BY LEKE BAIYEWU
Weeks after his controversial book, The Accidental Public Servant, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory under President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, in this online interview, tells LEKE BAIYEWU the roles he played while in office and his disposition to Umaru Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan-led administrations
As regards the solution to Boko Haram insurgency, you once said the Federal Government knew what to do and should do it. Does it mean the government is not getting it right by proposing an amnesty for members of the sect?
I have always insisted that the Federal Government knows what to do about the nation’s insecurity and should just do it. It is the principal duty of the government to ensure peace and security of the people. It is a responsibility that cannot be outsourced. The state has certain prerogatives to enable it to discharge this function, including enormous intelligence assets, the law and a constitutional monopoly of the means of coercion. Preserving order, ensuring peace and promoting harmony are among the highest objectives of statecraft, and they are too serious to be left to the caprice of politics or the destructive allure of ethnic and religious divisions.
Many of the policies of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration are driven by these unhelpful attitudes and sentiments, including the so-called amnesty programmes. As far back as June 2011, the Jonathan administration knew what it needed to do from the Galtimari Committee report and the resultant White Paper to nip the Boko Haram insurgency in the bud. What did he do? He puts the report, recommendations and White Paper in the drawer and watched, while some 4,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram and the military. Why is it so hard to implement the recommendations of all the committees set up by the government on the insurgency?
How would you describe that rate of corruption in the National Assembly? You once accused two senators of demanding bribes from you to ease your ministerial appointment confirmation?
Corruption is a national challenge, and the country has to summon the will to combat it in all sectors. It is not only in the National Assembly but everywhere within other arms and tiers of government. We simply must elect people of integrity that can begin to attack this national scourge from the top down.
As the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Secretary of the National Council of Privatisation from November 1999 to July 2003, how would you describe the perceived failure in the sale of public corporations?
Perception can sometimes be miles apart from reality. The BPE under my leadership successfully privatised many companies through transparent and open bids. For example, Unipetrol is now Oando; National Oil is now Conoil; and both companies are thriving. Where we were obstructed by personal and political interests from concluding their privatisation, the companies concerned were either eventually liquidated – like Nigeria Airways – or have lost value and market share to nimbler competitors – like NITEL.
There were no irregularities in privatisation under my watch. And the Senate committee that conducted investigations into privatisation found nothing. The findings also showed that more than 80 per cent of privatised companies were either doing very well or not worse off than being under the control of the government. There is nowhere in the world where an 80 per cent success rate equals failure.
How much have the recommendations by the Presidential Committee on Power Supply Improvement been implemented and do you think the cabal in the sector will ever allow stable power supply?
The Presidential Committee on Power Supply was set up by President Obasanjo, not ‘formed’ by me. It operated for some three months only and succeeded in raising our generation capacity from 1,500 to 3,200 megawatts. We made far reaching recommendations to accelerate the completion of the National Independent Power Project, but the (Umaru) Yar’adua-Jonathan administrations did not focus on implementing them. The Economic Team in the Obasanjo years based a lot of the reform ideas on applying market forces within a well-structured and properly regulated system. Every government policy has potential winners and losers, and the interests that may be affected could deploy resources to entrench their advantage. It is the duty of government to develop and implement policy within this minefield.
Power supply is an area that will continue to require substantial investments, close monitoring and effective regulation. That is where attention should be focussed, not on celebrating minuscule additions to the paltry total generation capacity of 3,200MW the Obasanjo administration left behind in April 2007.
The National Identity Card Project, which you spearheaded, has been widely criticised as been a drain pipe and not meeting the expectation of the people. What was the challenge with the project?
After the fiasco of the SAGEM identity card project and the scandal associated with it, the Obasanjo government decided on a new approach. What we suggested was a new identification system that was sufficiently rigorous and technologically advanced to be integrated across all the government agencies that collected personal information. And that could be accessed by banks and other companies to verify identity. Each enrolled citizen was to be given a smartcard, which could also be a payment card.
