Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, sees himself as a tough guy who does not concede an inch in a battle. Though petite, his ego is as big as an elephant, which he feeds with the sanctimonious adulations of his lickspittles.
Foul-mouthed, el-Rufai has little or no respect for others. He picks fights to prove his machismo. He loves dominating his environment.
And give it to him, he has won most, if not all, his battles since he emerged on the political stage; first as the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), and later as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Even as the governor of Kaduna State since May 29, 2015, el-Rufai has remained pugnacious. If he is not pulling down the houses of his political opponents, he is talking down on Southern Kaduna leaders and insulting religious authorities. He is manipulative and authoritarian and does not take prisoners. Conceited and immodest, he relishes conflicts and abhors harmony.
Why is el-Rufai, a brilliant man by all standards, the way he is? His former boss, Obasanjo, gave an insight in his 2015 memoir My Watch.
“Nasir el-Rufai’s penchant for reputation savaging is almost pathological. Why does he do that? He is brilliant and smart. I grant him that too. Very early in my interaction with him, I appreciated his talent and brilliance. At the same time, I recognised his weakness,” Obasanjo wrote.
“The worst is his inability to be loyal to anybody or any issue consistently for long, but only to Nasir el-Rufai. He barefacedly lied which he did to me severally about his colleagues and so-called friends … My vivid recollection of el-Rufai is his penchant for lying, for unfair embellishment of stories and his inability to sustain loyalty for long.”
Obasanjo insisted that describing el-Rufai as a “malicious liar” will not only be a gross understatement but, in fact, demean fibbers. “He is more than that,” the former president wrote before landing the sucker punch. “He is a pathological purveyor of half-truths with little and no regard for integrity.”
That is a harsh characterisation of any individual no matter how villainous, not to talk of a public officer of el-Rufai’s status.
But he has not done anything to disprove Obasanjo in the two decades he has been in public office. Never mind that they have since made up, with Obasanjo paying el-Rufai a surprise visit in Kaduna on December 11, 2019, where he praised him as one of the best persons to work with and also a near-genius.
Many people will disagree with Obasanjo’s new characterisation of el-Rufai as a delight to work with but only a few will dispute that he is a genius, albeit an evil one – apologies to General Ibrahim Babangida.
Now, el-Rufai is in the news again, and as usual, for a very wrong reason. This time, he is fighting the entire Kaduna State workforce with the purported retrenchment of thousands of workers.
Organised labour kicked against the move particularly at a time like this when poverty walks on all fours. But the Emperor would not listen. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) declared industrial dispute, and on Monday, state workers, with the backing of the central labour union, began a five-day warning strike.
The first day was a runaway success. The state was paralysed as aggrieved civil servants, aviation and rail workers joined the industrial action.
All over the world, warning strike is a euphemism for an appeal by labour unions for dialogue. It is a way of saying, we are here, come, let us talk. But to Emperor el-Rufai, who sees himself as the state writ-large, that is an intolerable affront, a challenge to his assumed sovereign authority.
The enraged Emperor of Kaduna State went berserk, literally. As the workers turned out on Tuesday in their numbers not only to continue with the strike but to march to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, the seat of Kaduna State government, on Polytechnic Road, Badiko to peacefully express their grievances, all hell was let loose.
A more diplomatic leader would have personally received the peaceful protesters and explain to them the constraints of the government. Who knows? They might have seen reason with him or even where there are differences, meet him halfway.
But to the el-Rufais of this country, compromise is a sign of weakness and dialogue is seen as an act of betrayal.
So, he did what he knows how to do best – deployed thugs to confront the peaceful protesters. Of course, that sounds familiar. It was the same tactics the government deployed last year in dealing with youths protesting police brutality. Thugs armed to the teeth were deployed by the agents of the deep state to kill and maim peaceful protesters which they in turn used as a pretext to violently crack down on the youths.
But the tactic failed spectacularly in Kaduna on Tuesday as the brave workers led by NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, outnumbered the thugs and chased them away.
Trying to save the Emperor from his self-inflicted predicament, governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) advised el-Rufai to tread softly by exploring the option of dialogue in dealing with the striking workers rather than issuing threats.
The Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) urged him to negotiate with the NLC in the interest of the people who would be the most affected by the crippling impact of the strike on the state’s economy.
El-Rufai spurned the advice and bared his fangs. Resorting to his notorious playbook, he declared Wabba wanted for ‘economic sabotage,’ and branded the entire Labour leaders bandits, who are not different from those terrorising Kaduna State.
He fumed that they will be prosecuted on charges of “wanton destruction of public properties and disruption of peace,” and ordered his Ministry of Justice to initiate the prosecution of all nurses involved in the strike and immediate sack of those below Grade Level 14. Lecturers of Kaduna State University (KASU) were not spared. They were also sacked for joining the five-day warning strike.
On Tuesday, el-Rufai tweeted: “Ayuba Wabba & others of @NLCHeadquarters declared wanted for economic sabotage and attacks on public infrastructure under Miscellaneous Offences Act. Anyone that knows where he is hiding should send a message to @MOJKaduna KDSG. There will be a handsome reward!
“They have attacked facilities. They have engaged in economic sabotage. That’s an offence under the miscellaneous act and we want him (NLC President). We will bring him to justice. We are looking for him. He should report to the nearest police station or report to us. He will be prosecuted for economic sabotage.”
Such a childish stunt. He was just making a mockery of himself because at the time he was tweeting, Wabba was at the rally at NEPA roundabout, which the state-sponsored thugs interrupted and el-Rufai knew his whereabouts. He was only dancing naked in the court of public opinion.
Asked if the two parties – labour and government – had found a middle ground in the industrial dispute, el-Rufai said: “There are no grounds for compromise. They have used their last ultimate weapon. It will not change anything. It will not change our position and that’s it.”
But what crime have the workers committed? Peaceful protest is constitutional. It is their human right. It is not a crime. What is illegal is the crackdown. Allowing thugs to disrupt peaceful protest by workers is not only unlawful and unconstitutional, it is repugnant and barbarian.
Declaring NLC leaders ‘wanted’ for peacefully exercising their right runs contrary to the Constitution and is antithetical to all international treaties and obligations that Nigeria freely signed. But this is Nigeria where governors see themselves as bigger than the states they govern and are not accountable to anyone.
Nigerian governors behave like emperors. They are dictatorial, tyrannical, overbearing and arrogant. El-Rufai exemplifies all that is wrong with the Fourth Republic democracy.
And to imagine that el-Rufai – like the other emperor in Kogi State, Yahaya Bello – is eyeing the presidency post-Buhari! Our leadership nightmare is still at the infancy stage.