Thoughts on Nasir El-Rufai’s “The Accidental Public Servant”

Paperback and kindle editions available on or

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Publication Date: February 2013

ISBN-10: 1481967401

ISBN-13: 978-1481967402

“…to put on record my version of events…” is one of the reasons Nasir El-Rufai puts forward for writing his provocative autobiography, The Accidental Public Servant. It’s a book which could easily tie with Chinua Achebe’s memoirs, as the most debated in Nigeria’s recent history. Flipping through the pages, it was apparent that readers could choose to either verify or refute El-Rufai’s version of events in government, or appreciate its rare insight into the intricacies of Nigeria’s fourth democratic experience. I opted for the latter.

As the title suggests, the overall theme of the book revolves around the intriguing journey of an individual from very humble beginnings in an idyllic post-independence era, in a rural part of Katsina, northern Nigeria, to occupying one of the highest public offices in 21st century Nigeria. The reader glimpses into how El-Rufai’s fiercely independent, resolute, feisty and cerebral personality evolves from the tragedy of his father’s passing, the calculated attrition against Sunday, the primary school bully, the role-model influence of his brother in his early years and becoming a self-made private sector millionaire by his mid-twenties (p.36).

The “accidental” part of El-Rufai’s journey begins, from the age of 38 with his reluctant entry in government in 1998 as an adviser for the military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar. It continues through to his appointment as the Director-General of the main privatisation agency, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and his membership of the elite corps of economic reformers between 2003 and 2007.

Along the way, lifelong friendships are built and broken, alliances are forged and betrayed and the gruelling challenge of public service and reform in the midst of entrenched practices and powerful vested interests takes its toll. He strives to balance public and personal interests with loyalties as he gets caught in the middle of altercations between a strong-willed President Olusegun Obasanjo and his equally powerful Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. At the height of these disagreements, El-Rufai inadvertently rises to a defacto Vice-President, a position which would ironically lead to his persecution and exile less than a year after leaving public office.

A refreshing aspect of the book is the revelation and demystification of the inner-workings of the highest levels of governance in Africa’s most populous country. For instance, El-Rufai stresses how appointments for the highest public offices, are mostly fortuitous, having little to do with meritocratic or rigorous processes. His narration of events during his first few days as FCT minister (p.199), what to expect after a ministerial nomination, the obstructive tactics of entrenched civil servants opposed to reform are insightful and invaluable details that offer a useful departure from textbook political theory or international ‘best practice.’

In particular, the author’s revelation that without a coherent plan, a new and mostly unprepared government minister could easily drown in administrative routine attending to “more than 100 visitors and 200 phone calls” daily for the duration of their tenure, is instructive (p.201). He discusses the immense influence such appointees wield and how they become devastated when they leave office, once the lucrative perks of office are withdrawn and the “hundreds of phone calls a day… drop to near zero” the very next day (p.393)! These are valuable disclosures for the younger generation planning to go into public service.

El-Rufai also underscores the absolute importance of political will by a president in effecting key reforms. With Obasanjo’s backing, the residence of the powerful chairman of the ruling party was demolished as part of the restoration of the FCT master plan (p.296) and a number of seemingly impossible tasks are implemented seamlessly. The reader thus gets a glimpse into Obasanjo’s ambivalent approach to governance: a wilful, ex-military leader, with an eye for good people, an ear for good advice and a vision for Nigeria despite his links with vested interests and rentier elite, but who was unfortunately consumed by his vindictiveness and narrow ambitions to run for a third term in office. The reader is likely to come off with a better informed and more respectable view of The Obasanjo personality.

El-Rufai also rightly reflects on a fundamental yet overlooked implication of the decline of Nigerian public education and constituent alumni networks which are critical to leadership and elite incubation (p.42-43).  He stresses how friendship and alumni networks in Barewa College and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria proved useful in several instances in his life and in public service. He laments that the decline of hitherto elitist public institutions mean that their local and important alumni networks such as the Barewa Old Boys Association are now unavailable to foreign-educated Nigerians, his own children inclusive.

However, the scant mention of the highly controversial NITEL-Pentascope privatisation controversy is quite conspicuous. This is especially since El-Rufai studiously accounts for the key hallmarks and controversies of his stewardship of the BPE and the FCT Ministry. While the author does state that a full account of the NITEL saga would come in a BPE monograph (p.128), most readers would have appreciated at least a few paragraphs devoted to this contentious issue.

