INTERVIEW: Why Atiku was not arrested in America — Governor El-Rufai
Executive Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai
PT: You ran into controversy over your recent attempt to define interference, intervention and observation, body bags and all of that, what do you really mean?
Nasir El-Rufai: Let me just say what I don’t mean. My statement is not an invitation to anyone to attack election observers or any foreigner that is here to witness our election or cover the elections because observation is not interference, it is not intervention.
However, we must look at the context. What is the context? Few weeks ago, the Chief Justice of Nigeria was suspended, properly in my view by the president. There was a coordinated response in a statement from the US, UK and the EU which were most misinformed and quiet condescending in my view.
Why? The statements, clearly, were coordinated. The statement sought to justify the leaving in office of a Chief Justice that has admitted to not declaring his asset. A Chief Justice that has admitted to having sums of money that he cannot explain based on his established income. Anywhere in the world, anywhere in the UK, US and EU such a person will be asked to leave office until he is proved innocent. But these same countries that have this same standard in their own countries are telling us we shouldn’t have such standards in ours. I thought that was quiet distressing and friends don’t do that to each other.
So after the statements were issued and the government responded, it was then outreaches were made to find out this and that, but I thought that the facts of the Onnoghen case were very clear.
That was one. The second thing is that those statements tried to link the suspension to the elections. Justice Onnoghen was not conducting elections, he does not even adjudicate over elections until the last beat and even when cases come to the Supreme Court, unless if he is a member of the Supreme Court panel, he is not even part of it. Election tribunals are constituted by the President of the Court of Appeal, not the Chief Justice of Nigeria, so he has no role in elections in Nigeria until they get to the Supreme Court and 90% of all election cases end up at the Court of Appeal, only the governorship and the Presidency goes to the Supreme Court.
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Yet, these countries tried to link the suspension of Onnoghen with the elections. Why? Where is the link? So, for us in the APC, the federal government and the state government, it is an indication that there is some foundation being laid to discredit the elections in advance, discredit the judicial process in advance just because a public officer, who has monies that he cannot explain; a public officer who has asset that he did not declare in violation of our constitution, is being brought to justice.
So, we began to look at it from this angle. What do we see happen? PDP now releases a poll showing that they will win the election, and they got one or two newspapers to do the same thing. Look at that poll, it’s a national poll, but what was the sample size? 1500! I do polls here in Kaduna, the minimum sample size we use is 2500. Kaduna State. But you do a national poll by some unknown name, with 1500 respondents and you say you will win the election, so we noted that. Then we hear insiders in PDP telling us that they are looking at the Venezuela option. What is the Venezuela option? You know what is happening in Venezuela. Elections were held, there was a winner. But some countries did not like the winner or the result, so they encouraged the opposition guy to swear himself in, declare himself president and now there is pressure to intervene in Venezuela. What is intervention in international law? It is the use of force.
PT: So were you suspicious there might be use of force, like military intervention?
PT: So if it ever comes…
El-Rufai: We will fight back. Nigeria is a proud country, an independent country and will not accept anyone interfering in that way in our affairs.
Election observation is not interference, it’s not intervention. Election observers are welcome. We invited them, and they add credibility to the process. But they should not be the foundation for discrediting the election and inviting intervention. This was my point.
But rightly or wrongly, what I said was twisted and misrepresented. We issued a clarification, and I had some conversation with some of the embassies, they called me because we are friends. Are you against election observers? I said No! in fact, I met with the EU election observers a couple of days ago here on this desk and they asked questions and so on, but even from their questions, I had concerns because the questions they were asking was like they were given the question by PDP. But we answered the questions. We are open. There is nothing to hide. But I belief that this government has a track record of credible elections and non-interference in the operations of INEC, for everyone that means well for Nigeria to wait until the elections are done. But when you start without any fact, without any fact, without any reason, to forecast the result of an election or try to discredit an election in advance, then we have to be vigilant.
