By Ochereome Nnanna
ALL is not well between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the man widely referred to as the “unofficial vice president”, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State. Proof: after a meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) held on 17th September, 2015, el Rufai showed up in Osinbajo’s office and both took a photograph, all smiles; and splashed them all over the internet. Purpose: to debunk the “rumours” making the rounds that they had exchanged insults. To confirm the story further, a meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC) a couple of days ago tabled as an item for discussion/resolution the “face-off” between Osinbajo and el Rufai.
El Rufai has been throwing his weight around since Buhari emerged as President of Nigeria. He is widely reputed to have been behind the double shuffle we saw on the last day of Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Remember, Jega at the expiration of his tenure, had handed over to Alhaji Ahmed Wali as the Acting National Chairman. Barely six hours after that a letter from President Buhari ordered Wali to hand over to Hajiya Amina Zakari, a perceived close relation, to act as National Chairman. This was in total contravention of the law; an illegality that subsists till today when Zakari is preparing to conduct the Bayelsa and Kogi State governorship elections. Fingers pointed to el Rufai for carrying out the “coup” which is liable to compromise the independence of the INEC. It could feather Buhari and his APC’s political nest and compromise the integrity of our future elections.
El Rufai is also believed to be the brain behind the appointment of Mallam Abba Kyari as the Chief of Staff to the President. He also reportedly got the founder of the #Bringback Our Girls campaigners (one of the outfits used to hound former President Goodluck Jonathan out of power), Hadiza Bala Usman a seat on Buhari’s Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption. There is hardly any trip Buhari considers important that el Rufai does not abandon his governorship job in Kaduna to accompany him to. And there is virtually no important meeting that Buhari convenes that el Rufai does not attend as a close confidant and adviser. El Rufai is having a time of his life as the younger Northern brain that Buhari draws from to rule Nigeria.
This is not the first time he is enjoying this run of power in Aso Villa. Remember his days with former President Olusegun Obasanjo? He came into the Obasanjo government through the good graces of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who made him the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). But when the power struggle between Obasanjo and Atiku turned nasty and no-holds-barred, el Rufai nipped over to Obasanjo. His influence rapidly grew, and the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, once described him as ‘the de facto No. 2 official” in the Obasanjo presidency.
In turn, el Rufai disclosed that Ribadu would be appointed Minister of Power when Obasanjo’s handpicked successor, Governor Umaru Yar’ Adua, won the presidential election in 2007. Incidentally, when Yar’ Adua assumed office, el Rufai fled to Boston/Baltimore in America while Ribadu went into self-exile in the UK. They both returned under our dovish former President Jonathan. But while Ribadu found his place in that regime, el Rufai, after being ignored by Jonathan for “too long”, joined the Arewa army for the return of power to the North by all means as a propagandist. El Rufai became a foot soldier for Buhari when the latter broke his resolve not to run for election again and started the journey with Bola Tinubu toward the birth of the now ruling APC.
If the constitution and the political behaviour of Nigerians had allowed it, Buhari could have preferred to have a Northern Muslim as his vice president, just as he did when he and the late Major General Tunde Idiagbon, a fellow Fulani Muslim, paired for head of state and deputy in 1984. But for political expediency and to brighten his electoral chances, Prof. Osinbajo, a Christian cleric, was ‘foisted” on him. I remember the day Osinbajo was unveiled as Buhari’s VP late in 2014. He said he was “proud” to be Buhari’s running mate.
He must have since discovered that he was merely a “burden of necessity”. On June 5th, 2015, barely a week after he took oath as Vice President, Osinbajo was reportedly barred from attending a national security meeting where the anti-Boko Haram strategy was discussed. He was ignominiously referred to by newly-installed Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki as “a mere commissioner”. And when he went to Aso Villa Chapel to worship, he found it under lock and key! It was only the media uproar which this generated that got it reluctantly opened for him to worship in.
The latest humiliation of Osinbajo came at a recent meeting presided over by Buhari. El Rufai, still being true to himself, reportedly used “rude” words on Osinbajo, who, in annoyance, told him off and walked out of the meeting. We hope the APC will be able to mend the fence between the elected Vice President and the kitchen cabinet “vice president”, one of Buhari’s “long suffering disciples”.
Down memory lane: IBB Boys disrespected Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as Babangida’s No. 2 in 1986 and the Abiriba-born sea warrior resigned honourably from government. Al Mustapha and Abacha’s Boys humiliated General Sani Abacha’s Deputy, Lt Gen Oladipo Diya in 1998 when he was condemned to death for coup plotting. The Katsina “Yar’ Adua cabal” trampled former Vice President Jonathan underfoot and we had to invoke a “doctrine of necessity” to promote him to President when Yar’ Adua died in 2010. The French say: déjà vu: Nigerians say: nor bi today.
But the only Northern Vice Presidents – Atiku and Namadi Sambo – enjoyed dignified tenures of office without harassment by Southern “underlings”. Why? Answer that.