The author’s approach of divulging the inner workings of governance at the highest levels, and naming and shaming the key players irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation is truly refreshing. Yet in a few instances, there’s a nagging feeling that he probably divulged too much. This ranges from revealing verbatim, some conversations which held in strict confidence to the extremely personal details about meeting and marrying his subsequent wives.

Notwithstanding, the rare insight El-Rufai provides into the highest echelons of power, politics and decision-making in Nigeria is unprecedented. The heated debate sparked by the book should prompt other key actors to document their own version of events, ultimately to the betterment of Nigerians outside the tight power circle. For Nasir El-Rufai the successful entrepreneur, technocrat, exiled student and now leading opposition politician, one can only wonder what the future holds.

Favourite Quote:

“Some mosques in particular consistently condemned me and prayed for my downfall. One or two declared me an apostate for daring to demolish a mosque, conveniently forgetting that Prophet Muhammad ordered the demolition of an illegal mosque in Madina Al-Munawwarah, some 1,400 years earlier. Many  of the affected ‘churches’ prayed that “by God’s grace, El-Rufai will go down, El-Rufai will lose his job, El-Rufai will die in Jesus’ name.” I was there for nearly four years and we removed all of them.” (p.212)


Guest Columnist in Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s Friday Column

Last week Friday, I had the great honour of being featured in Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s Friday column, as the 5th Young Voice, from his fortnightly YOUNG VOICES in which he introduces a young Nigerian passionate about positive change.

As you are probably well aware, Malam El-Rufai, currently a chieftain of the party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has served the Nigerian Federal Government in various high-level capacities, notably as the Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises, as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)  and as member of the Federal Executive Council, the highest decision making body in Nigeria, from 2003 – 2007.

He is well known for his thought-provoking, brilliant, enlightening and cerebral articles in his weekly columns with various Nigerian newspapers and online platforms and for his advocacy for good governance. In August 2012, Malam El-Rufai was listed as one of the 50 most influential Africans by the influential Paris-based The Africa Report magazine.

Importantly, unlike many of our African “big-men” and their larger-than-life unapproachable personas, Malam El-Rufai is very accessible  to young Nigerians via email, twitter and other social media platforms.

It is really a great honour to be featured as one of the YOUNG VOICES. Read more on Malam El-Rufai’s webpage HERE.

Part 2: Interview with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai on Sovereign National Conference and Other Matters


The is  the second part of the interview with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, with focus on calls for a National Conference and Sharia Law. As with the first part of the interview, this was originally posted on Nigeria Village Square website HERE. Enjoy!!


Now What Podcasts : The NOW WHAT podcasts Series are initiated by a desire to chart a way forward for Nigeria following the January 2012 Occupy protests, Boko Haram and other security challenges and the seeming slide to anarchy in Nigeria. Each week, members of the NVS forum will exchange ideas in a round-table and will also invite high profile guests to offer ideas

On Saturday February 25, 2012, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was our guest. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai spoke on Boko Haram, Sovereign National Conference, Security, and so much more in a very frank manner.

The following is transcript of the second part of the interview, with focus on National Conference and Sharia.

Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (Part 2)


Anchor: Thank you Sir. The next series of questions will be taken on by Ajibola Robinson and they will be on Sovereign National Conference and other general questions. Mr. Robinson…

NVS: I’ll like to start off with a few questions about the National Conference. You’ll notice I started off removing the word Sovereign from the statement. With that said, let me go on to the first question which is: It appears a large groups of Nigerians have become increasingly frustrated with the current state of affairs in Nigeria. As an example, yesterday, even the 19 Northern governors called for a review of the revenue allocation formula to states. A number of Nigerians both home and abroad believe thatthese are legitimate issues to be discussed in a wider forum, at the national level and in a discussion that involves all Nigerian nationalities.

We are at a point where we should sit down as a nation and have some kind of dialogue. This wider discussion will allow all stakeholders to bring their various grievances to the table. Issues like State police, revenue allocation, resource control, state agitation, and even as yu mentioned earlier, states that want to have Sharia law. What are your views on this? And would you be willing to take part in a process to discuss these issues?

El-Rufai: I support the national conference. I think that any opportunity we have to sit and discuss the terms of our federation is a welcome step. I have issues with “sovereign” and I’m happy you didn’t even mention the word because I think its impossible when you have a sitting Government that is elected no matter how flawed the elections are to have a sovereign National Conference.

Yes we should have a National Conference, yes we should agree on who should represent various parts of Nigeria to that conference. And I think we should discuss everything, nothing should be pulled off the table. I support that. As to whether I’ll be part of it? It depends on how the membership of those that will attend the conference is determined.

