I have followed with amazement reactions to Governor Nasir el Rufai purporting that he spoke against Tinubu’s “Godfather” status in Lagos and how to defeat him. The latest I saw was by the Yoruba Youth Council Worldwide which gave the impression of a face off.
I was privileged to be invited to the reception convened by The Bridge Club on May 4 in Lagos and I observe that the accusation against el Rufai is a regrettable and disingenuous modification of his message and intention on that occasion.
The Bridge Club, as the name denotes, is a pan-Nigeria association of professionals from diverse fields of endeavour, businessmen, captains of industry, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, bank chief executives and intellectuals from different parts of the country, networking to support one another in their practices, businesses and social life.
Nasir el Rufai was invited to the occasion to share his views on key issues affecting the nation and the roles various segments of the society can play to drive growth and progress. This he did in a most intelligent, sincere, dispassionate, apolitical and non-partisan conversation, albeit with occasional political jibes which is normal.
He started by celebrating the fact that Nigeria has achieved 20 unbroken years of democracy, an indication that constitutional democracy has come to stay. He decried the low voter turnout in elections but also acknowledged the political sophistication in some parts of the country evidenced in the electorates voting for different parties on the presidential and state elections and the defeat of some incumbents which he said sends a clear signal that electoral victory would depend on performance, such that the electorates can never again be taken for granted.
He said with the elections over, the national conversation must now be on governance. He said the economy is growing but not at a fast and satisfying pace, that national discourse is pettily divisive, regrettably centred around tribes, region and religion, that many past and present leaders have had short term sights and myopic vision which have not supported sustainable development. All these he said show that we still have problems.
He stressed that we must strive to celebrate the strength of our diversity and promote our single humanity, rather than being Nigerians only by our tribes and local governments, and that concrete issues like job creation, employment, economic development, ease of doing business, social inclusion should inform the substance of our national conversation.
He proceeded to identify seven key issues which he says require critical resolution. They include the quality of politics and public service; creation and sustenance of elite consensus on basic issues irrespective of politics; citizenship and rights; education; jobs and assurance for the youth population; security; and post 2019 Nigeria.
He argued that the quality of politics is low partly because some of the bright minds in Nigeria have chosen to stay away. That it is important for them to get involved to contribute their intelligence to policy formulation and governance, pointing out that the political class is populated with many, not well-educated minds and that whatever they decide in Abuja could mess up the drive for nation-building.
He lamented that we have a crisis in our education sector, insisting that investment in quality education and access and not just beautiful edifices are the only guarantees for the future of any nation.
He argued that it is important for the elite to build consensus on key national development issues irrespective of political leaning. There can be a consensus, for instance, on citizenship rights, on a merit system, on what should be the education policy, possibly to agree on some form of free education or educational support for our children, to certain levels.
He argued that the issue of citizenship should be clearly resolved to ensure the rights of citizens wherever they lived, saying it appears we run a two-tier citizenship system with references to indigenes and settlers and disregard for residency and fulfilment of civic duties, a situation which he says has continued to cause bad blood and incense clashes.
Provision of jobs for the youth which are about 80% of the population must be taken seriously, he sounded. The youth must have confidence and assurance on the nation and not to be made to feel that they can only secure employment or thrive through connections.
On the security situation, he noted that the military is presently engaged in about 32 of the 36 states and the FCT carrying out security tasks which should ordinarily be done by the civil force; that the number of police personnel is not adequate for the population and, even at that, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the existing central command of the police cannot reasonably ensure security in the states. There, therefore, has to be more devolution of power to the states through what he called “pragmatic restructuring.”
On the future of the nation, he advised that the government needs to reorient its priorities, cut wastes, confront corruption and fix what needs to be fixed. He wondered, for instance, how a nation of 200 million population would be relying on importation to cloth its entire citizenry, from underwears to robes and how this robs us of the economic value of our population. He wondered why unqualified teachers could be left to continue to teach school pupils knowing that they will only graduate as half baked and globally uncompetitive.
He advised that governments at all levels should jettison the era of ministering to “entitled elites” and must not be intimidated by their resistances, insisting that politics and governance is to improve lives through the empowerment of the citizens to pursue and fulfil their potentials, and that direct connections and engagement with the people are more worthwhile than settling elites.
Many other issues Germaine to nation building were highlighted and el Rufai gave his views on them. He argued that while the bi-cameral legislature is in order, something has to be done about the cost of running the National Assembly; that a second look is needed on the qualification and procedure for the appointment of judges to expand the scope to include eminent legal luminaries in private practice and the academia, as against its current limitation to the lineage of only the bench. That such issues as a quota system, consideration for “indigeneship” and state of origin should be discarded with, understandably through a constitutional amendment process. It doesn’t make sense, he said, for the government to be forced to appoint 36 ministers from every state when the government may not need a such number of ministers.
His address was followed by a question and answer session and it was Muiz Banire (SAN) who raised the issue of “godfatherism,” arguing that many top quality persons in the professions and businesses stay away from politics partly because of the influence of godfathers in the political environment.
El Rufai responded that in as much as there are godfathers, they also can be defeated. He advised that interested persons have to be courageous on their conviction to be involved in politics, to start early and to work hard at either achieving acceptance or defeating the godfathers.
He first narrated his experience with some godfathers in his Kaduna State and how he eventually triumphed. He talked about his encounter with godfathers as Minister of the FCT, how he had a good justification to bring down the facility of the National Chairman of his party, being that the facility was built on a water line.
Then taking Lagos, as most of the Bridge Club members are in Lagos, he noted that while the state has a voter registration of five million people, it has always recorded about one million, about 20%, voter turn out. He reasoned that politicians can venture to find out who and where the remaining four million voters are, why they do not turn out to vote, what they do on election day, and try to reach out to them and if they can connect with half of that number of apathetic voters and mobilize them to come out, they could just produce their own followers and defeat any godfather.
In my view, these were general, fair comments in an intellectual exploration of the issue raised without particularly targeting or attacking anybody, including Tinubu.
It is therefore disheartening that a such a brilliant conversation intended to bring out the best in us is being sensationally spun to draw the very such bad blood which we are seeking remedy for in the challenge of building (or rebuilding) our nation. It is time for us to live and relate with finer thoughts.
Fred Edoreh writes from Lagos. He is a Former Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos chapter.
Opinion contained in this article is strictly the writer’s and not Aledeh’s.