Nigerians made a mistake not electing Buhari- el Rufai

SUN Newspaper- Aidoghie Paulinus

For former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, not all bombings ascribed to the Islamist fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, are actually carried out by the group. Rather, he believes individuals within and outside government use the faceless violent sect in an attempt to destabilize the country.

According to the former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, “there are forces within the government and outside the government collaborating to throw this country into crisis. I do not believe that some of these things in the name of Boko Haram and so on and so forth are (done by) Boko Haram. Nobody knows really whether Boko Haram is from the North or from anywhere. Nobody knows for sure, because their leaders were killed. Now, anybody can come to my house and plant bomb and say it is Boko Haram.

“A few days ago, I saw on the internet pictures of some people covering their faces, wearing jeans and saying they are Boko Haram; that Southerners should leave the North. I am sure that those people are not Boko Haram. Boko Haram people don’t wear jeans. They wear kaftan… I believe that beyond Boko Haram, which is a metaphor for dissatisfaction with the state, there is something going on.”

On the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government, el-Rufai said Nigerians made a very big mistake not electing General Muhammadu Buhari in the April 2011 election, saying the former military ruler would not have withdrawn the controversial subsidy. Excerpts…

The removal of fuel subsidy was greeted with mixed feelings. How do you see the action of President Goodluck Jonathan?
Well, I have already written about this fuel subsidy conundrum and I think that the timing and the deceit that went around the removal of the fuel subsidy is the main reason people are angry. I think the government has missed the point of peoples’ anger about the fuel subsidy. It is not an economic argument; it is not a political argument because some of the people in government are accusing some of us in the opposition of being opposed to it for political reasons. It is more than that. It is a trust issue. Nigerians do not trust this government to use the resources well and there is nothing the government can do to earn that trust unless they get the work of the people done. This government has earned $200 billion from the sale of crude oil and taxes in the last four years and it has done nothing with it. Why would another $7 billion make the difference?

Where do you think the money is going into?
I don’t know. Most of it goes into the pockets of politicians and those in power because 75 per cent of the budget goes towards recurrent expenditure. So, most of the money is being wasted because political appointees have too many aides and too many hangers-on. It shows that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are not doing their job. Corruption levels have also grown because the anti-corruption war has become a political war. You are only targeted if you are a political embarrassment. Those that have stolen the country blind but are friends of the government are walking the streets free. Those that have done little or nothing are being chased around if you are a political problem.

For political reasons?
Yes, for political reasons. So, those in power know that nothing will happen to them if they steal the whole budget. And this is what has been happening. This is the main issue that Goodluck Jonathan administration is facing and they don’t get it.

Do you think the President consulted widely before removing the subsidy?
I don’t think he needs wide consultation on this issue because he has already consulted everybody and everyone. 9.9 out of 10 have told him don’t do it at this time. Fix our refineries and ensure that we refine our crude oil at our own cost. Then we will be able to sell petroleum products at lower pricing by international market prices. That is what everyone has told him. Why are we spending so much on the so-called subsidy? Last year, we spent one-third of the amount we spent this year. What happened? Did our consumption multiply three times? There is something wrong with the system. Fix the system, show that your friends are not stealing from us, show that the refineries can be made to work, then you can talk about subsidy. I think it is not an economic issue; it is not a political issue. It is a trust issue; it is a tiny issue. This government needs to take time to earn the trust of Nigerians. And unless they do that, I think it is wrong to support the petroleum subsidy.

Why do you think the President chose January, which Nigerians ordinarily see as a harsh month having just celebrated Christmas, to announce the removal of the subsidy?
I think it is an indication of the disconnect between the leaders of the country and the people because anyone that knows the expenses people go through at Christmas and the New Year know that this is the wrong time to double the prices of food in the market, transportation cost and everything. Even rent is going to go up because those that rent out houses will see their expenses go up. And 70 per cent of urban incomes go toward food, rent and transportation.
Another point is that this happened when up until last week officials of the government were saying we have not fixed a date for the withdrawal of subsidy and we are still consulting. Well, the government clearly said that it had not fixed a date yet because until the National Assembly decides on the budget, you cannot do anything because the National Assembly may decide to budget for subsidy. It is within its powers to do so. So, I really don’t understand how a government can be so insensitive to the needs of Nigeria.