If the people of Kaduna or the FCT where I live elect me to represent them, or select me or in whatever way, I’ll be happy to be part of it. That is not an issue at all, I think there many issues for discussion in the Nigerian federation, and we should talk about them and negotiate them.



NVS: In line with the above, I’m sure you’re aware there is a National Summit Group that had their first meeting. Dr. Reuben Abati was here 2 weeks ago and he said government is looking to engage in dialogue with the National summit group. Are you a member of this group? And when can the group be ready for a real national discussion and on what key action points?

El-Rufai: No I’m not part of any National Summit group. The National Summit group, I think is something that’s being promoted by Tony Uranta who is a Jonathan ally. I was invited and did not attend because I will not attend any summit that the government has a hand in putting together because I don’t trust this government. I don’t trust the agenda of this government and I will not be part of anything that they have a hand in putting together. So I didn’t participate, and in fact I think that the whole thing was a choreographed arrangement to lead to a certain conclusion. What the conclusion is, we are waiting because we know there is an agenda somewhere.


NVS: That is an interesting point, but it appears you support the wider national conference, but just not the summit group…

El-Rufai: It is, it is. In fact at that summit, a professor, I can’t remember her name, asked the question- ‘who is paying for this? 3 nights in the Sheraton, this big hall, who is paying?’ and Chukwuemeka Ezeife, one of the organizers of the summit seized the microphone and said ‘I will talk to you off camera’ and to me that smells of government sponsorship. And the fact that those that are sitting there, if you look at their faces you’ll know that they don’t have the money to sponsor this kind of thing clearly proves it. I support a wider conference, that is not being engineered and sponsored or directed by the government.

I think that we must find a way for every part of Nigeria to come together to discuss about these issues and agree on them, but not when the Jonathan administration is the hand behind it. I would not be part of it, I would not be part of it.



NVS: In an interview, the ex-President mentioned the “Doctrine of Settled Issues” Just like IBB today, Obasanjo in the past also informed the National Conference that discussions on the unity of Nigeria was a no go area, a settled issue as Nigeria was to remain a singular united country under all circumstances.

Recent reports from for twitter account, indicate you support a return to a pre-1966 Nigeria set up, with strong regions and a weaker center. Can you clarify the validity of this statement and if true, how will a 2012 and beyond Nigeria look like based on your pre-1966 ideas and more importantly how do you suggest we go about the process to restructure Nigeria?

El-Rufai: Well, look, both General Babangida and General Obasanjo were people that fought to keep Nigeria one, they were at the Civil War. Babangida took a bullet to maintain Nigerian unity. So you can understand his position, and I believe that Nigeria is better off together as one country, because the bigger we are the better, and I think our unity in diversity is better for all of us.

But that’s my point of view. I’ll prefer to see one Nigeria, I’ll hate to need a visa to visit Obi Ezekwesili or Dele Olojede or Ighodalo. These are my friends that are not from my part of the country but I want to assure you that if people want to put on the table the breakup of Nigeria, then it would be a legitimate topic. There’s nothing that cannot be discussed because there is no part of Nigeria that cannot survive on its own. So nobody should threaten the other. We must remain together if it is beneficial to all of us.

The situation where some people look at me because I’m from the north and say I’m a parasite is unacceptable, I’ll rather live with my poverty and dignity than to be insulted every day. So, those that are threatening to break up Nigeria should know that there are the Babangidas and Obasanjos of this world that are ready to take up arm to keep Nigeria one. But there are people like us that are willing to discuss it, so I do not fully agree with the Babangida’s doctrine of settled issues. That is his generation – he is a General and he had his reasons, and we all have our reasons for taking one belief or another.

Now, I have a preference for the pre-1966 Nigeria because we had strong regions, a fairly well functioning central government that was not too strong, and it worked. It engendered regional competition; it made all the regions of the country to develop their own internal resources. It had very little room for the kind of laid-back; wait-every-month-for-the-oil-money-to-flow. I think it worked better for Nigeria, it worked better for the North, for the West, the East and for the Midwest. How do we get there? I don’t know

The matter is we have 36 states in the federation with governors, with legislators and with Local Government chairmen, and you know what? They call the reins of power, they will not easily allow Nigeria to go back to the pre-1966 arrangement. But if I’m to have my wish we should be talking about Nigeria along those lines because I think that arrangement worked. Now we may need to tweak it and adjust it to take into account that we are in the 21st century and many things have passed under the bridge since then, but I think it worked, and I think if we put our heads together and think about a way, I’m sure we’ll find a way to negotiate and get to that end point. Do I have a road map? No, I don’t have.



