el-Rufai – an indomitable crusader at 52
By Ajayi Olatunji Olowo
Monday, February 20, 2012

February 16, is remarkable as it is mostly symbolic for one of the leading icons of the campaign for good governance in Nigeria. About 52 years ago, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, former Nigerian Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, was born in Daudawa village, in the present day Katsina State of Nigeria.

A year ago, the event was modestly marked with a get-together by friends, family members and well-wishers. This year, there might be no such opportunity in view of the critical shape of events at both family and national level.

When one major Nigerian newspaper recently published a list of 40 foremost Nigerians who would shape the scope of events in our national life in year 2012, it was incongruous for the list not to have included the name of Nasir el-Rufai.

El-Rufai in and out of government since 2000, has taken some remarkable strides and displayed some candour quite altruistic and enviable. In government, he was the most noticeable Director-general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to date. Unknown to many people, the fulcrum of the economic reform agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria under the Obasanjo regime, was anchored on the efforts initiated and conceptualized by the BPE.

There were more than 21 Sectoral Reform Committees, headed by various ministers of government, with the el-Rufai-led BPE serving as the secretariat that piloted the process. Such was the situation between 2000 and the first half of 2001. It is now history that the National Power Policy, and the National Telecommunications Policy, arose from the reform process. In the telecommunications sector for instance, the reform initiative gave birth to appropriate legislation as contained in the National Communications Act 2003, as well as the establishment of the regulator – The National

Communications Commission (NCC) as currently structured. The pattern of deregulation process consummated in the telecoms sector, is a veritable blueprint the government in power at the moment should study as a guide if the much touted deregulation of the petroleum sector must be meaningful. The work milieu at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where el-Rufai served as minister afterwards, was not less complicated. It involved balancing national interest with citizens’ fundamental human rights and curbing illegality as some people accused of distorting the Abuja master plan, had no credible explanations for their actions.

For once, impunity was brought to a halt at personal and official levels in transactions carried out at the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), the administrative nerve-center of the FCT. There was information in the media that instead of the usual practice of payment due to contractors being delayed, they were promptly paid without having to drop any percentages. Rather, some of the contractors were made to partner with the FCT administration to secure and keep green, the various sites recovered and designated as parks. Today, the green parks scattered all over the capital city, remain a monumental legacies of the el-Rufai years as minister that cannot easily be obliterated.

The other noticeable legacy, which successive administrators/governments have almost jettisoned because the masses identify with it through the man el-Rufai, is the “el-Rufai Bus”. Although the fleet has dwindled seriously because of neglect, it is not uncommon seeing people queuing tenaciously for el-Rufai buses even as the “palliative buses” seem to make little noticeable impact.

A visit to the office of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit Company where most of the ‘el-Rufai buses’ are parked, begging for a token to fix them once again for the roads, would justify the perception in some quarters that the so-called ‘palliative buses’, which have started breaking down so soon, fit into the realm of the philosophical saying: “penny wise, pound foolish”. This is more so at a time the government propagates reduction in cost towards achieving an acute transformational economy.

While in office, el-Rufai adopted the approach to executing the duties he was saddled with. He carried out the assignments, with zeal and candour, to step on toes – both big and small. For his refusal to succumb to prebendalism, he was given all sorts of names by those who despise his style of not succumbing to compromise. While some labelled him a proud individual, some others argued that the man el-Rufai, was all-knowing and rigid. Having observed el-Rufai’s activities, particularly in office, at close prism, I am in doubt if he perfectly fits into the realm of an arrogant or rigid personality. No doubt he parades enviable academic credentials;

he never flaunts these to gain advantage over anyone. As opposed to any insinuation of “I know it all” that might be alleged in any quarters, Nasir accepts superior arguments when such are proffered. As a Minister of the Federal Republic, he was notable for acknowledging all measurable contacts made to him either in person, by phone.

Olowo writes from Abuja

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