But some Nigerians support the idea. Is it that they are not well informed?
No. You see, there are two kinds of people supporting the subsidy idea. First, the real beneficiaries. Of course, the big businessmen, the guys that collect the N1.3 trillion in subsidy, will support it. Friends of the government. The other class of people are those in power that think that they will get more money to spend and to steal. Every other Nigerian is against it. If you exclude these two classes of people, every other Nigerian is against it because the only thing the ordinary Nigerian is getting from this government is this subsidy. Every thing else has been taken away. The schools are broken down, the hospitals are too expensive, the roads are in disrepair and electricity tariff is going up. So, what is the ordinary Nigerian getting from this government?

Do you foresee a revolution?
It is very difficult to predict the course of human events. In every country people are talking about the Arab Spring and that happening in Nigeria. But I don’t know about that. I think every country sorts out its own problems in its own way and I am confident that Nigeria will find its way. But, clearly, these protests are not going to go away because when people go back and look at their income levels and their expenses, they know that it is unsustainable. There is going to be serious crisis. I will give you a simple example. Transportation by bus from Abuja to Suleja is now N500 one way. That means the average worker will pay N22,000 (monthly) for bus to take him from Suleja to Abuja to work, and there are thousands of people that live in Suleja and work in Abuja.

You have not added food and rent, and you are talking about a minimum wage of N18,000, which some people are complaining that they can’t pay it. So, there is a big problem that will become apparent to everybody. I do not believe that the transportation fare will remain where they are. They may come down somewhat. But even if they come down to N400 one-way or N300, it is still expensive when you compare it with the income of people. This is the issue and I think for the government to wake up one morning and just do this without thinking through these issues is not only insensitive but is also proof that we did not elect this government. They know we didn’t elect them. They stole the election, so they feel that they can do anything they want because if they were elected by the people, they should listen to the people. But they were not.

Are Nigerians courageous enough to carry out the kind of revolution we have witnessed in the Arab world?
I do not believe Nigerians are different from other people. I think when pushed to the wall, Nigerians will react. It took Egyptians 30 years of Mubarak before they said enough is enough. Every human being has a breaking point. You push and push until you get to that breaking point and they will react. Whether we have got to that point I don’t know. The next few days and weeks would show. But, clearly, people are tired of this insensitive, incompetent and uncaring government.

If you were President at this moment, how would you handle the situation?
As I said, the issue is one of trust. If another government was in power, let us assume General Buhari was the President of Nigeria, he would not withdraw the subsidy. He will fix the problem. He will audit who is taking the money in the subsidy, who is paying what, how the money multiply three times in one year and fish out the thieves and deal with them.

So, why do you think Jonathan lacks the political will to deal with them?
Because they financed his election. But Buhari would have sorted that out. That is the first thing to do. Now, while you are paying the subsidy, even one quarter of what you are paying is a lot. General Buhari’s administration would have ensured that within 12 months all the refineries are working at full capacity. His administration would have built the fourth refinery that will bring our domestic production to the point that we don’t need to import a single drop of petrol. And once we can produce our petrol from our own crude oil, at out own cost, we can sell it at any price we like. That is what Buhari’s government would have done. Nigerians made a very big mistake for not electing Buhari, and they are learning every day. Many people have told me that they voted for Jonathan and they are regretting it now.
There is no question of Buhari withdrawing subsidy because he has been Petroleum Minister, Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and so on. He built three out of the four refineries we have in this country. And he built that out of patriotism to ensure that we can produce domestically. So, the question of withdrawing subsidy would not even be on the table.

What about the cabal in the oil sector?
Clearly, they are afraid of him. There is also a second problem in relation to the issue of trust in government. This administration has allowed the size of government to balloon beyond capacity. That is where all the resources are going into. But a Buhari administration would have cut down the size of government, would have merged ministries so that we have fewer ministries and ministers.

As a minister under the Obasanjo administration, all ministers were allowed only two special assistants. As Minister of the FCT, I was the only one exempted to have six. Now, every minister has 20 aides and the aides have their own aides. This is what has happened. Buhari’s government would not have allowed this kind of proliferation of aides. Everyone brings his own village to be aides and put them on the pay roll. This government inherited 23 ministries but it has made them 30. This is the problem that you have. They created the problem that is sourcing the resources toward recurrent expenditure and they are not even doing anything about it.