NVS: I think quite a number of people will appreciate that response. It cannot be of course argued that Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and also it cannot be of course argued that the Nigerian constitution recognizes the practice of Sharia law. Hence one can see why those states would want to be ruled by Sharia law.

What is not apparent is that a number of people will take issue with your statement the rights of the minority Northern Christian people, like the huge populations of parts of Kebbi State, Southern Zaria et al are being respected as well as the rights of the non-Muslim Southerners by also not being subjected to Sharia law. Do you have some comments on this? As this is a major complaint of those people within Northern Nigeria.

El-Rufai: Look, listen, I am from Kaduna state, and we have Christian minority in my state, and we had Sharia under Governor Madaki. Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims, as it is all over. There is nowhere, I challenge you to bring out the case of any non-Muslim brought to Sharia court to settle a dispute or to subject him to the criminal law, it’s not true. There isn’t one case, not one, people just say these things without looking at the facts…

We know the case of Amina Lawal, we know the case of Fatima the woman that was convicted for adultery which was quashed at the Court of Appeal. So, even for the Muslims that appealed (their cases) ultimately Sharia law didn’t apply to them. But there is not one single case, and I challenge anyone in your forum and in the Village Square, to produce a situation in which a Christian was brought before a Sharia court and tried under Sharia law, it doesn’t happen.


NVS: ……I lived in Samaru we have the sharia court of law near the market. So I know Sharia has always been there, but it just looked like, with the advent of civilian government it took a different dimension, it became like the law of the land.

El-Rufai: No no no no, let me explain Ajibola. What we have in the Northern states from time is the Penal Code. The Penal Code… of Northern Nigeria is based on Sharia. It was brought from Pakistan and Sudan, and modified and enacted for Nigeria. That’s what we have, the Penal Code that apply to all the northern states.

But the penal code is not strict Sharia, it’s a mix of customary law, a bit of Sharia and the common law. But you have Sharia court and Area court, and so on and so forth.

Sharia court then deals with only personal Islamic law- marriage, inheritance, divorce and so on and so forth. That was the scope of Sharia court then. What happened in the first Obasanjo term was, starting with Zamfara state and then across 11 northern state, the governors decided to expand the scope of Sharia law to include the criminal law, so when you steal a goat instead of going to prison for 3 months as it obtained in the penal code for instance, they cut off your hand. That is the only addition. And in all these laws, in all the Northern states that I know adopting Sharia, there were clear caveat that this does not apply to non-Muslims. The Penal code is the one that still applies to non-Muslims, and you have in many states in the North like Benue state, certain aspects of even the Penal code like the aspect relating to adultery, are not applicable.

So the penal code is a very flexible form of legal system, which I think, as a Muslim, I think have gone far enough to take care most aspect of Sharia as they relate to our personal lives as Muslims. But those governors crossed the line and went into criminal law, and that’s what this is all about. But like I said, even when they did cross the line and many of us disagree with them – even then, it did not apply to non-Muslims.

Interview with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai on Boko Haram and State of the Nation

This post is an excerpt from the February 25th edition of the Nigeria Village Square (NVS) NOW WHAT weekly series of which I am a panel member. It was originally posted HERE. Enjoy!!

Now What Podcasts : The NOW WHAT podcasts Series are initiated by a desire to chart a way forward for Nigeria following the January occupy protests, Boko Haram and other security challenges and the seeming slide to anarchy in Nigeria. Each week, members of the NVS forum will exchange ideas in a round-table and will also invite high profile guests to offer ideas

On Saturday February 25, 2012, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was our guest. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai spoke on Boko Haram, Sovereign National Conference, Security, and so much more in a very frank manner.

The following is transcript of the first part of the interview, with focus on Transformational Leadership, his support for Buhari and How to deal with the Boko Haram menace.

Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (Part 1)


Introduction: Good-day everyone. My name is Anwuli Emenanjo in Toronto, Canada and I’ll like to welcome you to another episode of the  Nigerian Village Square podcast series entitled ‘’Now What’’.

