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10 Mar

4Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, with characteristic candour and verve, discusses his new book, his travails, his many fights, and... 2015.

Interview: Olusegun Adeniyi and Waziri Adio. Prologue: Simon Kolawole.

Prologue

You don’t know Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai if you think you know him. He is a politician (at least, he was a card-carrying member of the People’s Democratic Party and is now a chieftain of the Congress for Progressive Change). But he is not a politician (well, he talks too bluntly). He is a technocrat (he regrets paying little attention to the politics of economic reform under President Olusegun Obasanjo). But he is not a technocrat (or, rather, he is an accidental public servant who one day received an epiphany that if government doesn’t work, society will not work). Surely, el-Rufai is not one man you can describe in one sentence without a lot of parenthesis and footnotes.

Depending on the angle from which you are staring at him, you could be seeing a bully or a bully’s nightmare. You are either seeing a frank, no-nonsense, no-mercy personality or a conceited, attention-grabbing, uncharitable character. You don’t encounter el-Rufai and walk away indifferent. You might hate him. You might like him. You might fancy him. You might detest him. You might adore him. You might disdain him. But you can't be indifferent.

With el-Rufai, what you get is always what you ordered. And maybe much more. Whether he is writing a book or granting an interview, he works up a whale of aftershocks. His book, 'The Accidental Public Servant,' has practically set the house on fire with explosives hauled in the direction of virtually everyone he worked with in his eventful public service career, notably Obasanjo and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

In this engaging interview with Metropole, he is no less explosive. He offers no apologies and expresses no regrets, apart from a frequent refrain of “I am only human." He has challenged anyone who feels disturbed or offended enough to write their own books. Simple enough. But he says he is also ready to defend himself if anybody defames him in their responses. As at the time of going to press, most responses were still sketchy and measured, but a safe forecast would be that he would face severe lightning and thunder from those offended, and there is more than a handful of them.

He defends himself on all charges of self-righteousness (“No, I didn’t talk about my weaknesses because I left that for others”), self-promotion (“I have no political motives in writing this book”), vendetta (“I am a permanent suspect” with regards to claims he is bitter because Obasanjo did not make him president in 2007).  Most importantly, el-Rufai would not want you to walk away having a wrong impression of him-– even if he admits he has no control over that. The applied mathematician sees himself as a victim (he didn’t use that word) of mathematical precision.

“I think that many people misunderstand me,” he says. “I also think that people have expectations of how people should talk or relate and if you are different you are considered a heretic. But for me I have been brought up to be truthful and to say my mind and maybe because of my training as a mathematician I say it as efficiently as possible.” Is one plus one always equal to two? Or isn’t it? It is the way el-Rufai sees the world, and he makes that plain and plain again in this hell of an interview.

Interview

What was it like writing your book?

It was both exhilarating and challenging for me. Exhilarating because I believed I had a story to tell after nine interesting years in public service. I thought that my mistakes and achievements, if any, and my interactions all add up to useful lessons for those that aspire to a life in public service. But as someone trained to think numerically, it was really difficult writing the book. It took me three years.

Why write the book now? Is this a manifesto for 2015?

It is a story which I had decided to write while in government because I think we don’t document experiences enough. I said so in the book. For instance, I came out of council1 chambers after being sworn in as a minister and two people approached me. One of them said he was my chief of protocol and the other said he was my chief security officer. In truth, I had never in my life imagined that once you were sworn in as minister you would get this. It’s not something that anyone had written about or told me. So there are a few things about senior-level government positions that no one prepares you for. I think that we need to prepare people.

Secondly, of course, there are aspects of my public service that have been distorted, misrepresented and misunderstood. And unless I tell my story, that misrepresentation will become the history. I recall it was Winston Churchill that said ‘history will be kind to me because I intend to write it’. But one thing this book is not about is any political aspiration. If you have political aspirations you won’t write the book the way I did.

In the book, you wrote about the weaknesses of everyone else except yourself…

No, I didn’t talk about my weaknesses because I left that for others. I’m sure if you ask them, they will also tell you about mine. I only tried to describe how we worked as a team and what I contributed and what others contributed. I do not think that while writing the book I wanted in any way to project myself.

