching in a University. May be that is what I will do when I return home.
Is there any chance of you coming home to take on the authorities over the charges they have against you?
You always spoke of writing your memoirs at some point, is this something you might be considering? I am certain it will be explosive and possibly a best seller here in Nigeria.
As stated above, I have been writing my story – what I call an interim memoir, because I am not yet 50 and too young really to write a real memoir. My nine years in government have been quite eventful and I think my story will inspire as well as prepare young people of humble backgrounds to the challenges of public leadership. It has not been easy and the experience of writing has humbled me and made me respect writers even more.
The story will be factual and will contain supporting documents and records of my service. I kept detailed notes and diaries and have copies of all my key products while in PIMCO (1998-99) BPE (1999-2003), FCT (2003-2007) and the Presidential Persecution Period (2007 to date-). I hope it will be an inspiration to our young people. I will be happy if it becomes a bestseller – God knows I need the money!
With respect to your travel documents, I noticed your lawyers are challenging the propriety of the FG instructing our embassies not to issue you a new passport or offer any consular assistance. What are their chances of upturning the decision?
How do you travel right now?
My passport is still valid, I think, till 2012. It is just that I ran out of pages for visas. I have speaking engagements all over the world and some businesses I am pursuing. These I have been unable to do because the passport booklet is full. I can travel but cannot apply for new visas. It is inconvenient and may have cost me some lost business opportunities so I am looking at options for legal redress.
Have there been any threats whatsoever to your person or family overseas?
No, there have been no threats to me or my family abroad. However, I have hired lawyers who keep the authorities in the countries I visit informed of my movements just to be on the safe side.
Your wife and children had problems with the Nigerian Immigration Service recently when they flew into the country, what exactly was the problem; were they unduly harassed and held in the airport against they will?
Has any one tried to make overtures to you from the government or on its behalf to resolve your differences with the administration?
Do you see any end in sight to the current impasse?
Has your experience since leaving government given you a new perspective on life, politics, management, humanity, etc?
Certainly. When you leave a high-profile public office, you go through an adjustment process which tests your faith in humanity, your self-confidence and trust in the future. Depending on how far one deluded oneself in believing what the sycophants around ingrained in the mind, the adjustment process can be easy or painful.
I have learnt a lot from this experience and I think on the whole, it is going to make me a better manager of my life, human and financial resources. That I am in excellent health in spite of these stresses is something I will forever be grateful to Allah for His Blessings, Mercies and Grace.
Would you contemplate running for elective office sometime in the future?
As FCT minister you went about the demolition and revocation of several properties leading to several court cases and subsequent rulings by the courts which you often times disregarded. Now you are seeking justice from the same justice system. Don’t you think your actions at the time could be used against you in the present cases you have against the government by judges whom you once discountenanced?
And indeed, what has occurred in the courts of law so far has vindicated the legality of our policies and decisions. The State Governor of Anambra, Peter Obi lost his plot of land due to failure to develop within the statutory time frame. He challenged the revocation decision in an Abuja High Court. The Court ruled that the revocation was properly done and Governor Obi lost. Former Minister of Aviation Oluwole Aviation had a plot revoked due to non-development over 10 years after allocation. He sued me personally when I was no longer Minister for improper exercise of power and sought damages. The Abuja High Court gave judgment against Chief Adeosun just last week. We just have to wait and see how the rest of the cases play out.
Your stewardship in the FCT resulted in a probe by the Senate which unearthed a lot of allegations over land and property allocated to yourself, friends and family. Did you not compromise your position as minister by awarding land and property to yourself and family, among several other charges?
Let me respond by setting the record straight with facts. First, It is not true that as Minister, I allocated any plot of land to myself. Instead, I revoked a plot allocated to me in Asokoro by Minister Kontagora in 1998 for my failure to develop by 2006! The plot was allocated to an applicant I do not know and has been developed already. And I challenge any one to prove otherwise with facts.
Second, the ownership of a plot of land in Abuja is the right of every Nigerian of age who has applied. In the FCT, I took the unprecedented step of working with the Federal Executive Council to enact delegated legislation to guide land administration. Among other policies, I recommended a modification of the absolute discretion of the FCT Minister in land allocation by limiting my discretionary allocation from 100% to 20%. The FEC approved allocation of land in the FCT based on defined criteria and limited discretion as follows:
· Every Nigerian citizen above 21 years/company with Directors above 18 years is qualified for at least ONE plot.
· Valid and subsisting application with payment of charges.
· For residential land the criteria shall be:
o Equality of States: 60%
o Population: 10%
o Public Servants in FCT: 10%
o Ministerial Discretion: 20%
· Equality of States is not equality of allocation but dependent on applications received.
· Capacity to develop is the key criterion as Abuja needs to be developed rapidly.
