In this interview with our Editor-In-Chief, Malam Tukur Mamu, and our acting Kaduna Bureau Chief, Musa Alhaji Muhammad, AVM Rufa’i, an associate of General Muhammadu Buhari (RTD), talks on the apparent neglect of agriculture, insecurity, economy and other interesting topical issues affecting the nation and the North. He has also talked on other sundry topical issues. Excerpts:
Sir, can we begin with an introduction?
My name is Air vice Marshall Aliyu Ahmed Rufa’i (Rtd). I was born in Zaria in November, 1948. I joined the Nigerian Defence Academy as a cadet to the Air force course 5. On graduation, I went for training at the Royal Air Force in Britain and later Soviet Union as an air defense controller. I also taught at Staff College Jaji. I was member of senior course in National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru. I later went there to lecture in 1998/99. During my course in 1995, I wrote my thesis on the need for functional approach to disaster management in Nigeria based on my study of the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United States when I was working at the Nigerian embassy as the Air Attaché and that project culminated in the evolution of National Emergency Management Agency for Nigeria (NEMA). I retired in December 2003. I later joined the Buhari Organization. I contested the gubernatorial seat of Kaduna State in 2011 under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
What encourages you to go into active politics?
Well, actually it is a very simple situation. Since my childhood, I was advantaged to grow up in a rural area and my father was a veterinary assistant and I happen to grow up where there was agricultural research in Daudawa which is an affiliate of Samaru Agricultural Research Centre and I always admire agriculture. So with the advent of the oil economy, during my career in the military, we discovered that Nigeria has lost a lot by putting itself in a straight jacket economically to rely on oil only neglecting agriculture, and over the years I have advised my students who later became governors, military governors to embark on agricultural projects which they failed to do. It was a national calamity, a national disaster but General Buhari tried to revisit the issue of agricultural development in his short-lived government. So by the time I retired, I thought I should be able to influence anybody who wins election in my state vis-à-vis anybody in any state who is interested in reviving agricultural production particularly in the northern part of the country because it is the mainstay of our economy and of course not forgetting the fact that majority of the third world population, almost 70%, live and survive on agricultural production and Nigeria is not left out. So that was the motivational factor that led me to join politics to assist my state and any other state that is involved in agriculture. During my career as a lecturer at Staff and Command College Jaji and also at National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) we have always studied agricultural economy and we have always reviewed Nigeria’s economic policies among other public policies and we have learnt so much about the fact that the best way a country can develop is to rely on agricultural production for both food security and also for export in terms of revenue generation. That was what motivated me into joining politics.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is seen as the alternative party to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government but the CPC is now bedeviled with a lot of crises. Do you think the CPC is in any way different from the PDP type of structure?
Yes. I believe so, although there are hiccups and short comings during the evolution of the party, there are usually two things that get mixed up though, that is supporting Buhari as a person based on his principles and also his visions and supporting the party which he belongs to is also a different thing. I think fundamentally any party that Buhari is associated with is seen and rightly too as a party that has vision for this country that is based on principles, truth, and sympathy for the common people and that which is also based on patriotism for Nigeria. Unfortunately, even though one could easily say that CPC is quiet different in principles and manifesto from the PDP and also any other party, there is also this problem of initial hiccups. When it was established, I think the fundamental problem we had was that when we left the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Buhari decided based on consultations with his supporters both within and outside the country there were thousands of memos and memorandum of understanding from other parties that Buhari should leave ANPP and form another party. Now during the formation stage, during the consultation stage I think the greatest mistake we made was we still left everything in the hands of those people who have been PDP agents who have all along been so associated with Buhari in ANPP and who are also reporting whatever effort we made to build a solid opposition party to the villa in many ways. Some were reporting to Atiku in those days, others were reporting the then Director General of the State Security Service. Some were even reporting to Obasanjo and of course we should have a paradigm shift by involving other reasonably honest people during both consultation and planning and also in establishing the party unfortunately that was not so without any contradiction we all know those who are closest to Buhari but who became his undoing by associating themselves with him cannot be readily ascertained. They participated personally in his campaign efforts and in the process enrich themselves. There is no doubt about it that when we were in ANPP it was the PDP that was controlling the ANPP. It became clear that time and of course much later some of the top notches of PDP actually confessed to us in confidence that even when we were struggling to survive as an opposition party under ANPP the villa was controlling whatever those people were doing to the extent that when it came to the leadership of Ume Ezeoke, the former speaker during Shagari time, everybody saw what happened. So I think that was the fundamental mistake. There is still hope for the party as an opposition. Don’t forget that when it came out because of Buhari’s popularity, it turned out to be a mass movement just like NEPU because people joined enmasse irrespective of not even seeing its manifesto and so on. Unfortunately enough the fact are interim executive committee of the party was left in the hands of Sule Haman and Buba Galadima whose main agenda really was not for Buhari to succeed but for them to make their own fortunes to enhance their own economic or financial gains and we hope Buhari has seen the light now because I have been reporting their activities to him so many times. I even went to the press to tell the world that these people are particularly PDP agents; they work for the villa, they work for PDP
What do you see as Buhari’s major weakness and what did you do to alert him on the shortcomings?