I think I was lucky I had an environment that enabled me get a few things done. I not only had a team but also peers that supported me and a boss that stood behind me. It was just luck. Yes of course I came in with my own skills. But even with those skills, if I did not have that environment I could not have succeeded and I made that very clear. And that is why I choose not to work with certain people. I made the choice.

Before we handed over I went to [President Umaru Musa] Yar’Adua and congratulated him and said I was leaving. This was because I didn’t want him to make me an offer and if I said no and it would become a problem. I can look at a person’s personality and know that we may not be able to flow. Obasanjo I understood and he understood me. Even though we disagreed vehemently on many issues, he knew I disagreed with him on principles.

The central argument of your book is that public service matters and you mentioned how you had your own Road to Damascus experience in 1996. What really happened and what are the lessons?

Most Nigerian middle class people had and still have this attitude that government is for others and politics is for thugs. More like, ‘I will just make money and protect myself from the failings of government.’ If electricity supply is irregular, buy a generator; water supply is irregular, drill your borehole. We have now extended it to if the aviation industry is not functioning well, buy a private jet. The police are not doing very well, get private security or get the police and pay them. Meanwhile, everything around you is falling apart.

Honestly, back in the 80s when I left the university that was also my attitude. I am a chattered quantity surveyor and there were about 20 of us in the whole country and I would not starve. I would always have jobs and make enough money to live well. That was my attitude and that was why when I was offered to join public service I declined. But in 1996 something happened. I had finished building my big house in Kaduna, my wife had her brand new car and I had mine too. But we woke up one morning and there was no petrol for the cars and no diesel for the generator. Reason? A failing government.

And that was when it dawned on me that there are certain things no amount of money can buy you. Are you going to build your refinery? If you build your refinery, are you going to drill your crude oil? That minimal functionality of government is a given. When there is no government nothing else is possible. When there is a malfunctioning government things become extremely hard for everybody. That was when I said, ‘wow my attitude towards government is wrong and anytime I get a chance to be in government I will accept it and go and do my very best because we need a government that works minimally.’

Now you have been there and done that. What are the lessons you have picked up?

I have looked at countries that have succeeded, and I have never seen a country in which its best people are not in government. The best people or the first eleven in every country should be the ones in government. Let business get the second and third best. Unless we can get our government to function, nothing else will be possible. No matter how hard you work, you will just be struggling against the tide if your government doesn’t work. So for me it’s a compelling passion that anywhere I speak to young people I tell them to consider politics and government. That I believe is my calling rather than contesting.

There is no other way of changing the lives of millions of people for the better by the stroke of a pen than by being in government. I spent 20 years in quantity surveying trying to control the cost of buildings and fighting corruption and so on. But what impact did it have other than on one project and one client, etc.? But in government one decision can create opportunities for millions. One decision can also kill millions of unborn children and their future. So I think it’s important for people to recognise that government is really important and participation in politics is vital for us to change the direction of our country.

How do people who heed your call ensure they do not get burnt? Drawing from your experience, what will make them succeed?

Well, I am not sure I didn’t get burnt myself and I am not sure I succeeded either. Look at my life: I went into government and came out only to be exiled. So I don’t know whether there is a way you can get into these things without getting burnt. I think you should go in with the understanding that there is a possibility that you will get burnt. But the country is worth it. The future of our children is worth it. I think success in politics and government is like success everywhere else. Work hard, apply yourself, put in your best, be honest and leave the rest to God. I don’t think I can give any template other than that. A lot of luck also comes into it and as I said earlier I was lucky in most of my assignments. But I do think we should have a go at it and those that are in leadership should deliberately try to attract better quality people into government. That is the only way to succeed.

There is a thin line between courage and discretion. Looking back, are there things that you wished you didn’t write in the book?

I don’t know. But I feel that everything in that book needed to be told. I will not know now what mistakes I made until the book is out in the public. I am sure there are mistakes. I am sure there are things I might regret having written because I am human. But I wrote and rewrote that book over a three-year period. I got it read by many people who were part of the events just to crosscheck and they corrected me on many things, dates and sequence of events etc.

How do you think Obasanjo will feel reading the book?

