The apparent struggle for presidential powers in 2019 between former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar and Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai escalated into verbal missile exchange throughout yesterday. Atiku Abubakar who launched the offensive by interrogating el-Rufai’s claims in his book, The Accidental Public Servant that Atiku is corrupt, saying that el-Rufai’s allegations were no more than the politics of naming or what street English would call ‘say so’. He also said that el-Rufai’s claim that senators demanded bribe in 2003 to confirm him as a minister was a fairy tale. And that if it were not so, it would have been used against him in the political scuffle between President Obasanjo and himself between 2003 and 2007. Atiku added how el-Rufai had said on television before that he, Atiku, never gave him any instructions embodying corrupt values while he was the DG of BPE under the supervision of the VP. And that el-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu were the ones used by former President Obasanjo to, in his words, cook up charges against him in 2003 but which the courts dismissed. He also threw at el-Rufai the charge of incorporating Transcorp and actually offering him, Atiku, shares which he claimed he rejected. In other words, Atiku sought to say that el-Rufai could not be the angel he poses to be.
Small as the portion of the interview that touched on el-Rufai, it attracted a nearly 700 words response from the Kaduna State governor who said Atiku had spewed falsehood to damage his person, asserting that he never had anything to do with Transcorp, much less offer Atiku any shares. Similarly, he said he stood by his narrative of senators demanding a bribe of N50m to confirm him as minister in 2003. El-Rufai described as the usual bold face of the Nigerian big man Atiku’s counter claims regarding instances of manipulation of power he recorded in his 2013 book by the title The Accidental Public Servant, adding that his allegiance, however, lies with the public purpose rather than to an individual patron’s goal.
Observers point out how none of these are new but how nevertheless more and more interesting they are in the context of 2019. They, therefore, speak to the struggle for power between the suspected front runners and tendencies in the run up to the D-Day. These brickbats are also even more and more interesting with the emergence of Donald Trump recently in a tight race in the 2016 presidential poll in the US. What that means is that any of Atiku or Nasir el-Rufai can emerge president of Nigeria in 2019. Against that background, people are looking at the claims and counter-claims in this verbal warfare, both in themselves and the in the larger context of Nigerian politics and the role of leadership in African politics.
A major point of departure is how Atiku raised the stakes by his courage in declaring that he is not corrupt. If everyone involved in this shadow boxing could do that, Nigeria would be making a huge progress because, by saying so, he is daring anyone else to prove the otherwise. In his reply, el-Rufai sought to strike this down by saying it is bold face strategy of the Nigerian big man. That is a fascinating blow delivered on Atiku but it is too discursive to stand. This is more so when connected to the larger context Atiku referred to: that, in any case, it was the same Nasir el-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu who were used to cook up his indictment in 2003. To the extent that those charges did not stand up in a competent court of law, Atiku seems to stand on stronger grounds here.
There are strong moral charges from each of the parties in this conflict. Atiku represents el-Rufai as an ingrate, someone who turned around to bite the fingers that fed him, someone who bowed to a new god in the course of a long journey and was willing to be used to do dirty tricks. El-Rufai shot back by posing a utilitarian argument to the effect that higher public purpose dictated what Atiku might have been considering as treachery. Tough claims and counter-claims which, again, only context can resolve. The context here is the particular minister in that same Obasanjo/Atiku regime who, when asked to take a stand, knelt down and said, I met Obasanjo and Atiku as friends, I wish I can reconcile them. In the meantime, I have no side in this conflict. These were not the exact words spoken but these capture what was said actually. It is possible that the family from which the minister in question came is such that the minister could take such position and survive it. What is, however, instructive in that position is that there were people who held such position even in that atmosphere. The question is why el-Rufai did not take this kind of position since he owed Atiku some debt of gratitude, no matter what he would say he began to see later. The temptation is to infer that the only reason el-Rufai who was reported or is it reputed to verbalize whatever he felt in that government did not play a reconciler must be a power calculus. The end might have been justifying the means.
What is wrong with power mindedness? Nothing, except that, according to Bongos Ikwue, what goes up must come down. What if Nasir did not have to be fighting a war of attrition with Atiku today? He would probably have more peace of mind. Or, is that idealism?
Taking this outbreak of war between Atiku and el-Rufai apart can go on and on but some people say the more crucial issue involved is still the difficulty of deciding between Atiku and el-Rufai should they be the only names on the choice list in 2019. The tragedy, Intervention was told, is the impossibility of such a decision, given that, at heart, there is absolutely no ideological difference between the two. They all subscribe to a crude variant of privatisation which many people say amounts, in a country at Nigeria’s level of development, to a structural violence of the worst order. Every other differences between Atiku and el-Rufai are matters of details is how a voice put it. For, as privatisers, they are all implicated, for example, in how Nigeria lost money speculated to be up to N100b in the attempt to privatise NITEL. Analysts are, therefore, saying that in that case, they should shift the subject matter of their fight to further clarifications of the role each of them played in the failed bid to auction NITEL beyond what are believed to be the cock and bull stories so far told or heard. It is pointed out that, otherwise, they are simply and unconsciously eliminating themselves from the race.
This conclusion notwithstanding, critics wonder how come no one from the inner team in the IBB regime, for example, is squealing up till today contrary to so many kiss and tell that have been oozing out of the inner wheelers in the Obasanjo regime. Does that suggest IBB had better criteria of recruiting and managing aides than Obasanjo or is this something better explained by completely different extenuating circumstances? This question is considered crucial in that none of the issues in conflict in the squealing so far are about tendency disagreements or larger ideological disputes but crisis of management of personal craving for power and kleptomania. Did Obasanjo and Atiku, therefore, aid and abet the recruitment and promotion of people above their competence, people who are tormenting them today? A scenario is playing out in which it seems that Obasanjo and Atiku were fond of recruiting and promoting Graduate Assistants to Deans.
Whichever is the case, the quarrel between Atiku and Nasir el-Rufai speaks to the crisis of charismatic leadership or tendency that would emerge in 2019 with a binding narrative capable of discursively constituting the new Nigeria. Meanwhile, this skirmishes so far shows that the battle for 2019 has started and the media would be the battlefront up till mid 2018 before it expands to the rural, urban, electoral and judicial frontiers.