Like play, like play, some people can throw us into crisis, because they feel that if they don’t have power, let everything collapse. We came from opposition, we are used to losing elections, we don’t protest, we don’t bring the country down because of those elections, President Buhari lost election three times, he didn’t march people into the streets.
Look at the crowd that follow him. You think if President Buhari calls people out, this country will not be shut down? But he never did. He respected the courts and went through the process, even if he didn’t agree with the outcome of the system. He respected the institutions. Here we are, with a political party that has ruled Nigeria for 16 years, trying to discredit every institution, because they want to cause chaos, if they don’t win and we are going to remain silent and allow it to happen? No! Some of us have to speak out and sound a note of warning, and that’s what I did.
PT: Your party suggested to the United States not to grant Atiku visa. Eventually, they did. Did you see that as a sign of bias?
El-Rufai: Look it is a prerogative of a country to grant a person visa or not to grant him visa, I didn’t think that was an issue at all. No matter what the background is, even if the US were unwilling to grant Atiku visa or whatever, and I don’t think they are unwilling. I think they wanted him in the country, he just never applied all these years. The moment he became the candidate of a major political party, he would go to America and come out. Even if they have charges against him, they will seal the charges because if they arrest him they are interfering in the outcome of an election. So long as he is the presidential candidate, he has partial immunity. So, even if there some issues in the US, they will not activate those issues now because they will not want to be accused of so openly, of taking out a presidential candidate of a major political party. I don’t know why all the ecstasy about Atiku visa and so on and so forth. The test of whether Atiku can go to the US or not would be after the election, when he loses, when there are no issues about his candidature. Then he can visit the US and we will know for sure, the thinking of the department of justice with regards Atiku. But for now it’s neither here nor there. But as I said, it is the prerogative of a country to grant visa or not to grant visa but I don’t think it is a matter that the Nigerian government or anyone can be getting involved in, frankly.
PT: Now let’s come to Kaduna. Do you sincerely belief you will win this election given that a section of the state indicating they will not vote for you? Most of your friends and associates when you came in are now in another party, have falling out with you. Do you still stand a chance?
El-Rufai: I think I will win the election. In fact, I am reasonably confident I will win because the polls indicate that I will.
But let me take all the things that you said. You said a part of the state said they will not vote for me. It is not correct. Yes, a part of the state has a large number of people that said they will not vote for me. But there are some that will still vote for me. That is one.
Secondly, I am not a stupid man. Anyone that knows me can accuse me of certain things but not stupidity. We have worked very hard in this state. We have delivered on many of our promises and it is visible to anyone, even our enemies admit that we worked. Even those that said they will never vote for me admitted that we have done more work in 3 ½ years than PDP did in 16 years. It is just that they don’t like me, which is fine. To like or not to like a person is a human right and it’s ok, but I think based on our record and what we have done in this state, we deserve to be re-elected and the indicators are that we will be re-elected.
PT: You talked about polls, what did the poll say?
El-Rufai: The poll shows that we will win very clearly by a significant margin, even better than the 2015 elections. But we will wait, in a few weeks, the answer will be given. So we are confident, we are campaigning very strongly. The other party is not even campaigning. We have gone to all 23 local governments. I missed six, I went to two yesterday. I am going to two tomorrow and we will cover them before the elections and after the presidential election we will do another round of mop up. So, we are campaigning very strongly. The other party is not because they have no story. They have ran this state for 16 years and they have done little or nothing. We are just fixing the damage that they wrought on the state.
But you talked about my associates. As I said a couple of days ago on NTA, when we formed the APC, we knew that it was a combination. It was like food salad, and there were some people who joined the APC because it was a platform to contest elections. They didn’t belief in its ideology. They didn’t belief in Buharism or anything like that.