President Obasanjo will not necessarily be happy with the book, but that is okay. I tried to be balanced about him. He is very important to me and he gave me the opportunity to be in public service. I will always be grateful to him. But I can’t pretend that Obasanjo as president was perfect. I argued with him as a minister, even in cabinet meetings. There were people that were surprised I survived because anytime he brought something that I believed was not in the best interest of Nigeria, I argued.

But there is a difference between telling somebody I disagree with you or you have this flaws and putting it in the open. Do you think you were fair to him?

I think I was fair to him. We are public figures and we will continue to be scrutinised and we should understand that whatever we do will be public. This is the age of transparency and accountability. Anything you say or do if you don’t want it to be public you better not say it. This is the age we live in. I don’t know whether Obasanjo will be happy with this book or not, but it is my truth and I think overall all of us should sacrifice our pleasures for this country to make progress. Let the country make progress and we will all benefit from it.

Obasanjo has always said he never sought third term. From accounts from the book, are you saying that Obasanjo was lying?

Well, you have to ask Obasanjo that question. I have written my book and my story. I have mentioned names because there were people involved and I was not the only one relating with Obasanjo on this matter. Go and check with them. I can only say my own side of the story.

There is a school of thought amongst Obasanjo’s supporters that you are writing things against Obasanjo because he did not hand over power to you?

I am a permanent suspect, you know. The late Yar’Adua went after me because of that. I have stopped explaining myself or defending myself on that. I have written my book and those that say this is the reason should write their own book and prove that I wanted to be president at any time. I am not an aspirant and I am not a contestant for any office. I have said so and nobody believes me and people have gone after me, people are still going after me because of that.

We gathered that Obasanjo believes you are a serial betrayer. What do you say to that?

Well, that’s Obasanjo’s opinion and I will not comment on that. Free speech is protected under the law provided you don’t defame. If and when I get responses to the book I will decide whether there is any need to say anything. But I have written this book and I will not go into any debate or discussion about the book. I have said it all and if you don’t agree, write your own. Talking about betrayal, since when did he discover that I betrayed him? The last time we spoke he called me and wanted me to do something for him.

Let’s look at it this way. This is somebody that did a lot for you and you don’t have to be singing his praises but you don’t also have to necessarily de-robe him in public.

It is my belief. I don’t have any issues choosing between anyone and Nigeria’s interest. Now don’t get me wrong: I may perceive Nigeria’s interest wrongly because I am human. But there is no way I will put any individual however important he is to me against Nigeria’s interest. I just won’t do it. Now Obasanjo said he didn’t want third term. My experience was different and I have related my experience. Let him write his own experience. Condoleezza Rice published her memoirs and she mentioned something about Obasanjo going to George Bush and talking about third term. This is not the first time and he can continue denying. But let him write a story that contradicts some of these stories. For me it’s not an issue of betrayal. We have a responsibility to this country to say the truth.

Still on the Third Term issue, there is a particular episode where you said Obasanjo asked you to be his emissary to reach out to some people possibly for support. He sent you a message and you were delivering your own message. How do you interpret that?

I was putting Nigeria’s interest first. I was working for the government of Nigeria and what was going on was not something I believed helped the constitutional development of Nigeria.

In the book, you said if you had to choose between being loyal to somebody and breaking the law, you will rather protect the law. But there was nothing about third term that was about breaking the law: it was about amending the constitution which is still part of the democratic process. But looking back now with what has happened after that, do you think you took the right position on Third Term?

3I think I did because I sleep well at night. The fact that those that came after us didn’t quite do well is beside the point. The point is a country’s life cycle is a long one and mistakes will be made. But we have to build institutions and respect constitutions. It’s as simple as that. I never had any doubt in my mind that if Obasanjo did not get a third term it could go this way or that way. But for me that is still a lesser evil because where do you draw the line with the third term issue.

In fact, I think some of the problems we still have in this country today have their roots in the third term: the very uncertain handover and absence of full briefing. I was in General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s government and we briefed Obasanjo for a whole month. Each ministry had one day to brief the incoming president. But when we were handing over to Yar’Adua, each minister had 30 minutes. Tell me, how you can brief an incoming president on the activities of any ministry in 30 minutes? I think I was the only one that got close to one hour because apart from the FCT, there were the public service reforms and others that I handled. All this is part of the problem that we are still living with. So for me, Third Term was just an adventure that this country didn’t need and I do not have any doubt in my mind that we did the right thing.