How can the Nigerian populace rectify the situation?
To keep protesting and complaining until they come back to serve the people. That is what we have to do because it is within their capacity to reduce the number of aides they have, to stop taking 200 people to Australia. This government has budgeted N11billion this year for international travel. If they can cut down on their own enjoyment, maybe we don’t need to withdraw the subsidy. But they have not made any effort to reduce their enjoyment. The salaries and allowances of the National Assembly remains the same. They have not reduced. They had N150 billion in last year’s budget and they have N150 billion in this year’s budget. They are not trying to reduce anything but they want everyone else to sacrifice. This is the kind of government that we have. How can that be? If the government had shown some sense of sacrifice, Nigerians would understand.

In 1962, there was a collapse of prices of cocoa, groundnut and so on. So, the Northern Regional Government had to reduce its budget. It had already announced a budget but because they were not earning enough revenue, they had to put in place austerity measure. The first decision that the government of Ahmadu Bello took was to cut the salaries of ministers by 50 per cent. They announced that first and said our revenues from groundnut and so on have fallen because international prices have collapsed, so we cannot meet up with what is in the budget. As a sacrifice, ministers reduced their salaries and allowances by 50 per cent. They took a voluntary pay cut before they said this is what we need to do. But you have a government in which the president is budgeting N1billion for his food and he is asking Nigerians to pay more for food. What type of government is this?

Some are saying that the fuel subsidy removal is a policy from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, courtesy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was also in government with you. What is your take on this?
I don’t believe that. You know that it is easy to blame the IMF and the West for our problems but they can’t force us to do anything. The conditions that they used to give us are no longer on our neck because we have paid off our debt. So, Nigeria is free from 2005 when we paid off the Paris Club and London Club debts. Nigeria became free to pursue its own economic policy without hindrance. If we agree to do what the IMF tells us, it is because we want to and not because they can compel us to. I don’t want to go that route. I want to believe that this government just wants to inflict this pain on Nigerians and using the IMF, World Bank and blaming Ngozi for it. They have decided to do it and they don’t care. They are just being insensitive in my opinion.

Let’s talk about the security situation in the country. You are a Northerner and the Boko Haram sect happens to be a Northern group. How do you view its activities?
I don’t like thinking of myself as a Northerner. I see myself as a Nigerian that happens to have been born in one part of Nigeria. Now, nobody knows really whether Boko Haram is from the North or from anywhere. Nobody knows for sure because their leaders were killed. Now, anybody can come to my house and plant bomb and say it is Boko Haram.

A few days ago, I saw on the internet pictures of some people covering their faces, wearing jeans and saying that they are Boko Haram; that Southerners should leave the North. I am sure that those people are not Boko Haram. Boko Haram people don’t wear jeans. They wear Kaftan and their trousers are like this (folding his trouser to demonstrate the kind of trousers the Boko Haram members wear). There are people that are claiming to be Boko Haram and they are not because nobody knows who is Boko Haram. So anyone can make the claim. I think that what we have in Boko Haram and other insurgencies is not only Boko Haram.

The Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) paraded through Lagos, shooting in the air and the police ran into hiding. There are kidnappers all over the South-East. Insurgence in Niger Delta; these are all a symptom of the breakdown of the capacity of the state and unless the government stands up and secure the lives and property of the people, they are leading us towards failure. I believe that beyond Boko Haram, which is a metaphor for dissatisfaction with the state, there is something going on. There are forces within the government and outside the government collaborating to try to throw this country into crisis. I do not believe that some of these things in the name of Boko Haram and so on and so forth are (done by) Boko Haram.

That means the issue of Northern politicians sponsoring Boko Haram is baseless?
If Northern politicians are sponsoring them, they should name them. They should stop threatening that we know the sponsors. If you know the sponsors, why are they still working the streets? If you are a real government and you have your information, why are they not in court, being charged for what they are doing to this state?

But the president has been saying he knows them.
So, who are they? And if you are the president and you have the police, the State Security Service (SSS) and the Army and some people are causing this mayhem in this nation, why are they still walking the streets? Why do you keep saying we know them? Why don’t you just arrest them and charge them to court? And why are people saying that Boko Haram is sponsored by Northern politicians? Who are those dying from their activities? Who is dying more from Boko Haram’s activities? Is it not Northerners? So, who is gaining from this?

