I DOUBT if the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el Rufai, ever actually imagined he would, someday, be where he is today – atop one of Nigeria’s finest states. Back in the day when he was a lowly Personal Assistance to the late Hamza Zayyad of the TCPC (remember that body that morphed into the BPE?), I’m sure all he wanted were crumbs from the cake. But, like Christians like to say, despise not the days of little beginning. Life was to be kind to him, in fact, almost unfairly too kind. A small man in the world of giants, el-Rufai did not allow himself to be stepped on or bullied around. From passing cups of tea around at meetings and going on errands for Zayyad, the Quantity Surveyor mastered the ropes and ended up the boss at the BPE. And that was the beginning of the story – a genie was let loose. el-Rufai, Harvard-trained, became an instant hit on the political scene, conquering all in his path.
Sometimes, you wonder what it is about small sized people in the corridors of power that gives them such push. Is it that their puny size helps them to easily manoeuvre the trenches or is it that because they are little, no one pays attention while they silently plough away underneath and take over? And our history is replete with small sized people who have dealt with big people. Who can forget the goggled, smallish general whose mere presence struck fear? He is just one of the examples.
One school of thought says that short people, suffering from some self-esteem crisis, always crave the limelight and are on a constant collision course with taller people whom they view as a challenge. Whatever it is, el Rufai, over the years, had continued to reinvent himself: Minister; renegade; businessman; estate developer; politician; columnist; author and now governor. In a way, el-Rufai has remained relevant since the day he started out. Many have fallen along the way and have resigned to redundancy but not the Zaria-born maverick. And I have been doing my own share of watching the man from a distance.
I really haven’t met him apart from one occasion where, as a member of the THISDAY newspaper editorial board, we paid him a condolence visit. Led by our chairman, the iconic Olusegun Adeniyi, we met a very busy personality, attending to guests. I remember him lightly rebuking someone for removing his shoes, as he stepped into one of the rooms of the mansion in upscale Asokoro. He said, “why are you taking off your shoes? This is not a palace or mosque!” It was vintage el-Rufai, still upbeat, even in the face of deep grief. He had lost a son then. But then, this man seemed to be at home with both tragedies and triumphs.
The other day, a video of him dancing at his birthday “leaked”. There he was gyrating away like a man who had no care in life. Don’t forget about a thousand Muslims had just been slaughtered in his backyard. Don’t forget that the workers were up in arms, making all sorts of demands. It was his birthday and the man was almost oblivious of all of these, as he swayed to “masu gudu su gudu” (a popular tune in the North, challenging citizens to go into self-exile if they feel like because of the advent of Buhari).
el-Rufai is not your typical politician and herein, I think, lies his strength. Some say that would be his Achilles heels too! Since becoming governor, all that has emanated from Kaduna State has been one polemic or another. When it is not a case of dealing with the Gwaris and their properties, it is a heated spat with Senator Shehu Sani. The images
too have been controversial. When it is not el-Rufai, pushing a wheelbarrow, it is of him chomping away on rake (sugar cane)! And I have a feeling el Rufai is having a good laugh about all of these. All news is good news for many public figures. Obscurity is what you should always pray against. The strategy seems to be working for the philosopher-king: He is constantly being talked about with even insinuations that he may run against the incumbent for the highest office in 2019. He has denied that. But he hugs other controversies with a passion. How many state executives, for instance, would engage in a war of words with one of their senators?
It is politically unwise. In some states, the helmsman would even go out of his way to placate them with gifts, such as choice appointments back home and other incentives Fighting a federal lawmaker is not one you easily can survive in the ruthless terrain of Nigeria’s politics. Unless, of course, if your name was el-Rufai. Nor is it wise to antagonise both Christians and Muslims in a state like Kaduna where thousands died years back when the Makarfi administration tried to impose Sharia law. You would think anyone saddled with such a potentially volatile state would hands off any red button issue like religion. Well, anyone but el-Rufai.
Reviving an ancient law designed to moderate religious activities, el Rufai has stirred one of the most provocative debates in the history of the state, nay, Nigeria. He has fans on both sides of the debacle. Those opposed to the public nuisance caused by loud speakers and annoying flaunting of faith think it is a brilliant idea. But the puritans and lovers of religious freedom believe el-Rufai, this time, has crossed the line.
In a way actually, el Rufai, always the polarising figure, has united both fiery sides in the current imbroglio: Both Christians and Muslims now have a common opponent in the governor. And in a funny way, the high ideals of inter-faith collaboration are almost getting achieved. For a while, warriors of God on both sides would have to sheathe their swords, raise a JTF of sorts and fight a common foe. And maybe this is the legacy el-Rufai wants to leave behind in Kaduna State. A legacy of controversies while trying hard to build a reputation as a celebrity-politician. He achieved that in Abuja where he became notorious as the minister who had no mercy in pulling down structures flouting the FCT Master Plan. He left tears and death in his trail that time.
From what I now hear, he may be on the path of replicating same in Kaduna State with equal intensity. So, it is difficult for me to congratulate or condole with the Kaduna people for now. But then again, that is what time is for.