By your own account, you had several confrontations with Obasanjo. How did you survive; what was your staying power?

I honestly do not know. But I think it was because Obasanjo really liked me as a person. There was something he liked about me and maybe he also appreciated that I got difficult jobs done. And perhaps he also appreciated that my confrontations with him were not driven by any personal interest. If I think there is a better idea, I will argue with anybody. If I opposed a contract then, it was not because I did not like the contractor or because I wanted a friend of mine to get it. Obasanjo sees through things like that. And as long as he believes that you are doing things impersonally, he gives you a lot of slack.

You worked with Vice President Atiku then and even from your narratives he was instrumental into your becoming a minister. But you fell out with him and left him in the cold and you took sides with the president. Why was this so?

Yes, I did because I think in his fight with Obasanjo he was wrong. I had to balance who was more right than the other. And I took sides. I did not hesitate in that regards.

Why did you think he was wrong?

If you read the book, you will saw what I went through with Atiku, which was something he was doing regularly to people. But even after those things we worked together on many things because to be fair to Atiku, while I was in BPE I never had any complaints about him apart from when he tried to stick the Motorola issue on me. Then I threatened to resign. But when I came to FCT, I saw a completely different face. And I just had to make a choice. In this life you make choices, you balance good and bad and make choices. And I made my choice.

So it is not because he lost out in the power equation?

Not at all. I was not influenced by that. It was simply having to sit down and look at the situations and say right versus wrong which one is more. That’s it.

You are somebody who excites strong opinions from people. Obasanjo said you have a clever man problem. He also told you that you don’t know how to talk to elders and you talk down on people. So which of this is true and which is not? Who are you as a person?

I don’t know. I should ask you because I can’t critique myself.

Many people also say you are cocky; you look down on people and all of that. Are all these true or is it that you are misunderstood?

I think that many people misunderstand me. I also think that people have expectations of how people should talk or relate and if you are different you are considered a heretic. But for me I have been brought up to be truthful and to say my mind and maybe because of my training as a mathematician I say it as efficiently as possible. Mallam Liman Ciroma of blessed memory once called me and said ‘Nasir you don’t respond to a person when he says something and you say you are wrong. Say yes. But and then go on to deconstruct what he said.’ I told him that I am not like that and that I will try to learn, that I was not designed like that.

You will find that many of the people that passed that judgement on me are people that don’t even know me. People sit at a distance and pass their judgement. What can I do? I have concluded since that there are three kinds of people in the world. There are people that like me and I can’t do any wrong as far as they are concerned. They just like me. Then there are people that just dislike me. No matter what I do, they are not impressed. They just don’t like me and they will never give me a chance. Then there are a large majority of people that don’t know me and are really indifferent. I have stopped worrying myself about the first and the second classes of people. But I try to be as available and as accessible as possible to those in the middle so that they can get to know me. Now part of the reason I wrote this book is for people to know a little bit about me other than the myths and the stories.

You offered a good insight into the essential el-Rufai in your encounter with a guy called Sunday, the bully who met his match. Two narratives can be teased from that story. One, that you see the world in terms of those who bully people and those who are bullied; and two that you place a great store on courage, whatever the consequences. Because of these narratives, you are programmed to stand up for yourself and your convictions. But you also tend to overdo it, saying things you should not have said…

I wish my mind really processes things exactly and as clinically as you have presented it. I don’t think about courage or anything. I am just being myself. Those that know me 20 years ago will tell you that I have improved in many ways in that I am now more restrained in my speech and actions. I have learnt to keep quiet a lot more because I used to not suffer fools gladly. I couldn’t tolerate nonsense. But now people will come and you see some illiterates trying to set you up to collect your money and I will listen. Before I would have cut him off and say ‘who do you think you are fooling?’ But now I will listen and quietly talk him out. All I am trying to say is that I am human and I don’t think that I am being courageous. I just think that if something is wrong, it is wrong. And I make that assessment and I try to respond to it. I think of it as just being myself. That’s just how I am.