It was just an opportunistic decision because at the time, due to the lack of popularity of Jonathan’s government particularly in this part of the country, they knew that this was the party that will win and many of them moved. We knew that an equilibrium would be reached in which they would leave because they don’t fit and most of the problems we have had as a government, as a party, is because of these opportunistic members in the national assembly and in some of the states. You have seen what happened, they have gone back to where they came from.
It is the same thing in Kaduna, each and every one of those who left were originally PDP members who realized that based on the political temperature of the state, that this time, the PDP was going to lose and they joined us. We were in CPC, they joined us for that election circle. Some of them joined us just to contest, like Isa Ashiru who contested against me in the primaries and I defeated him. He has gone back to where he came from because he only came to APC to contest and when he lost, he made no contribution to our success in 2015. None, apart from sending me N10 million two days to the election which I gave to the campaign council. He made no contribution. So he has gone back to PDP. I defeated him in the primaries and by the grace of God, I will defeat him in the secondary election.
So, the people you are talking about that have left, Hunkuyi, the same thing, he came from PDP. We got him the senate seat. He contested. He won largely because it was APC. Now he is contesting under the PDP, we will see who will win the election. The people voted for APC, they didn’t vote for Hunkuyi and that will be proved in a few days.
Shehu Sani story is similar. He has moved to PRP. We will see whether on his own, he will win the senate seat. In many ways, I am happy that many of these people that keep saying they brought me into office, that they put me in the government House and they will remove me. I am happy that they are all contesting elections and we will see how they will do in the elections vs how I will do. It is matter of weeks, let’s wait and see. And at the end of the day, election is not about a few prominent individuals, the days of political godfathers is going, if not gone. It is the vote of the people that decide and I am convinced that we are well connected to the people of this state not to worry about the wounded feelings of any political actors. It is the people that we are connected with. It is the people that we are working for and they realise it and I think on Election Day they will come out and support us.
PT: I am aware governors of north western states used to meet here in Kaduna and brainstorm on how to curb the issues of insecurity in the region but that appears to have ceased. Yet there are several there are several security challenges in the zone, the worst being the Zamfara banditry. You hardly wait for the federal government before acting on security issues in your state. Is there a template that can be used by states such as Zamfara and the rest?
El-Rufai: When we came into office, the biggest regional security challenge we faced was cattle rustling and we met as north west governors plus Niger to look at it because we are all affected by the forest ranges that the cattle rustlers were using as their hideout. That’s why we started meeting here and when we met we all agreed that we needed to finance a military operation to fight the rustlers.
We needed to cooperate because these rustlers move from state to state using the forest ranges and it was very clear to all of us as governors that we needed to do that, so, that’s how the meeting started. We contributed N100 million each to fund a military operation because the military said they did not have a budget for it and we needed it done.
That was done and that has led to a large extent in decimating cattle rustling. Subsequently, the cattle rustlers moved to kidnapping and we needed a similar operation and we met, unfortunately, at that time, the kidnapping was more in two or three states so the other states refused to contribute. I will not mention the states, but the other states refused to contribute and we were then all left to deal with the problem at our own levels.
My point to them even then was look we are one community, if there is kidnapping in Kaduna and we start fighting the kidnappers, they are likely to move to a neighbouring state. So, why don’t we work together to wipe them out. But some people didn’t see it, some governors felt they should go and make peace with the bandits, give them money and collect arms from them and so on. I didn’t belief in that, I belief, based on my interaction with Fulani Ardo’s (leaders) in Kaduna that the only solution to these bandits is to wipe them out. I still belief that, and that is the stance of the Kaduna state government. No negotiations, we wipe them out.
Of course, if they kidnap a person, we allow the families to negotiate until the person is released. Then we go after them and to tell you the truth, 90% of the case, we got the kidnappers because we have the technology to do that. And next month or this month, we are likely to bring into service our drones. That will be able to actually chase the kidnappers and see where they are going and be sending live video feeds of what is happening. So we have invested in technology from radio frequency trackers to drones and so on that will enable us get to the bottom of this by the grace of God. We are on it.
