FULL INTERVIEW: Why my memo was leaked – el-Rufai

The Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, told a team of Daily Trust editors, in an exclusive interivew, that he was not behind the leak of a ‘private’ memo he wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari last September, blaming the APC members with 2019 Presidential ambition for twisting its content to achieve sinister motives. He also spoke about wide ranging issues pertaining the memo, saying if the situation calls for, he will do another memo to the president.


Read the unedited memo here

Your Excellency, it’s almost two years since you assumed office as the governor of Kaduna State. Those who knew you when you were the minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would say that you have changed from what earned you the nick name, ‘Mai Rusau.’ Is it deliberate? 


Well, those that used that adjective to describe me did it for political reasons. It was to ‘give a dog a bad name in order to hang it’ when they used it to refer to the work we did in Abuja. But even in Abuja, we did not demolish only, we did a lot of infrastructural development. But you know that in politics you have to frame someone. This is politically acceptable. 

In Kaduna, we didn’t deny that we had to demolish. This is so because Kaduna is the first planned city in Nigeria. Lord Lugard signed the town planning order establishing Kaduna in July 1917. So Kaduna has a master plan we have to preserve. We will do so within the limits of what is reasonable. We will be flexible. When we came in, one of the first things we did was to take out the illegal buildings at Al-Huda Huda College because we could not have people building their houses next to hostels. These illegal buildings encroached on educational facilities and we took them out. We will take out all similar encroachments in educational and health facilities. 

Yes, there will be some demolitions, but we are not here to demolish. We are here to build and rebuild the society for the progress of the state. And we are committed. I am happy that people are seeing that we are not what we were framed to be. We are concerned with progress, we are concerned with infrastructure development, but we are also concerned with correction and doing the right thing. We want to ensure that our town planning laws are complied with.

Your now famous memo to President Muhammadu Buhari has received many reactions, some of them even hostile. Were these some of the fears you entertained in the memo when you said it would be misinterpreted, misunderstood and even perverted?

First of all, let me say that this is not the first memo I have written to the president. From the time I began to interact politically with him in 2010, anytime I saw a situation requiring advice or change in direction, I usually went to discuss with him. I always said, ‘I will go and reduce it to writing so you can have a document to reflect upon and decide and guide your action.’ 

This is not even the tenth memo I have written to the president. I have probably written more than 20 memos. I did this at various stages – from our days in the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), before the 2011 elections, after the 2011 elections and during the merger process.

I have always felt that my duty to him as my political leader is to pick up what he doesn’t hear, because as a lower level person, I get to hear more about what is going on. And if I see things going wrong, I have a duty to go to him and say, ‘This is what I’ve heard, the facts I have established and my advice on the way forward.’

They are all problem-solving memos, they identify problems, analyse them and propose solutions.  So this is the spirit of all my memoranda to the president from 2010 till date.

I wrote this memo because I felt very strongly at that time that many things were not working as planned. I was part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Strategic Planning Committee. I am one of the authors of the APC manifesto; I was part of the 34 people that signed the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) document to register the party. So I consider the APC one of my children. I know the dreams we had and the very high expectations our people had in Buhari’s government. And I am close enough to the president to know what he is committed to in terms of social justice and progress. I see that people that have been trusted to drive this agenda are not doing it.

They are focused on other things than what is Buharism. And I am a Buharist, I believe in the man. I gave the last seven years of my life working with him and knowing him. From the time we worked in Obasanjo’s government, Oby Ezekwesili and I would always go and confront him when we see something going wrong. When it required writing, we would write to him. This is how I have been. I feel that the first duty of every subordinate is tell the truth to his superior and the superior can take a decision. 

Whatever position President Buhari takes I will support him because I know he is more experienced and exposed. He is more like a father to me. My job is to analyse the situation, get all the facts in the streets that he may not hear from the Villa, put them to him and propose a course of action so that he can take a decision. This is what I have always done, and this was what I tried to do in September. 

I saw these things going on and decided that I would have a comprehensive discussion with him. I raised many of the issues in the memo in previous discussions with him because every once in a while I go to the president with my list of issues. 

When I visited him in Daura during the last Sallah day, in the company of Pastor Tunde Bakare, his running mate in the 2011 presidential election, I shared some of the items on the memo with him. So three of us sat with the president and went through the first draft of the memo. We looked at it and debated. He gave his views about some aspects of the memo. This was about seven months ago. 