No, controversy is not an adjective that is applicable to me. Controversy is applicable to the assignments I have had the misfortune or fortune of being given in government. My first job in executive capacity in government was in the Bureau of Public Enterprises. You can’t privatise quietly because it’s a controversial subject. You can’t even get two people to agree on what privatisation is. Not only did I have the Nigerian public to convince that privatisation is good, that the government officials will not buy up everything and that those of us that are doing the privatisation are not buying up everything. But within the government every minister, every bureaucrat was fighting us. The only support we got was from the media at that time. But everyone else internally and externally was fighting us. From there I went to FCT as a minister. And what was my mandate in the FCT? Restore the master plan. Who will be affected? The biggest men in Nigeria. So, tell me how doing that job will not make one look controversial. It wasn’t me, it was the job. And if you are going to do it well, you will appear controversial. As a person, I am shy and I keep to myself and mind my own business.

Is it not possible to do a controversial job in a non-controversial way?

It’s not possible. The fact that the job is controversial will give you that tag of controversy. But in my personal life, I am not controversial.

Not that you constantly have this urge to be noticed?

No, in fact I want to disappear.    

There is this belief that you own almost half of Abuja. Is it up to half or slightly more?

That is totally false. Let me show you what I used to own. When we finished the computerisation of AGIS (Abuja Geographical Information Systems), I got a C of O for the whole of Abuja as the minister of FCT. But you see, the title ended on the 29th day of May 2007 and so I don’t have a title anymore. You see, there is a presumption largely confirmed by what other ministers particularly those that came after me have done. That once you are a minister you allocate plots of land to yourself. It’s not true for me and I have not done it. I came to FCT with two plots of land. General Mamman Kontagora gave me a plot of land in Asokoro; Abba Gana gave me a plot in Gudu behind the legislative quarters. The one in Asokoro I revoked because I had not developed it after eight years. We had a rule that all plots that were undeveloped after eight years by that time should be revoked and I revoked mine alongside. I swear to God I left FCT with just one plot of land. I don’t have any other plot elsewhere.

But there are also stories that you allocated plots of land to yourself, your children, wives and relatives, and maybe fronts…

Let them bring the facts. Let them show me which plot of land I allocated to myself. I did not. There was a decision in the Federal Executive Council that every minister including me should be allocated a plot of land. Every minister got a plot of land except me. How could I sit down and approve an allocation to myself? I can’t do that.

My wife applied for land in 2001 before I became FCT minister and the application was brought along with others for approval. When I saw her name I called the AGIS and told them to go and get the file of my second wife because if I didn’t give them land at the same time, there would be trouble. So they removed my wife’s name and went back and brought a list containing the names of the two of them and I approved it. My wife is entitled to apply for land and she is qualified to have a plot of land and she is not me. So I approved a plot of land for each of my two wives. Is that an offence? This is the issue and what I am in court for. This is what I am being prosecuted for.

There is nothing in the Land Use Act or the FCT Act that says my wife or relation or friends should not apply for land or be entitled to a plot of land in Abuja. Even the Reuben Abati that is writing nonsense about me, I gave him a plot of land. I have the records. Now the same people that got a piece of land from me are saying my wife is disqualified because she is my wife. What nonsense is that?

You were part of a very powerful economic reform team. But it seems that team either got carried away with power or was naïve. Looking back, what do you think such a team should have done differently?

We were naïve but I don’t think we got carried away by power because we were too busy. Perception and reality are different and in all honesty I didn’t see any one of us in the economic team, particularly the core, as getting carried away by any power. To tell you the truth, we were working between 20 and 21 hours a day. You had no time to think about power. We were driven by achievements and we wanted to achieve things.

But we were naïve because we thought that our work alone would speak for us after leaving office. We thought the quality of our work and the commitment and the results that we had started registering would speak for us. We thought we didn’t need to do more nor get involved in politics. That was our biggest mistake. We refused to be part of any PDP meeting or caucus. I was a member of PDP caucus by right as minister of FCT and I went to Obasanjo the week before the first meeting and I asked him to take me out. And this was where the political decisions were being taken. This was how we were.

