There appears to be a growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Nigeria. The middle class is on its way to extinction yet again. This situation is very prominent within sections of northern Nigeria where we have some very successful businessmen, and yet there are huge numbers of people still living in poverty. Yet in times past, various state governments have spent stupendously huge finances on state given scholarships to its young people at almost all levels. This appears not to have adequately impacted the levels of poverty within the region. In light of this reality, what do you feel should be the solution for wealth distribution for Nigeria, moving forward?
El-Rufai: Everything you said about scholarship and so on are true. I enjoyed Kaduna state government scholarship too when I was going through the university, and perhaps without that scholarship I may not have been able to make university without having to work, as I was going through university. Yes that used to be the case, but all that has gone. My generation was the generation that enjoyed the benefit of heavy investment of the northern region and the northern states in education. That has gone now.
I think that we have a problem of wealth distribution in Nigeria. We are not investing, our governments are not investing in the area that would reduce inequality. Our Gini coefficient has been rising, from 0.4 to 0.424 in the last 4 years, so the income disparity is widening and it’s frightening.
113 million people are living below the poverty line. In my opinion, you need to do 3 things to solve this.
In the short term you have to bring some cash grant. You have to give people money and tie it to sending their children to school and taking health care and so on and so forth. You must do that, it’s a model that worked in Brazil; I think it’s a good model to look at. That is one.
Secondly, we must resume our investment on education, because education is the ultimate equalizer. If you have affordable or free public education of good quality then you move people out of poverty through education. We also need to invest heavily in healthcare. And finally, create an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs because people with jobs tend not to be poor, so the focus should really be on job creation. Investing in human capital development that will lead to those productive people that will take up those jobs, but I think in the short term because of the level of poverty we now have, we have to do something about the way we distribute our income. And it all boils down to one thing- good governance.
Unfortunately, in many states of Nigeria, the governors are not doing what they should be doing. At the federal level, the federal government is not doing what it should be doing. If we are using our resources well, Nigerians have no reasons to be poor. Not at the scale that we have seen. Good governance, targeted policies to help the poor can solve this problem in the short term, and also in the long term if sound policies are implemented and I have outlined some of them.
YOUR SOURCE OF WEALTH
Let me move to some general questions that are commonly asked by Nigerians. Several people with the NVS community have questioned as they do with public officials the source of their wealth.
We know you were in private business before becoming a special adviser to Gen. Abdul-salami Abubakar. We also know you have degrees in Quantity Survey and Law.
Do you mind to share a bit about your private life before becoming an adviser and later a civil servant and how you became successful so that you might able to dispel some of the rumors out there?
El-Rufai: I graduated from the university in 1980 I was 20 years old. By 1982 when I was 22 I started my first consultancy practice, and by 1986 my partner and I were dollar millionaires at least on paper. So, I did not get into government needing anything. By the time I was in government I had my own house, had my own car, I had my own investment, and I was fairly comfortable.
I’ve never been rich; I’m not rich even now. Many people think once you’re in government and out you’re rich, I’m not rich. But I’m grateful to God that since I left University, right from my Youth Service I’ve been comfortable because my profession pays me very well and by 1989-1990 el-rufai and partners were the largest surveying firm in Nigeria and everyone knows this. It is still in operation, my partners run it, I don’t go there often, they still pay me substantial amount of money to keep going.
When I was in government, the eight years I was in government, my company paid me over N75 million to continue to work for the government, because the salary was not good enough. So I don’t like going into personal details about my net-worth and so on, but I want to state it here and now, and I want it on the record, that I did not get into government as a poor man or a needy person. I have never needed a thing in government, and indeed my company subsidized the federal government when I was working for the government. So if you have anyone that says that I have acquired anything while in public office, they should come out with proof because they have been searching for so many years, they’ve been trying to pin something on me because of things I’ve done while in office.
So I’m grateful to God. I’m not a rich man, but I’m comfortable, I can pay my bills and do the things I want to do, and my needs are not much. I don’t need to own a private jet. I don’t need to own houses all over the place. I have a house in Kaduna, I have 2 houses in Abuja, and that’s it. I’m grateful to God for that.
