Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, was in Lagos recently to meet some editors, where he spoke about the Southern Kaduna killings, the cabal in the Villa, and other issues of national interests. Ismail Omipidan was there for Daily Sun.
During the PDP era in Kaduna state, the governors had good rapport with Senators from the state, including the Senator from the opposition party. With you, what is the relationship like?
One of the things that I initiated was a monthly meeting with members of the National Assembly from Kaduna state across party lines, because I believe that their job is to advocate for Kaduna state’s interest at the federal level and that we should all work together. I hosted them to a dinner immediately after inauguration, but the senator from Southern Kaduna did not come, the two APC senators came, and most of the members of the House of Representatives came. I told them that we need to work together to influence budgetary provisions for Kaduna, to influence projects and so on.
I was doing that monthly until the Governors’ Forum started fixing monthly meetings the same time I was having dinner with the members of the National Assembly. That disrupted it, and I have not met with them now for about four months, but we have now agreed to a monthly late lunch meeting.
The senator from Southern Kaduna maybe, considered himself a PDP senator and may have thought we would not be fair to him; so he has never attended these meetings. I think that once elections are over, you are a governor of everyone and you should try to bring everyone along. That does not mean that I don’t have separate meetings with APC House of Representatives members or House of Assembly members; we do when we have to meet over party issues, and I meet monthly with State House of Assembly members across party lines. They come, and I host them to dinner, they ask what we are doing, and we explain. We are on one page, and I think this is why our State House of Assembly is the most prolific in Nigeria. It has passed about 25 laws.
Shehu Sani’s history is that of an activist, of some type and it is up to you to determine the adjective. He contested the APC primaries and defeated the candidate that I supported (General Sani Saleh), and after the primaries, I brought everyone together and said we all have to win this election. I got Saleh to support him, and we supported him fully.
I think the problem is that because Shehu Sani’s mind is that of an activist, he thinks that the way to position himself, is through the media. He thinks politics is being in the media all the time. Activism is different from politics. Sometimes in politics, you don’t want your name in the media, but activists’ oxygen is the media, and he thinks that the way to remain visible and prepare him for running for governor of Kaduna State in 2019 is to criticise everything I do. Even if I breathe air, he will criticise it.
I told my media team not to respond to him; we are a government of everybody including Shehu Sani. Let the party apparatchik respond to him, let people in the streets respond to him, and I also told them to let’s work, let’s produce results because we will get to the point that nobody can come and criticise us because the boys will beat him up.
Because of the things he has been doing, criticising the President Buhari, saying all sorts of things about me, the party disciplinary process was initiated against him, but he blames it on me. He thinks I engineered it. But frankly, I don’t care about Shehu Sani. I don’t think he is a threat to me politically or in any way. In 2018 when the whistle is blown we will see who has support on the ground in Kaduna. It is not an issue that I bother about.
And with Senator Hunkuyi, we have a cordial relationship. In fact, our relationship goes beyond politics. It is like a family relationship. As a matter of fact, it was Senator Hunkuyi who asked me to run for governorship. I told him I won’t run for any office, except Gen. Buhari asked me to run. I asked him, ‘why don’t you run, since you have the experience.’ So I have a cordial relationship with him, except you know something else, which I don’t know
But we also gathered that Senator Shehu Sani is angry with you because you empowered General Saleh’s supporters at the expense of his own supporters, is that true?
I can choose who to empower. I am the governor of the state, and I have to make appointments, and in making the appointments, I have to balance merit, loyalty and paying off other debts. I don’t owe Shehu Sani anything; he owes me. I asked all of them including Shehu Sani to give me names of people that I will appoint to positions, they gave me, and I looked at them, and none of the people from Shehu’s list is good enough to be a commissioner in my cabinet.
Shehu Sani’s first anger was that the list of commissioners came out and none from his list. In a state where there are about 10,000 PhDs that I have in my data base; I am not going to take a diploma holder and make him a commissioner just because he is Shehu Sani’s man. I don’t operate like that. When President Obasanjo called me and said he was going to make me a minister, I gave him a condition that ‘you don’t appoint members of my team, I will appoint my team,’ and that is the person that appointed me. If you have a difficult job, you have to appoint your own team.
