By Olusegun Obasanjo
I should bring up my comments on Nasir el-Rufai here because of the greatest insult he piled on me by the comment he ascribed to me in his book, The Accidental Public Servant, on the issue of third term.
Nasir’s penchant for reputation savaging is almost pathological. Why does he do it? He is brilliant and smart. I grant him that also. Very early in my interaction with him, I appreciated his talent and brilliance. At the same time, I recognized his weaknesses; the worst being 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 against his colleagues and so-called friends. I have heard of how he ruthlessly savaged the reputation of his uncle, a man who was like, in the African setting, his foster father. I shuddered when I heard the story of what he did to his half-brother in the Air force who is senior to him in age.”
A leader must know the character and ability of his subordinates. Character wise, Nasir has not much going for him. But he is a talented young man who can always deliver under close supervision. So, when Osita Chijoka approached, among others, propping Nasir as my possible successor, believing that whoever I supported would make it, which was a false belief; I did not hesitate to point to Nasir’s naivety and immaturity, talk less of his inability to give honour to whom honour is due.”
My vivid recollection of him is penchant for lying, for unfair embellishment of stories and his inability to sustain loyalty for long. Two years after I had left office, Osita came to me to confirm how right I was on my assessment and judgement of Nasir. I knew what I could make him to achieve and he achieved it for my administration and for the country. I believe that he can still be used in public service but under guidance and sufficient oversight, making allowance for the psychology of ‘his petit size and his elephantine brain’. He was described as a malicious liar. He was more than that; he is a pathological purveyor of untruths and half-truths with little or no regard for integrity. In all of this, he unwittingly does more harm than good to himself. Of all his claims and what he credited against me in his book, referred to above, only one is partially true.
As a statesman and committed Nigerian, I have always maintained that the descending order of my concern and interest in Nigeria first, my political party second, and any government of Nigeria third. It meant that while I am looking after the interest of, and showing concern for, my political party, I must not ignore the higher concern and interest for Nigeria. In 2011, while I left no stone unturned in my support for Goodluck Jonathan to win the presidential election, first to stabilize the Nigerian polity, and second as a candidate of my party, I was mindful that the unexpected could happen. That is, though somehow remote and not to be absolutely ignored, the possibility of Buhari winning the election.
For Nigeria, Buhari would not be a good economic manager. I know him well enough that he would be a strong, almost inflexible, courageous and firm leader. If Nigeria would avoid a stubborn mismanagement of the economy, what should be done to a possible Buhari emergence as an elected president? I agonised on this issue, but came to the conclusion of pairing Ngozi okonjo-Iweala’s technical competence and experience in economic management with Buhari’s strong political leadership. I asked Nasir to sound Buhari out, while I would sound Ngozi out by myself. Nasir came back to say Buhari said yes, but Ngozi said no to me by herself and that was the end of that issue.
I knew that like all human beings, Ngozi has her weaknesses, but I also knew that a strong and firm leader can manager her weaknesses that I identified and got the best out of her technical competence. Except those that Nasir might have talked to directly or indirectly or those that Ngozi might have talked to directly or indirectly, I discussed the issue only with two main dramatis personae. Whatever else Nasir might have added to that issue, must be the figment of his imagination or his playing himself up to give himself more ‘height’ than he has. Whichever way, he has my sympathy. It was characteristic of him.
Unfortunately, his character could also be seen as a reflection of his upbringing, which may spread the blame beyond him. In typical African society, it would be asked, “Did he not receive home training or did he reject home training?” Is there nobody in the family to call him to order? One may also wonder how much his losing his father at the tender age of eight years had rendered him devoid of fatherly care, guide and paternal direction and home training”.
The most outrageous is the allegation by el-Rufai that I said, “No third term, no Nigeria.” Under no circumstance would I have said anything like that. Those who know me very well know that I would not pursue anything in my life to the extent of destroying Nigeria or not to wish Nigeria well. Nasir know quite well that he never came to ask me about third term. He went on in his prologue, “The truth of the matter was that the third term project was believed by many of us in the administration to have been initiated by Lagos businessmen.” That too was a blatant lie and was widely and wildly different from the account of Senator Ibrahim Mantu and Senator Oman Hambagda as laid out in the early part of this chapter. I could see the vain glory of Nasir as he portrayed himself as my unsolicited close adviser on almost anything. Psychologically, he needed all that to boost himself. Not even the Chief of Staff, General Abdul Mohammed, nor the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ufot Ekaette, who were the closest of my advisers, would claim advising me in the language Nasir used in his book.
People asked me what I feel about Nasir’s book. I always replied that if his so-called friend, Nuhu Ribadu, could claim, “There is a huge integrity deficiency in el-Rufai’s book”, the best I could do is to have a great pity for him. He wrote his book essentially to pull other people down so as to push himself up. Atiku, who could have told them the story of my only visit to his official residence when he was sick and could not go to office, denied ever telling Nasir that I knelt down for him. I read the book and it confirmed my impression of him as a man of first-class brain but arrogant, full of himself, immature and nauseating, trying to make up for his diminutive stature in what is called “the small man syndrome”. When I realised el-Rufai’s psychological and potential upbringing problem, I tried, as he dramatically and exaggeratedly narrated on pages 329-354 of his book, to fill some of the void.
–Obasanjo on Nasir El-Rufai in “My Watch” Vol 2; pages 110-112
Published March 2017 on The News