ARE YOU JUST SEEKING RELEVANCE?
The next question is, many Nigerians feels that, when they listen to you, you are frequently in the news, you make lots of comments on the state of affairs. They seem to feel you are seeking popularity, you are only echoing popular sentiments because you are trying to talk yourself back into relevance. And your ultimate goal is to get back into Government, Maybe not this government but at some point in time. How do you respond to this?
El-Rufai: I can try to understand the sentiments of Nigerians who feels that anyone that disagrees with a sitting government is doing so for one agenda or another. At the end, everybody is entitled to his opinion. But before they do that, at least in my case, I want them to reflect on this- is it not easier for me, as an individual, who as a member of PDP, to join the system and be part of it? Isn’t it easier and more profitable for me? I think those of us that have chosen to leave the PDP and join the opposition should at least be given the credit for taking the road less traveled.
I’m doing what I’m doing out of conviction, I do not have any agenda, I’m not interested in anything and I don’t want to go into whether the Jonathan administration has made overture to me or not. But I just want you to know that it is far easier to be in the ruling party and join the system than to be out, because being out have a heavy price which we are ready to pay and are paying. But some of us have to pursue our conviction, but every Nigerian can decide to read every meaning into what we are doing, but I believe that in time everything will be out, and posterity will judge all of us.
SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS IN OFFICE
Thank you very much. Now, what do you consider your significant achievements as head of the BPE and later as Minister of the FCT and what would you consider or hope to be your legacy left behind in those institutions? And does that legacy remain in place today?
El-Rufai: I don’t talk about my achievement in office, honestly. I think that I have done what I have done. I have moved on, and those that were witnesses to it can speak and say what we’ve done. Those that are beneficiaries of whatever policies we implemented will see. Bbut at the end of the day it’s posterity that will judge. I don’t like speaking for myself and saying I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I’ve done this, I’ve done that.
For Abuja our records are there for those that live in Abuja before, during and after my tenure. And for BPE what we did is there as a matter of record. I don’t like talking about it; I just like history and posterity to judge all of us. And that judgment may take time; we will all be judged accordingly.
PREFERENTIAL APPOINTMENTS AT BPE
This is a touchy one and I’ll like you to take a minute to address it. There is a school of thought within our online community NVS, that while at the helm of affairs at your various appointments, you tend to favour fellow kinsfolk for most administrative positions against the rest of the country.
At the TEDx event, you noted that while you were the head of BPE, you hired a minimum of three individuals from each state in Nigeria. So there seems to be a disparity in the two assertions can you address this issue?
El-Rufai: What I found in the BPE is a federal institution that has disparity for employment, and my job was to privatize government companies and I know that the only way to get political buy-in is to ensure that every Nigerian is represented at the table. So I went out of my way to do that, to hire people to ensure that we have balance in the organization and the organization reflected federal character and where I did not find people that were qualified like Bayelsa State, Rivers state and so on, I addressed letters to the governors and ask to give me some qualified people and we hired them.
In the FCT I found an organization already at the center, and my freedom to hire and fire in the FCT is quite limited because they are civil servants. So even if there’s disparity there’s little I could do about that.
In Nigeria, whatever you do people will comment. I know that throughout my career whether in the public or private sector, I’ve never looked at myself as coming from one part of the country so I have to favor people coming from that part of the country. I’ve looked at Nigeria as a constituency and I’ve tried to look for the best people to do every particular job. I do not care where you come from, but people I’ve never met with will judge me, but those that have worked with me know who I am, and I don’t need to explain anything. Look at my record, don’t listen to what people say, just go and look at my record, that’s all.
I think its fair that we ask this question. Lastly, we asked out last guest FFK about his legal problems with the current government, you also appear to have some legal problems with the current government. There seems to be a merry go round taking place as regards your case in the courts. These charges stem from your time as FCT minister. Considering this is an ongoing case, we recognize, you will be limited in what you can say about this, please address whatever aspects of you feel comfortable to address within this public domain. I assume you deny the charges at a minimum.
