Idowu Akinlotan wrote: – “In November 2015, in the giddy early days of his governorship, Mallam el-Rufai invited Asiwaju Tinubu to commission Kaduna’s new cab scheme. It is hard to explain why the acerbic views he now publishes did not dissuade him from extending an invitation to a man he described at the time as “esteemed”. The Kaduna governor’s gloomy attacks underscore why everyone, especially leaders, must be careful with whom they associate. Mallam el-Rufai is book brilliant, eloquent and, in direct contrast to his size, somewhat charismatic and persuasive. But scratch him a little, and what comes to view can be quite disconcerting. A little scratch reveals a self-willed, pompous, heady, fanatical and divisive person and politician. He has done quite some remarkable administrative rejigging in Kaduna State, but nothing he has done matches the revolutionary undertakings and progress Lagos has witnessed since 1999 pound for pound– at least nothing matching the size of his egotism and extravagant displays. He has ostracised Southern Kaduna and exposed the people of that region to needless bloodletting, promoted ethnic exceptionalism while disguising his methods as progressive and iconoclastic, and has denounced, hated, and ridiculed everyone nature has undeservedly brought his way to help him along in life.
What is more, Mallam el-Rufai disdains press freedom and has baited them. It is no wonder that a man so completely destitute of character once badmouthed even President Buhari before whom he now genuflects, and has repeatedly tried to tear to shreds the image of former vice president Atiku, the man who brought him into public limelight and protected him against the hyenas of the National Assembly. By now, even Alhaji Atiku must have realised that it is not everyone that deserves to be mentored. There are some potential mentees a leader must scrupulously avoid, as the history of World War II shows in the case of Germany and Adolf Hitler.
Brilliance is one thing; character is another. They do not always commingle, nor are they often coterminous. Mallam el-Rufai typifies that corrosive paradox in a Goebbelsian fashion. Asiwaju Tinubu is believed to harbour presidential ambitions for 2023. He is entitled to his ambition, and the electorate will have to determine whether to accept or reject him. It is also suggested that Mallam el-Rufai might wish to take a shot at the presidency in the next election cycle. Good for him, despite instigating the president against those he said were beginning to manifest excessive ambition so early after the last elections. Perhaps in the months ahead, those who wish to have a shot at the topmost office in the land will ignore every sense of moderation and decency and attempt to tear one another to pieces. Here, Mallam el-Rufai, never known for any kind of moderation, will exceed himself with his customary cynicism and egotism.
The public must be careful not to allow the fanatical and illiberal narratives peddled by Mallam el-Rufai and his ilk colour their appreciation of Nigerian politics. Nigeria has been repeatedly undone by the clumsy and distorted manner the electorate’s attention is focused on the image of a politician painted and distorted by propagandists and interest groups. History reveals numerous leaders whose persons were regarded as openly disagreeable, but whose capacity for mind-blowing achievements became legendary. If voters want orators, they can have them. But they must know that they can’t have their cake and eat it. If they want megalomaniacs, good for them. But if they want those who have a deep understanding of Nigeria, its place at the moment, and the future it must aspire to, then they must decide whether to be hodwinked by glib and pompous people without character.
There are not many politicians with a firm grasp of the existential quandary Nigeria is entrapped in, issues that have paralysed the country and made her vulnerable. Those who do, however, are often in danger of being shoved aside and destroyed by a combination of propaganda and venomous ethnic and religious politics. It is doubtful whether the country is not even engaged in endgame already. If disaster is to be averted, voters must denounce and repudiate the politics of tribe and religion. The next presidential poll must never be about where a person comes from, or whether his face is liked or not, or whether he is rich or poor. For if he is rich, there is a tendency to fear and envy his wealth; and if he is poor, there is a tendency to suspect his bona fides. What should matter is whether the people can instinctively gauge the candidate’s competence, open-mindedness, joie de vivre, and democratic credentials. Mallam el-Rufai is for instance rumoured to be interested in 2023. It would be disheartening to even give a tyrant who has set out to destroy his opponents within and outside the party a hearing.
The next election cycle is going to be a titanic struggle. It is estimated that President Buhari might become a lame duck president before the third year of his second term. Given the fever that has lathered the APC and the contemptuous and disdainful politics being played by Mallam el-Rufai and his cohorts, 2023 may have already begun. The APC is in for a rough time. It was never really a party, and if it had not faced a candidate weakened by ethical challenges, they would have come a cropper in the 2019 presidential poll. It is now almost certain that a fierce fight for the soul of the party will soon ensue. The initial euphoria that followed their recent poll victory has become a mirage. Party chairman Adams Oshiomhole will intensify his sanitising efforts, face up to the turmoil in the party and clip the wings of nascent oligarchs like Mallam el-Rufai who wish to create feudal enclaves for themselves and their cronies.
In the buildup to the 2019 National Assembly poll, Mr Oshiomhole seemed to detest the overbearing politics of the Kaduna governor, and would have favoured more temperate politicians like Senator Shehu Sani, but he found it impossible to pull off the moderation and reconciliation he desired. Mallam el-Rufai knows his party chairman’s preferences, and, from his surly remarks at the Bridge Club, is obviously in the process of coaxing a rebellious alliance out of the many aggrieved or ambitious Southwest politicians roaming the land. The new coalition thinks the time is right, and with pejorative labels and terms carelessly hurled at opponents, they expect victory.