· City and Satellite Town allocations are dependent on financial capacity evidenced by income levels.
· Non-residential allocations shall be based on need and capacity to develop.
It is the practice for public servants and high-ranking government officials to exercise the discretions under the powers of their office to enrich themselves through the use of front companies, fake names and names of close associates and even deceased family members. It is my refusal to do this but to comply with the criteria approved above that became the kernel of the elite anger against me. I am not a hypocrite. I will not allocate a plot of land to my wife under a fake name. If she applied for plot and meets the criteria approved by the FEC above, I will approve the allocation and that is what I did. In all, I approved the allocation of land to over 27,000 applicants that I do not know, yet I am expected to exclude those that I know. That is hypocritical. Any one that is qualified and entitled to land should be allocated.
A follow-up to that is the case of the judge whose house the FCTA took over and was later to die possibly as a result of that experience. Don’t you think that all these helped to compound your problems with the National Assembly and federal government, and isn’t there a tinge of guilt over what happened to the judge?
This is the misrepresented case of late Justice Bashir Sambo. Let me clarify for the umpteenth time. First, judges houses were not among those to be sold under the FGN Sale of Houses programme. The initial error in offering the house to Sambo was because he was chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, now chaired by Justice Constance Momoh. When the error was discovered and based on advice from both the then Chief Justice of Nigeria and the then Attorney-General of the Federation, the offer was withdrawn and monies refunded. Justice Sambo collected the monies and took us to Court.
The National Assembly and I have had a long relationship of adversarial interaction. Right from my BPE days, I had cause to take them to court and won a judgment that defined and limited the powers of the legislature, (El-Rufai v. House of Representatives (2003) 46 WFN 70-103) saying that the only two cases that the legislature can pursue are investigations of corruption and misspending of public funds.
And this was compounded by the undue influence, collusion and outright bribery of the legislators with plots of land in Maitama and Asokoro, and even houses allocated to them and their staff in Abuja by my successor. We have details of all these that will be published in my memoirs.
As a key and loyal member of the Obasanjo government, you were perceived to have supported the Third Term plot of the former president. Why did you support what was obviously unconstitutional?
Don’t most of the problems you have with Yar’Adua stem from the fact that you might have coveted the top job yourself and were disappointed when Obasanjo threw his weight behind Yar’Adua? Even Nuhu Ribadu, your close friend and ally was alleged to have told Yar’Adua that he would not support his candidacy, and that he’ll only support you for the office of the president.
I did not covet any job and have never done so in my life. Apart from the first job I applied for during my NYSC, I have never applied or lobbied for a job in my life. What often happens is that my abilities are observed by someone who needs them and makes an offer. While many people, (and this may include Nuhu Ribadu) had enough confidence in me to think I could run for an elective office – state governor, senator or president – I have never considered adding these burdens to my life. I am humbled and appreciative of the thought, but my answer has always been, thanks but no thanks.
Is it true that you are sponsoring or supporting a political party on which you might possibly contest or use as a platform to support someone else against Yar’Adua?
You said in your response that current power generation capacity is not up to probably less than half of the 6,000MW December target. This assertion is not entirely correct. The Power Minister who once worked under you in the BPE recently revealed that we have generating capacity of almost 5,000MW and the government is on course to meet the 6,000MW target in 3 months. Doesn’t this indicate that the FG is trying to keep to its promise, even if not the campaign pledge?
You must admit that some measure of success has been recorded through the amnesty programme; at least there is peace in the Niger Delta. What more does the government have to do to consolidate on what has been achieved so far?
I see you are travelling around a lot, where are the resources coming from to support your travel, business and living expenses?
I have been travelling between the UK, USA and the Middle East mostly. Wherever possible I use some of the over 1 million air miles I accumulated in my years in public service. Other times, I pay with my savings and earnings. By the grace of God, I became a chartered quantity surveyor licensed to practice in the UK and indeed every Commonwealth country since 1982. My consulting firm – El-Rufai & Partners founded in 1982 still thrives with offices in Abuja and Lagos. I have made some investments in telecoms and financial services that have turned out to be profitable. I am grateful to God. I have never been very rich but have never lacked anything in my life. My family members – particularly my brothers
– have been generous, and a handful of friends as well. I work too, consulting for companies and countries wishing to do business in African countries. For instance, at Harvard, I was engaged as Teaching Assistant for Statistics. And my needs are not much. I live a simple and austere life. Most of my money is spent on books and electronic gadgets.
 See for example the Federal Capital Territory Land Use Regulations 2004, FCT Change of Land Use and Density Regulations 2007, and the policy positions in the FEC Memo EC(2004)138 of 19th July 2004 and FEC Conclusions arising therefrom.