el-Rufai’s secret memo to Buhari: A critique, by Olawale Olaleye


It’s not so much about the content of the controversial memo by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State to President Muhammadu Buhari or that it was written at all; the debate is on how such a confidential letter was leaked and for what purpose, writes Olawale Olaleye

The 2019 presidential race is therefore on and with all the trappings of a power game. Much of the frenzy it would garner had the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the space open already dots the turf. This is why the El-Rufai memo, however sincere, cannot be completely absolved of the political connotations currently being adduced to it. Besides, it could send unsavoury signals should anyone feign to be unaware of some of the political happenings at this material time.

Perhaps, the 29-page letter (excluding the annexure) by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State to President Muhammadu Buhari could not have come at a better. It not only sits well with the mood of the nation at this time, its contents are particularly spot-on. But not everyone sees it as such. Some are quick to locate the politics of the letter, albeit through their own lenses. Nevertheless, it has scored big – stoked an endless debate, chief of which is located in high wire political colouration. It is all about the 2019 elections.

To think that El-Rufai has also come out to stand by his letter and maintained that he was ready to face the consequences (if there would be any) is an indication that the die, ahead of next elections, may have been cast. With the plots, settings and storyline gradually being situated in their apt contexts, it would go down in history, as it was in 2015, that the El-Rufai letter was one of the issues that defined the 2019 elections.

As it has come to be known, the one thing the health challenges of President Buhari has done is to expand the frontiers of the prevalent political extrapolations and by extension, its nuances, with each still in its raw state. And as part of the new thinking, there is a growing belief that the president is likely not going to seek re-election in 2019. In fact, it is almost a consensus now even amongst the president’s strongest allies.

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Not one of them is ready to gamble with his health in 2019. Thus, whilst they all pray and look forward to the president serving out this present term of four years, almost half of which is already gone, to prevent possible succession crisis, the possibilities of the emerging equation is evidently not clear to anyone yet, hence the potpourri of calculations that now strewn the polity, with ongoing alliances, albeit quietly and from the fringes.

It is to this end that many see the El-Rufai letter as an early but smart move by one man, who could see ahead, the denouement of the present equation (and which may likely be unpleasant) to want to extricate himself from any shared blame by the time the performance sheet of the Buhari administration is being evaluated.

This is the political interpretation and possibly, the deliberate colouration of the El-Rufai letter by other stakeholders, believed to have leaked it. It is also being argued that the letter, although written since last year, is a product of the analysis of a man, who might have come to terms with the fact and reality of having lost out in the current power game. Some even contend that the man might have begun to garner materials for his next book. However that sounds, it has not failed to be a factor either.

El-Rufai is generally believed to be ambitious and had hitherto kept a close relationship with the president till when the alleged cabals in the system are seen to have not only seized power, but also alienated certain persons considered as threat to their power and influence. El-Rufai might have been identified as one.

Taken together, there is certainly not much to a memo, by a concerned Nigerian of El-Rufai’s standing, to the president on issues of governance, especially that a majority of the Nigerian people can relate to those issues. It does not matter, to many, where the letter came from for as long as it addresses the core of the issues and which the El-Rufai letter is believed to have so done, poignantly. What is however curious and should be interrogated for posterity’s sake is how a letter of such magnitude was leaked?

It is to this end that many see the El-Rufai letter as an early but smart move by one man, who could see ahead, the denouement of the present equation (and which may likely be unpleasant) to want to extricate himself from any shared blame by the time the performance sheet of the Buhari administration is being evaluated.

For some, who were privy to the genesis of the letter, it is claimed that the Kaduna governor had gone to see the president one-on-one to update him on some of the growing concerns in the country, especially the disapproval by a majority of the people of some of his actions, dispositions, policies and initiatives.

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After a few minutes of allegedly identifying and discussing what he reckoned were the issues, the president was said to have asked him to go and put his concerns in writing, thus prompting the now controversial letter.

This notwithstanding, inside sources claimed that El-Rufai shared the draft of the letter with a few people, including many of Buhari’s cabinet members to sample their takes on what he was about to share with the president on the state of the country. Indeed, a majority of the people, some of them ministers, were said to have given their approval for the letter. Some were even said to have had input in certain areas to give it more weights.

When El-Rufai was eventually done with the letter, he was said to have again informed the president that he had finished itemizing his concerns as discussed and consequently sent it through one of his (president’s) personal aides, Tunde, who in turn, passed it on to him.

As it is, the leakage can be traced to three sources: the presidency, those that El-Rufai shared it with and himself. While the allusion to the presidency is understandable if it was true, that of the people he also shared it with can also not be dismissed because of the possible political undertone that is tied to it. That he too could have leaked it is also a great possibility.

In the presidency, for example, El-Rufai is believed to have fallen out of favour with those seen as running the show now and they are said to have done so much to get him far away from the president, in addition to allegedly creating a gulf between them. He was said to be one of those prevented from seeing the president in London, while Buhari was on medical vacation. Those who acted on behalf of the president were said to have read political meanings to his proposed visit and therefore did not approve it.

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Coming back to those he allegedly shared the letter with, much as they saw the “passive patriotism” in his intention, some of them have always had scores to settle with him and might have found such an appropriate opportunity to fight back. There is a swirling belief that whilst the going was good with the president, he somewhat overreached his influence and stepped on a few toes.

Therefore, the shocking leak of the letter could also have come from such individuals, who considered his influence-peddling some sorts of threat. Again, the third theory is that he too could have leaked it for the simple reason of getting the message out, clandestinely. But in the final analysis, they all remain in the realm of speculations as the authentic source of the leakage is unknown.

Interestingly, this situation hasn’t offered a refreshingly different scenario from the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan, when the letter written to him by the present Emir of Kano and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, alleging some missing $20billion was reportedly leaked by the incumbent Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.

Although the story of the leakage did not come until a little over a year after Jonathan had left power, the letter formed part of the issues that shaped the 2015 elections. It rubbed off on the corruption tag of the administration, exposed the assumed weaknesses of the then president and ultimately, undid the government in a historic election.

There is no doubting the fact that those, who leaked El-Rufai’s letter haven’t done so in nation’s interest, ultimately. It is a clear cut political agenda that may have suited their current thinking and of course, helped to goad their strategy of elimination in spite of the fluidity of the time. The race is on!

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