This week, we are pleased to have Mallam Nasir El Rufai as our special guest . Many of us are familiar with Mallam Rufai following his articles, facebook comments and tweets so no formal introduction  is really required but for the benefit of those that don’t know him, Mallam Rufai was a former Director General of The Bureau of Public Enterprises, the head privatisation agency in Nigeria and also the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja from 2003 to 2007.  He also served as an adviser in the transition government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Our co-hosts for today’s show are Zainab Usman from the UK and Ajibola Robinson from West Virgina U.S.A.

We also have some of our forum members also known as villagers that have called in. we would be taking questions from them in the course of the show and also at the end in the Q&A segments with the audience.

Without further ado, I will hand over the Baton to Zainab to begin with the series of questions we have for you today…Zainab….


NVS: Hello everyone, its our pleasure to have you here with us today. I will be handling questions on transformational leadership and on Boko Haram. My first question is on transformational leadership.

In a recent article, I stated that the core north is in terminal decline due to lack of transformational leadership, economic decline and retardation of the region due to dependence on oil revenues, and a cultural mindset that is contributing to our retrogression in many aspects. What’s your take on these?

El-Rufai: Zainab I found your article very inspiring and interesting. I agree with views you expressed in the article. I think the north has not beendoing very well in many ways, and the key issue, like most of Nigeria is the challenge of transformational leadership. I agree with you, I think I went out of my way to share your article because I think every Nigerian, indeed every northerner needs to read it. So I agree with you 100%.

The question is what do we do about it? How do we create a system that throws up new generation of leaders that are transformational rather than transactional? This is the challenge.

Do I have any answer? I don’t, but I think that those of us that care about Nigeria and the north ought to put our heads together to continue that search, and I am in opposition to do more in that search. But there are no silver bullets, no quick answers. I agree with everything you wrote in your article.
NVS: thank you for your answer to that question, and this actually leads to my second question – As a speaker at a TEDx event in December 2009, you also stated there is a failure of leadership in Africa. SO it appears its across the continebt. Could you please elaborate on that?
El-Rufai: Yes yes, you know your article focused on the North and it’s good, but I think the leadership deficit is throughout the country and the continent. Some countries are better than the others — Bostwana, Mauritius are better, some parts of Southern Africa, but generally we have problem of leadership in Africa and it’s something that we all must put our heads together and try to find solutions to. In Nigeria’s case, its very evident where we are now and where we are going. It clearly shows that we need transformational leadership. Clearly!

NVS: You just stated that you don’t really have any answers to the leadership issue, but is there anything you think ………………………..
El-Rufai: In Nigeria, the country I’m most familiar with, I think the key to getting the right leaders in Nigeria is to have elections that matter. Now, part of the reason we have the type of leaders we have and the way they behave is because they know that we do not need to elect them, they will elect themselves, they will rig elections, they will bribe judges to remain in power. So they don’t care what you think, they don’t care what I think, they don’t care to deliver on any promise or to perform. At every election cycle all they need to have is a load of money with which to bribe officials, bribe results and challenge you to go to the tribunal.
So the real thing that we should focus on in Nigeria, I think, is to get accountable elections. We must get elections that matters. Once we have elections that matters, it will take time, but over a few election cycles we would throw out the bad leaders and hopefully elect the good ones. That is what I think is the long term solution. Do we have any short term solutions? I don’t think so. We have these people, they are entrenched and they will do everything to protect their system of governance, and unless we all stand up and ensure that we have better elections, I think we are on our way to perdition.


NVS: This also leads to my next question. You talk about elections as the key to solving our leadership problem. In the last election you had the opportunity to support either Nuhu Ribadu or Muhammadu Buhari and you supported the latter. A lot of peiople will like to know ..given that you have been an advocate of transformational leadership, some would argue that supporting a man who has been in various forms of power for over 30 year contradicts this stance. Could you shed more light on this?

El-Rufai: I decided to support General Muhammadu Buhari because I think that even though he has been around for the past 30 years, in the times he had to lead he was transformational … when he was Head of State between 1984 and 85, he moved Nigeria in the direction that I think if it has not been terminated we would have been a different country. So he was transformational as head of state, and in his other assignments as minister of petroleum under Obasanjo, and head of the Petroleum Trust Fund his leadership style was transformational rather than transactional. This is part of the reasons why I supported him, but on the whole, I looked at all the candidates out there, including my brother Nuhu Ribadu and I felt that Buhari was just more qualified to change the direction of the country at that point in time, and that’s what I did. I don’t think being around makes one less transformational, or being new makes one more transformational than others. I think you have to look at the track record of performance, and that’s what I did.


NVS: Thank you. Now I’m moving on to the next section which is on Boko Haram. Obviously a lot has been happening in Nigeria. What is your take on the current state of insecurity in Nigeria, especially in the North?