I have done my bit. I have put on the record what I think is not going the right way. It is the president’s call to move the agenda forward. If you look at some aspects of the memo you would see that he has begun implementing some. He may not implement all, it’s his call, he is the president and has more information and experience than I have. So he may accept some and reject some. That’s normal.  

It is believed in some quarters that you leaked the memo probably because it wasn’t getting the desired result. Did you? 

As I said, I have written several memos to the president. This is the first one that has leaked. I can state categorically that I did not leak it. If I did I would say so. I wrote the memo, it’s my own, I could make it public if I chose to, but I did not. It was a private communication and I can’t understand the motives of those that leaked it. I don’t know who leaked it. But who knows? In these days of Wikileaks, even if it is in your computer it can be hacked and taken out. I don’t want to speculate on who leaked it or whatever, what I am surprised at is those that are attributing motives to the memo without even reading it.

If you read that memo you would see that there’s no bad motive. There’s nowhere in the memo that I said the government has failed. It’s our government; if it fails then I have failed too. But there’s a lot going on. We are on the political terrain and I am the target of many people for reasons I may come to know later. 

But anyone that reads that memo will see that I did not intend it to be anything other than a private memo to the president. Secondly, my advice or analysis or opinions were based on what I believe to be the truth and what I think will advance the cause of the president. There’s is nothing in that memo that is advancing the interest of Nasir el-Rufai or even Kaduna State. It’s about Nigeria, the president’s success and our party.

 Why would anyone take that memo and say I have any ill motive? The reason I said in the memo that it would be misunderstood is because of experience. As I said, I have been with the president since 2010, and anytime I write anything and he discusses it with his inner circle, they always say I am very ambitious. 

I have always been accused of having presidential ambition since 2007. I have suffered from these accusations. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua exiled me because of it; former President Goodluck Jonathan tried to imprison me because everyone around him told him to keep me busy or I would contest against you in 2015.

But what I spent all my time doing from 2010 until President Buhari got elected in 2015 was to make the CPC and later the APC to be a strong party and for Buhari to be president. 

I spent two and half years to convince President Buhari to run, and he has made that public. I believed that the future of the country rested on a party we could organise around Buhari. I believed that only Buhari could have chased Jonathan out. I worked for it, not because I wanted anything. But people around the president kept telling him that I joined the party to run for presidency. What they didn’t know was that in our private discussion, I was the one pushing him to run for the fourth time.

I am forever grateful to the president for the faith he had in me. In spite of what people around him were trying to do to cut me down, he still appreciated who I really am. 

I know that no president or governor works alone. Whatever you write to him, if it is going to be implemented, he has to minute it to someone and that person may read the memo and come back to the president and say, ‘Look, this is the motive.’ That was why even in the memo I said, ‘I know that this may be misunderstood. I know that I may be accused of ambition, but Mr. President, between me and you, you know the truth.’ 

I am the governor of Kaduna State today because the president himself called me and said I should run. I had no plans to run for anything. I had never contested elections. But that has not stopped the conspiracy theory. That is seven months ago. If I had wanted to leak the memo I would have done that immediately. Somebody leaked it for whatever reason. 

This is a memo from an APC governor to an APC president, but who is shouting more than everyone? It is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) people that are trying to describe who I am to an APC president. Many of these things going on are being driven by the PDP, who think that they have got something to mind. Secondly, within our party, there are people that have started running for the presidency. There are people that think Buhari is finished and will not run for a second time, blah blah blah. They are running for 2019, so they will do everything to twist what is in that memo.

I believe I am a target because there is a pattern and I can give you few examples in the last two weeks. I am a target because I made everyone that has the ambition to run for the president of Nigeria know that I am a Buharist. As long as Buhari is around, there is no point even talking to me. So I am a target. And those that have these ambitions know that when 2019 comes, by the grace of God and President Buhari says he wants to run, I will be at the frontline fighting for him.

If by 2019 President Buhari says, ‘I am not running, this is the person I am supporting,’ they know I can die to make sure that person becomes the president. They know that I will follow Buhari.

So I have no friends among those with presidential ambition. This is what is going on. I can go on and list examples. In the last three to four weeks, someone planted a story that the Kaduna State Assembly wanted to impeach me. It’s totally false. Someone planted a story on the social media that I collapse from time to time since I went for primaries in Kogi. And I said, ‘I have never collapsed in my life, never.’

