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Auchi prince, journalist, and lawyer, Tony Momoh, started the genre of political letters, as it were, in this country. As Minister of Information in the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, Momoh wrote his famous/infamous “Letters to my Countrymen” in which he tried to explain and defend the policies and actions of that government. Perhaps, the most controversial was the IMF loan and the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) that followed it. Military Head of State before IBB, Olusegun Obasanjo, followed with his “Give SAP a human face stripper, which roundly condemned the IBB government’s economic policies as he detailed the unprecedented suffering in the land. Current Information Minister, Lai Muhammed, has tried to achieve same purpose with his “Change begins with me” mantra but the questionable originality of the idea as well as the public perception that it is dubious and meant to deceive have combined to rubbish and make it ineffectual. Obasanjo, after serving two terms as civilian president and imposing as successor Umaru Yar’Adua (who later died in office and was succeeded by Goodluck Jonathan) returned in 2014 to fire a damning letter to estranged godson, Jonathan, titled “Before it is too late”. Obasanjo’s letter proved apocalyptic as Jonathan lost the next year’s presidential election. Nigerians have also witnessed other political letters such as Jonathan’s caustic reply to Obasanjo; Iyabo, Obasanjo’s own daughter’s alleged letter stripping his father naked in the market-place; not to forget the same Obasanjo’s letter referring to the National Assembly as a den of robbers.
The letters to President Muhammadu Buhari by the governor of Kaduna state and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory under the Obasanjo administration, Nasir el-Rufai, are the topic of public discussions at the moment. Nasir, who was also Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises under Obasanjo, is not new to governance or controversy, even though he has described himself as an accidental public servant. Having got into the corridors of power “accidentally”, he has coincidentally, deliberately, and effectively wormed himself into the inner sanctum of power. He was one of the powers behind the throne of the Obasanjo administration and this writer had once described him, like the late Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, as Buhari’s brain box. At some point in the life of this administration, the jokes were that el-Rufai spent so much time in Abuja and around Buhari that he had no time left to effectively administer Kaduna. Like the proverbial busybody, he carried Buhari’s load on his head while carrying his own as hand luggage. As he got tired along the line, he dropped the hand luggage so he could face up to the load on his head! While he held court in Abuja, el-Rufai reportedly brought under his protective wings a fugitive who superintended a bank in Lagos that eventually went under. How about the brazen and wanton destruction of lives and property in southern Kaduna with the governor fiddling like the Roman emperor, Nero? By his statements, actions, and inactions, el-Rufai has behaved even worse than Nero. In on-going efforts to brow-beat, even implicate and tar, Apostle Johnson Suleman, who spoke out against the pogrom in Kaduna, the governor’s name has also been mentioned.
El-Rufai is controversial. He loves, like IBB, to completely dominate his environment. Witness his trouble with one of the senators from his state, Shehu Sani – and now this one with Mr. President. El-Rufai’s letters were not newly written; they were written months and years ago, even before Buhari was sworn in as president. They were not open letters like Obasanjo’s to Jonathan. Who leaked them now and why? Buhari has nothing to gain at this moment from leaking those letters, except some fifth columnists in the Presidency who want to cause bad blood between Buhari and el-Rufai. There are so many tell-tale signs to suggest that the governor may have been cut down in influence and power by the other cabals jostling for ascendancy in the Presidency. Did he visit Buhari in London? Did Buhari speak with him on the phone? The “open air” prayers Gov Abdullahi Umar Ganduje organised for Buhari’s quick recovery in Kano, and the priceless telephone conversation he received to boot, should have been el-Rufai’s when the going was good. The Kaduna governor’s deputy received Buhari at the Kaduna airport when the president returned from London.
El-Rufai’s letters accused the president of not pulling his weight. The nation is badly run and the ship of state is adrift. Correct; but so also is Kaduna badly run and the state hopelessly adrift. Physician, heal thyself! El-Rufai is also not happy with the cabal that has hijacked Buhari’s government; good, even Aisha, the First Lady, spoke out against the cabal. But why did el-Rufai not speak out when he was the leading cabal around Buhari? Is it that he has lost his top-notch position that he is now belly-aching? Assuredly, the politics of 2019 has also started in earnest. Obasanjo flew a kite recently by asking the Igbo to get ready for 2019. Atiku Abubakar is criss-crossing the country already. Rabiu Kwankwaso, Bukola Saraki, Saminu Turaki, el-Rufai himself, Ahmed Makarfi, Ali Modu Sheriff, and Sule Lamido are some of the Northern politicians said to be eyeing Buhari’s job. The president, owing to his poor health, is seen as a lame duck already; being hugely unpopular (especially in the South) as his poor performance has not helped matters for him. He is, thus, a liability for Northern politicians eyeing the South for support. Could this be the dangerous political game of roulette that el-Rufai and some of the other presidential aspirants are playing? For el-Rufai especially, his raging letters, more so if he was the one who leaked them, are not just grievous disservice to what many had thought was a great relationship between him and Buhari but also a further confirmation of the negative comments of his former boss, Obasanjo, about his sense of loyalty and reliability. The leopard, as they say, does not change its spots.