El-Rufai: No no no, I can speak about it. All of us that were very visible in the Obasanjo administration were targetted by the Yaradua administration and Jonathan continued that.. That is true. In my own case, after investigating me and going through all kinds of things and accusing me of all kinds of things, at the end of the day the federal government filed charges against me accusing me of abuse of office, that I approved allocation of a plot of land for my wife. That is what I’m in court for, that is the charge.
I can talk about it, and I do not deny it, because I believed I approved allocation of plot to my wife because she’s a Nigerian, and like every Nigerian above the age of 18 she is entitled to apply for a plot of land in Abuja and get it. And in my tenure as minister I approved allocation for 27,000 people and companies, and my wife got one of the plots, that is what I’m being charged to court for.
They didn’t say I stole money, even though they accused me of that and then they found the money in 15 bank accounts as claimed by my successor in office and all sort of things. But at the end of the day that’s what they brought to the court, and it was thrown out by the Federal High Court, and they re-filed it at the FCT High Court, and it’s going on, and we’ll defend it vigorously to the end. But that is what it’s all about., each one of us has a story to tell, and that is my story. There is nothing more to it, there’s nothing less, and I’m ready to speak about it up to a point without interfering with the legal proceedings and this is all I can do at this point in time.
I’m going to move into the future and ask about 2015. We recently read that you might be interested in running for the Presidency. We know the Presidency is not the only political position available. Are you planning for any other office in the near future? 2015 perhaps? And if not why? Or will you prefer to be an effective opposition figure to the government that will come?
El-Rufai: I don’t have any… I’m in politics for conviction and I don’t have plans to run for any office. It is not something I have tied myself personally to do, it’s not something that I’ve obtained the support of my family, it’s not something that I’ve discussed with my partner. So it’s off the table right now, I’m not thinking about it at all.
What I’m more concerned about at this point in time and the foreseeable future is to try to see how we can rebuild the CPC into a virile opposition party, cooperating with other opposition party to put an end to the rule of the PDP. That is my short and medium term goal, I am not thinking about running for any office right now.
That is a good segway into my next question, which is, you were once a member of the PDP and served in a PDP government. Recent reports have you referring to the PDP as being next to Satan, what accounts for this recent rather scary assessment?
El-Rufai: You know, we all joined the PDP hoping that it will be a party that will bring about progress in Nigeria. But the PDP has changed, it has changed fundamentally, it has moved from being a party to a club controlled by the governors and the PDP government that I served in 2003, 2007 is not the PDP of today, and I like to give just one example. In 2006 or 2005 as minister of the FCT chairman of the PDP had a building over waterline and we demolished it. Now I want to ask you, if you say the PDP of that time is the PDP of today, I want to ask you today if it is possible for the current minister of FCT to demolish the building of the chairman of the ruling party. I think it’s impossible. So there are many things today which has changed. I can go on and on and give you examples.
When I came back from exile we all hoped that we could reform the PDP, and I along with Senator Ken Nnamani and Aminu Massari even worked on it up to a point but we found that PDP is an evil organization that is incapable of reform, and we left. We dropped it and left, that’s when I left. I didn’t even leave the PDP to join the CPC or any other party, I just left to be on my own, to pursue what I consider to be my near term objectives. But the PDP is not what it used to be, it’s as simple as that.
Still on 2015, and since you said you are not going to run, if President Jonathan too does not run, would you support an Igbo or non Hausa/Fulani Muslim successor? If not why not? If you do choose to support an Igbo candidate, would you mind telling us some of the notable individuals you feel that you might consider giving your support and working with?
El-Rufai: I don’t support candidates based on where they come from. I don’t believe in zoning, I don’t believe in geographic selection of leadership, this is why we are in the problem that we are, and even during the zoning debate I have spoken up against it because I don’t believe that when you have a company to run or a country to run, you pick the person to run that company or country based on where you come from.
So I will not go into that debate of Ibo candidate or non-Ibo candidate. It is a moot point. I will like to see the candidate, and I will like to see track record, I want track record of performance, I will like him to tell me what he intends to do, and see if his vision is workable and practical, and then I will support him or her no matter what part of the country he comes from. So that’s one.
