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Nigerian Bar Association has done well by disinviting Governor El-Rufai

Debo Onifade is the author of “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country” with foreword by Femi Falana SAN, and the founder of the Politics Blog – www.liberatingnigeria.com

When I read the leaked Governor Nasir El Rufai’s memo to the president a few years ago which indicated among other things that Kyari must have treated El Rufai with some contempt in the past, I wondered the source of their issues. But based on Nasir El Rufai’s utterances and actions in the last few years, I can clearly guess why the older and highly educated Kyari seemingly did not trust or respect El Rufai. I do not believe the issues had to do with a perceived presidential ambition by the Kaduna state governor, but attitudes that many young people have come to witness in recent times.

I used to admire the governor, exchanged email with him once in the past and actually almost met him in Boston, United States several years ago. After he got close to Pastor Tunde Bakare and pastor said many nice things about him, I developed even greater admiration for him. I saw him as one of the reformists of our time and part of the new breed politicians that I described in my book “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country.”

But in the last few years, I have realized that El Rufai is part of the establishment and certainly not a new breed politician. He is in fact very similar to the old politicians that many young people deride. I thought he would declare and publish his assets after becoming governor, but despite multiple pressures from different groups, he refused. While his opponent, Shehu Sani did publish his assets and impressed many new breed politicians, El Rufai did not care about any criticism in that regard.

After El Rufai became governor, one of the first projects he commissioned was a brand-new taxi cabs scheme. His “London Taxis” launched in Abuja in 2004 failed woefully, so I was extremely disappointed that El Rufai would consider such elitist and wasteful project again within his first year in office as Kaduna governor. For those of us that have visited Kaduna several times, we do not need to have a high school diploma to know that a brand-new taxi project is by far less important than most pressing needs of Kaduna residents.

El Rufai publicly criticized many people and leaders in the past, but never tolerated criticisms from Shehu Sani. In fact, despite the fact that we all know that direct primaries reduce the possibility of vote buying and is a more democratic election style as is done in the United States, he aggressively and successfully pushed for indirect primaries in Kaduna State in 2019 in order to secure easy victories for his candidates. And this helped him to replace Shehu Sani with his godson, Uba Sani.

While many governors who were traditional politicians were pushing for indirect primaries, I thought the Kaduna state governor would distinguish himself by pushing for direct primaries (which allows all card-carrying members to vote) especially since he said Senator Shehu Sani was no longer popular in Kaduna, but he did exactly the same as typical traditional politician governors who would like their appointees (delegates) to be the primary voters.

Though it is obvious that Christians in Kaduna do not have the numbers to influence who becomes governor in Kaduna state, previous governors selected Christians as deputy governors to pacify the largely marginalized southern Kaduna people. This is consistent with the principle of zoning at the federal level (which El Rufai just recently said he supported). But El Rufai for the first time in a long time went ahead with a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2019, publicly saying on Channels TV that since choosing a Christian deputy governor would not earn him votes from the Christians, he decided to select a Muslim candidate based on merit. Of course, the previous governors also knew that a Christian deputy governor was just a kind gesture to a marginalized community and that the decision did not necessarily influence election. To El Rufai, election was priority and he did not need to pacify an unhappy community.

When people complain about southern Kaduna killing, instead of the Kaduna state governor taking full responsibility as the chief security officer of the state and expressing sympathy and reconciliation tones, he chooses to remind us that same violence happens across the north, sometimes gives excuses like reprisals, criticizes southern Kaduna leaders, and threatens law suits against anyone that criticizes him. He spent years criticizing presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, but it shocks me that he never wants to be criticized. It almost seems that he is surprised that people make too much noise about southern Kaduna killings despite multiple killings happening in other parts of the country. Governors should focus on their state issues and not get busy with comparisons.

Just today, I read that the Kaduna state government has arraigned an Anglican bishop in court for criticizing him in 2019. El Rufai has repeatedly blasted Christian leaders in the past and I do not recall anyone taking him to court. I tried to find explanations for him years ago when people like Apostle Suleiman made funny statements about him, but it has now become a pattern that El Rufai enjoys combative postures against Christian leaders. I am still curious to know why Pastor Tunde Bakare has not yet openly rebuked El Rufai for these actions.

Governor El Rufai likes to defeat everyone that criticizes him, and I was very happy he finally met his match in the NBA lawyers that successfully got him disinvited as a speaker at their forthcoming event. Because of his influence, the NBA leaders ordinarily would not have disinvited him, but their outgoing chairman stated that he could not overrule the position of the majority. This same NBA just recently voted for an underdog non-SAN candidate. They are bringing political inspiration to young Nigerians and sending a clear message that when young Nigerians unite in spite of religion or ethnic differences, they can peacefully snatch political power from the powerful elites.

My Fulani friend tells me that El Rufai is not a bigot because some of his closest advisers are Yoruba Christians, and that his utterances are merely political. I recognize that politicians need to make some compromises to win elections or hold on to power, but when it becomes a governor’s pattern to blast Christians and try to defeat everyone that criticizes him, that represents the same old politics of oppression that most young people are against today.

According to the Cable, Anglican bishop of Zaria – Abiodun Ogunyemi, who is being arraigned in court by El Rufai’s government on charges bordering on criminal defamation, injurious falsehood and criminal intimidation, had reportedly said in his 2019 statements that El Rufai would not become president in 2023. Though the Kaduna state governor has always denied presidential ambition, the fact is that even if he decides to run, he does not have broad support that can win such elections. He rode on Muhammadu Buhari as godfather to become Kaduna governor, and he knows that will not be enough to clinch presidency in 2023.

Finally, I wish to highlight lessons and action plans for young people and new breed politicians. When you criticize leaders, it is important to be committed to acting differently when you get into power. My fear about young Nigerians has always been that majority are the same or worse than the current traditional politicians. We cannot change our country by being exactly like them. We should learn politics from them, but we must not act like them when we get into power. The incoming NBA chairman – Olumide Akpata represents a symbol of new breed politicians coming into power. He learnt and worked with several senior advocates of Nigeria and it was nice that some of them silently backed him. But now that he has got power, he needs to change the NBA and let it work more for the masses instead of the elites. The NBA must be a voice to the voiceless. They should collaborate with the government to fight corruption and support peaceful political movements to end tyranny in our land.

New breed politicians need millions of first-time voters to turn out in 2023 in order to win some elections. They cannot rely on the current crop of voters to defeat traditional politicians like Governor El Rufai. This is why our vision at www.liberatingnigeria.com is to enlighten, organize and influence 5m first-time voters by 2023, and 20m by 2027. We are doing this by giving voice to the voiceless, and publishing regular opinion articles, video interviews and 9ja news. Let us liberate Nigeria by learning the required politics and politics, and ensuring we, our families and friends start voting en masse from 2023. Nigeria will surely flourish again!

Debo Onifade

Author of “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country” with foreword by Femi Falana SAN, available on Amazon, Delon.ng, Rhbooks.com.ng, Glendora – Ikeja City Mall, Patabah – Surulere Mall, Booksellers – Ibadan, Abuja, Abeokuta, and Latter Rain Assembly Bookstore – Ogba.

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