El-Rufai: Well, it is very sad. I think the situation and the general security situation in Nigeria is terrible. And it all has to do in the short term, with the incompetence of the government to deliver on security. But I think the problem is something that has been in the North for a while: joblessness, poverty and the fact that the 19 northern governors have not been investing enough in human development.

This has built up for a long time, but in the last 12 years I think we have had the most clear case of lost opportunity. Because the Northern state governors have received a lot of money but they have not invested enough in education, health care, and the environment that will create opportunity and work for our people, and I think that some of these outbursts of violence are related to this lack of opportunity.

The problem is more pronounced in the North obviously, but it’s all over the country. You have area boys in the South West; you have kidnappers and militants in the South East and the South South respectively. All these arise due to deficit of opportunities and hope, and I think that unless as a country and as a region in the North we address this issue, they are going to manifest in many ways. You cannot have security when you have hopelessness in the society, and this is the challenge that we face as a country and in the Northern region.

NVS: Alright, thank you. My next question is that there are lots of concerns in the South that Northern Hausa/Fulani leaders are not doing enough to speak out and condemn the activities of Boko Haram, what would you say to that?

El-Rufai: I think that is an unfair assessment. I don’t think people in the South are listening. I think every notable leader in the North, from the Sultan of Sokoto, the governors to many leading politicians, have condemned the activity of Boko Haram and have shown that what they are doing has nothing to do with Islam. But beyond that what is anyone expected to do? It is not the condemnation of Boko Haram that will solve the problem. It is government using it’s resources and intelligence to solve the problem.

Part of the reason you have all these issues is because we have a government that chooses to blame rather than solve problems. I think it is unfair to say that Northern leaders have not condemned Boko Haram, they have, but they didn’t get the media attention, it is only when Boko Haram strikes that get media attention. And in that way I think some of the distorted media attention is actually encouraging the activities of Boko Haram, rather than the other way round. I think it’s unfair, which Northern leader has not condemn Boko Haram? I don’t know, they should name names, but that is not the main issue.

The main issue for the government to solve the problem, because security is in the hands of the government, it’s not in the hands of Northern political leaders or traditional rulers or anyone.


NVS: Thank you for that very interesting point. What short and long-term solutions do you think can be implemented to solve the security question in Nigeria?

El-Rufai: Well, you know, I think in the short term government should do what it should do in the area of security, get better intelligence, be more proactive to prevent attacks rather than issue dry statements after the deed has happened. Intelligence is the key. How do you get good intelligence? By ensuring that you win the hearts and minds of the communities in which this terrorists and other criminals operate, there’s no other way of getting intelligence.

You do not get intelligence by asking Soldiers to go and kill everyone in the community. You get the intelligence by winning the hearts and minds of people in the community and I think in that regard, the Nigerian military has messed up and its the reason why we are where we are, the government has messed up by unleashing the military on communities that are innocent, and killing more people than even Boko Haram has been killing. But they are using Boko Haram here as an example, but it’s the problem all over the country, whether it’s the kidnappers, the militants and so on and so forth.

So that is why in the short term I think we need better intelligence. The government needs to re-think it’s strategy because the strategy of over militarization has not worked. That is one.

Secondly, the government must work with community leaders to try to get to the root of this problem, and the government should not think it has all the answers, it should be willing to listen to the communities to try to solve this problem. In June last year the Borno elders came and saw president Jonathan and advised him to withdraw the military and work with them to try to get to the root of the Boko Haram problem. He didn’t even consider the advise, he rejected it outright and said he prefers the military option. Well, we are now in February, within last year, 9 months have passed, things have gone from bad to worse because the government has not listened to the community leaders. The community leaders have some solution, they have some answers and they should be listened to.

That’s in the short term, now in the medium term and long term, the root of the terrorism; the root of hopelessness must be addressed. So the government should create the opportunity for restoring hope in people by more investments in education, in health care and employment opportunities. That will definitely solve the problem in the long term. The current level of poverty and inequality in our society are the roots of these problems and unless they are attacked in a sustained long term manner we will continue to have this kind of outbreak of violence in many different ways. These I think are the short and medium term approaches to the problem.


NVS: You have actually answered the next question I was going to ask you, about the recent meeting of the Vice President and the 19 northern governors where they agree or resolved to go back to the “old traditional ways of gathering information and intelligence” in orther to defeat Boko Haram. I guess you have already answered that. It’s something you actually recommended right now.