The politically astute amongst us was maybe Charles Soludo. And perhaps Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who because of the World Bank experience understood the importance of politics very well. So we were completely naïve. If I have to do this all over again, the economic team will engineer the set-up of a political team. And we will be sitting at the table so that when the political decisions are taken we are part of it because when the economic decisions are taken the president ensures that the politicians are part of it.

What is your problem with late President Yar’Adua? Was it because he became president and you did not?

If you read my book you will see that late Umaru Yar’Adua and I had a long history of great respect. Even when we meet in the life-after I am going to ask him what I did wrong to him 2because I still do not understand why he had to do what he did to me. I have always had the greatest respect for him. I supported him; I raised money for him. There was nothing I didn’t do for him once Obasanjo took the decision to anoint him. I think my fault is the result of what others have done in my name. But not me. I saw him as my elder brother and that was why for a long time I was baffled and went out of my way in my book to show a letter that his father wrote my father before Umaru was born.

Umaru’s father and my father worked together. His father was my father’s boss but they were friends. My father was his Islamic teacher and so we had a history. Umaru and myself were also born in the same village called Dadauwa. We have a history that makes us like family. And when the trouble started, my elder brother Bashir who gave me the letter made a copy of the letter and attached a note and sent to Umaru to say this is your younger brother and if he is misbehaving you can call him and even slap him. Look at the relationship between your father and ours. But Umaru didn’t respond. So till tomorrow I want to know what happened because I like to learn from mistakes. If there was something I did to Umaru that offended him so much I would like to know so that I don’t do it to the next person. But everything I heard is something like this: Obasanjo considered you and Umaru and picked Umaru and he felt you were the prince that lost.

Okay, what’s your problem with President Jonathan? You used to be friends and you worked for him to get in as acting president. Is it because he didn’t give you what you wanted?

I don’t have any problem with him. My friendship with him dated to when he was deputy governor of Bayelsa State. He used to come to my house. We were friends and I want to believe we are still friends. But I guess we fell out because I felt that he was not being a good president and did not deserve to be re-elected. That is the root of the matter and I had no expectations of anything from him. Before you see me working in the government again, it must be somebody that I know I can work with without trouble. I am not going to go into an arrangement that I know is bound to fail. I know the key characters in that government and this government. And I just knew that it wasn’t going to go anywhere and you will end up being fired because you are too outspoken or too argumentative or to be misconstrued as you too sabi.

One thing I liked about Obasanjo is that he never had problem with people disagreeing with him. As long as you are arguing logically and you give him superior argument. He may shout at you and say ‘I don’t agree’ but he will call you in say two days and say he had thought about what you said and that even though he didn’t like the way you put it, he will adopt and do it. He has no intellectual inferiority complex. But I know some people with intellectual inferiority complex and people like that I cannot get along with. I can’t see you doing nonsense and you are my leader and I won’t tell you that ‘Oga this is wrong oh.’ I will not tell you in a disgraceful way. I will wait and meet you one-on-one because I believe that my job as a minister or as an adviser is to ground you to reality and tell you the truth. You can reject it because you are the boss, but my duty is to tell you. And if I tell you enough times and we disagree enough times, I may decide to pack my bags and go.

Some people feel that the Nasir el-Rufai they knew until about three years ago was a nationalist. But the one of today is someone playing the northern card…

No, I am not. People are saying that because I chose to support General Muhammadu Buhari and join CPC. For your information, I joined CPC because of Pastor Tunde Bakare. Many people don’t know that it was Pastor Bakare that dragged me to CPC.  And he is not a northerner as at the last time I checked. You see, we are approaching 2015 and politics is around the corner and so it’s convenient for people to tag others. Because some people see me as some kind of aspirant for an office, they want to tag me. They are free to try and what I can respond to I will and the rest I will leave it. I sleep well at night and I know who I am. I know the people that know me and what they think of me, and I am comfortable with that. I can’t convince everybody. Those that specialise in mischief are outside my control. I can only respond when I have a chance. I can’t do more.

Still talking about President Jonathan, there was an article in the press that made mention of some quantity surveyor and the accidental public servant who believes they should continue to run the show. Is that the problem you have with President Jonathan?