I believe that there is no part of this country that doesn’t have good people, and you know, whether it’s Ibo, to Hausa, or Fulani, or Nupe, or Ijaw, or Yoruba, there are good people all over Nigeria, and the key is to find those people and persuade them to be in leadership positions then our country will change for the better. If you want to know, I have many friends of great competency from many parts of Nigeria. If you’re talking of Ibo land I can just mention one. My sister Obi Ezekwesili who is currently Vice President of the World bank.
Obi is intelligent, hard working, honest, a task master, she gets things done like no other person that I have come across in recent times, and I have great respect and love for Obi Ezekwesili. This is just one name that I can mention without thinking but there are many Obi Ezekwesilis, male and female in Ibo land, there are many Obi Ezekwesili in Yorubaland, there are many in Hausaland. And our job as a country is to identify such people and push them forward for leadership, then our country will become a better country.
The current set of people we have are not it, and we all must work together to produce better leadership, not based on where a person comes from but based on what he has done to show that he can deliver in the future.
The audio is getting really bad. Let me hand you back to Anwulika, and we’ll take it from there. Thank you very much Mallam.
El-Rufai: Thank you Ajibola, thank you very much.
Thank you Ajibola for your questions. At this point we were meant to take questions from our audience, but because of the audio problem we are having we asked the audience to send in their questions by typing them out in the chat-room. So we will be asking them on behalf of the audience.
The first question I have for you is from Ebi Bozimo in Nigeria:
Sir, you said military force is not appropriate for addressing insurgencies. Where you on record as opposing that kind of approach during the years he was a member of government?
El-Rufai: No no no, I don’t think in any situation I will support military intervention. Of course when people are killing other people you’ll need some kind of military intervention. But it has to be mixed with dialogue, with political intervention. That is the only way to solve the problem and I stand to be corrected, but I don’t know anywhere in the world this kind of insurgencies was solved only with military intervention. No.
The next question is from Olugbenga Samson from Ibadan:
What role does Islamic ideology play in various sectarian violence in the north, and what role did the Muslim community in the north play in getting solution to these various acts of violence?
El-Rufai: Quite honestly I don’t know, because my religion- I’m a Muslim, my religion does not justify the killing of anyone in pursuit of any ideology. There is no justification for the killing of anyone that is not compulsory in the religion that I believe in. I am in Saudi Arabia, I’m here for pilgrimage and there is nothing I have heard from anywhere or anywhere in my religion that say that you should kill people or impose Islam on them.
There is no compulsion in our religion. So I don’t understand where these people are coming from, but throughout history religion has been used by people to justify their quest for power, and that’s what I think is happening here and I think both sides of the divide has used this religion over time, from the crusade to the current insurgencies all over the world, to justify killing other people. But there is no such thing in Islamic religion, and we all know that.
But those that want to use Islam would do so, and the media that refer to everyone as Islamic fundamentalist is also deepening and rubbing this kind of believe. I think that at the end of the day all of us as Muslims, as community leaders, must continue to educate our people and stand up and say that this is not Islam, this is not Islam, this is dubious form of religion, this is a misdirected interpretation of our religion, and we should all stand up against it.
Alright, thank you. And then the next question is again from Ebi Bozimo in Nigeria. The question is on the point you made about inequality and violence. Do you affirm that inequality breeds insurgency? Also inequality of suffering ie oil exploitation, gas flaring, devastated environment etc.
El-Rufai: Inequality of any kind, income inequality of any kind, and poverty encourage violence and leads to violence, that’s what I said. I’ve been to the Niger Delta, I’ve seen the environmental degradation, and I’ve seen the income inequality as well, and that income inequality is still there even though a lot of money has been pumped from there. But those in authority are diverting and stealing the money. So the problem is still there.
I would not change my belief in the consequence of income inequality and poverty because of geography. Two, whether you are talking about the North or about Niger Delta, or about the South-West or the South-East or any part of Nigeria, I still stand by that is is about the political economy. It didn’t come from me its proven empirical research…it’s something you find in any economics textbook.
Osi in Abuja:
1. Do you want to take back your statement that Boko Haram don’t wear jeans? And the Boko Haram attacks started in July 2009, in response to the government investigating their activities.