El-Rufai: When you’re trying to gather intelligence, you have to rely on traditional institutions, formal institutions, beer parlours etc and this is the way it should be done. And thats what security agencies should be used for and not for …..

But having said that,  I think the 19 northern governors ought to understand that in many ways they are the root of this problem. Because they are not investing in education and health care and employment opportunities for the people that’s why some of these problems are breaking  out and thinking they could use the traditional rulers to get intelligence is scratching the surface, they should do the right thing. They should deliver good governance, that is the way some of these problems could be solved, just as an addition.


NVS: Ok, thank you for that. So with the growing tensions in the North between Muslims and non-Muslims, what is your take on the perception that  some sections of the core North, have refused to allow non-Muslims and non-Northerners to exist in peace? How can this issue be resolved?

El-Rufai: I think that the contention that there is tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in the North, I think is exaggerated. Yes there are tensions in some states of the North, but during the fuel subsidy protest, we saw videos of Muslims protecting Christians in their churches and Christians protecting Muslims as they were praying. So I think that to some extent the fuel subsidy protest has bridged the gap between Islam and Christianity in many parts of the North particularly in Kano, Kaduna and some of the hot spots.  So I’m not sure that is the big issue on the table right now.

But having said that, even assuming that there are tensions, I do not agree that non-Muslims are not being allowed to live in peace. You know in every society you have deviance, you have strange groups that do all kinds of things that are wrong, but that does not mean that the majority of the people share that view. Book Haram is a deviant group, they are doing things that most Muslims do not agree with.

Northerners, whether Muslims, do not agree with their doctrine, but they are doing it anyway. But to take the conduct of Boko Haram and label all Northerners, all Muslims as Boko Haram I think is unfortunate which we must stop as a country. I do not think that this issues are beyond resolution, and I think that Muslims and Christians, especially in the North and in fact all over Nigeria are living in peace. But you have a few cases of deviance and those that want to cause division., and it is up to all of us as Christians and Msulims, as enjoined by the Bible and the Qur’an, to come together and say no to all of these..

NVS: So, how do you react to the news that CBN donated N100 million to the Kano State Government for onward delivery to victims of the recent Boko-Haram bomb attacks in the state? A lot of people want to know why he chose Kano and not other states where there have been victims of Boko Haram as well. Who is the money meant for and why the lopsided donation? What’s your own opinion?

El-Rufai: Well, do you know I don’t have a clear opinion on this because I have not spoken to the governor of the Central Bank to know the rationale for their decision. But I know that the Central Bank does many such donations as part of their corporate social responsibility.

They have donated hundreds of millions to universities to set up doctoral chairs and they do not explain why they choose one university over another. They have not donated to Ahmadu Bello which is the university I and Sanusi Lamido attended, but they have donated to University of Nigeria Nnsuka, for instance.

So the motive behind their decision to donate to Kano instead of another, I’m sure, Sanusi will be able to explain because I know he is one of the most logical human beings I have come upon, and I’ve known him since we were both 15 years of age. So I think Sanusi will have a rational explanation for it, and if you look at the Central Bank website and see the partern of their social responsibilities and donations, perhaps something will strike you as they pick and choose where they donate. But I have not spoken to Lamido Sanusi tio understand the reason behind it.

NVS: Thank you. The next question is that Some of your tweets seem to suggest that  govt should dialogue with Boko Haram despite its belligerent stance towards non-Muslims and its increasingly deadly attacks.  How would you respond to suggestions from some quarters for government not to engage in any form of dialogue with Boko Haram?”

El-Rufai: I think that those that are saying that you should not dialogue with Boko Haram are not being rational, honestly because today, America has been in Afghanistan for 11 years. They haven’t kicked out the Taliban, they are still fighting the Taliban, but they are willing to discuss with the Taliban.

America went to Iraq, spent 1 trillion dollars, left without solving all the problems. You cannot defeat an insurgency with military force alone. You should combine military force with political discussion. Those that are saying we should not dialogue with Boko Haram don’t get it. Look around you, you will see that the countries that say you should not negotiate with terrorists are also talking to what they called terrorists.

The British fought with the IRA for many many years, but they opened channels of communication to talk to them. This is the only way to defeat insurgency.

So I think, based on the situation that we are as a country, the government should find channels to communicate and talk to Boko Haram and try to find out what is their real grudge, why are they doing what they are doing, and see which of their demands can be accommodated, because we all know what happened.

