Mallam Nasir Ahmed El Rufai is a household name in Nigeria.He occupies a strategic position in Nigeria’s current political dispensation, having been first elected the governor of Kaduna State in 2015 and got re-elected for another term of four years in 2019, thereby solidly stamping his feet on the governance of the state till 2023. Mallam El-Rufai headed the All Progressives Congress Restructuring Committee, which made some recommendations on how Nigeria could be reshaped to make it more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the federating states.
But the report, which has been submitted to the party, is yet to be translated into law or be implemented. Nonetheless, El Rufai’s name continues to ring a bell across the country today just as it was in the days when he held sway as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, when his name was associated with the demolition of ‘illegal structures’ in Abuja no matter the status of their owners. Many even believe he is gunning for a higher office in the land even when he has not made any statement to that effect.
However, in this interview, El Rufai, speaks on which part of the country should take the shot at the Presidency in 2023 and why states are angling to raise security outfits and what the National Assembly can do to move the country forward in terms of restructuring.
He spoke exclusively to Soni Daniel, Vanguard’s Northern Region Editor Excerpts:
Your party, the All Progressives Congress, saddled you with a very critical assignment of assessing the political structure of the country and recommending how it can be restructured to make it more responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians having made restructuring one of its programmes. What has happened to that report and do you really believe in restructuring?
Well, let me say that I was asked to chair that committee which had nine governors, many senators, and many House of Reps members. It was a multifaceted committee and we were tasked to define in clear terms what we meant in our manifesto when we said we support true federalism which some people call restructuring. Our committee met for months; we went round the country, we didn’t just sit and write a report; we had hearings in every part of the country and we collected feedback from Nigerians as to what they wanted and we articulated that in our report and we made some recommendations.
I believe that Nigeria is better run as a federation. A lot of the progress we made was because we ran the country as a federation. There was an article I wrote which was published in many newspapers about Nigeria entitled ‘Nigeria, the federation without federalism’. In it, I pointed out that indeed we call ourselves the federal republic but in practice we are the only federation in the world that has one centralized police; federations have multiple layers of policing but Nigeria is the only federation that has one centralized police and one of our recommendations was that there should be state police, there should even be local government police and even community police. This is one of our key recommendations.
Sadly too, Nigeria is the only country that is a federation that has federal prisons, only the federal government has prisons. There is no reason states should not have prisons because most crimes are state crimes. So, why are the convicts not going to state prisons? So there are a lot in that report and we submitted that report under the then chairman John Oyegun and the party was supposed to meet, adopt the report, pass it on to Mr. President for him to forward the bill to the National Assembly.
The report was not just a report; we drafted the bills and the necessary amendments to the constitution to give effect to the amendments. For instance, one of our key recommendations is that the ownership of land and the ownership of the minerals under the land should be contiguous. Since under the Land Use Act, lands belong to the state, all minerals – solid, liquid and gaseous elements- should also belong to the state so that when the state gives you a piece of land, they can also give you the licence to mine what is also in the land and again this is what most federations are about. Today in the United States, there is no one that sits in Washington and tells you that you have a licence to mine oil in Texas. It is not done. So we studied jurisdictions and saw how they work and how they make progress and we reflected that in our report. The third one which many people don’t agree with is minimum wage. We are the only federation in which the national government establishes a minimum wage without regard to the relative cost and ability of the states to pay.
The federal government is big, it has more revenues, it has larger base and can pay a certain minimum wage while some states cannot pay. So, the question is, why do we continue to have the minimum wage under the Exclusive List of the Federal Government in the Constitution? If you check the 1963 constitution, Minimum wage was not there. Then, each region set its own minimum wage while the federal government fixed its own minimum wage for federal employees. But over the years and due to many years of military rule, certain things became centralized because the military thinks in military terms. But I think that our party is determined to do change certain things for the benefit of all. We were able to complete our assignment and submit the report to the then chairman of the party Chief John Oyegun. I believe now is the time for the leadership of the party to take that report and move forward with it.
I want to say this with all sense of responsibility; we don’t even need that to be done because amending the constitution is not the exclusive preserve of the executive or the party. Any legislator can take our report, which is online with all the bills drafted, and sponsor it as private member bill and it can be done.
But finally, there is a constitution review committee under the Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege that has this material before it with our drafted bills to give Nigeria a true federation and I hope that they will take advantage of this and do something in that direction.
Many Nigerians differ sharply whenever the issue of rotational Presidency is mentioned. Do you think rotational presidency makes any sense in Nigeria?
I think it is important to look at this from three perspectives: I can give you my personal position, I can also give you our party’s position and I will also give you the general political consensus. Let me start with the general political consensus. The general political consensus in Nigeria is that the presidency should rotate between the north and south. In some parties like the PDP they even have it in their constitution, though it is unwritten but there is that understanding and I think every politician of honour should recognise and abide by that consensus unless there are circumstances compelling enough to put it aside.