We designed a private sector-led project for the new identity scheme and we selected the team to deliver the project, led by the current Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission shortly before we left office.
It is disappointing that the team has not delivered the project as envisaged and that the NIMC leadership has made it a project depending on the government treasury, rather than the initial vision of a private sector led investment.
In the course enforcing the master plan of the Federal Capital Territory, many structures, including a house belonging to the then Peoples Democratic Party chairman, were demolished. You’ve said you have no regrets but your critics maintain that the exercise was to witch-hunt some people.
I did my duty in Abuja without fear or favour and President Obasanjo gave me the support I needed to do the job. Which of the demolitions has been reversed? Tell me if you know of any house that was removed that should not have been.
Is it true that you once considered succeeding former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo but that some powerful forces in the PDP botched your ambition?
If you have read my book, ‘The Accidental Public Servant,’ you will see that my prominence in the Obasanjo government was because of the many assignments I was asked to handle, rather than any ambition. I have never had any ambition for any public office.
It was widely believed that you went on self-exile at the end of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration because you stepped on toes while in office. Whose toes did you step on and have you been forgiven?
The Obasanjo government ended in May 2007 and I remained in Nigeria until June 2008, when I went abroad for further studies. Subsequent events compelled me to remain outside my country, upon completion of my studies. Umaru Yar’Adua was after me and I took prudent measures against presidential mischief. As for stepping on toes, I know I did my job to the best of my ability and ensured that people did not violate rules the way they were accustomed to.
You were appointed member of the National Energy Council in September 2007 by the late Yar’Adua’s administration but you resigned your appointment in June 2008. What caused this?
I attended only one meeting of the Energy Council – that was the inaugural meeting in September 2007. By June 2008, there was no illusion that I would attend another one. I resigned membership of the council and left Nigeria in June 2008 to be a Mason Fellow at Harvard University. There was no point being member of a moribund council that, in any case, I would have no time for.
Under same administration, you, along with Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Alhaji Lawal Batagarawa, Mrs. Nenadi Usman, and Chief Andy Uba were reportedly accused of committing treason by encouraging military insurrection. Why would you have done that?
I am hearing this for the first time and I am sure some of the people you named will also be similarly surprised at your revelation. It is unfortunate that President Umaru Yar’Adua collected around himself some of the most insecure people around. Like the many featherweights that have blighted Africa, Yar’adua and his gang tried to criminalise all opposition, to conflate dissent and treason always. Elected to lead democratic systems, they approached the job with the mind-sets of absolute rulers. They never learn the lessons of history.
Does it mean your book, “Umaru Yar’Adua – Great Expectations, Disappointing Outcomes,” was a fight back against supporters of the Yar’Adua administration?
I did not write a book with that title. What you cite as a book is actually an essay I wrote as a student at Harvard. It is a narrative of the person, politics and performance of Yar’Adua from my vantage position of knowing Yar’Adua since 1972.
Many believe you’re being too critical of President Jonathan’s administration. Would you admit that there are problems with Obasanjo’s economic policies, making the current administration to modify or scrap some of them?
As a citizen of this country, I reserve the right to exercise my freedom of speech as I deem fit. Have you seen or read any coherent rebuttal of my articles on the public policy, spending priorities and poor management of national resources by this government? If such critical comments help the government to deliver better outcomes, would it not be to the benefit of the country, and will they not get the credit? No public policy is so perfect that it cannot be improved upon, but doing nothing is not an option when we have six million babies being born every year to think about.
In your book, The Accidental Public Servant, you said former President Olusegun Obasanjo went on his knees to seek his vice, Atiku Abubakar’s cooperation with his second term bid? Atiku had said it was only him and Obasanjo that were in the room. How did you know about it?
Are you an eyewitness to everything you report as a journalist? If only two of them were in the room and everyone in government circles then heard the story, who do you think related the story? Has anyone denied that it happened?