El-Rufai’s $100m campaign chest?

There are many routes to the Nigerian presidency, but those who seek it cannot hide. We can, at least, say that about Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the immediate past governor of Kaduna State, whose latest exploits in the news can only point in one direction: politics, seriously. When, early last week, I read a story in […]

The post El-Rufai’s $100m campaign chest?
first appeared on Daily Trust

There are many routes to the Nigerian presidency, but those who seek it cannot hide. We can, at least, say that about Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the immediate past governor of Kaduna State, whose latest exploits in the news can only point in one direction: politics, seriously.

When, early last week, I read a story in Business Day that El-Rufai is set to launch a “$100 million Venture Capital” company next year, I smiled wryly and said to myself “interesting”. Two things flashed on my mind. I do not believe El-Rufai means business in the business sense of the term, which is to say that I think he means business in the political sense of the term, either of which is interesting.

In my recent piece titled “This Case Called El-Rufai”, I made three points: that El-Rufai “withdrew” from his ministerial nomination process not out of choice but because he sensed even greater danger to his political career than the humiliation of having his nomination withheld by the Senate; that he should not be surprised if he felt betrayed because it is a hand he has long dealt others, and that he is not someone who can live outside of the loop of power or on the fringes of it. I then concluded by asking a series of questions to drive home an important point that is now worth quoting in full, with slight edits, to better situate today’s analysis.

“Can President Tinubu afford to have El-Rufai stand outside pissing in as he had done with devastating effects to late President Yar’Adua and former President Jonathan? Would Tinubu rather not be better off with El-Rufai in his government where he can keep a closer eye on him than have him join up with any other potential principal again? Most importantly, however, would El-Rufai himself stop the perennial and ultimately unsatisfying search for political principals to serve, instead of going for the top job as his own man?”

El-Rufai has since confirmed on social media that his exclusion from Tinubu’s government was a “betrayal”, even waxing philosophical with a Bob Marley song about best friends turning worst enemies. And his latest exploits in the news make those questions to now seem like a prophesy. Where the Business Day story said $100m Venture Capital, I saw $100 million Campaign Fund. Where the story talks about the firm investing in and mentoring businesses run by young people, I saw a campaign pitch to an important voting demographic. And where the story names investing partners, I saw political associates and invisible campaign funders.

True or not, my position was reinforced by seeing on both mainstream and social media news pictures of El-Rufai’s visit to Buhari in Daura, to former President Babangida in Minna, and then his being turbaned as “Gbobaniyi of Ijebuland”, whatever that means, by the revered Paramount Ruler and Ajuwale of Ijebuland, the first Nigerian outside of the Southwest to be so ‘crowned’. I do not believe for one moment that El-Rufai is now capable of running any business in the proper sense of the term—the man breathes nothing but politics—or that those moves are those of a businessman. The $100m venture capital, for me, is a disguised campaign war chest, after all, like war, politics too is about deception.

This is where some context is required. If, as we suspect, El-Rufai’s visits to three former presidents in one week (Ijebu land is ‘Obasanjo land’) are entirely political, what could the political objectives be? A visit to President Babangida is now customary for anyone seeking high office in Nigeria because, well, in politics the influence is sometimes in the name. Taking a traditional title in Ijebu land is also clear enough: Obasanjo is hardly a friend of this government. It is the visit to Daura, and importantly, the symbolic full dobale for Buhari that says so much not only about El-Rufai’s politics and political ambitions but also his ethics.

Political ambition is entirely legitimate in a democracy, so we cannot now criminalise it. But we can—indeed should—interrogate any politician’s ethics. Thus, to answer the last question above, we must first understand the power game in play. In the 39 years between 1960 and 1999, Nigeria never had a southerner elected to the presidency, so northern political behaviour under a southern president was not always clear.

In the 24 years since 1999 however, two southern presidents have served terms for a combined 13 years, and a third is now on the saddle. What is the dominant political behaviour of northern politicians and voters during a southern presidency?

I will answer this question in detail someday. For now, it is sufficient to point out that the dominant political behaviour of northern politicians under a southern president is internal competition for succession. But unlike under Obasanjo or Jonathan, the real challenge for any northern aspirant in 2027, or more realistically in 2031, is how to inherit Buhari’s loyal voters, or failing that, how to break them up because like it or not, Buhari’s position in the northern political imagination has not been broken by his performance in office, and is likely to improve as Tinubu struggles to do better.

El-Rufai’s Daura trick, then, is to position himself as the heir apparent to Buhari among northern voters. It’s a powerful ploy. And he is in luck. As I have said severally on these pages, the APC is a coalition of Buharists and Tinubuists. In 2015 and 2019, they campaigned together but did not really govern much together. In 2023, they didn’t even campaign together, and are not now governing together. Therefore, El-Rufai’s ploy is not only to position himself as Buhari’s natural successor among northern voters but also as the arrowhead of the anti-Tinubu faction within the APC.

Yet, it is here also that his ethics lay bare. El-Rufai’s political career has been defined entirely by two things: his personal wit and grit, and his string of betrayals of former principals. Both of these have taken him thus far, and we wait to see how further he may yet go. But only earlier this year, he was on TV rubbishing unnamed “elders” in the APC he said were working against the party’s success in the election. Many thought his ire was either directed at Buhari himself, or one of his closest confidants. El-Rufai was in Tinubu’s camp at the time, and was working for political reward. Now, he has now gone to kneel before the same elders in a bid to seek other rewards, and not the first time.

In fact, unlike many Tinubuists, El-Rufai arrived camp very late, even if, it must be said, his efforts were quite instrumental to the victory they all now enjoy. But he had waited until he saw there was no other potential principal with any realistic chance to power before joining the train. He still speaks with the bitterest angst against Yar’Adua over nothing other than being ignored by the late President. He worked for Jonathan against Yar’adua, only to port to Buhari for the same reason, the very same Buhari he had castigated severally when it suited his ambitions.

Perhaps Nigerians forget all these too readily. Perhaps El-Rufai has a way of enchanting them to forget. Either way, the next few months look set to be interesting as El-Rufai takes on the most formidable of his former principals turned political enemy Number one. We here siddon dey look.

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