I will give you an example of Jonathan in 2011. President Yar’Adua died in office and Jonathan as vice president was constitutionally mandated to take over. So by the time the 2011 election came around, there were voices from the north and the south saying that Jonathan should not run for office but should step down for a northerner to complete the term that Yar’Adua should have done. I did not agree with that for obvious reason. I did not think that an incumbent president that got there not by his own design should be prohibited from running when he was not disqualified by the constitution itself. And, because of that, I made a statement in February 2010 saying that it does not make sense for anyone to ask Jonathan not to run for office. But having run and won the election in 2011, Jonathan again put up himself in 2015 despite the wise counsel by people who advised him not to run again. He did not listen and because of that even within his party people went against him and this is the problem of not honouring this unwritten agreement. It made sense to allow him to run the first time in 2011 but not the second time in 2015. I said that there is this general consensus that should only be set aside in extenuating circumstances and this can vary from situation to situation. And I think anyone that says that he doesn’t know this understanding is not being honest. By God’s grace one day it will get to a point where it will not matter but for now people want to see that and we should abide by it.
But what is the APC’s position on rotational presidency?
In APC, we deliberately omitted putting zoning in the constitution. So in the APC, the emergence of candidate does not take into account zoning so that anyone can contest. That aptly explains why in the last two or three primary elections we have had, every person from every part of Nigeria contested; clearly, anyone that wanted to contest was allowed to contest. So in the APC the playing field is clear and level.
So, will that remain the APC’s position in 2023?
No, it may be or may not be. As distinct from PDP we have no prohibition and anyone is free to contest. So in other words in APC it is really on political merit because one has to win the primaries depending on how many parts of the country they are able to garner enough support to emerge victorious.
The third level is that personally I do not like leaders selected based on where they come from because I don’t think you will get the best leaders that way and I do not see any country in the world that has successfully done that on a sustainable basis. Lebanon for instance, had in its constitution very clear positions on where its presidents, prime ministers and lawmakers should come from. And, they are in crisis now as a result of that arrangement. They did it because after the civil war, that kind of arrangement was necessary as an interim arrangement but when they kept it for too long today they plunged into crisis and they had to dismantle it. I have studied countries and I have never seen any country that has made sustainable progress choosing leaders based on where they come from. I think merit should be the overriding thing. People should look at their leaders and say who will take them to the Promised Land and vote for them and the system should allow the people to make their choices.
But that is a personal thing; it is a personal view because in my life I have never got anything based on where I come from. I believe that I got everything I deserved because of my abilities and a bit of luck and being at the right place at the right time.
I want to add that those of us from northern Nigerian honour agreements; we do not violate unwritten political agreements and I will be the last person to lead in violating that agreement. I may have my personal view but my personal view is personal. If you look at the government of Kaduna state, we don’t appoint people based on where they come from, we appoint people based on their ability to deliver on the mandate that will make Kaduna state move forward. I don’t care where a person comes from. There are persons I have worked with for years without knowing where they come from. But that is my personal opinion.
But as a group, the northern APC will have to sit down, agree and endorse someone most likely from southern Nigeria to be the next president because after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari, I think, I am speaking as a person but I think it is the same thought process amongst most of us, I do not think that the presidency should remain in the north unless there is some extenuating circumstances similar to Jonathan’s circumstance in 2011. I don’t know from what angel that extenuating circumstance can come from but all things being equal, we honour our own agreement and we keep our words.
What do you make of the emergence of state and regional security militias in the country?
I don’t agree with you that they are militias; I think they are expressions of dissatisfaction with the security architecture in the country. Every state in Nigeria has some vigilance service; in Kaduna state we have it, they are not armed so you cannot call them militia. They work under the control of the police and there is an enabling law that defines their functions and there is a process using traditional institutions and religious leaders so that we select credible people for the outfit. But I think that as long as every state does that, I think it is legal. I think the initial misgiving with Amotekun was that it was presented as regional rather than a state level thing. We currently don’t have regions as constitutional entities in Nigeria. We should not advance what appears to be an ethnic or regional agenda without the correct legal and constitutional framework.
I am happy that the governors of the southwest have gone back to correct that defect because it was a defect. The Attorney General was right to say that there was no regional legislature that could give legal backing to it and that they should go back to the states, which are the entities recognised by the constitution, to get legal backing. The danger of putting help before substance clearly with the Amotekun thing has led to what some people recently launched here in Kaduna under ‘Shege Ka Fasa’. Those things are totally unnecessary. We all must have some kind of local level community policing structure in every state. That is right and understandable but that should be guided by law and they should operate in liaison with the security agencies because we have not yet amended our constitution to allow states to have state police or to have arms- bearing vigilante services. It is very simple.
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