It is absolute nonsense. There are two reasons why I haven’t responded to that. First for me when you write a sketch and you are too cowardly to mention my name I won’t respond. I don’t respond to cowards. That article was simply cowardly because if you want to say I allocated land to myself, wife and companies come out and say so, and we will meet in court. That is the same way the same Reuben Abati wrote about General Buhari and when his lawyers wrote to him he ran around town begging. Let him mention my name if he is the true son of his father. I am saying Reuben Abati is a coward; he should come out and mention my name. When I want to write about him, I will mention his name.

Secondly, I don’t respond to staff. I respond to presidents. Rueben Abati is a staff and when I was a presidential staff I was higher than him because I was a minister. He is just some adviser of some sort competing with two or three other people with similar portfolio. I will not respond to him. Others will respond to him and they have been responding. There is no reason responding to anyone who thinks that we are yesterday’s men because we are not running the show. Does Rueben think that I was expelled from PDP? I wasn’t. I simply walked away. If I want to be in the scheme of things, does it not make sense to remain in PDP? Why would I leave PDP to join an opposition party in a country where opposition parties have never been able to unseat the ruling party? He should at least give me credit for having a brain.

I chose to leave PDP voluntarily because I can no longer live with the kind of characters and the thinking within PDP. He is the one that joined PDP to eat. So who is he referring to as yesterday’s men? Is it Oby that left the government and went to the World Bank and made a name for herself and came back and still has a decent job? Before Segun Aganga was offered Minister of Finance, it was Oby that was offered. President Jonathan offered her the job and I am putting it out in the public for them to deny it. It was Oby that suggested Segun Aganga and another young man in Africa Development Bank. And that was how Segun Aganga became finance minister when Jonathan became acting president. And after he was elected as president, they still followed Oby to South Africa to offer her the minister of power. Does that sound like yesterday’s men?

We chose not be in this government. I can speak for myself and Oby. It’s not because of anything, but you can’t sit back and your country is being ruined by people and you don’t say anything. And when you say something, their response is to smear you. They expect that will work. We will speak next week and the week after and the week after, till they improve. We want them to improve because nobody wants to destroy them. We have been there before them and we know what it takes to get the job done. They should just do it. It’s not impossible.

You have a new career as a social critic and an opposition politician. Some people believe that your battle with late President Yar’Adua and President Jonathan is more like a form of insurance. That if they actually uncover any wrongdoing on your part, you will say it is political persecution because you are in the opposition and a critic…

I am not a social critic and they will not uncover anything. I am the most investigated minister in the history of Nigeria. There is no committee of the National Assembly that has not investigated me apart from investigations by law enforcement agencies. Even Obasanjo got me investigated five times. There is nothing to find because if there was something to find they would have found it. I am not doing this to say it is politics; I am doing this because I believe in what I am doing. That’s who I am and that is what I am. But I dare them to find something.

And if they find something, you will cry political victimisation…

No, I will defend myself if it is substantive. But I will not respond to some hungry PhD holder in theatre arts who wants to find a living.

Why is it that everywhere they say Nasir el-Rufai wants to run for presidency? Why do people keep saying it?

I don’t know why. You should ask them.    

So if as it usually happens in Nigeria “your people” say we want you in 2015, what will you do?

I have a candidate in mind and I will canvass for that candidate. My candidate is General Buhari for the simple reason that the depth at which Nigeria has fallen requires someone with his credibility and history and integrity. Even his elderliness. But this is my opinion and you can disagree with me but I am not an aspirant and not a candidate for any office.

What if the merged party or even General Buhari himself say it is you they want?

I will consult my family. The biggest problem I have is that my family members will not talk to me if I go into government because of what we have suffered on account of my public service. My wife has been detained in this house for four hours; my wife has been invited to a police station because of the plot I allocated to her. My wife and children have been detained at airports; I have been exiled for 23 months. I am saying this for you to understand what it takes to get my wife and children to support it. Even my participation in politics is a big issue. My being in a political party is a very big issue. We will cross the bridge when the time comes. But I am not an aspirant and not planning for anything. I want to see a very strong opposition party emerge and I like to see my role and skills as being more applicable in party organisation and management than in government. Then I am done.

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