In the last three weeks again, this memo was leaked and there are stories that I leaked it because I want to distance myself from the government and I have this or that ambition. If you read that memo you would see that one of my concerns is that we need to clean up our political space so that President Buhari would run again. This is my aspiration. There were stories that I refused to receive the president. 

I have enrolled in a part-time PhD programme at the University-Merit in the Netherlands. It was the vice president that wrote the recommendation for me to get admitted into the programme, so I am not doing it without the knowledge of the authorities. It is a programme that requires me to go to the Netherlands for two weeks and most of it is research-based. I do the research in my spare time. That was where I was when I got a call from the president that he would be returning to Nigeria on Friday. I was in the Netherlands, but I did everything, including getting a friend of mine with a private jet to send me a plane so I could come back and receive the president, but it was simply impossible because even if he sent the jet, the pilot must rest for some hours. In this state, we already have a system in which whenever I am not around, the deputy governor becomes acting governor. This has happened at least 15 times. I write to the state Assembly just like the president wrote when he was going. So, I got the consent of the president to have the deputy governor receive him while I continued with my programme. That was what happened. Many of the things you see going on, even the situation in Southern Kaduna, there are people with presidential ambition that are investing in it to make it look worse, to target me. 

We read yesterday that my former chief of staff, Hadiza Bala Usman, had given people 25,000 dollars. Hadiza is in Senegal or somewhere attending some official events and I called her and told her: ‘You must sue the paper, let them prove their case.’

You said when you wrote the memo, things were not working well. What is your assessment of things at the federal level, and what aspect of your memo has Buhari started implementing?

One of the issues that concerned me in September when I wrote the memo is the slow pace of budget implementation, seeming lack of coordination between monetary and fiscal policies and the absence of a comprehensive economic programme. A few things we could have done to solve our exchange rate problem to boost our foreign reserve are all in the memo. Since then, the federal government has done the five-year economic recovery and growth plan, which is one of the things I recommended. People need to see the plan for getting out of recession so that if they have to make sacrifices, at least they should know why they are making it. That has been done. The budget implementation has been significantly improved. The minister of state for petroleum has gone to India and is talking to China about oil to raise billions of dollars to boost our reserves. So, some of the economic issues have already been implemented. Many of the political issues I identified and recommended to the president are being implemented too, but the president said, ‘Let’s wait until after the Edo and Ondo elections. Let’s focus on winning these elections.’

You have seen the improvement in the exchange rate, you’ve seen the support the federal government has given states to clear arrears and reflate the economy. All these are things that we discussed and I put in the memo. Those that want to give the memo a colouration are not looking at the message but the messenger. But it is alright, I am used to that.

I will never stop giving our leader an honest advice in the interest of his success and the country. Anything I see something wrong I will do a memo to him, and if they leak it after seven months, it is alright. I will not relent.

Some say you are equally guilty of some of the things you raised in the memo, like appointing people that did not contribute to the success of the party in government.

Look, there is a lot of ignorance in what many of these people write. In our government, everyone you see either contributed to the party or our election, or has skills. Whether he contributed to the party or not, whether he is from Kaduna or not, if he has skills we think can contribute to the progress of Nigeria, we use him. That is why in this state, I have many people from other parts of Nigeria working. I think what matters is the progress of the state, not the so-called indigenes.

I will talk about Jimmy Lawal. Those that said he did not contribute to our election are totally ignorant. He was a member of the CPC from 2010. He was in the presidential campaign council of President Buhari in the 2011 elections. After we lost the election and started the process of merger, he was in the renewal committee. He was a member of the APC Merger Committee under the chairmanship of Tom Ikimi, representing the CPC.

The people who are making that claim are those from the PDP who joined the party after we had struggled and formed it. They don’t know the history. One of them is Tijjani Ramalan, who wrote and I responded to say: ‘When Jimmy was working for the CPC and was in the APC merger committee, you were in another party. That’s why you don’t know. The fact that you don’t know doesn’t mean you are right. If you don’t know you should ask.’

There are people who were not part of our campaign; they were not even members of our party, but we made them commissioners. We were looking for people like Dr Ya’u Usman, who has a PhD in Physics and was a director in the Federal Civil Service. We were looking for somebody with those kinds of skills to be appointed as commissioner for environment. I did not see him until the day I swore him in as commissioner. We just looked at his curriculum vitae and appointed him. Government has to have a mix of that. 