Well, I would not call it a weakness for somebody who was one time a federal commissioner for petroleum resources and also a onetime governor of the former entire North East and also later became head of state, one would have expected that yes he has had so much experience that nobody should shortchange him and that is what my belief is so I wouldn’t call it weakness. I think his problem is trust, once he trusts somebody he trusts him forever but of course the modus operandi of Nigerian politicians or the actual political culture we are witnessing today is totally different from that even during Shagari era because then people were not cross-carpeting like just crossing the road and going from one market to another to buy things. Essentially I believe we did our best to tell him and as loyalists and my own feeling is that he is still my commander-in-chief right from those days and you know in the military loyalty is never divided we did our best to tell him we also let some of his closest confidants, those who served as his elderly relations about our frustrations because while we were doing one thing they were undoing us but of course in the military you follow your leader not foolishly really. But after I have told him the whole truth and based on the evidence I got from my contact in the security system because I was once Director of Air force intelligence. I left the decision to him and of course it has caused not only him his political fortunes but also the entire masses that have followed him consistently have now come to pay the highest price for his decision to keep particularly Sule Hamma, the director campaign organisation because if you give somebody an assignment first time he fails, second time he fails I don’t think you will give him the third time but unfortunately we in the military we do not criticize our leaders that way but I feel very disappointed and have a lot of heartache over all these losses for the third time running. We only pray that now that the party has appointed El-Rufai as the leader or chairman of the panel for the renewal of the party, I have trust in my junior brother, I am sure he will do the best he can, we are still adherents of Buhari.
Is El-Rufai capable of succeeding Buhari as the leader of the party as it is being speculated and possibly as the presidential candidate of the CPC in 2015?
Well, I think time will tell really because the issue of who succeeds Buhari to me does not arise until we reach the bridge before we can cross it. I believe that there are so many people who can succeed Buhari, Nasiru inclusive. But I think you see Buhari has always believed in internal party democracy. So there are two issues here; in my own opinion Buhari does not belong to himself, he belongs to the people. It is just like Mahatma Gandhi during his days he cannot say that yes of course he is an Indian but he belongs to Indians. The fate of the Indians was what determined his life throughout his career as a mass movement leader. So people have faith in Buhari and a lot of people are comfortable with their faiths in the hands of Buhari, the shortcomings and the failures of the past notwithstanding. So I think when the time comes I am one of those who will advocate using any means of coercion to make Buhari run again because it is not the end of the world, look at Wade in Senegal.
Don’t you think that people like Nasiru El-Rufai should be given the chance since the elite and the political class has frustrated Buhari’s chances of becoming the president on two occasions?
I think those who have fears in Buhari are doing that simply for their selfish reasons. Let me tell you it is not only the military establishment, the retirees, the retired Generals. I think even in the civilian sector in the civil society there are those contractors and those people who exploited the masses during NPN days who will never like to see Buhari govern this country because they want the status quo to remain because it is only under this situation they can monopolise trade and other imports so that they can make money at the expense of the people and also at the expense of local production of such things like rice, wheat and so on and cement of course. So to be honest with you both sides, both the military establishment and the civilians, are just fearing for nothing because if you are going to start jailing people on becoming president today who will be left out, is it the councilor or the local government chairman in all the states and of course all the governors are corrupt and they are working down the streets? All those who are serving and those who served even the current president had some problems, he has skeletons in his cupboard when he was the Deputy Governor to Alamesiegha; even his wife was involved in fraud, today he is the president and his wife is the first lady going around making money all over the place. So I don’t think any sensible person will be positively thinking the right way if he says that if Buhari comes back he will not draw the line and start afresh because you will not have enough prisons to put Nigerians and of course during discussions, personal discussion between I and Buhari, he has always said that people who have such fear are entertaining the fear for nothing because you cannot dissipate your energy after all the destructions of infrastructure and all the neglect of agriculture and other sensitive economic indices for him to come and start establishing courts or spending public funds just to try people like we did during the military. Those who went to jail during Buhari’s time are just being dishonest with themselves. During Buhari’s administration we didn’t pick anybody on the street and put him in jail people touched public funds, they stole money, there was misappropriation of public funds, there was a lot of crimes for which those people were even represented by legally required provisions of giving them a lawyer and so on and so forth. And they went to jail for that.