A former governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, took many by surprise when he withdrew his ministerial nomination before President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and soon after, jetted out of the country.
Sources said this was why President Tinubu included his name as the one to drive what was to become a new Ministry of Power and Energy.
Despite guzzling billions of naira in many decades, the electricity sector in Nigeria remains comatose, with many saying only the likes of El-Rufai could demystify it.
During his screening exercise, the former governor had spoken clearly when he said President Tinubu was committed to ensuring that Nigeria had a stable and reliable electricity supply, and stressed, “I will do my best.”
Political pundits said that for anyone who knows Malam Nasir el-Rufai, his best is always enough. However, Sunday Karimi, representing Kogi West senatorial district had during the screening presented a petition against him, saying it concerned security, unity and national cohesion. The Senate president, Godswill Akpabio, had however, suggested that petitions should not be addressed during the screening exercise.
But in what many saw as a major setback, the Senate on Monday withheld the confirmation of El-Rufai alongside Stella Okotete from Delta State and Senator Abubakar Sani from Taraba State, citing security clearance.
The news created mixed feelings, with sources telling Premium Times that the embarrassment was why El-Rufai had informed the president that he was withdrawing his ministerial interest.
The president then asked for 24 hours grace to review the petitions and the SSS report to the Senate to enable him to reach a decision.
Already out of Nigeria
As at Friday, Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the former governor had left the country for Egypt after making his position clear to President Tinubu.
Despite his withdrawal, he had met with stakeholders from the power and energy sector, where he urged them to support whoever would be the next minister of power and energy.
“Even after he made the decision to withdraw, he held meetings with local meter manufacturers and other stakeholders in the power and energy sector, where he urged them to work with whoever would come in as minister,” a source close to the former governor said.
Beyond the security breach claim
However, fresh facts emerged Friday on why El-Rufai, known for his track record of getting the job done, would be shut down by a mere petition.
Sources said the power play and gang-up against El-Rufai came from various angles, including the presidency. The petition and alleged security concerns, Daily Trust Saturday gathered, were a mere ruse cooked up by some powerful persons to frustrate the former governor’s chances.
“Some very powerful Nigerians, it appears, are not comfortable with the kind of reforms El-Rufai was bringing to the power and energy sector,” a source who asked to remain anonymous said.
“Every reform attracts some form of resistance, and so, what El-Rufai did as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was possible because he had the tenacity to do it but also because he had the support of his principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. People still tried to stand in the way of the reforms but because there was political will, it was done,” he said.
Other sources told our reporter that El-Rufai’s decision to withdraw his ministerial appointment was as a result of the president’s body language, which the former minister was disappointed with.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the former governor of Kaduna State, who returned to the country from London on Monday, had met with Tinubu on Tuesday. He was said to have led some members of the team he had assembled to the Villa on Wednesday, where they made a presentation.
However, a source close to the former governor told this newspaper that El-Rufai had made his decision to withdraw his ministerial appointment even before the meeting with the president.
“What happened on Monday couldn’t have happened except there was some nod and wink from the place where the nomination came from,” said a source referring to the body language of President Bola Tinubu.
He said for someone who never asked for an appointment, El-Rufai was unfairly treated. “He never begged for it. In fact, he was begged to come and work for them, and when he finally agreed, they subjected him to what happened on Monday.
“Some very powerful people are not comfortable with him and the president is now part of it. Why will the State Security Service (SSS) clear people with corruption cases; some nationally and even internationally and then fail to clear El-Rufai? It is political and it is unfortunate that the president would allow himself to be part of this,” another source said.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that El-Rufai was actually working on his doctoral field work at the time of his nomination. Those close to him said he would carry on with his studies.
“If you nominate someone and you later change your mind, you decide that the kind of things he is likely to do, you may not be able to support him, then you should invite him and say look. I think we should find a different way of working together. Maybe he should not take a full-time role,” a source said.
Attempts to talk to the presidency to comment on the allegations that Tinubu did not protect El-Rufai against unfounded allegations as he did for others did not yield result.
His special adviser on media, Ajuri Ngelale, did not respond to a phone call and was yet to reply the text message sent to him as at press time.
Tinubu is the biggest loser – Prof. Kari
Speaking on the development, an associate professor of Political Sociology from the University of Abuja, Abubakar Kari, said El-Rufa’i was caught in the labyrinth of intricate power play and machinations by his political adversaries and those afraid of his rising profile, which they feared could be enhanced by another stint as a minister.
“He is easily one of the most cerebral and capable of the ministerial nominees, with a rich pedigree and track record of achievements as a technocrat and public servant. He more than demonstrated this during his response to questions at the senate screening,” said Prof Kari.
The political scientist, however, said El-Rufa’i had over the years stepped on many toes and had done and said things that incurred the wrath of many.
“What happened was, therefore, a grand gang-up against the former Kaduna State governor by powerful forces, including some within the presidency and the security services,” he said, adding that “the most surprising of all, however, is Tinubu’s response to the whole thing.”
“The president didn’t do as much as lift a finger to support El-Rufa’i. This is very significant politically, considering who El- Rufa’i is and the role he played in Tinubu’s emergence. Tinubu didn’t show this inexplicable inertia and indifference toward Akpabio or even Ganduje in spite of the very atrocious reputation they have had to contend with,” he said.
Kari stressed that the greatest loser in the end was the Tinubu administration, as well as those who believe that El-Rufa’i has the capacity and competence to make real difference.
He said such power play in the Tinubu administration may damage, or at least negatively impact on the administration.
“A lot of energy, time and resources will be dissipated in in-fighting by desperate and feuding groups within the government. The notorious phenomenon of Aso Villa cabal that has bogged down administrations in the recent past is gradually emerging. The administration may also be deprived of quality and competent individuals who would be sacrificed or dispensed with at the altar of intrigue,” he said.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, is yet to reply to a text message sent to his mobile phone after calls as of the time of filing this report.
The text message sought to get reaction to the allegations from sources around Malam Nasir El-Rufai that his ministerial confirmation faced hitches because the Presidency did not push enough for it as some nominees screened and cleared by the Senate had more serious issues than the former Governor of Kaduna State.