One of the commissioners we appointed has a Ph.D in Physics; he was a director in the Federal Civil Service, I never saw him until the day that I swore him in. We just looked at his CV, somebody brought it, and we appointed him based on his CV because there is a job to be done. Do I do this all the time? No! When we were appointing local government chairmen, I didn’t get involved. I said let us go and look at those who worked for us at the grassroots and appoint them local government chairmen and councillors. There are 225 councillors in Kaduna state, 23 local government chairmen; I did not appoint one. I left it to the party and our leaders, I said go and do it. But when they brought the list, I looked, and there was no woman, I said it is not possible, 23 chairmen and no woman? So, I looked I saw one woman councillor in one local government, and I made her chairman! That was the only thing I did. I got two women to be local government chairmen! That was what I did. I did not appoint one person because they are not working directly with me. But the people that work directly with me, I must have confidence that they can deliver. However, many politicians don’t like this because the PDP system of distribution has become so engrained that people feel entitled that once they help you win an election, you must give them commissioners’ slots or so. Even Obasanjo that made me minister of FCT did not send me one person to work with me.
We hear you are very close to President Buhari and that in fact, you are a member of the Abuja Cabal. Are you part of the cabal?
It is not correct to say I am part of those that influence things in the Villa. Am I very close to Buhari? Yes. I worked very closely with him in the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) when everyone had given up on him. I know him, I know how he thinks and he trusts me. He knows that I am driven by public interest. Do I participate in federal decision making? I don’t. I am too busy addressing Kaduna problems to be part of it. When I am called for an opinion or when I happen to be around, and I have an input or if I see something going seriously wrong; I drive and go and see Mr. President I have heard A, B, C, D. I don’t think it is not right, you should consider doing C, D, E. I do that and I drive back to Kaduna. My primary assignment is Kaduna. I am not involved in the Federal Government. People like to say and attribute so much to me, and sometimes it is good for me, it gives me a larger than life image. Is there a cabal? There is always a cabal. Even in your own newspaper houses, there is a cabal. Nobody can run an institution without a coterie of two, three, four trusted people. There is always a cabal; the issue is whether it is a positive or a disruptive cabal. Am I a member of the cabal? No, I am governor of Kaduna state; I work for Kaduna state 24/7.
Why have you not transmitted some good things you did in Kaduna like the attachment of portfolios to commissioners-designate to the President?
Every leader has his leadership style, and every governor has his own culture. The culture in the Federal Government is to send names without portfolios.
But that was the culture in Kaduna before you came too.
But I have decided to change it. I am not the President. If I am the President, I probably may do things differently, but if I am the President, also, I may get information and briefings by officials and security agents that may help me do things differently. You don’t know how much briefing or information he has. Every leader has his own style, information that guides how he decides, so I can’t say that what I have done in Kaduna is necessarily relevant to the Federal Government.
We hear Inuwa Abdulkadir’s house in Kaduna has been marked for demolition because of the misunderstanding between the two of you, over Kaduna APC crisis. Can you react to that?
I don’t know about that. Of course, there is a problem between us because he is trying to mess up our party in Kaduna state in pursuit of an agenda and I have told him that if he doesn’t stop doing that, that I will deal with him and I got three witnesses to that.
I didn’t even know Inuwa Abdulkadir (APC, National Vice chairman, North-West) had land or house in Kaduna. I know that he has a wife that lives in Kaduna, I would assume that like most northern elites that he has a house in Kaduna, but I really didn’t know. I don’t know about this.
These things are done as a matter of procedures and duties, and if he has his title and approved building plans, nobody would touch his house. I am not a guerrilla warrior, if I am going to fight you, I will give you notice so that you will prepare. If Inuwa Abdulkadir has a house in Kaduna and he built without title or permission, I will not ask KASUPDA not to demolish just because he will blame me for it; I don’t care about that. On the other hand, if he has his title and approved building plans, you better ask him to produce them to KASUPDA because this KASUPDA is three or so levels below me and I don’t get to know what they are doing.