So, this is the history of the meetings and this is the reason why they have stopped, but we still meet as North-West governors, but we meet in Katsina. That meeting was a special meeting because it was not just north west, we added Niger because the forest range also included Niger State. We have north west governors forum and we meet in Katsina not Kaduna. Kaduna is the headquarters of northern states governors forum.
Coming back to the question you asked. You know it is not quite correct to say that I didn’t wait for the federal government when we had crisis. The federal government controls all the security assets. We are chief security officers, but the security assets are all federal. Of course, we support them strongly. We provide logistics, so we have influence, but a governor can be incapacitated if his commissioner of police or his Army commander refused to cooperate with him because he cannot give them orders as such. That is the reality, but it hardly ever happens because governors fund a lot of support to security agents so they usually do what you ask them to do unless if it is blatantly wrong.
What we did when we had our last crisis is what we always do. The reason why the media only saw it this time was because it was Kaduna and the media was in Kaduna. When we had crisis in 2016 in Kafanchan, I went to Kafanchan. I like to be on the ground whenever there is crisis because it is my responsibility. The security agencies will tell you don’t go it is not safe and my response to them is if I don’t go as governor of the state, I am the most protected person in the state. If I cannot go to a crisis location, I am the most protected person of the state, what about the other citizens of the state that I swore to protect? So, I always go. I went to Kafanchan, that’s when they sent naked women to demonstrate and all that. I don’t care. I always go to crisis point because I want to reassure people that we are doing something about it and I am here, I am with you. It gives people confidence and a sense that the government is doing something. You can’t sit in government and only see Police and so on, that is what we do all the time, the only difference is that it happened here in Kaduna and you media people are all here so you can see it.
Now, what we always do is to ask the federal security agencies to come and work with us and if they have any financial requirement, logistic requirement, we provide it. That is what we do and that any governor can do. You don’t need any template, any governor can do it.
We are luckier in Kaduna because we have One Division Headquarters here. But there is virtually no state government headquarters that you don’t have at least a battalion of the Army. So you can use them and they are available. And any time I needed more support, mobile Police to be brought from another state, whenever I call the Inspector General of the Police, all the IGs that we have worked with, they have always responded. If we need the Army, whenever I call the Chief of Army staff, chief of Defence staff, they always responded. The Chief of Air Staff always send support. So the federal security agencies are always willing to come in and support, all you need to do is ask and sometimes support them financially. Sometimes you don’t even need to support them. For instance, the operation Safe Haven in southern Kaduna is totally funded by the Chief of Defence Staff. We don’t spend much money there. There are some that we have to spend money but most of the time, all you need to do is ask and maintain relationship. So, this is what we are doing and I don’t think it’s any special template as such.
Let me conclude by one caveat, every security challenge differs from state to state. The nature of the conflict in Kaduna is not the same as the one in Zamfara state. The nature of the conflict in Plateau is not the same as the one in Benue. They all differ and the difference is this: the state governor, the permanent secretary security for the state and the SSG who oversees security must together understand the nature of their own security challenge and design solutions and deploy the security assets to meet those challenges. Because what works here in Kaduna may not necessarily work in Zamfara.
And finally what we have realised and what we are doing is the need to empower communities to take security into their own hands, rather than just saying it’s the job of the police. Because we have only 13,000 policemen, they can’t cover the state. We need 30,000. We have only 13,000.
So, what we realized is that we need to use community leaders, volunteers and our vigilante service to complement the efforts of the Police. That means providing some allowances to village heads, district heads and ward heads to provide intelligence about criminal activities before they grow and blossom. That is the template that we are working on now, it has existed before during the old days of the northern region, but went into disuse once the local government reforms removed the powers of the emirs and chiefs and vested it on local government chairmen.
That’s what we are working on and with the drones we are deploying, our drones can fly for 600 kilometres. So we can move from one end of the state to another to gather intelligence.