So, is the Boko Haram agitation in the right?
No, no, no. They have no basis in Islam or in our culture to be agitating or to be killing anybody. There is no religion in the world that allows you to kill others for any reason. It is not Islam; it is not our religion and it is not our culture. They clearly have an axe to grind with the government and most of their targets are government facilities, government personnel.
How do you view the response of the federal government cum the security agencies?
The response has been uncaring. It is like if you guys want to kill each other, go ahead. And, in fact, some of us suspect that people in the government are actually encouraging it because there are people in the government that appear intent on breaking up this country. And they will fail by God’s grace because Nigeria is too integrated and too united to break up. We have our problems but we will find a way out of it. Otherwise, I think the government ought to be doing something about this but they are doing next to nothing. You know people in power will do anything to keep to their jobs just to please their master. But at the end of the day, we all know that our security agencies have failed in this matter. I think every Nigerian knows that. It is up to the President to take the decision on what to do with them. But, clearly, either the people there are incompetent or the methods that they are using are wrong because the results are not there. People are dying and people feel more insecure.

If you are assigned the responsibility of resolving the crisis, how will you handle it?
I think Goodluck Jonathan lost a unique opportunity to resolve this issue when the Borno elders visited him in June and recommended that soldiers should be withdrawn from Maiduguri and put in place a system that will bring about cooperation between the civil population and law enforcement agencies. But Jonathan refused. The soldiers are causing more harm. They are killing more people than Boko Haram is killing. This is why the Borno elders made the suggestion and Jonathan refused. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. There is no solution to the problem unless you can get the communities to have faith in their authorities.

Do you see it fading out soon?
Well, I hope so because nobody needs this type of insecurity. I hope that the events of the recent past have persuaded the authorities that they need to change their strategy. Maybe, if they change their strategy instead of applying military force or putting useless checkpoints all over the place and inconveniencing people in the name of security. That is not security. Security depends on intelligence; getting information. You can’t get it if the society is not sympathetic to you. And if you go to Borno and Yobe and ask the ordinary man on the streets who they fear more, the Army or Boko Haram, they will tell you that they fear the Army more because the soldiers have killed more of their relations than Boko Haram has done. So, this is the disconnect and until they get it and realize that they have to rebuild trust with the communities and work with community leaders, they will not be able to get the information to get to the root of the problem.

Talking about the state of emergency pronouncement by the President in some local governments in some states, is the action commendable?
It is pathetic. What is state of emergency on a local government? If the chief security officer of the state is the governor and he has failed to secure the state, remove him as Obasanjo did with Dariye for six months and put someone there that will give an opportunity for reconciliation. And when Obasanjo did that, we had peace in Jos until Jang came back and the problem started all over again. So, if the President is serious about the state of emergency, he should have removed the governors in the states that are ungovernable like Borno and Yobe and put someone that can begin a process of changing the whole security outfit in the state and begin a process of rebuilding trust. By just saying you declare a state of emergency in local governments, it means you are protecting the governors. This shows the President lacks the political will to rule Nigeria. He lacks the will to displease his friends to make Nigeria better. That is his governance style. I have said that he is putting us on the way to disaster and unless he reverses and changes his style and put Nigeria’s interest ahead of that of his friends, God save this country.

You are a chieftain of the CPC. What is the state of the party at the moment?
We are trying to reorganize and rebuild our party. I have been given the assignment to lead that renewal effort and we are working on it and we are hoping that with the clear failure of the Peoples Democratic Party government, more Nigerians will see that the hope of the future lies in the CPC and other opposition parties coming together to get the PDP out of our lives because unless we do so, the PDP will destroy everything that we hold dear.

It is being rumored that you are eying the presidency in 2015. Is it true or you are strategizing for Buhari?
You know, maybe because I have been Minister of Abuja and I have had a high profile as minister.

People are saying that you are capable…
No, no, no. I am not sure it is capability. I think I had been in the public eye so much as Minister of Abuja, so the people suspect me of having presidential ambition. This is the reason Yar’Adua went after me. This is the reason Jonathan went after me as well. So, I am a permanent suspect. There is nothing I can do about it no matter how much I deny that I have no such aspiration or ambition. But what I am really working on now is for us to rebuild our party and some of us in the party still believe that General Buhari should run for president again. We believe that and we will work on that but it will be his decision and that of the party at the right time. We are not looking for any presidential candidate in the CPC. We are looking towards building a proper party.

What is your relationship with the President?

Yes. Is he still your friend?
Yes, he is my friend. When my daughter died, he called and condoled with me and sent me a nice letter. We are friends. It is just that politically we have nothing more in common.


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