Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, the immediate past governor of Kaduna state provoked a slew of harsh criticism from Christian and Igbo leaders nationwide for a farewell speech he gave to a group of his core constituents, Muslim Clerics in Kaduna state.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burcke.
It is this statement of principle that drives me into taking the unpopular stance in writing this discourse on the controversy. The views expressed here are entirely and solely mine. I am a retired Laparoendoscopic Gynecologic Surgeon with specialization in fibroids management. I trained, practiced and have been resident in USA for the past 46 years.
Despite the great distance between USA and Nigeria, and 46-year sojourn in the United States, I have maintained and nourished my Nigerian and tribal roots, and have visited and spent no less than an average of three months every year in Nigeria since 1977 when I graduated from college (BSc).
Mallam el-Rufai, the immediate past governor of Kaduna state, provoked the latest of his many controversies by his speech when he addressed in person a group of Muslim Clerics in Kaduna state, where he was governor for the past eight years.
The speech was delivered in Hausa. The commentators on the English translation of selected snippets of the video taken out of context include senior officials of Christian churches and organizations, high-ranking Christian clergies, former high-ranking Christian officials of government, Christian and Igbo politicians, and more.
Their characterizations of the contents of the sanitized video snippets ranged from a few constructive critiques and condemnation of the verbiage of the speech, to predominantly character assassinations that labelled him with awful names that include terrorist, and an avowed jihadist hell bent on complete Islamization of Nigeria. It was all ad hominem! The Mallam el-Rufai as portrayed was not the man I admired for his dispassionate technocratic objectivity and fair play, and as a good role model for his sincerity of purpose for an egalitarian meritocracy for Nigeria. In disbelief, I called and made an appointment to see him!
I got to know of Mallam el-Rufai when I saw him on TV in 2003, shortly after he became Minister of FCT. On May 11, 2005, a team of healthcare consultants from New York and I, made a PowerPoint presentation of a Business Plan to the then FCT Minister, and his cabinet of directors and senior FCTA officials, on a proposal for short, medium, and long-term interventions for contributions to building sustainable capacity in the healthcare industry of Nigeria. The idea was to build a specialized University of Medicine and Sciences, with a multi-specialty University Teaching Hospital of international standard.
He granted all of our prayers, including a sizable portion of land in an easily accessible location in Abuja – all decisions made right in that seating! Briefly, this is the Mallam el-Rufai that I know – an objective and fair-minded, dispassionate, efficient and competent public policymaker, and an adherent of traditional concepts of the summum bonum in his administration.
I informed him about what I’d read and inquired if the accusations were his true dispositions for Christians, Igbos, and Nigeria. The first thing he did was to ask if I read the full text of his speech, because more than 90 per cent of those who had accosted him about it had not read it. I admitted that I saw the full video but he was speaking in Hausa, and even though I was born in Jos, I was relocated at a young age, and so didn’t learn to speak the language. He advised me to read the translation of the full text of the speech, so I can be better informed.
Withal, he answered the question emphatically NO, and argued to the effect that:
• He has a right to freedom of speech. • Politics is a game of numbers, and the numbers favour Muslims as the majority in Nigeria. • First time he ran for election 8 years ago, he calculated he could win on a Muslim-Muslim ticket, and he won. • He won again with that formula when he ran for re-election. • Non-Muslims do not vote for his party so why should he reward them with position of Deputy Governor that they didn’t earn? • He led a state government where the Governor, Deputy Governor, and most important Senior Government positions were all occupied by Muslims, but governance was fair to non-Muslims due to Islam teachings of fairness and justice to non-Muslims. • Muslim Clerics are part of his core constituency and they teach fairness in governance. • Tinubu’s presidential elections victory shows that Muslim- Muslim Tickets can win nationally, and will be fair to non-Muslims. • He is not the first politician to appeal to his religious base, Peter Obi did it with Christians in his presidential campaigns. • At the end, he challenged non-Muslims in Kaduna state to prove that they were cheated out of their fair share of government amenities and services.