What I observed in the federal government was that people who were in the PDP were brought in and given positions of responsibility that should have gone to longtime APC members with similar or even better skills. But those that were saddled with the task of recommending those to be appointed did not even know the history of the APC. These mistakes were made.

This is what I wanted us to avoid because many longtime party members are complaining. If anybody says this is happening in Kaduna, I will say that it is just sour grapes. I picked people I knew could deliver.  

You talked about certain people like the Chief of Staff to the President and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) wielding power and shielding people from the president. Could it be possible that this is happening only to El-rufai?

No one shields me from seeing the president. When I see the president, it is between me, the president and God. There is nobody that even sits with us unless I go with somebody. 

I want to make that clear that Abba Kyari, who is an old friend of mine, was not part of the formation of the APC, so he doesn’t know the respective contributions of some of the people he see around. He was not part of the Presidential Campaign Council that Rotimi Amaechi chaired, so he will not know who contributed actively during the election. In my opinion, some mistakes were made in appointments. Some people who made significant contributions to the party and are competent and qualified have been passed over for those that have done nothing for the party. This is my point. What I wrote was that the chief of staff is clueless about how the party was formed, how the campaign went, and for that reason, cannot know certain things. I did not say that he was clueless. Abba Kyari and I have been very close, but this is a blind spot on his part. He can rectify it by being more inclusive and consulting more widely. That was not done in the beginning and I had to put that on the record. 

I was a minister over a decade ago. As a minister I called former President Obasanjo. I could go and see him directly. Of course, I had to check if he was free to see me, but there was no one in-between. It is only when there were disputes between a minister and a minister of state that they were referred to the chief of staff. That is the system I know. Many ministers have complained to some of us who are said to be close to President Buhari that they are being shielded from having direct contact with the president, and that needs to be corrected. A minister should be able to walk up to the president and talk to him. I feel very strongly that it is something that can be corrected; that is why I wrote it there. 

Has it caused any strain in your relationship with some of the persons you mentioned?

No. I know Abba Kyari very well, he will not disagree with what I wrote there. He knows it to be true and he is not hearing it for the first time. Many people have complained about this, so I don’t think it will cause a strain in my relationship with the chief of staff because we have been friends for so many years. But anyone that feels that he is upset because of what I have written, so be it. It is my opinion; I can say it to his face. But it is not personal. I have nothing to gain from writing what I wrote, other than providing the president with some ideas to make things better. 

In the days of the PDP, governors controlled everything and this did not go down well with people. Now, your memo seems to be saying that governors are not being carried along, are you suggesting a return to that system?

No. I am one of those that supported and even encouraged the president not to allow governors nominate ministers. Ministers are the president’s direct employees, so he should pick his ministers, just as I insist on picking my commissioners. I agree with that entirely. However, in the PDP the governors were everything, even party meetings were held in Government Houses and governors controlled the party tickets, but look at where they ended up. But let me also say that for governors to be totally excluded from decision making at the federal level is a mistake. You are moving from one bad extreme to another.

What is pragmatic is something in-between. I’ll give you an example. The president sent a list of ambassadorial nominees, two from Kaduna. I knew one of the names on the list. She was part of us from the CPC days. I had no problem with that. But the other name, who was speaker twice under a PDP government in this state, has never joined the APC. Actually, during the 2015 elections we had to take extraordinary measures to contain him because he was reputed to be a rigging center for the PDP.

Now, the danger of not consulting the governor is that you can appoint a person who is an enemy of the president into the government. All I suggested to the president then was that when he decided to appoint somebody, he should just call the governor to know what they think. This is because the governors have local knowledge. People sitting in Abuja do not have local knowledge. The case of Kaduna it is different because Buhari spent most of his political career here, so he knows the terrain. 

But he cannot know who is his friend or adversary in Cross Rivers State unless he consults somebody on the ground. This was what happened in the case of the ambassadors and I protested and said, ‘Where is this coming from? This is the profile of the person you are appointing and there is the danger that our supporters from the grassroots know for how many years people like that have been oppressing them, rigging elections and cheating them, then all of a sudden, the Buhari they think is their liberator appoints such a person.’ In other cases, you had a situation where the governor, minister and the ambassadorial nominee were all from the same local government.

