Atiku and El-Rufai: A discipleship gone wrong

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

It was one of the most fascinating relationships in the Abuja political landscape that survived even a celebrated bribery scam. As close as they were, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and erstwhile associate, Nasir El-Rufai, are doing everything to damage one another.

There are indeed very few men who may have prepared themselves to rule Nigeria as former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.

In his preparation for the country’s highest political office, Atiku was known to have established a rich base of human resources to prepare himself for the exalted office. He established the National Development Project, NDP, a privately funded research organisation with Dr. Usman Bugaje as head.

His media office headed by an erstwhile president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mallam Garba Shehu was and is still known to be among the most savvy media offices in the country even as at today.

While in office as vice-president, Atiku was also known to have drawn to himself and the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, a wide circle of some of the country’s most endowed personalities many of whom eventually took leading positions in that administration.

As chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, Atiku drew such eggheads as Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mr. Kekere Ekun, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Bode Augusto, Ms Ifueko Omoigui among others who  served in the Bureau of Public Enterprises or other government agencies  in one capacity or the other.

All these were besides a private economic think tank that was preparing the politically adventurous and skilled Atiku for his own political goal.

Indeed, by the time the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was getting to its third year, the gist that Atiku was using the NDP as a private campaign organisation had gained traction in the political landscape to the extent that a reputable leader of the PDP, still fixing problems of the party today, reportedly took Obasanjo to the Asokoro, Abuja office of the NDP late in the night to show the former president Atiku’s campaign office!

Atiku and El Rufai

Atiku and El Rufai

But there was no doubt that before then, Atiku’s grip on the Obasanjo government was overwhelming. Alongside the then National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, the two men were known to have virtually run the administration.

However, of the lot that Atiku steered into the administration, his relationship with Mallam El-Rufai remains the most touchy. The relationship that was once chummy, if not paternal, has descended to one of acrimony with mutual allegations between the two.

Atiku according to sources, reportedly first encountered El-Rufai during a World Bank seminar in London in the early days of the administration where he was said to have been deeply impressed by the intellectual content and competence of the latter. Atiku according to sources in the Obasanjo administration as such impressed it on Obasanjo that he had seen the man to handle the administration’s privatisation programme and so El-Rufai was duly appointed as director-general.

Their relationship progressed until the beginning of the second term when again, Obasanjo was said to have made his desire for a “mad man” to reform Abuja. Atiku was again said to have said that they already had one and El-Rufai was proposed as the minister of the federal capital territory.

The nomination of El-Rufai to the cabinet again brought attention to what some considered the paternal relationship between the two.  Two principal officers of the senate it later emerged, allegedly requested N54 million from him for the purpose of clearing what was described as a mountain of objections against his ministerial nomination. No one of course expected El-Rufai to pay, though it was was later alleged that his “godfather,” at that time, Atiku who was believably more schooled in politics negotiated or paid on his behalf.

The relationship between the two men, however, later deteriorated as the two elephants in the administration, Obasanjo and Atiku, fought over the third term agenda of that administration.

Though he was not openly known to have voiced support for the third term, El-Rufai, however, sided with Obasanjo in the battle of wits that overwhelmed the political space in the later years of the Obasanjo era.

Even while Atiku has since the end of the administration mended fences with several of his political foes including Obasanjo, the relationship with El-Rufai remained prickly.

It remained so until the launch of The Accidental Public Servant, the chronicle of El-Rufai’s service in government damaged the relationship even further.

El-Rufai had noted in the book that he virtually took over the duties of the vice-president in the tail end of the administration. He further alleged in the narrative that Atiku sought in some instances to bend the privatisation rules to favour some particular concerns.

The allegation of bending the rules was, however, something that brought out a sharp reaction from Atiku.

Reacting to the allegation, Atiku referred to the submission made by El-Rufai in his appearance before the senate in 2007 where the former BPE helmsman maintained that he accomplished his work in the privatisation agency without interference and according to the rules.

Atiku quoted El-Rufai to have said: “Mr. Chairman, if you go through my tenure in BPE, you will see that we try to do everything by the rules, by the book. And we resisted every attempt at political interference. There is a process; step by step. Privatization is a mechanical process. Once you have the process published, every step should not be missed. And there was never a time that we deviated from that process.”

Last weekend the relationship degenerated further after Atiku in a published interview pooh-poohed assertions cast by El-Rufai in his book.

El-Rufai in a statement issued on Sunday alleged that Atiku put pressure on the BPE to award contracts to a multinational agency.

He said: “It is untrue that the NITEL GSM contract in question was split. Rather it was awarded to Ericsson, but at the lower price submitted by Motorola, because of Atiku’s intense lobby and smears deployed to advance Ericsson’s bid.”

Atiku in response alleged that El-Rufai was bitter that a particular company, Motorola lost out, telling a national newspaper:

“The fact of the contract are like this: Obasanjo agreed with the NCP that the former BPE DG was wrong not to have disclosed his interest and that he had failed the test of transparency by not disclosing that his brother was on the board of Motorola.”

Continuing, Atiku said: “I would like Nigerians to be smart enough to read between the lines. Why does the former FCT minister treat the Motorola issue with such persistent personal bitterness?

Why is he making it a heavy matter,” he asked.

However, for the majority of the stakeholders of NITEL for which their company is now dead, the question for them is when will their fortunes be revived?

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