I left Mallam el-Rufai, and searched for an English translation of the speech, bearing in mind that some nuances and flavours may be lost or enhanced in translations. After I read three concordant versions of the speech as transcribed by three different translators of different backgrounds and religions, as distasteful as they may sound, Freedom of Speech entitles him to those views, but based on the facts, I changed my perspective!
It was a thank you, and farewell speech to his core constituents to whom he expressed his gratitude and appreciation of their support, votes, and their teachings of Justice and fairness in Islamic governance that presumably guided him in his execution of governance as Kaduna State governor. There was not a single reference or inference to Jihad, or war against Christians, nor any indication he was instigating or manipulating his audience against Christians, and by extrapolation Igbos, who constitute the majority of Christians in Kaduna state.
He evidently and definitely pandered to his base, and appealed to their base instincts of “we versus them”, and the implied supremacy of Muslim religion in its teachings of justice and fairness in governance.
He can be fairly accused of adroit weaponization of religion to gain political office and power. For that, he deserved to be called out, and I personally condemn the pandering, because he could still have made an effective farewell speech of gratitude and appreciation without a language that lends to divisiveness, polarization and disunity.
The unintended corollary of his trust in fairness of Muslim majority senior Government officials only, is that non-Muslim minorities should depend on the benevolence of a Muslim majority for fairness and justice, with no constitutional guarantees of their rights to fairness and equity.
He is smart, educated and well informed enough to know the political science theorem of the tyranny of the majority and balance of power, that suggests that nations can only secure their survival and societal egalitarian progress by preventing any one group, tribe, or religion from gaining enough power to dominate all others.
But does Mallam el-Rufai deserve all the vilification, excoriation, definite and deliberate mischaracterization, slander, and character assassination for this tactless political paltering? By God Almighty – NO!! The contextual frame of the speech is based on obvious facts, but the tone and presentation can be judged inflammatory and divisive. However, the speech definitely does not rise to the level of a hate speech as many of his critics have embellished it to be.
My characterization of his speech is that at best, he was a politician pandering and feeding red meat to his political base, and at worst, he was a demagogue espousing the infamous political doctrine of divide, conquer and rule. He has his faults like any other person. Humility and honest compunction could have helped in this situation, if only he directed one of his spokespersons to even put a spin on his speech. God and men have given Mallam el-Rufai an exalted position, and great opportunity to do good by humanity, so much is expected of him!
“Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire.Throughout our history as a nation, our leaders have NOT always led us right. In their shameless pursuit of self interest capped with unbridled political ambitions, unmitigated quest for popularity, power, and wealth, even when obviously detrimental, they have shown proclivity to elevating these above national interests, unity and progress.
They have led us to believe in absurdities that engendered atrocities, disunity, crisis, pogroms, separatism, insurgency, civil war, and all types of societal maladies that retard national progress and unity. That we the citizens suffer the immediate, short and long term consequences of their unbridled selfish ambition makes it duty-bound on us to stop them whenever they tend to lead us down a wrong and dangerous path.
So, the plea to my fellow Christians and Igbo in particular, and fellow Nigerians in general, is to be on our guard, and not let a few ambitious politicians, religious and ethnic rabble-rousers, who by their mischievous narratives, and selfish ambitions as exemplified by Mallam el-Rufai’s speech, and his mischievous critics who are even guiltier of the malfeasance they accuse him of, lead us into polarization of our nation. El-Rufai and his vicious disingenuous critics deserve to be called out.
If we do not watch and hold our politicians accountable for what they say or do, they will, in their selfish thirst and quest for unmitigated power and wealth, sacrifice our national unity and collective progress on the altar of their unbridled ambition.
Nigeria’s unity is a fragile work-in-progress, and it is duty-bound on us the educated elite to rise above ethnic and religious sentiments, and condemn any politician or religious or ethnic group, organization, and leaders who for political gains, or quest for popularity, attempts to turn our diversity from being our strength into a toxic division that weakens us.