There was another case in which the ministerial nominee and three of four federal appointees were all from one part of the state that did not even vote for the party. That is the case in Benue. But if you consult the governor he would be able to tell you this and that for balance. I did not say the APC governors should be all-powerful like the PDP governors because the concentration of power in governors at the PDP made them what they are today. And we don’t want to end that way. Anybody sitting in Abuja and making any claim is lying. I can tell you on a chart those who contributed and those that sabotaged us. I know because I was here.

Having said that, let me make a disclosure here. Every appointment I make here I clear with the president for two reasons: he has lived here and he knows the politicians here more than I do. When I got in here, I did not know them, but President Buhari lived in Kaduna almost all his political life, so he knows those that served the ANPP, CPC and the APC. So I went to him with the list. He sent it back to me and said, ‘This is very good, go ahead,’ I did not send it to the State Assembly.

Recently, I did a cabinet reshuffle when the president was in London. I did not announce it until I sent the names to him. It took some days before he called back and said, ‘These are good people you are bringing in, go ahead Malam.’ I consult him even though I don’t have to, but I believe that since he is my leader and has lived in Kaduna, he should have a say. It is because of my relationship with him. I’m not saying other governors should do that. There is nothing wrong with consultation, you get more value. But consultation should not mean dictation because in the case of the PDP, the governors were dictating.

So you don’t consult stakeholders in the state? 

I consult them. But I consult those I believe are stakeholders. You can claim to be a stakeholder even though I know you took money from the PDP to sabotage our efforts. You can go on radio and claim to be a stakeholder, but we know ourselves. We know those that worked with the PDP till the last minute but are now going round claiming they are stakeholders.  

What basically is the problem in Southern Kaduna and what are you doing differently?

Southern Kaduna, as I said repeatedly, is a problem that has lingered for 37 to 38 years. And we have been doing our best to resolve this. We believe very strongly that the basic problem in Southern Kaduna is that of impunity. People have been killing one another and destroying properties. Commissions of inquiry have been established, people that have committed crime have been identified, but none has been prosecuted. So people have become convinced that any time there is a crisis, they should destroy as many as possible because nothing happens after that. But we are rectifying that. We have identified a three-way process. We are almost done with the first phase. The first is to stabilise the place, reduce or eliminate the violence, enhance security presence and the militarisation of the three local governments affected. We have more or less achieved that. The violence has been resolved. We still have cases here and there, but it is not what it used to be. With the support of the federal government there are two army battalions, including a special squad battalion and the 10 squadron mobile police.  The Nigerian army operation base has been established and there will be military barracks, the first is in Kafanchan and the second one in Kachia.

What is different is that we are arresting and prosecuting people who either incite, arm or participate in the violence. We are going to make sure that everyone that has ever been involved in the history of violence there is brought to justice. The third is active peace building. Security presence cannot enforce peace unless the people want to live in peace. We think we need to work on changing the narrative of hatred and division. We are confident that the crisis will soon be a thing of the past. 

Finally, on the sale of government houses, we got a lot of concern from several civil servants, especially teachers who said they voted for you and now you are about to deprive them of the little they benefit from government…

On the sale of government properties, the Kaduna State government has about 36,000 civil servants. We have only about 2,000 houses. These 2,000 houses cannot satisfy 36,000. Secondly, there is nowhere in the world where this system of giving civil servants houses operate. We have moved away from that. What you should have in place is a mortgage system where anyone with an income will be able to buy a house and pay over 20 years. This is what we are working towards, so we took the decision to sell government house except few like the Government House, the deputy governor’s residence and houses of judges.

Our objective for selling is to raise as much money as possible, so we valued them and put them in bids. We don’t want to give the houses away for free to anyone. We want to sell it at the highest possible price, use that money to invest in additional infrastructure and low income housing for the people of the state so that more than 2,000 people will have houses. Now, only about 2,000 or 3,000 out of 36,0000 live in government quarters. It doesn’t make sense. You talked about teachers saying we have taken over their houses, it’s not true. It is only if the building is outside the school or hospital or water works that it is being sold.

 The houses don’t belong to those occupying them, so even when the bulb dies, they wait for the government to replace it. Every year they budget for maintenance and they just share the money. We want to eliminate all that.

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