The police killed their leader extra-judicially, so they have a foundation for them to feel aggrieved. And since those that killed their leader have not been brought to justice, Boko Haram has a reason to feel aggrieved against the government. So the government should talk to them and find out if there’s away this issue can be settled without further loss of lives and property.

I support the need to discuss with them, I do not think those that are saying don’t discuss with Boko Haram, crush them, know what they are talking about because they have not looked around the world to see how similar situations are being handled. And I refer them to Afghanistan, to the UK as well as Iraq.


NVS: My last question on this section is that Lamido Sanusi recently linked Boko Haram activities with revenue allocation and derivation, that is the ‘’inequitable’’ distribution of revenue with the oil producing states in the Niger Delta getting 13 percent was responsible for Boko Haram activites. Do you agree with this view?

El-Rufai: That is not what Sanusi said exactly. I tried to follow up this story very carefully because I sit on the Thisday editorial board. It was Thisday that first published the story that Sanusi linked derivation to Boko Haram and they took the story from the Financial Times and when I read the original story in the Financial Times, I didn’t find Sanusi saying that. What Lamido Sanusi said which is from an economics prism- anyone that studies political economy  know its true that  inequality and poverty lead to violence in any society and the reason why societies have social safety nets is because they want to avoid that. It is an established fact in political economy all over the world. When you have inequality of income and poverty, you have violence. This is what Sanusi said to the Financial Times but many Nigerian newspapers took this and recast this to say that he has linked Boko Haram to derivation.

Having said that, I believe as I indicated that when you have serious income inequality you have all these problems. So they should be addressed. I don’t think that derivation alone is the problem. I think the problem of Nigeria is bad governance. Because even though the Niger delta states are getting 3, 4 times the average Nigerian…..per capita in income, I think apart from a couple of them, they are not using their resources well. So you have the same kind of hopelessness that led to militancy, and the kind of hopelessness that may have encouraged Boko Haram and other insurgents all over the country, also in the Niger delta.

My concern really, when the money being given out under the amnesty program gets finished, these ex-militants will become new militants because they are used to getting free cash and where would they find jobs that would give them as much money? So it’s something that is quite tricky, it’s something that we need to think through how to manage. But I believe that a fairer more equitable distribution of income in any society, addressing the poverty issue and giving people hope is the solution to the problem of violence and terrorism and so no and so forth, in the long term.


NVS: We are now mid-way in the podcast and we will be taking some audience questions but before I move on to that, I would like for you to go back to talk more or elaborate more about dialogue with Boko Haram.  Goodluck Jonathan has already reached out and tried to talk to Boko Haram when he appeared on BBC and Al-Jazeera and their answer to his request for dialogue was that they are not interested in anything; that that they want him to become a Muslim, you know…actually dialogue was not a success. Boko Haram was already violent and the Government has tried to talk to them. So, when you talk in terms of Dialogue. What would you like to see happen that is not happening?

El-Rufai – 
Look. First, I think you are wrong. Boko Haram did not become violent until the June 2009 operations. The truth of that matter was that it was the Borno State Government that killed their followers when they went to bury them after being involved in a motorcycle accident and that’s a fact. That was the beginning of Boko Haram going violent. They were not violent before, they were a fringe group, they were doing their own thing, everyone ignored them until the Government attacked them and then unleashed the military on them in June 2009  when their leaders were extra-judicially killed. So it is not true that they were violent to start with – as far as I know.

Secondly, I feel that at this point in time there’s complete breakdown of trust between the communities in which Boko Haram operates, the Boko Haram leadership and the government, and for any meaningful dialogue to begin, I think you need to get community leaders that Boko Haram will trust to act as interlocutors and intermediaries between the Government and them. I think if they see people, if they see credible leaders that can assure them that the Government will fulfil its own promises to them. I think dialogue is possible. I honestly think so.

I do not think that the stories about Boko Haram saying that they want everyone to become a Muslim are completely true. They know that in the North, there’s nothing like 100% sharia in every state of the North. Even in the States where Sharia was applied, it was not applied to non-Muslim. This is how we have always lived and they know that.

They may make that as a demand just by way of brinkmanship, but I believe we are at point where if you get credible leaders, and I can mention some names – if you can get people like Gene Yakubu Gowon, Shettimu Ali Monguno, Gen Mohammadu Shuwa, General Muhammadu Buhari –  people like that that everyone respects and they know they are not on the payroll of any government to lead any effort to negotiate with BH and the government, I think it is possible to open a channel and that’s what I recommend very strongly.