2. You said in 2010 that Buhari was too old, and probably did not know what a blackberry was. Now you are in the CPC, do you or your peers feel a responsibility to challenge for leadership and specifically the presidential candidacy of the CPC?
El-Rufai: Well, on Boko haram, I still stand by what I said. And I said that in the context of some people that were put on TV wearing jeans, covering their face and saying to Southerners that they are speaking for Boko Haram, they are speaking in English that Southerners should leave the North, Christians should leave the North, and I said that these people are not Boko Haram as far as I am concerned. They looked more like Niger Delta militants because when Boko Haram speak on key issues they say it in a particular manner, they don’t cover their faces, they don’t wear jeans and they don’t speak in English.
Wherever their spokesperson speaks he speaks in Hausa, whenever there’s a video you will see him very clearly dressed traditionally, wearing Northern traditional dress, they don’t wear jeans and my believe is- that Boko Haram is a government branch of Boko Haram, that was posed just to raise the level of insecurity and fear and breed hatred amongst Nigerians, and I still stand by that.
Those that say Kabir Sokoto was wearing jeans should go back to the story of his arrest. He was arrested in Taraba state according to them he was hiding under a bed. Now look carefully at the Kabir Sokoto you saw, he was wearing a nice t-shirt, a very nice designer t-shirt and jeans. Do you honestly think he dressed himself up? My theory is that he was dressed by the SSS, he was given jeans to wear so that he will look like the government branch of Boko Haram that go out on TV and say things like Southerners should leave the North.
So I still stand by my statement, if you go to Youtube and google Boko haram and shekau, there are a few videos where shekau the leader of Boko Haram spoke, look at the way he dressed, look at the way he spoke, look at the language he spoke, you will see that what I’m saying is true and I still stand by my statement, and the government agents that were trying to say that because one person that was dressed by the SSS is wearing jeans means Boko Haram people wear jeans, I may be wrong, I think if and when the leaders of Boko Haram are arrested this truth will come out.
Now regarding Buhari, yes, I wish General Buhari was much younger even in 2011, but at the end of the day the presidential election is a beauty contest, you have to choose those that are presenting themselves for the office, and in my opinion, in spite of the fact that he was 69 years old, he was still the best of the candidates and for that reason I supported him, and I’ve not changed my position. And yes maybe General Buhari today doesn’t use Blackberry, but what does it matter? He can provide transformational leadership in spite of that for Nigeria, and I supported him, and I still support him.
Ok, thank you. The next question is from EMJ in Canada: Why equate Boko Haram to Area boys syndrome when it’s very clear they are terrorists?
El-Rufai: Any kind of insurgency, anyone that takes up arm against the state is a terrorist. And those that…., the area boys were…, the OPC were taking up arms against the state, the militant Niger Deltans took up arms against the state, they are all terrorists as far as I am concerned, and you may not like that, you may not like the definition, you prefer that only Boko Haram be called that, but they are all terrorists. Anyone that takes arms against a state is a terrorist. That’s the definition, it’s not my definition.
Ok, thank you. And then we have this question from…..Erik Oki in Lagos: Can you specifically point out how you feel the OBJ regime which you served in benefited the ordinary man on the street? We hear a lot about the debt repayment, the amount of dollars left in the reserves etc but how did the ordinary Nigerian’s life improve in your opinion?
El-Rufai: As a matter of principle I dont like blowing our trumpet, but I will just mention one thing and leave it there. First, I think the ordinary man now has a mobile phone which he didn’t have before OBJ regime. That is one.
Secondly, under OBJ’s regime there was a level of security so that people could at least sleep with both eyes closed. We left behind large amount of money as reserve and excess crude account, but the fact that it is not used wisely is not our fault, it was the fault os those that succeeded us. I don’t like spending too much time defending the OBJ regime because it will look as if because I served in that regime that why I’m defending him.
I was minister of FCT, and I’m more comfortable trying to defend my tenure than trying to defend OBJ. but I just mentioned these two, and I ask you in the four years of Yar’adua and Jonathan, what more have you got? Is your life better now than it was 5 years ago under Obasanjo’s regime, that’s the question.